chemical antidote


Metahuman is a term to describe superhumans in DC Comics' shared universe, the DC Universe. It is roughly synonymous with both mutant and mutate (in the Marvel Universe) and posthuman in the Wildstorm and Ultimate Marvel Universes. Use of the term in reference to superheroes was coined in 1986 by author George R. R. Martin, first in the Superworld role playing system, and then later in his Wild Cards series of novels.

DC Comics: Invasion! Origins & Definition

Metahuman is a term coined by the fictitious alien Dominators (in DC Comics' Invasion! miniseries), and used to describe any human being with what are commonly described as "super powers". The prefix "meta-" simply means "beyond", describing persons and abilities beyond human limits.

The Metagene

The series provided a concept for why humans in the DC Universe would survive catastrophic events and develop "super powers." One of the Dominators discovered that some humans had a "biological variant" he called the meta-gene (also spelled "metagene"). This gene often lay dormant until a moment of extraordinary physiological stress activated it, and upon activation it would use the source of the biostress as a catalyst for "genetic change," resulting in metahuman abilities. The previous statement is a paraphrase of the explanation provided in the comic series. It should also be noted that DC does not use the "metagene concept" as a solid editorial rule, and few writers explicitly reference the metagene when explaining a character's origin.

DC also has characters born with superhuman abilities, suggesting the metagene can activate spontaneously and without any prior appearance in the ancestry. One well-known example involves Dinah Laurel Lance, the second Black Canary. Although her mother (Dinah Drake Lance, the original Black Canary) was a superhero, neither she nor her husband Larry Lance were born with any known metagenes. However, Dinah Laurel was born with a metagene, the famed ultrasonic scream known as the Canary Cry.

The prefix meta-, in this context, simply means "beyond"—as in metastable, which is beyond regular stability and ready to collapse at the slightest disruption, or metamorphosis, which is the state of going beyond a single shape. In the DC comic mini-series Legends, the Dominators point out that the location of the Meta-gene is somewhere near the brain. (Of course, in reality every cell in the body would contain this gene.)

In the DC Comics universe, metahuman criminals are incarcerated in special metahuman prisons, like the one built on Alcatraz Island, which outfitted not only with provisions to hold criminals whose powers are science and technology-based, but even mystical dampeners to hold villains (including Homo Magi) whose powers are magic based. Prisoners in this facility are tagged with nanobyte tracers injected into their bloodstream that allows them to be located wherever they are.

White Martians

According to the storyline in Justice League of America (#4) by Grant Morrison, and the storylines in Martian Manhunter (#25 - 27) by John Ostrander, and Son of Vulcan (#5), the genetic potential for a future metagene was discovered in ancient human DNA by the White Martian race. The White Martians performed experiments on these primitive humans, changing the metagene.

Due to their experimentations, they actually altered the destiny of the human race. Whereas before evolution would have eventually made mankind into a race of superhumans similar to the Daxamites and Kryptonians, now only a select few humans would be able to develop metahuman powers. As punishment for this, the group of renegades known as the Hyperclan was exiled to the Still Zone, a version of the Phantom Zone.


The White Martians also created a metavirus, a metagene that could be passed from host to host via touch. This metavirus was responsible for the empowerment of the very first Son of Vulcan. And from that time onwards the Sons of Vulcan passed the metavirus down in an unbroken line, sworn to hunt and kill White Martians.


The terms "meta" and "metahuman" does not only refer to humans born with biological variants. Superman and Martian Manhunter (aliens) as well as Wonder Woman (a near-goddess) and Aquaman (an Atlantean) are referred to in many instances as "metahumans." It can refer to anyone with extranormal powers, no matter the origins and including those not born with such power. According to Countdown to Infinite Crisis, there are roughly 1.3 million metahumans on Earth, 99.5% of which are considered "nuisance-level" (such as kids who can bend spoons with their mind and the old lady "who keeps hitting at Powerball"). The other 0.5% are what Checkmate and the OMACs consider alpha and beta level threats. For example, Superman and Wonder Woman were categorized as alpha level, while Metamorpho was considered a beta.


The 52 mini-series introduced a toxic mutagen called the Exo-gene (also referred to as the Exogene). It is a toxic gene therapy treatment created by Lexcorp for the Everyman Project which creates metahuman abilities in compatible non-metahumans. First appears in 52 #4, first announcement of the Everyman Project in 52 #8. The project was controversial, creating a lot of unstable heroes and gave Luthor an "off switch" for their powers, creating countless mid-flight deaths.

Homo Magi

DC also suggests that some humans have inherent ability to utilize magic, and these humans are part of a branch or offshoot of humanity referred to as the Homo magi, who have interbred with normal humans. As with aliens and mutants with superhuman powers, Homo magi are also often classed together as Metas by the general public of the DCU.

Metahumans and mutants

A common rule of thumb in fandom is that Marvel has mutants and mutates, while DC has metahumans. However, both DC and Marvel have made use of the terms "metahuman" and "mutant" within their own universes. DC's Captain Comet and Tempest I were initially described as being mutants. In the televised DCU, the Justice League Unlimited episode "Fearful Symmetry" explicitly references both Mutants and Metahumans in a single sentence.

The term metahuman was first used by DC in 1989 in the Invasion! mini-series written by Keith Giffen and Bill Mantlo, as part of the main plot. It was Mantlo's first work for DC following a long career at Marvel Comics.

In Amalgam Comics, a collaboration between Marvel and DC Comics, metahumans are combined with mutants to form Metamutants.


City of Heroes

In the MMORPG City of Heroes, the Illuminati-like Malta Group refers to super-beings as metahuman. When spotting a player, its paramilitary operatives will often report an "MHI" or Meta-Human Incursion to their squad.


GURPS International Super Teams, the 1991 worldbook for the "house campaign" for the GURPS Supers rules, uses "metahuman" as the formal scientific/academic term employed within the setting for a human with super-powers.

Marvel Comics

In Marvel Comics, metahuman is a term used in the Marvel Universe to describe an attribute of a character that possesses a high degree of superhuman durability. A character possessing metahuman level invulnerability can withstand virtually all puncture wounds, temperature extremes of hot and cold, and corrosives without sustaining damage. The various tissues of their bodies; skin, bone, muscle, etc., are essentially as hard as a diamond. As a result, they are practically invulnerable to injury by conventional attacks or weaponry. This classification system is not commonly used within the comics themselves, being mainly limited to supplemental materials.

The word Metahuman has also been used by Marvel characters to refer to superhuman beings on rare occasions. In Ultimate Fantastic Four #24, Reed Richards calls the Ultimate version of Namor "possibly the most powerful metahuman on Earth".

The first use of the term 'metahuman' in the Marvel universe was in the New Mutants Annual #3, written by Chris Claremont, released in 1987. In it, a Russian security officer describes the protagonists as "metahuman terrorists".


Metahuman is also used in the Shadowrun universe to describe elves, dwarves, and the like. These metahumans are described as being subspecies of Homo sapiens who began emerging following the return of magic in 2011 and generally have been the targets of racism throughout their existence. In game terms, metahuman characters generally have abilities beyond those of normal humans, such as increased strength or agility, improved vision, etc.

Static Shock

In animated versions of the DC universe, the term metahuman is sometimes used, most commonly this is true for the animated series Static Shock (a series which intersects and interacts with the main animated DC Universe, including the Batman and Superman shows of the nineties, as well as the JLU). Static Shock is a show in which all superpowered characters are granted powers by a large chemical explosion later nicknamed "the Big Bang" are dubbed "Meta-Humans" or "Bang-Babies". A few strange facts and differences are presented by this version of the term:

  • Despite being used regularly in the DC Comics universe, the term metahuman was not commonly used at the time Milestone Comics' first 4 books (Static being the fourth) were published (if at all).
  • Metahumans in Static Shock have no latent metagene, but rather a mutated genome due to a common chemical accident. These mutations often reflect previous attributes (many such attributes paradoxically personality related)
  • "Metahuman" is first presented in the show by Virgil Hawkins the main character of the show Static Shock as an alternative to the word "Mutant" because it sounded "degrading."
  • Bang Baby/Metahumans can be cured by chemical antidote, a fact separating them from other Superbeings in the Animated DC Universe.
  • The expression is rarely used in the show's sibling shows despite sharing the same continuity.
  • It is suggested that bang baby/metahumans' powers are subject to change due to the unstable nature of their origin.

Wild Cards

"Metahuman" is used for the first time in 1986 by George R. R. Martin in an altered version of the Superworld role playing system, and later in the Wild Cards anthology series as the formal scientific term describing both superhuman powers and those that possess them, as seen in the appendices to Volume I (the general public of the Wild Cards universe commonly refer to such individuals as Aces).


On the television series Smallville, metahumans can be naturally occurring, but the majority of them on the show are the result of exposure to kryptonite, which in the Smallville universe can have the effect of turning people into super-powered "meteor freaks", often with psychotic side effects.

Non-kryptonite metahumans include the Smallville versions of Aquaman and the Flash.

See also

Notes and references

External links

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