Some superheroes are made, not born. Thanks to the record-breaking success of Marvel’s movies, we know Captain America is the result of a military super serum, while DC’s Batman would be nothing without his gadgets and suit. Well, almost nothing. But the fact remains that some heroes without innate powers have a little help to become great, while still others have greatness thrust upon them.
The idea of creating a robotic superhero dates back to the ’60s, when cybernetics were he conceptual playground of science fiction. The concept continued to interest artists and writers, even when modern day machines and computers took on the very characteristics dreamt up by them. The 1990s especially saw a boom in cybernetic characters; and good or bad, the one thing that linked them all together was not just the thrill of power, but the fear over their loss of humanity. It is both the fear and the rush of cybernetic abilities that CBR celebrates now, as we look at 11 characters who are part human, part machine and all awesome.
Johnny Armstrong was a WWII soldier captured by Nazis, whose criminal experiments accidentally gave him superhuman strength, endurance and speed. He turned the Nazis’ success against them, of course, freeing himself and his fellow prisoners before destroying their facility and dashing any hope they had of replicating the experiments. After his escape, he donned a patriot uniform (complete with a star-spangled codpiece) and continued to battle the Nazis. When the Vietnam War broke out, however, SuperPatriot was against it, turning instead to a life of crimefighting in his hometown of Chicago, rather than enter into a problematic ideological conflict.
In the ’90s, when Image Comics was all about cybernetic upgrades, an aging SuperPatriot was beaten within an inch of his life. Cyberdata, a shady corporation, rescued him and turned him into a cyborg under their command. He eventually broke free of their control, but not before he struggled with controlling his newfound abilities, which included built-in weapons, armor and enhanced senses. SuperPatriot’s anti-war, anti-crime attitude and existential conflict make him one of Image’s most memorable characters and a metal-clad shoe-in for one of the best cybernetic heroes of all time.
Like a lot of cyber-enhanced characters, Top Cow’s Stryker was created and trained for military-style missions. Major Morgan Stryker was wounded in battle, but given cybernetic enhancements by Cyberdata, the same evil corporation that recreated Superpatriot. Thanks to his new strength and abilities, he was made a member of the Special Hazardous Operations Cyborgs (SHOCS) for Cyberdata, which of course turned out to be corrupt. After Stryker was badly injured, Dr. Corben, a surgeon, stepped in to save him. During surgery, however, Dr. Corben found and removed a small cyber box from Stryker’s brain, later explaining to Stryker that Cyberdata had been controlling him through that brain box, robbing him of his free will.
Once Stryker was free of Cyberdata, he formed Cyber Force, a band of mutants who, like him, were implanted with will-sapping brain boxes. Stryker freed them one-by-one from Cybernate, and together they made it their mission to take down the conglomerate, freeing any other mutants captured by the corporation. On a purely heroic level, Stryker is so cool because he’s selfless, and has a hairdo that would make Dolph Lundgren green with envy.
Diehard was a member of Image Comics’ Youngblood team, a band of “extreme” heroes who were hand-picked by the government to protect and defend the White House, among other things. Although his teammates didn’t know his true identity, they did know he was chosen by the government for a genetic experiment that gave him cyborg traits. His new abilities included energy manipulation, which he could focus into powerful blasts, as well as amazing strength and speed. He was also especially handy with a sword, yet another quality that made him well-qualified to lead an important mission against Cybernet, a company that was selling their tech on the black market.
Being part man and part machine worked negatively on Diehard’s psyche, but made him into one of the team’s most compelling characters, not quite knowing where the machine ended and the man began. His insecurities as a man and as a hero were compounded when the Youngblood team encountered new Diehard units with better upgrades. As if he didn’t have enough to worry about regarding his own humanity, he now had to wonder whether he would be one day replaced by a new model. Regardless of his own image problems, Diehard’s appearance was particularly striking and memorable, boasting a super cool red, white and blue cyborg suit, making him look more like a robot than a man. (Sure, that’s just the thing he was afraid of, but it always kept us coming back for more!)
Not to be confused with Donald Trump’s feelings on the state of the internet, Cyber was a Marvel villain who had a lot in common with Wolverine. Born Silas Burr, Cyber was originally a WWI soldier who came to blows with Logan when Burr murdered his love interest at the time. This led to the two engaging in a bloody brawl that left Burr with only one eye. Silas would later go on to have a cybernetic eye implanted to replace his lost one, and later still, underwent a procedure that laced his skin with the infamous Marvel metal known as Adamantium. He also acquired Adamantium claws, like Wolverine’s, but his were tipped with a powerful poison, which would cause both his victims and himself to have crazy hallucinations. This, of course, made him all the more dangerous.
With so much metal in his body replacing the man, Burr felt reborn, and christened himself Cyber. Cyber was affiliated with quite a few nefarious groups throughout his tenure. Luckily, every time Cyber and one of his groups went on a mission with a big payoff, Wolverine was there to stop them. Although Cyber was a worthy opponent of Wolverine, thanks to their shared strengths and super-powered similarities, Wolverine always got the advantage, thanks to his superior healing ability. Cyber was eventually killed by the villain Genesis, who only wanted him for his Adamantium. (Ain’t that always the way?)
Cliff Steele was in a terrible race car accident that should have killed him. Luckily for him, Dr. Niles Caulder, a genius doctor, removed Steele’s brain and put it into a a golden yellow robot. As you do. From that point on, Steele was the adventuring automaton known as Robotman. Gifted with superior strength, speed and endurance, Robotman was also given magnetized feet that allowed him to scale metal walls, as well as heat coils implanted in his hands that allowed him to melt metal. In case of emergency, he was equipped with an oxygen tank that would keep his brain alive, making sure that what was left of his human side was well guarded.
Robotman became part of DC’s Doom Patrol, a group of men and women whose lives had been saved by Dr. Caulder, also known as The Chief. Robotman, along with Negative Man, Elasti-Girl, Mento and Beast Boy, fought against enemies who had similar abilities and enhancements, which were usually somehow related to the military. Two of their greatest foes were General Immortus, who had centuries of military tactics memorized, and General Zahl, who was a former Nazi U-Boat captain. Robotman was the first human-machine hybrid of the Golden Age, which gives him the distinct honor of being one of comics’ original gear-headed do-gooders.
Metallo is one of only a handful of villains who can successfully take on Superman; that’s how powerful he is. Of course, he’d be nothing without his cybernetic enhancements. Born John Corben, Metallo soon fell afoul of the law after committing a murder and trying to get away with it. When his body was badly damaged in a terrible accident, a robotics expert named Professor Vale transplanted his brain into a metal robot body that was powered by a chunk of kryptonite. Not only did Corben survive, he also gained super strength and speed, comparable to some of the heaviest hitters in the DC univerise. In more recent books, he was able to absorb other metals, which helped him increase his size and change his shape. In every fight against Superman, Metallo’s kryptonite heart worked in his favor, weakening Superman when they got close. Ironically however, his heart was also his greatest weakness, as removing it would often de-power the fearsome foe.
Metallo was Superman’s enemy for a variety of reasons, and not just because he used as a power source the Man of Steel’s one weakness. In some DC books, he went after Superman because Professor Vale believed Kal-El to be the first of many alien invaders. In others, he tried to kill Superman in order to keep his crimes a secret. Sometimes, Metallo was in love with Lois Lane, and hated Superman because of her feelings for him. Throughout his many versions and iterations, however, Metallo was one of Superman’s most interesting and inhuman villains, and he continues to be a fan favorite whenever he shows up.
Deathlok has evolved a lot since his debut in 1974. His original identity was Luther Manning, an Army soldier who was killed and reanimated at the behest of US military scientist, Simon Ryker. Ryker was the one to transform Manning’s mangled body into a cyborg super soldier for the C.I.A. John Kelly and Michael Collins were Manning’s cyborg successors, also given the codename Deathlok; a dangerous legacy that would continue when S.H.I.E.L.D. began engineering their own Deathloks, this time using Jack Truman and Lawrence Young as source material.
In 2014, the Deathlok character was brought to the small screen in “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” This incarnation was Mike Peterson, a factory worker who was injured on the job. Inconsolable after subsequently losing his career and his family, Peterson signed up for Project Centipede, where he was given a cybernetic arm that gave him super strength. He soon came to the attention of Agent Coulson, and was recruited into S.H.I.E.L.D. However, Hydra, the group behind Project Centipede, had other plans. Peterson, who became known as Deathlok, seemingly died in an explosion during a botched kidnapping exchange between S.H.I.E.L.D. and Project Centipede, an event that resulted in even more of his body being replaced by robotic parts, including a cybernetic eye that received commands from Hydra, and, of course, other weaponized limbs.
Like many of his predecessors, Mike was a reluctant enemy of peace. That one overlying factor — not to mention all of his cool tech — makes the Deathlok character, in any of its variations, one of Marvel’s most amazing heroes.
Not all of the coolest cyborgs started off as human. “WE3,” an Eisner Award-winning graphic novel, told the tale of a dog, a cat and a rabbit who were turned into weaponized cyborgs. Dr. Roseanne Berry transformed the former pets into half animal/half robot hybrids and equipped them with land-to-air missiles, guns, blades, enhanced strength and speed, and the ability to speak.
As a team, WE3 carried out secret ops, like the assassination of a drug lord. When the animals realized they were going to be decommissioned, they escaped their confinement and went on the lam. The military attempted to recapture them, but WE3 left nothing but carnage behind them, because they were trained to attack when they’re threatened. Along their journey to freedom, the animals revealed their confusion about right and wrong, good and bad. They struggled to protect themselves, but couldn’t avoid killing innocent people.
“WE3” is one of the most heartbreaking stories to take on the cyborg concept, simply because it emphasizes that loss of innocence. Sure, the animals in question are given amazingly badass abilities and become adorably awesome murder-pets, but the way they are forced to become self-aware through their cybernetic implants makes their tale all the more tragic (and great).
Before she became an Image Comics cyborg, Maxine Manchester was a criminal. She ran away from home as a teenager, becoming a thief and a killer in order to support herself. After a particularly horrific robbery that left several people dead, the police squad pursuing her were forced to put Maxine down. She was saved, however, by Dr. Khaz, who replaced her damaged body with robotic parts. As Ladytron, Maxine was given built-in weapons, super strength and a mouth that doubled as a sonic cannon. Dr. Khaz planned to use Maxine to help him locate his first robotic being, Stan, but she wound up killing both of them, rather than be controlled.
Maxine eventually went back to her criminal ways, but was captured by the WildC.A.T.s. In order to keep Maxine, now Ladytron, on-mission, the team put her in a virtual reality prison. Not surprisingly, perhaps, her relationship with the team was always prickly, so she wasn’t exactly devastated when it fell apart in a battle, after its members discovered that their leader was actually a criminal mastermind. In an interesting turn later in her life, the tumultuous Ladytron sided on the side of life — both organic and otherwise — against the Halo Corporation, when she rallied humans and robots to fight together to survive.
Nathan Summers was born a mutant with telepathic and telekinetic abilities, inheriting his powers from his mother, Madelyne Pryor, a clone of Jean Grey. When he was just a baby, Nathan was captured by the self-appointed mutant messiah, Apocalypse, who infected him with the Techno-Organic virus. In order to save his son’s life, Cyclops allowed him to be taken to the future, where he could be treated for his sickness. Nathan later returned to the past as an adult, when he both butted heads with and fought alongside the X-Men. Now calling himself Cable, he represented a line between the past and a possible future for the X-Men universe, later forming his own team, X-Force.
Cable is a powerful mutant with telepathic and telekinetic abilities so strong, he is able to heal and protect his body at a molecular level. He can also read and control minds at great distances. On top of his own genetic gifts, the Techno-Organic virus that plagued him as a child left him with the cybernetic arm that has become iconic to the character. Adding to his own impressive physical conditioning, his metal arm has incredible strength. He was also left with a cybernetic eye that can, among other things, allow Cable to see in infrared.
Throughout his patchy history, Cable has remained a complicated character. Perhaps more than most of Marvel’s superheroes, he frequently travels through time, which has often made him the enemy of some of Marvel’s good guys, including the Avengers. Although these days, he fights as one of them, having recently joined one of their many modern offshoot teams. Still, his most frequent enemies are Apocalypse and Mr. Sinister, who was defeated by Cable and his sometimes friend, Deadpool. Cable’s mettle, metal and mental powers make him a perpetual fan favorite, so much so that he has been slated to have a starring role in the highly-anticipated sequel to “Deadpool.”
Cyborg has the whole world in his head. Born Victor Stone, Cyborg has had several origin stories since his creation, all of which revolve around his father, scientist Silas Stone. When a portal breach at S.T.A.R. Labs leaves Vic mutilated, his erstwhile father must use his expertise in robotics and mysterious alien technology to save his son.
At first distraught at his cybernetic appearance and bulky inhuman frame, Vic soon realizes that he can use his newfound strength and abilities for good. Not only is he a walking computer, with every database in the world (and some beyond) at his disposal, he can also weaponize almost every part of his new body. Victor has recently gone through several upgrades, not just to his appearance (to make him appear more human), but also to his functionality and offensive capabilities. These have led him through exciting and memorable tenures with past versions of the Teen Titans, and more recently, as a founding member of the Justice League. However, the most important part about Victor is his heart, which remains (mostly) human, and will always beat with the steady thrum of a hero.
Cyborg’s cameo in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” will lead to his appearance in “Justice League,” which will premiere November 17, 2017. Cyborg will also star in a stand-alone movie, though at the time of the list’s writing, its release date has yet to be announced.
Who are your favorite cybernetic comic book characters? Plug into the comments and let us know!
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