Despite his apparent simplicity, the Tattooed Man has proven to be a surprisingly resilient concept. Multiple versions of the character have been deceptively powerful men who's tempted to leave behind the life of crime they've developed.
Although he was introduced early in the Silver Age of DC Comics as a villain for Green Lantern and later, the Justice League, he's been reinvented both for the modern era in comics and for the television series Black Lightning. Now, we're taking a closer look at the most prominent versions of this compelling villain.
Abel Tarrant was the first Tattooed Man, introduced all the way back in 1963's Green Lantern #23, by Gardner Fox and Gil Kane. Tarrant was a Green Lantern villain who was exposed to mysterious chemicals during a heist attempt. Learning that the substance allowed him to create objects from his body, he covered himself in the substance so he could always create new weapons from his body at any time. He became a member of the Injustice Gang, and fought against various members of the Justice League multiple times over the years.
Eventually, he tried to step away from crime. He even tried to push fellow villain Chronos into helping him change the past to keep himself from ever becoming the Tattooed Man. But he couldn't help himself and returned to villainy. He ended up on the Suicide Squad during the events of Infinite Crisis, he tried to betray them so he could join the Secret Society of Super-Villains. He was seemingly killed for his act, but he's since appeared in a brief cameo during Doomsday Clock, where he lamented the fate of DC's other Tattooed Man.
Created by Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver in 2006's Green Lantern #9, DC's main modern Tattooed Man is Mark Richards. Richards was a former U.S. marine who returned to the country as a killer. His tattoos are "sin grafted" onto him, which gives him the chance to use the sins of people he killed to "redeem" them. He briefly served as a villain before making a surprisingly genuine turn towards heroism during the events of Final Crisis. He and his family were among the survivors of Darkseid's assault on the Earth. Black Lightning ended up sacrificing his freedom to save Richards and his family.
Richards dedicated himself to helping fight Darkseid as a result. He wound up playing a crucial role in saving the world by tattooing the necessary symbol to hold back the Anti-Life Equation onto his body. He was even made an honorary member of the Justice League. He tried to remain a hero following the events of that story but worked with Deathstroke to kill Slipknot after the minor villain murdered his son. He eventually settled into a role as protector of his neighborhood. This version of Tattooed Man was last seen in Heroes In Crisis, trying to work through his issues at Sanctuary. He was among the people killed by Wally West losing control of his powers.
The CW's Black Lightning introduced a completely new version of the Tattooed Man, one of Jefferson Pierce's old students named Latavius "Lala" Johnson. He'd since become a low-level gangster, working for Tobias Whale and carrying out his dirty work as a member of the 100 gang. He was murdered by Whale eventually however for his various failures to stop Black Lightning. He was brought back to life after the fact by Tobias and imbued with new power.
He was different, however: the faces of the people he'd killed appeared across his skin, and he saw visions of their lost souls. He continued to work for Whale until he learned how Whale had used him to kill one of his best friends. Lala turned against his former boss and even helped saved Black Lightning during a fight with Heatstroke. However, his attempt to bring down Whale was prevented by Whale activating a secret code that unleashed all of his tattoos at once - painfully. He was last seen writing in pain, so it's possible that Lala might make a return in the next season of Black Lightning.
Written by Salim Akil and Mara Brock Akil and developed by Berlanti Productions, Akil Productions and Warner Bros. Television, Black Lightning stars Cress Williams as Jefferson Pierce/Black Lightning, China Anne McClain as Jennifer Pierce, Nafessa Williams as Anissa Pierce/Thunder, Christine Adams as Lynn Stewart, Marvin "Krondon" Jones III as Tobias Whale, Damon Gupton as Billy Henderson and James Remar as Peter Gambi.