Live by the Cosmic Rays, Die by the Cosmic Rays (Mostly Die)

Welcome to Random Explanations, in which I try to explain a matter, answer a question, or concoct a theory based on a suggestion. This week (per a suggestion from Taylor): Hank Henshaw aka Cyborg Superman, the astronaut-turned-supervillain at the center of the 90s comic book event Reign of the Supermen

Stop me if you've heard this one: a group of astronauts, three men and a woman, launch out for space. While on their scientific mission, things go awry and the crew is exposed to massive quantities of cosmic radiation. Instead of dying in this freak accident, the four astronauts emerge from their cosmic ray encounter with superhuman abilities.

Most comic book fans will recognize that as the origin story for the Fantastic Four. But let's be honest for a second: there is no way that freak scientific accident should have turned out well. In fact, catastrophic accidents in space end horribly. That is probably what the writers of the early 90s Superman comics were thinking when they told the story which starts off as a blatant ripoff of Fantastic Four, but then...

So same story as above, but the body of two crew members are destroyed in the accident. Fortunately (in the short term, not the long) their minds survive and they are able to form new bodies out of the wreckage of their spaceship/rocks and the cosmic radiation (because comics!). The other two crew members, alliteratively named Hank Henshaw and his wife Terri, do not seem to suffer any ill effects. Well, Hank's hair turns white, which probably caused an early onset of midlife crisis. However, when your buddies are turned into a rock and metal monster and a radiation creature, that's not too bad.

But then things get bad. Really, really bad. The radiation guy Not Human Torch loses his mind, gets into a fight with Superman, loses his mind more, and kills himself by flying into the sun. Then Henshaw's body begins to decay. His skin starts to fall off his skeleton, but he can still talk (having white hair seems alright now). Terri begins to phase in and out of an alternate dimension. Meanwhile Not The Thing kills himself with a MRI machine.

Superman takes Terri to some scientists that keep her firmly in this dimension. Henshaw is not so fortunate and his body completely decays. But his mind survives (because comics!) and he moves his consciousness to a computer to build him a robot body. He surprises his wife by declaring "Johnny Five alive!" Driven to insanity by seeing her believed-to-be-dead husband now in the form of a creepy WALL-E, Terri is driven to insanity and, in fear, plummets to her death from a window.

That in and of itself is a dark take on the Fantastic Four origin, but we're not done. Distraught, Henshaw transfers his consciousness to the rocket that brought baby Superman from Krypton (Clark, like many of us, did not password protect his birthing matrix) and uses it to explore outer space. Somewhere in all of this, Henshaw got the idea that Superman was to blame for the accident that caused this in the first place. Superman wasn't responsible for the accident, but a person's perception is their reality so Henshaw is consumed with thoughts of revenge.

Fast forward a few years, Superman is killed by Doomsday which renders revenge on Superman a moot point. Not one to be deterred, Henshaw decides to destroy Superman's reputation. Using Kryptonian DNA and the technology found in the rocket, Henshaw fashions himself a part human, part robot body.

He returns to earth claiming to be the resurrected Superman. His DNA checks out and the robot parts are Kryptonian, so people believe him (including 10 year old Chris). He saves President Bill Clinton from attack (Bill and Hillary spoke at Superman's funeral so they were, I don't know, buddies?) and the United States officially declares the Cyborg Superman to be the one true Superman (oh yeah, there were others claiming to be Superman; long story that you can read about here, here, and here).

Unbeknownst to the American public, Henshaw calls on his alien warlord buddies to annihilate Coast City, the home of Green Lantern, which kills millions of people. He then plans to send a missile to Superman's hometown of Metropolis to do the same and then reveal himself, the Man of Steel, as the evil mastermind behind the plan thus rendering Superman as the most hated individual in human history. 

Unfortunately for his evil plan and fortunately for the citizens of earth, the real Superman got better and thwarted Henshaw with the help of the other Supermen and Green Lantern (who, to continue this story's theme, later went insane over the loss of Coast City; he became a bad guy, then the embodiment of God's judgment, then Green Lantern again; another long, weird story). Of course, Henshaw's consciousness survived and he would continue to be a thorn in Superman and Green Lantern's side for years to come.

Whew. I took a deep dive into my comic book nerd side there. So if there is a moral to all of this, it's this: do not expose yourself to massive amounts of cosmic radiation (or gamma bombs, radioactive spiders, etc.) in hopes that you will become a superhero. It's just as likely to result in madness, death, and a plot point in the Ryan Reynolds Green Lantern movie. And no one wants any of that.

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