SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Action Comics #978, by Dan Jurgens and Patrick Zircher, on sale now.
Superman’s life is a little complicated right now. His and Lois Lane’s pre-Flashpoint and New 52 versions merged after a confrontation with Mr. Mxyzptlk during the Reborn storyline, and his past is currently a composite of both of these versions. Action Comics #978 showed us what some of this past resembled. In this week’s Action #979 things get a little more complicated as a group of super villains hailing from both continuities has emerged to challenge the Man of Steel. A riff on an organization that made its debut in 1962’s Superman #92, this newly-formed Superman Revenge Squad includes a revived Eradicator, Blanque, Metallo, and Mongul with General Zod soon to join their ranks. The wild card here is Cyborg Superman — while we knew Hank Henshaw was involved in the Squad’s formation from previous issues, it was a safe assumption that Cyborg Superman’s role was going to be filled by Zor-El, the current version of the villain. However, Henshaw instead returns to his pre-Flashpoint role in the issue, a change that introduces new wrinkles to the still-forming Rebirth tapestry.
But before we get to our questions, some important background on Hank Henshaw, a familiar face in the DC Universe, with a long history. During the New 52, he was a fully human doctor working for the Advanced Prosthetic Research Centre, but pre-Flashpoint, he was the original Cyborg Superman. So, who exactly is he, and how could that spell trouble for the Man of Steel?
Let’s start with who he isn’t; Hank Henshaw is not Zor-El. The New 52 version of the Cyborg Superman. who carried over into the post-Rebirth continuity, is Supergirl’s genocidal father. A scientist like his younger brother Jor-el, aka Superman’s biological father, Zor-El built a dome around Krypton’s Argo City to protect it from the planet’s destruction, sending his teenage daughter Kara Zor-El to Earth in a rocket in case his plan failed… which it did. Barely alive following Krypton’s death, Zor-El was captured, turned into a cyborg and reprogrammed by Braniac. He eventually overcame his programming, whereupon he attempted to save Argo City and cybernetic versions of its citizens by crashing the floating city into the Earth’s oceans while and sucking the life force out of the citizens of National City.
The original Cyborg Superman was created by current Action Comics scribe Dan Jurgens. Hank Henshaw made his first appearance in Superman #46, a member of the crew of a doomed Lexcorp shuttle that was downed by a solar flare in a sequence that was an homage to the Fantastic Four’s origin story. Following the crash, which killed two of the crew, but left their minds intact and able to craft new bodies composed of earth and the shuttle’s wreckage, Henshaw’s body started to decay, while his wife started phasing into another dimension. Superman helped save her using LexCorp technology, but Hank’s body was too far gone, so he uploaded his consciousness into the LexCorp mainframe. Using his new access to information and powers, he was able to build himself a cyborg body and appeared to his wife in his new form. She who was so shocked by his transformation that she committed suicide, leaving Henshaw distraught.
Henshaw then bonded with the birthing matrix that brought Superman to Earth, and used it to build his own spacecraft, the sentient computer consciousness known as the Eradicator. During Henshaw’s travels, he learned that Superman fought the Eradicator at roughly the same time as the solar flare that downed his Lexcorp shuttle, and falsely connected the two events. Believing the Man of Steel responsible for his misfortune, he swore revenge against the Kryptonian, and proved to be one of Superman’s most dangerous and deadly enemies.
Like Lois and Clark, the post-Rebirth Henshaw is an amalgam of this pre-Flashpoint and New 52 incarnations. His Superman Revenge Squad includes pre-Flashpoint allies Eradicator and Mongul. He goes so far as to reference his previous relationship with Mongul, proving that thanks to Mr. Mxyzptlk’s recent Rebirth re-jiggering of the Superman mythos, he remembers the destruction of Coast City, which resulted in Hal Jordan/Green Lantern’s descent into madness. The alliance with Blanque and his possession of the Oblivion Stone hail are a holdover from Zor-El’s New 52 incarnation. Although Metallo and Cyborg-Superman have worked together in the Supergirl television series, the pair has not traditionally partnered in the comics.
As Lois and Clark prepare to move back to Metropolis from Hamilton County, Henshaw and his crew prepare to take revenge, but not before bringing a final member into the team. Action Comics #979 concludes with the Superman Revenge Squad setting out to liberate the Kryptonian arch-criminal, General Zod.
The return of Henshaw as Cyborg Superman sets up an intriguing parallel that echoes Superman’s own post-Rebirth journey. Just as pre-Flashpoint and New 52 Clark Kent seemingly co-existed for a time in the Rebirth universe, we are now dealing with two different versions of Cyborg Superman in the present continuity. Will this set up a redemption arc for Zor-El, or will he team with his namesake and Zod to take on Kal-El? Or, like the Man of Steel recently experienced, will the disparate versions of Cyborg Superman find themselves experiencing their own Rebirth moment that will result in their two continuities being merged into a single story? We’ll know more when the next chapter of “Revenge” arrives May 14 in Action Comics #980.