SHOWCASE PRESENTS: Rest In Peace, Hank Henshaw
(Editors Note: All editorials are solely the opinion of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of DC Comics News or its staff.)
Imagine something terrible happened. An accident. And it ruined you. All the people you ever loved died. Because of the accident. Because of what they’d become. Because of what you’d become. Now imagine all the hate and rage you’d feel. Imagine what you’d do. How you’d take your pain out on the whole world. But then, once it was over, and you’d done something so unspeakably terrible, you got the death sentence you deserved and wanted. Only you didn’t die. And you never would.
Such was the life of Hank Henshaw, the Cyborg Superman.
To be perfectly honest, I haven’t read much of Supergirl. Not in the New 52, not ever. But, recently, one of my favorite villains was reintroduced to the DCU. Or so I thought. The Cyborg Superman has returned! But he’s not who he used to be.
He’s not Hank Henshaw anymore.
The reason that matters to me is because, as you could probably tell by that opening paragraph, Henshaw was one of the most compelling villains DC ever produced. Since it’s villains month, I’m going to take the time to tell you why.
The year was 1990 and Hank Henshaw was a Fantastic Four parody gone wrong. He was an astronaut who, along with his wife and the rest of the ship’s crew, got doused in cosmic radiation while on a mission (Adventures of Superman #466). They returned to Earth and were granted strange… abilities… that were rapidly killing them (for example, his wife started to shift into a different dimension). Superman, naturally, tried to help, but the crew all committed suicide while Henshaw died in an effort to save his wife.
Well, actually, his consciousness survived and he managed to bond with machinery. His robot form scared the crap out of his wife, driving her insane and ultimately causing her death. So, two issues after his debut, Henshaw, understandably distraught, fled Earth. He bounced around for a bit, ultimately finding his way to Superman’s baby rocket (as in the rocket he came to Earth to as a baby, not a rocket he used to shoot babies into the sun) and going off to try to find his place in the universe.
However, being non-corporeal (along with all the terrible shit that happened to him) drove poor Hank a bit insane. So he began to blame Superman for his shitty existence. He landed on War World, home of Superman-villain-extraordinaire Mongul (who you may remember from such adventures as “That Time Superman Got Sad And Grew A Beard And Became A Gladiator Who Destabilized The Economy of An Entire Planetary System Before Shaving And Going Home” and “That Time It Was Superman’s Birthday And He Got An Evil Houseplant In The Mail”), and began to hatch his plan.
Then, in 1993, Superman died. Henshaw returned to Earth and used the baby rocket to make himself a body that was half organic Kryptonian and half Kryptonian machinery (hence the clever moniker of “Cyborg”) so he could disguise himself as Superman.
He saved a bunch of people, including the President, threw Doomsday’s body into space (remember that, it’s important), and generally Superman’d around for a while during the appropriately titled Reign of the Supermen arc.
Until he decided to blow up Coast City (Green Lantern’s home turf) with the help of Mongul, killing over 7 million people in Superman #80. Why? To build a really big engine. Why again? To make a new War World out of Earth. Presumably so he could go destroy the crap out of the rest of the universe. Oh, and the second engine needed to power this thing was going to be in Metropolis. So even more people were slated to die. Sure, Superman came back from the dead and stopped him a couple issues later, but Henshaw’s evil didn’t stop there.
Before we continue with Hank’s life story, let’s pause to take stock of his evil deeds and their ramifications. By destroying Coast City, he made Hal Jordan go nuts (see 1994’s Green Lantern: Emerald Twilight arc for details). Depending on your own personal head-canon, this may have allowed Parallax, the fear entity, to take root in Hal’s mind. Either way, Hal went on the war path and ended up destroying the entire Green Lantern Corps. Really think about that for a second. Not only were many of the Green Lanterns themselves killed, but everyone who relied on them was affected. They were the cops of the universe. And then, one day, they all disappeared. Universal wars went unchecked. Entire solar systems were enslaved or destroyed. Countless lives were lost.
But back to Hank. See, Hank didn’t die. Remember how I said he threw Doomsday’s body into space? Well there was sort of an epidemic of people not dying going on around then and Doomsday came back from the dead, too. Henshaw had attached a device to him before the infamous throw that allowed him to keep tabs on Doomsday’s vitals (or lack thereof). Well, guess what? Henshaw’s consciousness was still alive in that device. So the duo hopped a ship to Apokolips and paid Darkseid a visit (seen in the mini-series Superman/Doomsday: Hunter/Prey).
And by that I mean they both went on separate rampages across the planet. Do you know how terrible the average citizen of Apokolips’ life must be? They’re slaves to an angry boulder in a blue dress who has laser beam eyes. They have no happy days. Well Hank shows up and just kills a bunch of them. So does Doomsday. Of course Hank’s reasons were more “I’m gonna take over his hellhole” while Doomsday’s were pretty much just “rrrraaaaaaarrrrrrgggghhhh!”
Anyway, Superman showed up and defeated them both because… Seriously? Do I even need a reason? He’s Superman. That’s kind of his thing. So Darkseid trapped Henshaw’s essence in a marble because… I honestly don’t know why… and then later, in Superman #104, released him under the condition that Henshaw never, ever return to Apokolips (presumably so as to free up the marble for use). Henshaw then met a bunch of Staypuft marshmallow people who were very judgmental and called themselves “The Tribunal” and got them to steal Superman from Earth and put him on trial for all the crimes of the (long dead) people of Krypton (they were exceptionally shitty around then so there were a lot of charges). Superman escaped, of course, and Henshaw got blasted into the end of time (1996, Adventures of Superman #531)
Through a series of odd coincidences, Henshaw ended up bonding with Superman’s containment suit (when he was going through his “I am a human light socket ” phase) and teamed up with Toyman to try to kill Superman.
Naturally, he failed. Only to do something far, far worse. He split the already mediocre energy Superman into the offensively stupid Superman Blue and Superman Red. That’s right, Hank Henshaw not only murdered millions of people and indirectly destroyed the entire Green Lantern Corps, he was also responsible for one of the worst periods in the history of Superman (aka 1998’s Superman Red/Superman Blue #1).
So Hank gets his butt kicked again and flies off to do some more evil crap elsewhere. Here’s where things get really interesting, trust me. See, after nearly a decade of barely doing anything, Hank resurfaced in Green Lantern #11 (2006) on the planet of the Manhunters, the murderous robot predecessors of the Green Lantern Corps. Seeing as the GLC had just been recently revived, Hank decided to become the grandmaster of the Manhunters and destroy the corps all over again. Just for fun.
Hank went on to become one of the heralds of the Anti-Monitor and killing just about everyone he came across. That’s when Hank’s motivations finally got spelled out: he wanted death. What Hank Henshaw wanted more than anything was to die. So he fought in the Sinestro Corps war after the Anti-Monitor promised him his sweet release (Green Lantern #22). Despite being blown up, Hank survived (you can see him crying about it in issue #25).
His next villainous plot was to become the leader of the Alpha Lanterns (the elite robotic warriors of the GLC). He cut them up and researched their insides so he could figure out how to become organic (and therefore mortal) once again. By sheer force of will, the Alphas managed to regain some of their lost “humanity” (y’know, but, for aliens) and destroy Henshaw with the power of emotion (Green Lantern Corps #52).
Or so they thought. Like I said, Henshaw never dies.
His unfortunate last appearance was in the much (appropriately) maligned “Reign of Doomsday” storyline. Like everyone else there, he seemed to be shoehorned into the plot for no apparent reason. And, after some fighting with the Super Family, he got carted off to S.T.A.R. Labs. Never to be seen again (the 904th, and final, issue of Action Comics volume 1 in 2011, for those of you keeping score at home).
If you’re wondering why I bothered to write this, here you go: Hank Henshaw got a crappy ending. And I think that’s important to note at the birth of a new incarnation of the Cyborg Superman. Hank wasn’t a bad character. Far from it. He was part of the rogues gallery for Superman and Green Lantern. He took part in some of the biggest events in the DCU. And he had a damn compelling hook. Because of that, I don’t know if I’ll ever warm up to this new, non-Hank incarnation. But, more than anything, I just wanted to say this:
Rest in peace, Hank Henshaw. You finally got your wish.