Welcome to the 2021 A to Z Challenge! My theme this year is DC Comics. And that’s mostly because of my undying affection for the comic book characters and stories that I grew up reading in the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s. So stay tuned all month to (maybe) learn a little something about 26 corners of the DC Multiverse.
C could represent a number of characters in the DC Universe: Captain Atom, Captain Boomerang, Captain Cold, Catwoman… you get it. Cheetah recently had some time in the spotlight thanks to Wonder Woman 1984. Cyborg recently got a reboot thanks to Zack Snyder’s Justice League, which was a much more in-depth look at the character than the theatrical version of Justice League that we got in 2017.
However, I’ve chosen to look at the Cyborg Superman. Yet another Anti-Superman.
Unlike Bizarro, Cyborg Superman actually looks like Superman. Except with additional cybernetic parts. He’s got the S facing the right way, anyway. Also, unlike the misunderstood Bizarro, Cyborg Superman is straight-up evil, y’all. But we’ll get to that.
As some of you may be aware, back in the 90s, DC Comics decided to kill off Superman. Legend has it the story began as a joke when the writers and artists of the four monthly Superman titles got together for their annual summit to discuss what they should do to the Man of Steel throughout the coming months. At the time, they wanted to have Clark and Lois get married. But because Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman was being developed at ABC, they were asked to hold off on that idea so that the story could coincide with the eventuality that the characters would marry on television. So one of the writers just threw it out there: “What if we kill him?”
From what I’ve heard, this was a running gag at these meetings. I mean, you have four writers of four different titles that are all trying to tie everything together. Continuity was a beautiful and well-oiled machine back then. And whenever there was a lull in the discussion, someone would say, “What if we kill him?” This time, someone answered back, “Yeah, what if we kill him?” Doomsday was born. Superman died. It was all very sad. And profitable for DC Comics.
Now, as a young teenager in the 90s, I had no internet. I mean, I had America Online. But the internet of the early to mid-90s is not the internet we know today. Information was not just a few keystrokes away thanks to Google. Google wasn’t even a thing yet. Yahoo wasn’t even a thing then. So we didn’t get advance notice about the stories that were coming from comic book creators like people do today through various geek-centric websites. The best source of info I had was Wizard magazine, which did mostly focus on the comics industry.
Once the “Death of Superman” storyline concluded, we were given “Funeral for a Friend.” And then the previews that you would normally find at the end of the letters column on the last page of the issues were conspicuously and mysteriously empty. What was coming to Superman comics after the funeral was over? We just didn’t know.
I’m pretty sure a couple months went by without the publication of any of those four monthly Superman titles.
And then the advertisements began to hit the real world. I remember seeing a poster in my local comic shop. It was divided into quadrants depicting four silhouetted figures, each featuring a familiar S on their chests. This poster promised that four individuals were coming, each claiming to be Superman. But which one was the real Superman?
Spoiler: it was none of them.
The “Reign of the Supermen” storyline went on for what felt like forever. Action Comics featured a Superman who took no prisoners. Adventures of Superman featured a teenage clone of Superman (who did not, by the way, like it when you called him Superboy). Man of Steel featured a regular guy who was just inspired by Superman and wore an Iron Man-like suit. And Superman featured a Superman with cybernetic parts who would come to be known as the Cyborg Superman.
This one was my favorite. Because of those four titles, Superman was my favorite. And that all came down to the writer/artist in charge of that title: Dan Jurgens. I loved his writing style. I loved his artistic style. So I was all about the Cyborg Superman.
And then the Cyborg Superman destroyed Coast City and revealed that he was the villain of the story. He was in an alliance with another classic villain named Mongul, who wanted to transform the Earth into a mobile planet-sized gladiatorial arena called WarWorld. The plan was to turn Coast City and Metropolis into the two main engines of this new WarWorld.
Side bar: Coast City was home to Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern. The destruction of his home town had repercussions that echoed throughout the DC Universe for years to come.
The remaining fake Supermen and the real Superman (yeah, he got better) prevented the destruction of Metropolis and faced off against the Cyborg Superman. The newly resurrected Man of Steel punched through the Cyborg and vibrated his arm at super-speed, which caused the robot man to disintegrate. However, before you start yelling that Superman doesn’t kill people, calm yourselves.
Because here’s the Cyborg’s backstory… He was once an astronaut named Hank Henshaw. He was part of a quartet of astronauts who got caught up in some kind of cosmic storm that gave each of them powers. Sound familiar? Think of it as
a rip off of an homage to the Fantastic Four. Only where it all turns into a huge tragedy. Henshaw, instead gaining the ability to stretch like Reed Richards, was able to transfer his consciousness into machines. And, most shocking of all, he blamed Superman for all his ills.
Now, I can’t remember how it all went down, but somehow, Henshaw’s consciousness found its way into the birthing matrix that gave baby Kal-El life (based on the origin story they were going with at that time). And that birthing matrix, containing Henshaw’s consciousness, wound up in space for an undetermined amount of time. When Superman died, that was Henshaw’s chance to strike because he had been able to grow himself a Kryptonian body with the additional machine parts that he was able to control.
So when Superman vibrated him into nothingness, Henshaw’s consciousness uploaded to a device that he attached to the comatose body of Doomsday, which he had thrown into space just after he introduced himself to the world.
Cyborg Superman would later be a thorn in Superman’s side again and again. But he would also show up to torment the Green Lantern. Because it wasn’t enough that he destroyed the guy’s home town. In the mid-2000s, during the Green Lantern event story “The Sinestro Corps War,” Cyborg Superman was given a yellow ring and joined Sinestro’s army to fight against the Green Lantern Corps.
Another side bar: Sinestro is basically Green Lantern’s arch-nemesis. Just in case you weren’t aware. Long story… here’s a link to his Wikipedia page if you’re interested.
I remember being deeply disappointed that Cyborg Superman turned out to be the bad guy. I mean, I got over it because the real Superman came back and kicked his butt.
Thinking about those old comics makes me miss those days when everything was connected. They seriously had their continuity down to a science. What happened in Adventures of Superman directly tied into what happened the following week in Action Comics. And even if they weren’t doing a big crossover story, there were always little nods to what happened in last week’s issue. Today we’d call them Easter eggs.
In 2011, DC rebooted its entire continuity and reintroduced the Cyborg Superman as Supergirl’s father, Zor-El. I didn’t much care for that change. Actually, I didn’t much care for much of the “New 52” changes at all. As the continuity has been shaken up since 2011, I’m pretty sure Hank Henshaw is once again the Cyborg Superman, but I honestly can’t keep up anymore.
Is the Cyborg Superman a character that you’ve ever heard of before now? Did I leave out anything important? Let me know what you think about this despicable villain in the comments!