From starting his fictional life as a Marvel knock-off to being used as the lynchpin to launch several major plot initiatives at DC Comics, the character that would go on to be called Cyborg Superman is arguably one of the most interesting in comics. If you’re a fan of the CW’s Supergirl, then you might know the name Hank Henshaw as being an alias of the Martian Manhunter - that is, until recently when the real Hank Henshaw returned as a version of the comics villain Cyborg Superman.
Comic fans know the former astronaut actually has one of the deeper histories of any character in the DC universe. Created in 1990, the character has transformed from a forgettable one off character to being a formidable antagonist for a large portion of the DCU. Here are 16 Things You Need To Know About Hank “Cyborg Superman” Henshaw.
In the Superboy comics of the 1990s, Cadmus was a genetics lab that created a clone of Superman by combining his DNA with Lex Luthor’s. While operating in a morally grey area, the team at Cadmus were generally considered the good guys. The second season of Supergirl, however, has introduced Cadmus as an anti-alien terrorist organization run by Lillian Luthor, Lex’s mother. On the show, Cadmus has been responsible for putting alien guns in the hands of criminals and creating not one, but two Metallos. During the episode “The Darkest Place”, Lillian baits Supergirl into coming to a Cadmus facility by kidnapping Mon-El. The alien survivor of Krypton’s sister planet Daxom had been captured by who he thought was Jon J’onzz, but was actually Hank Henshaw - sort of.
In the television series' canon, Hank Henshaw was a DEO agent left for dead on a mission with Kara Danver’s adopted father Jeremiah (played by Lois & Clark’s Superman Dean Cain.) The Martian Manhunter would go on to assume Henshaw’s identity and role as a DEO field agent. While Henshaw’s target for revenge in the comics was Superman, on television his sights are set on Supergirl and Martian Manhunter for both being aliens to Earth and stealing his life. This version of Henshaw was saved by Cadmus scientists who upgraded him using cybernetics to make him as strong as Superman, but his origin has little to do with the original Hank Henshaw and has yet to display any of his signature abilities, like technopathy.
While Hank isn’t a direct copy of Reed Richards, he and his fellow astronauts introduced in The Adventures of Superman tale “The Limits of Power” are DC’s answer to what would happen if the Fantastic Four had been created in their universe. Hank, his wife and two other astronauts are exposed to radiation from a solar flare while aboard a shuttle mission for LexCorp. At first Hank believed they could save his friends who had been transformed into beings of rocks and radiation respectively. Hank was the only astronaut unaffected except for his hair turning white, a side effect of Reed Richards exposure to Cosmic Rays as well. The DC answer to Ben Grimm would go on to commit suicide by MRI, while its iteration of the Human Torch would burn himself out in the sun. Hank was able to save his wife Terri before she “disappeared” into another dimension. Henshaw’s body was ravaged by radiation poisoning, but his mind was able to live on in a computer, much like the Marvel character Wonder Man. From there, much like a less-cute version of Chappie, he set about building a makeshift robot body from Lexcorp tech.
In 1993, DC Comics' editorial board decided to tap into the zeitgeist of the stylized comic books wave started at Marvel. DC announced they were going to replace both Batman and Superman with new, "cooler" versions of the characters. The move was intended to be a meta-critical statement on how the DC characters were different from the popular characters of the day, but it also created a sales boom that would affect the industry for decades to come. Henshaw was reintroduced to DC continuity after the "Death of Superman" in a storyline dubbed "Reign of the Supermen," in which four new Supermen appear.
After Superman’s apparent death at the hands of Doomsday, four replacement Supermen came out of the woodwork; they included John Henry Irons, an architect who had been saved by Superman and wanted to honor his memory as Steel; Superboy, a clone of Superman with tactile telekinesis; the Last Son of Krypton, a reprogrammed artificial intelligence given physical form by the robots of the Fortress of Solitude; and finally Cyborg Superman, a half-kryptonian, half-robot Superman replacement claiming to be the original Clark Kent, rebuilt. It would later be revealed that the Cyborg was actually Hank Henshaw having returned to Earth to seek revenge against Superman, only to find him dead at Doomsday’s hands. Henshaw built a new body using Kal-el’s birthing matrix comprised of enough kryptonian materials to convince skeptics in the DC universe that he was the “real” Superman.
While Cyborg Superman can certainly mimic Superman’s powers, Henshaw’s actual abilities are quite a bit stronger than the Man of Steel's. Hank can transfer his consciousness into any technology. Throughout his career of Superman-obsessed villainy, Henshaw has upgraded his form by interacting with different alien tech like the Kryptonian birthing matrix, the 4th Dimension powering Source Wall, and a post-Marvel-Kirby-created WarWorld. Henshaw would become obsessed with creating a Warworld of his own.
Cy-Supes has demonstrated the ability to inhabit and control artificial intelligences and constructs. In one instance, Henshaw overwrote the DNA of an Apokoliptian guard while absorbing the technology in his armor. The incident also gave the character his first new look since his return in "Reign of the Supermen." In later Green Lantern story arcs, Henshaw would come to realize his powers grant him an immortality he doesn’t want. In the "New 52", Henshaw has only recently begun showing signs of technopathy after finding an alien artifact in a modified version of the Excalibur mission from his origin.
In the Youtube video The Death and Return of Superman, screenwriter Max Landis recounts the events of the massive comics event in a Drunk History style. While Max tells the story of "The Death of Superman", actors played out some of the most memorable storylines in comics history. Landis includes Hank Henshaw’s entire origin story featuring former Good Son Elijah Wood as Cyborg Superman and adult film star Misti Dawn as his wife Terri. Other cameos included Mandy Moore as Lois Lane, Daredevil’s Elden Henson as Doomsday and even Simon Pegg as Landis’ own father, legendary director John Landis. This year Wood would reunite with the writer/director for his first TV series, an adaptation of Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently for BBC America.While Landis would go on to surmise in the short that "The Death and Return of Superman" may have been what destroyed Superman’s popularity for several years, Landis would eventually write multiple Superman comics including a crossover between Superman and the Joker and Superman: American Alien, a comic that explored Clark Kent’s awkward adolescence.
The Eradicator was a device programmed by one of Superman’s ancestors to protect Kryptonian culture. The artifact created Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, and would have continued to make Earth into a new Krypton had it not been for Superman’s intervention. In an attempt to recreate the perfect Kryptonian, it tried to take over Clark’s mind. Once he came to his senses, Clark threw the Eradicator into the sun at the same moment Hank Henshaw’s Excalibur mission was bombarded with radiation.
With the assistance of Mongul, Cyborg Superman attacked Coast City in an effort to frame The Eradicator, now in the physical form of The Last Son of Krypton, for its destruction, to convert it into an Engine City for his new WarWorld, and we would eventually learn where Henshaw had lived with his wife Terri. While this act revealed him for the true villain of "The Reign of the Supermen" arc, it also set off the Green Lantern tale Emerald Twilight as Coast City was the home of Hal Jordan. Jordan began to lose his mind and attempted to use his ring to recreate the west coast metropolis. When the Guardians called him back to OA for his abuse of power, Jordan killed the majority of the Green Lantern Corps and became Parallax. This would set up Cyborg Superman to be not just a Superman villain, but a foil for many Green Lantern stories to come.
In the 1990’s, the House of Mouse didn’t own Marvel and the publisher was much more open to intercompany crossovers. During this era of unencumbered comic book cooperation, Peter Parker would take a freelance assignment working with Clark Kent, the Azrael version of Batman would kill bad guys with the Punisher, and Cyborg Superman found his way into the universe that actually inspired his own creation in the comic Green Lantern/Silver Surfer: Unholy Alliances. After coming to the Marvel Universe, Henshaw would destroy a planet that had been saved by the Silver Surfer from the hunger of Galactus. Kicking off the DC Vs. Marvel event, Cyborg Superman throws down with Silver Surfer until Hal Jordan catches up to Cyborg Superman. Though interference from the Silver Surfer prevents Hal from getting his revenge, Parallax discovers that by combining powers with the Surfer he can rebuild the recently destroyed planet. This sets him on a course with the Silver Surfer to resurrect Coast City. Hank Henshaw would escape, but with a new interest in Galactus. All while new Green Lantern Kyle Rayner gets taken in by Thanos. Green Lanterns are apparently terrible judges of character.
Hank Henshaw returned to the Marvel Universe in the boringly titled but pop-culturally relevant crossover Superman / Fantastic Four. In the 1999 comic’s continuity, Galactus came across a Kryptonian ship with the sole survivor of the destroyed planet. Curious, but not to be delayed in his own pursuits, Galactus sent a tracker after the ship to follow its course. After learning of his existence in the Green Lantern/Silver Surfer crossover and interfacing with his tracker, Cyborg Superman co-opts a kryptonian message crystal to convince Superman that the Marvel Universe’s world eater had destroyed Krypton. When Superman attempts to confront Galactus he is transformed into his latest herald.
Henshaw partners briefly with the Fantastic Four in order to get access to Galactus’ power, while assisting them in getting to Superman. The writer and editors made sure to include an exchange about the shared origin story of the Fantastic Four and the crew of the Excalibur. As The Thing and The Cyborg load a shuttle for the trip across the universe, Henshaw mentions that it’s “ironic we’re partnering.” And recounts his experience with his wife and fellow crew members. Ben Grimm responds, “Sad to see what happens when a kid gets traumatized during potty training.” Do you smell that smoke? It’s not the Human Torch.
After the events of DC’s mega-crossover Final Night, Superman was left searching for a way to restart his powers after the eclipse of the sun drained him of abilities. During his quest, Superman gained energy based powers. Through some very convoluted retconning, Hank Henshaw ended up in a clay statue that would fall into the hands of Superman villain Toyman. In a thin setup, Toyman made a device for Cyborg Superman to use based on Electric Superman’s new abilities. Due to a malfunction, instead of splitting Clark’s atoms and disintegrating them at far ends of the galaxy, it split him into two distinct Supermen, Superman Red and Superman Blue. The former of the two would eventually capture Henshaw and imprison him at the Fortress of Solitude.
The two Supermen represented different aspects of Clark’s personality, with one being more thoughtful and the other being brash. As the two acted independently of each other they both decided they wanted to be rid of the other and not find a way to become one Superman again. Both loved Lois Lane, but kind of forgot that maybe she was in love with one Clark Kent and her thoughts actually counted. She rightfully kicks them to curb of their bachelor pad in Antarctica. The story devolves into a bizarre love triangle / stand off with Maxima and Obsession. Ultimately, readers are given an apology for what they’ve witnessed by the return of the original Superman, powers intact, because comics.
In another example of comic book intercompany cooperation, Dark Horse and DC Comics decided that Skynet was no longer worried about John Connor as much as a farm boy named Clark Kent when they crossed over for the series Superman Vs. The Terminator: Death to the Future. Much like Data was fascinated by the Borg and its queen in Star Trek: First Contact, so too was Cyborg Superman compelled toward Skynet. While Superman fought Skynet in the future with an aged Steel and John Connor, Cyborg Superman made a deal with the artificial intelligence and uploaded information on how to defeat the Man of Steel to the Terminators’ systems. After Superman and Steel defeat Skynet, Superman must face a combined Cyborg Superman and Terminatrix. Unlike the movie, however, the Terminatrix isn’t a fan nickname; they actually call the T-X that in the comic. After Superman proved he could defeat them individually, Henshaw physically merged with the T-X. The union wouldn’t last, as Lex Luthor introduces a virus based on the Terminators AI architecture into their merged systems. The series ends with Luthor holding on to the tech so that he could one day take control of Skynet.
The destruction of Coast City forever linked Cyborg Superman to the Green Lantern mythos. While he faced off against Hal Jordan as Parallax several times, the blood feud was renewed in the pages of Geoff John’s Green Lantern in 2006. When the newly reformed Green Lantern Corps is called to a sector of space long banned by the Guardians (who give them their powers), they discover the Manhunters, the original androids the Guardians created to police space, holding many long thought dead Green Lanterns.
The Manhunters were now under the control of their new Grandmaster, Cyborg Superman. Henshaw had interfaced with the Manhunter homeworld, the artificial planet Biot, and continued using it to build an army in a quest to destroy all life on Earth. While rescuing their comrades, The Green Lantern Corps would successfully destroy Biot, along with Hank’s body, but with limited knowledge of Hank’s ability to transfer his psyche, they ignorantly took his head with them back to Oa. Silly Lanterns, always the bringers of their own doom.
After the Sinestro Corps steals his head during an attack, Cyborg Superman would get pulled further into the Green Lantern lore when he was granted not one Qwardian Power Ring, but ten of them. During the events of Infinite Crisis, the Anti-Monitor convinces Henshaw to serve him with the promise of death. With power ring constructs and his own Superman level strength, it takes not just Clark Kent, but Supergirl and Power Girl to stop Henshaw. During the final assault, Henshaw is sealed in with the explosion that would destroy Anti-Monitor by the Green Lantern Corps. Thinking he will at last find peace in death, he thanks the Green Lanterns, only to have fate cruelly revive him at the hands of the Manhunters.
Angry that the Manhunters cost him his death, he deactivated the entire robotic race and returned to Earth to bear witness to the "Blackest Night". Desperate for death, Henshaw confronts Nekron, lord of the Black Lanterns, who informs him that he is of no interest to the Black Lanterns as he has no heart. A further dejected Henshaw returns to the Manhunters and space, only to be redirected to Oa to find the answer of how he can die from Ganthet.
After Smallville wrapped its 10 season run on the CW, fans were already prepared for more than five minutes of Tom Welling inspired Superman in the suit. Emboldened by the success of Dark Horse’s Buffy Season 8 and beyond, DC launched Smallville Season 11. Picking up with Clark’s adventures as a new Superman, the series was also part of a digital first initiative at DC Comics, with issues hitting DC digital subscriptions and apps first.
While many characters from Superman's mythos appeared on Smallville during the show’s decade spanning run, one character that had gone unused was Cyborg Superman. The first arc of the comic brought Hank Henshaw into focus as the pilot of a LexCorp shuttle putting an anti-alien defense platform into space. In this iteration of the character, the weapon detonates in the shuttle causing a radiation leak. Superman rescued the crew while Henshaw piloted the shuttle away. Hank’s consciousness would get transferred into a Lexcorp robot after he suffered severe radiation burns and developing locked in syndrome. Unsure who to blame for his condition he lashes out and attacks Lex Luthor and Superman, though it is revealed that the entire incident was just an excuse to cover Superman in a traceable radiation. In true Smallville fashion, Henshaw would ultimately come to his senses after Clark reasons him down; proving you can take the melodramatic comic book soap opera off tv, but you can’t take the melodramatic soap opera out of comic books.
As the comics boomed in the ‘90’s, so too did the video game consoles war. The rivalry between the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo had created the opportunity for a multitude of comic-inspired adaptations. While Superman had been a staple of consoles since the Atari 2600, The Death and Return of Superman was Superman’s first outing for the 16 bit generation. Released a year after the Reign of the Supermen storyline, the Blizzard & Sunsoft developed game allows you to play a streamlined version of the story. The game used a side scrolling brawler format in the vein of popular licensed arcade games like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Turtles in Time and the ultra-popular six player X-Men based on the unused cartoon pilot "Pryde of the X-Men."
While the Nintendo 64 Superman is widely considered the worst game of all time, critical reception of The Death and Return of Superman was actually pretty mixed, Nintendo Power and a pre-Gamestop Game Informer rated it favorably, while EGM gave it an “eh” with 5.25 stars out of 10. Its faithful adaptation of "The Death of Superman" is pleasing for comics fans, as you can both play as and ultimately fight against Cyborg Superman.
Hank Henshaw would show up again in several other DC based games over the years. The highlights being an oddly adorable Lego Cyborg Superman in Lego Batman 3 and his most recent appearance as an alternative skin for Superman in the Nether Realms produced Injustice: God's Among Us.
When DC relaunched their entire lineup with the New 52, they attempted to capitalize on the event by bring characters from sub imprints like Wildstorm and Vertigo into the larger DCU. In the New 52 version of Team 7, Hank was reintroduced as Dr. Henshaw, a robotics geneticist at the Advanced Prosthetic Research Center. In a convoluted and misguided new origin, Hank's body was destroyed when Spartan is reactivated. Henshaw's body merges with other victims to become a massive creature Team 7 must face.
After the events of Convergence, an attempt to streamline New 52 continuity in the same way Zero Hour tried to clean up pre- and post-Crisis storylines, Henshaw would go on to recreate his Excalibur mission with pre-Flashpoint Superman monitoring the situation in an attempt to avert the tragedies of the past. The biggest tragedy they averted? The terrible first attempt at new origin in the New 52.
After the success of Justice League and Teen Titans, Warner Brothers greenlit an animated adaptation of the Legion of Superheroes. Lasting for two seasons on the Kid’s WB, the show starred a “young Superman” leading a team of teen heroes in the 31st century. In the episode “Message in a Bottle”, the team tracks Superman to the Fortress of Solitude. Upon entering the Fortress the Legionnaires discover the potential future of Hank Henshaw: Kal-el has kept Cyborg Superman at the fortress as a caretaker. The robot helps the Legionnaires piece together Superman’s location in the bottled city of Kandor where he is trapped in a pitched battle with Imperiex and his forces. In a brief exchange with the teen superheroes, Cyborg Superman goes so far as to call Superman his master, bringing the character whose obsession with being better than Last Son of Krypton full circle.