'Black Lightning': Gravedigger, Nick Fury, Captain America and their cautionary tales of genetic war

Gravedigger's origin and Nick Fury's are remarkably similar and both stories tie into the show's themes of African American exploitation


                            'Black Lightning': Gravedigger, Nick Fury, Captain America and their cautionary tales of genetic war
Wayne Brady (Syfy), 'Ultimate Origins' #1 (Bendis/Guice/Ponsor/Marvel Comics)
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Spoiler alert for Season 3 Episode 14: 'Homecoming' 

The latest episode of 'Black Lightning' reveals the origins of Gravedigger (Wayne Brady) and the amalgamated origins of both Gravediggers from the comics - Tyson Sykes and Ulysses Hazard - creates an origin that's strikingly similar to a Marvel Comics character. No, not Captain America - it's the Ultimate Comics version of Nick Fury. The focus 'Black Lightning' currently has on metahumans and the genetic arms race has always had parallels to the genetic war Ultimate Comics kept talking about but this new origin cements it. 

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In the comics, Ulysses Hazard was the first Gravedigger. A man who overcame his own polio to get himself into physical shape, he was disappointed when the US Government segregated him because he was black and forced him into menial service. He had to single-handedly invade the Pentagon before his skills were recognized and he took on his codename, made into a one-man unit for the US Army. His successor, decades later, was a man named Terry Sykes, a member of a spy organization who gave himself telekineses by injecting himself with alien cells.

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The CW's Gravedigger was born Tyson Sykes, and his story begins during his time as a soldier in World War II. African American soldiers were very much discriminated against during the war, segregated from white soldiers and given more menial jobs. Sykes, bullied by racist soldiers, fights back one day, which earns him a choice between a court-marshall or being a guinea pig for scientists. It's there that his dormant metagene was activated, creating Earth-Prime's very first known metahuman and he was, like his comic book counterpart, made into a one-man unit for the US Army. A nod to his other comic book counterpart is made when, at the end of the episode, he injects himself to give himself telekinesis.

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In 'Ultimate Origins,' a very similar origin was revealed for Nick Fury. Project: Rebirth made the formula that created Captain America, a program that Steve Rogers volunteered for, was forced upon an African American Nick Fury who had been arrested for looting. Nick was HIS Earth's first metahuman, followed by Wolverine and then Captain America. Wolverine and Nick both escaped their captors and Captain America became the world's most famous enhanced individual. Following his death, most of the metahumans in the Ultimate Universe became the result of the American government trying to recreate the success of Project: Rebirth - including Spider-Man and most of his rogues gallery.

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Whether intentional or not, Gravedigger gives a nod to the Ultimate Comics in the final moments as he's described as having "ultimate" power, and calling himself the "ultimate" vengeance.

A phrase that was often repeated throughout comics set in the Ultimate Universe was that "the next war will be a genetic one." The success of enhancing a human-led to an arms race, and it's notable that it all began with the exploitation of an African American during times of war. The genetic arms race has been at the center of 'Black Lightning' right from Season 1.

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The American government was responsible for the unsanctioned experiments in Freeland that led to Black Lightning (Cress Williams) getting his powers as well as the rest of the pod kids. They began the genetic experiments in Markovia, thanks to its reduced labor laws, leading to the war that Freeland finds itself in now. Like Nick in Ultimate Comics, the genetic arms race has been largely built upon the exploitation of African Americans. 

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Gravedigger's origin has been compared to Captain America's, but their origins differ in vastly different ways. Steve volunteered, where Sykes was unfairly exploited. Steve was made a hero and symbol of the country whereas Gravedigger was kept a highly guarded secret who ultimately left America, knowing his country never wanted him in the first place until he got powers. Captain America is his country's greatest pride whereas Gravedigger is his country's greatest shame and most highly guarded secret. 

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Gravedigger is central to the themes that 'Black Lightning' explores, the worst-case scenario for a world where the US Government is at the forefront of genetic research. Ultimate Comics always said that the next war would be a genetic one and that war has now come to Freeland.

The next episode of 'Black Lightning' airs March 2 on The CW. 

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Disclaimer : The views expressed in this article belong to the writer and are not necessarily shared by MEAWW.