"Changes? Oh, you mean Obama? And Martin Luther King? Well, seems to me that Obama was bought and paid for by rich liberals and multinational corporations and Martin Luther King, well, he was a coward who lacked the courage to fight for his own freedom."
—Tyson Sykes to Lightning[src]

Tyson Sykes (born c. 1920),[1] also known as Gravedigger, is the world's first documented meta-human, a former American soldier turned leader of the Markovian military who is aiming to create a country populated only by metas by invading Freeland and capture those who reside or were created there.


Early life

Tyson Sykes was born around 1920 to a man named Cassius Pierce and an unnamed woman with whom he had an affair. His father, being married to another woman, never recognized him as his son. However, Tyson once met his half-brother from his father's side, Ben Pierce, when they were young. They met again right before they both enlisted for World War II.[1]

During the war, Sykes was among the many African-American soldiers in the U.S. Army who suffered harassment due to their skin color. One day, after a white official bullied him, he fought back, beating him to a pulp and getting arrested. Sykes was then given the choice to go to a court-martial or becoming a subject for a government experiment, he choose the latter option.[2]

Becoming a meta-human

After numerous experiments, Sykes was injected with a substance that had previously killed hundreds of men, however in his case it activated his meta-gene instead giving him superhuman physical attributes, slower aging and the ability to control a person's mind with his vocal command. He became the world first meta-human and was sent to Nazi Germany to fight against the Axis forces, there he killed dozens of soldiers by himself.[2]

As their first super soldier, Sykes fought many other wars for the US killing thousands and thousands of men, however he dig a grave for literally everyone of the men he has killed on the battlefield, thus gaining the codename "Gravedigger".[3]

Joining Markovia

At some point during the Cold War, Gravedigger was stationed in Markovia to oversee Dr. Helga Jace's project of recreating the serum that gave him his powers in order to create an army of meta-humans for the U.S. to use against the nearby Soviet Union.[2] However, he became disillusioned with the U.S. government and decided to switch his alliance, joining Markovian insurgents and leading them on a coup d’état. They overthrew the U.S.-allied Markovian government and establishing a new government headed by a Prime Minister, with which Sykes lived like a king. However, he would grow to have a desire of creating a country populated only by metas.[1]

War against Freeland

To achieve his dream, Sykes set his sights on the U.S. government experiments on Freeland citizens to turn them into meta-humans. Infuriated by what he saw as another racist abuse of power by the U.S. government, Sykes convinced the Markovians to infiltrate Freeland and bring its metas to Markovia so they could be Markovian weapons. In reality, Sykes just wanted them to join his new meta nation where they could live “freely” and “normally”.[1]

With the U.S.’s intelligence agency the A.S.A. catching wind of the Markovians’ goal, they set out to stop them while producing more metas in Freeland to fight for their side. After a lengthy struggle against Freeland and the A.S.A., Sykes seized control of the Markovian operation and ultimately ordered the Markovians to exterminate all of Freeland, but capture all metas. Many Freeland citizens were killed, but Sykes and the Markovians were stopped thanks to the combined efforts of Freeland’s citizens and heroes. Sykes was left inside The Pit when it self-destructed, so we was presumed dead.[1]

In reality, Sykes managed to survive and made his way to Gotham, where he witnessed his grand-nephew Jefferson Pierce and his family testify to a Congressional Commission about the conflict and the reprehensible history of the A.S.A., including their illegal meta-human experiments. Afterwards, Sykes walked out and gazed into the distance with satisfaction, the racist coverup that had fueled him with rage for decades having been finally exposed.[1]

Powers and abilities


"The U.S. government experimented on me almost eighty years ago, granting me abilities beyond that of a normal person. I am, officially, unofficially, the first meta."
—Tyson Sykes[src]
  • Meta-human physiology: Sykes was given his abilities as part of an early attempt in the US military to create an army of super-soldiers. Sykes was the only test subject to survive, his trials unlocking a dormant "meta-gene" that manifested itself in superhuman abilities.[4]
    • Accelerated healing factor: Sykes can heal in considerably accelerated rates, being able to recover from extreme electrocution induced by Black Lightning's powers within minutes.
      • Enhanced longevity: Sykes' healing powers also significantly slows down (if not completely stops) his aging process. He has been in his physical prime for over seventy years. [2] This ability was so rare, it took billions of dollars in research (as well as several decades) in order to create a serum with similar effects, with the only other example of it working is Tobias Whale.
    • Command inducement: Sykes' chief ability is that he is able to mentally dominate the actions of others. Even while fully aware of their actions, the target is utterly compelled to follow Skyes' commands. This also grants him immunity from anyone else with this ability.[4]
    • Superhuman durability: Sykes is extremely resistant to damage, able to survive Black Lightning's electric blasts, even while the latter used an extreme current due to his anger. Sykes was even able to withstand a combined attack from Jennifer and Brandon, as well as a massive explosion that almost completely annihilated a large compound.[1]
    • Superhuman speed: Sykes raced across an entire hallway within a fraction of a second and was able to outmaneuver Painkiller, an engineered assassin. His top speed is unknown.[4]
    • Superhuman strength: Sykes is far stronger than any normal human, able easily break free from restrains.[4]

Former powers

  • Abilities via meta booster: After taking a serum designed by Lynn Stewart, Sykes is able to take on the powers of other metahumans. While the serum's effects normally last for short periods of time, because the serum is based on the one that triggered his meta-gene to begin with, he could retain the new abilities indefinitely.[2] However, he lost all of these powers when Lynn Stewart injected him with the anti-booster serum. With these powers, Tyson was extremely powerful; making him one of the most powerful beings in the entire multiverse.
    • Flight: Sykes was able to propel himself into the air and fly.[1]
    • Heat vision: Sykes was able to emit a red beam of heat from his eyes in order to counter Jennifer and Brandon's attacks while fighting him.[1]
    • Magnetic field generation: Sykes was able to create a magnetic field to block Jennifer's attack.[1]
    • Radiogenesis: Sykes is able to generate multiple forms of radiation.[1]
    • Superhuman sonic scream: Sykes is able to emit a sonic scream that is capable of knocking even powerful metas like Black lightning to the ground.[1]
    • Telekinesis: Sykes is capable of controlling the gravitational pull of objects, allowing him to levitate them in the air and move them as he wishes. He displayed this power for the first time by killing Yuri Mosin for insubordination. [3]


  • Master hand-to-hand combatant/Martial artist: Gravedigger is a highly skilled hand-to-hand combatant and martial artist.[4] With his extensive army training combined with over 80 years of experience, Skyes is an extremely adaptable and efficient fighter, able outmaneuver and defeat several soldiers at once during his time as an American meta-assassin. [2] He later manages to defeat Painkiller, who is programmed with hundreds of different fighting styles with only minor difficulty.
  • Peak of human physical condition: As a soldier, Gravedigger is in top physical condition.[4] His metahuman abilities allow him to retain his prime age even through he is over a century old (as he is a meta-human for about 80 years now, having been a soldier during World War II).


  • Anti-meta booster: The serum Lynn made is able to negate if not take away all Sykes new meta powers he got from the meta-booster serum.[1]
  • Green Light: Because Green Light operates by stimulating the user's brain chemistry that regulates thoughts and actions, enough of the Green Light will increase the user's neurological processing to be unaffected by Sykes' mind control.

Former weaknesses


  • Image inducer device: Gravedigger used a special device to change his entire appearance into that of another individual.[1]


Black Lightning

Season 3


  • Tyson Sykes is the first documented meta-human in Earth-Prime's history as he was created during World War II, meaning the Justice Society of America‘s existence was altered from how it was on Earth-1 or erased altogether.

Behind the scenes

  • In the comics, Tyson Sykes is the second African-American fictional character known to use the codename Gravedigger. He is a Checkmate operative whose field designation is Rook Alpha. Tyson gains special telepathic abilities by injecting himself with a solution called Apocritic made from Starro's DNA.
  • Sykes served as the main antagonist of the "Book of Markovia arc" and the "Book of War arc" of Season 3 of Black Lightning.


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