Based on the final page of this weeks’ Action Comics, it looks like fans might be getting a new Cyborg Superman — who’s actually kind of an old one.
The Cyborg Superman has become a surprisingly difficult character to explain to people in the recent past.
The character, created in the early ’90s, was originally Hank Henshaw. A former astronaut who died only to have his consciousness pass into the ship’s computer, he became incredibly powerful by bending metal and machines to his will.
Ultimately, Henshaw took on the identity of the Cyborg Superman becuase he blamed Superman for his death and those of his wife and two best friends who had been on the craft with Henshaw. Superman had failed to save the craft, and then met them after their crash and failed to save their lives when radiation poisoning quickly took them all.
Superman’s death had robbed Henshaw of a clean shot at revenge, so he wore Superman’s shield so that he could earn the public trust as a “revived” Superman and kill millions in the Man of Steel’s name, tainting it forever.
Of course, when the real Superman returned and beat the snot out of him, that plan went by the wayside.
Following 2011’s The New 52 reboot of the DC Comics line, the death of Superman was no longer canon (except when it was…it was a complicated question). That meant that characters introduced during Superman’s return — Superboy, Steel, and the Cyborg Superman — had to be rebuilt from scratch.
The Cyborg Superman, then, became a corrupted cyborg version of Supergirl’s father. That remains the backstory of the Cyborg Superman seen in Supergirl right now, while on TV, The CW’s Supergirl features a Cyborg Superman who is Hank Henshaw — although a wildly different version of him than in the original comics.
On TV, Henshaw is a black man, working for the Department of Extranormal Operations and obsessed with exterminating aliens on Earth, who finds himself replaced by the Martian Manhunter after he’s presumed dead Later, the “original” Henshaw returns with some metal parts and enhanced abilities thanks to Cadmus.
But in Action Comics #972, he appears to be the ’90s version of Hank Henshaw again.
Well, first of all, he doesn’t physically resemble the Cyborg Superman seen in the Supergirl comics, unless he is dealt some serious damage as Supergirl defeats him at the end of her first arc. Since the launch of The New 52, the Zor-El version of the Cyborg Superman has had a full head of hair and an intact jaw:
The image seen at top, taken from the final page of Action Comics this week, shows a version of the Cyborg Superman who has only a small portion of his face (the upper-left quadrant, basically) covered in flesh and hair, with the rest metal. That’s how Henshaw used to look in the pre-Flashpoint DCU:
So how does that all work? A key to the answer is likely the figure wearing all white with the long white hair, pictured in the “bubble” adjacent to the Cyborg’s on the Action Comics page.
That’s Blanque, a villain introduced in Superman: Lois and Clark, the miniseries that reintroduced the pre-Flashpoint Superman, his wife and son to the DC Universe. That series revealed that during the years the New 52 Superman was active and Jon Kent was growing up, Superman had operated in secret to keep the world safe, sometimes by stopping natural disasters or throwing down the the occasional supervillain but generally by using his knowledge of the “future” (an imperfect reflection of his world’s past) to prevent the tragedies and accidents that created many of his supervillains.
He had done so successfully for years before the miniseries started, but when he tried to stop Henshaw’s ship from crashing, things were different: instead of being on board the shuttle with his crew, scrambling to prevent the crash, Henshaw was alone and unconscious. Superman brought him to a Fortress of Solitude he had built (separate from the New 52 Superman’s) and tried to study what was different about this new Henshaw (also a white man and an astronaut, incidentally, rather than a black man at the DEO) only to learn very little before Henshaw’s frazzled mind was being tampered with by Blanque, a powerful villain with psychic powers Superman was keeping locked up in the Fortress.
Ultimately, Blanque escaped and Henshaw was no longer evil — although he had stolen away a shard of a cosmic weapon known as the Oblivion Stone.
When the series ended, Jurgens said that some of those elements would be touched upon in Action Comics, with the caveat that Rebirth obviously had its own agenda and not all of Jurgens’s pet storylines would be picked up right away.
It now seems they’re heading in that direction — and that in so doing, they’re bringing back the original (Jurgens-created) Henshaw for the ride.
You can get a copy of Action Comics #972 at your local comic shop or pick it up digitally here.