In terms of cyborg characters, you can’t help but think of imposing figures with scowled faces and dark pasts. In fiction, people who are cybernetically altered rarely seem to lead happy and normal lives. The path to technological enhancement seems continually marred by tragedy and suffering. Considering how long technology has been interfering in and enhancing our daily lives, it seems strange that we always twin this reliant relationship with pain and darkness in our media. However, maybe it’s not so strange when you remember that the first ever fictional cyborg was Frankenstein’s monster, whose very existence was considered to be an unholy abomination, unable to resist his murderous compulsions. Poor dude. From then on, the idea of merging the organic with the artificial was forever synonymous with tragedy and violence… as well as looking really cool.
Cyborgs also shouldn’t be confused with robots, automatons, androids or bio-androids. Robots, androids and automatons are machines that can carry out complex actions and can be programmed by a computer. In science fiction they often resemble humans to appear more friendly, like C-3Po. Of course, Threepo cuts his “friendliness” with a healthy dose of sarcasm, but it still counts! Bio-androids are often easily conflated with cyborgs because they’re both composed of organic and mechanical parts, but the key difference is that cyborgs begin as natural lifeforms and androids begin as robots. Many of the poor souls on this list had their lives ruined by the forced insertion of technology into their bodies. But, the question is — who had it the roughest?
15. LUKE SKYWALKER
The “New Hope” — and now possibly “Last” — of the Jedi Order isn’t your conventional cyborg. In fact, other than one robotic wrist and hand (his “Mechno-arm”), he’s mostly all natural. But it’s the traumatic way that he came to acquire that arm that earns him a place on this list. Most cyborgs lose the parts of their bodies that need replacing through horrific accidents, but Luke’s loss of a solid quarter of his right arm was no accident.
It was infamously chopped off by his own father, Darth Vader, during their dramatic battle in Cloud City during The Empire Strikes Back, in order to disarm him (no pun intended). The cruel irony of course is that Vader suffered the same injury from Count Dooku. Luke’s new artificial hand is disguised by an impressively realistic synthetic skin, but its origin will always be a horrible reminder of how far his father has fallen.
A mutant in the Marvel universe rarely gets to enjoy a nice, normal upbringing, and Cable’s life as about as far from nice or normal as you can get. Nathan Summers was born to Cyclops and the demon-addled Madelyne Pryor (a clone of Jean Grey). His birth turned out to be a ploy by Mister Sinister to open a portal the demonic dimension, “Limbo,” by convincing Nate’s mother to sacrifice her baby.
Sinister also plotted to use him as a weapon against his old master, Apocalypse, but when Apocalypse got wise to this plan he kidnapped lil’ Nate and infected him with a techno-organic virus. The virus ravaged most of the left side of his body, manifesting as cybernetics and bionics, mutating him into a cyborg. Thanks to his inherited telekinetic abilities, though, Cable was able to curb the spread, transforming his artificial curse into the gift of heightened strength, endurance, and speed.
13. OMEGA RED
Much of Arkady Rossovich’s early life remains shrouded in mystery. A former serial killing mutant living in the Soviet Union in the 60s, he was captured by Banshee (working for Interpol) and handed over to the KBG for their equivalent to the American “Super Soldier” program that created Captain America. The Soviet scientists clearly had a lower morality bar in terms of candidate selection.
The invasive and painful procedures they subjected him to amplified his mutant ability to create and release “death spores,” which they also gave him the power to better channel through cybernetic tentacles implanted into his body. Even before his hideous enhancements, Omega was a tragic figure. His “Death Factor” spores that drain the life out anyone near them would end up killing him without release. It would have been hard not to become a psychotic assassin trapped in that kind of predicament.
12. THE WINTER SOLDIER
James “Bucky” Barnes was an orphaned kid with nothing to lose. So, when he enlisted in the US Army to fight in WWII, he opted for the most intensive training possible — as part of the elite Black Ops. Proving himself to be a highly-skilled combatant, he was partnered with Steve Rogers, aka Captain America (a mantle he would one day inherit) and even worked with the original Invaders. Life was pretty sweet.
But then, during their final mission to thwart Baron Zemo, Cap and Bucky were plunged into the Atlantic Ocean by a bomb explosion. Cap’s destiny was frozen for a later date, and Bucky was presumed lost forever by American forces. Unbeknownst to them, Bucky was rescued by Russian General Vasily Karpov. He awoke to find himself with a bionic arm and his memory wiped clean — rebuilt as the Winter Soldier and enslaved as a mindless Soviet assassin.
11. CYBORG SUPERMAN
Few of the Man of Steel’s enemies can claim to hate him as much as his cybernetic doppelganger. Henry “Hank” Henshaw and his wife, Terri, were aboard the ill-fated LexCorp shuttle “Excalibur” when cosmic radiation destroyed the ship and the bodies of two of their crew, but their consciousness remained intact. Seemingly unaffected, Terri and Hank returned to LexCorp desperate to help restore their colleagues’ bodies from cosmic radiation to flesh.
After a skirmish with Superman, Hank’s body decayed into nothing, but Supes was able to save Terri. Hank’s mind survived and transferred itself into a robotic body. This proved an emotional trauma too far for Terri, who was driven to insanity and sadly, death. Distraught, Hank irrationally blamed Superman for everything that had befallen him, and following the Man of Steel’s “death” at the claws of Doomsday, saw his chance to destroy Supes’ good rep by impersonating him — and he’s been hatching diabolical schemes ever since.
Dylan Cruise was once just your run-of-the-mill cybernetically-enhanced mutant. His power allows him to absorb and release powerful quantities of solar energy as “super-heated plasma.” Like most mutants, the manifestation of his incredible powers was marred by tragedy — the accidental killing of his brother. Seeking reprise from his family’s judgement, Dylan joined the Navy, eventually becoming part of the elite SEALs. Things seemed to perk up for him from there on and he even started a family of his own. But, it wasn’t long until tragedy struck again when his daughter died during a terrorist attack, causing his marriage to fall apart, and poor performance during a mission left his body badly wounded.
As if sensing his vulnerability, the evil organization “Cyberdata” came to offer him technological enhancements in exchange for his servitude. Eventually, Heatwave was shown the light by Dr. Corben and went on to form the “Cyberforce” team, starting in Cyberforce #1 (1992) from Top Cow Productions.
In the anime One Punch Man, Genos is the beach-blonde cyborg companion to Saitama — the bald-headed hero whose titular alter-ego tells you everything you need to know about his trademark power. Genos is Saitama’s unwanted but eager apprentice, his steely-eyed glare masking a hidden and sad past. When Genos was only 15 years-old, his happy and tranquil life was interrupted by a rogue cyborg who killed his family and burned down his hometown.
Miraculously, Genos was spared, and given a second shot at life when he was rescued by Dr. Kuseno. As a “scientist of justice,” Kuseno had been tracking the murderous cyborg down to try and stop him. Genos begged the Doctor to transform him into one to “fight for justice.” Four years later, all that remains of Genos’ human body is his brain, reborn into a vengeance-seeking machine.
8. THE BRAIN
Throughout fiction, nothing seems to terrify us more than a simple brain in a jar, does it? Unsurprisingly, The Brain wasn’t always just… a brain. No, he was once a brilliant French scientist — whose identity remains murky — with a penchant for apes. His experimentations and cruel shock treatments eventually created a super-intelligent ape with an genius-level IQ of 178. He christened his creation, “Monsieur Mallah.”
Following the scientist’s death, the bereft ape cut out and transferred his brain into a specially designed casing and hooked it up to a supercomputer. Reborn and practically immortal, The Brain decided global domination would be his new thing. He quickly assembled the “Brotherhood of Evil” and faced off against the Doom Patrol and Teen Titans, alongside his trusty ape companion.
Not only is this DC hero the owner of one of the publisher’s most disturbing origin stories, he’s also the owner of one of the less, uh, creative names on this list. But, he did make his debut during the Silver Age, so we’ll let him off the hook. Cliff Steele was the adrenaline junkie of Speedway City, trying his hand at every extreme sport under the sun. After falling in love with NASCAR, he took part in the Indy 500, but tragedy struck when his car slid off the road and went up in flames — burning most of his body beyond repair.
Luckily, skilled surgeon Dr. Niles Caulder salvaged his brain and inserted it into a robotic body. Cliff wasn’t exactly grateful at first. Thanks to some bad cerebral wiring, he went on a crazed rampage, until Caulder managed to stop him long enough to fix the problem, and offer him a place on the Doom Patrol.
Like too many cyborgs on this list, Michael Collins once lived a normal, peaceful life. In fact, it was a pretty sweet life — he was a highly-paid computer programmer at Roxxon Oil. That all changed — as it always does — when he made the shocking discovery that his work, which he thought was intended to be used to assist people with artificial limbs, was actually going towards a killer robot programme called “Project Deathlok.”
Appalled, Collins confronted his boss, Harlan Ryker. Unfortunately, Ryker was secretly the one masterminding the Deathlok project, and punished his interfering friend by sticking his brain into the evil ‘bot’s body. Unable to control his new cyborg form, Collins could do nothing but watch in horror as the machine plowed through those trying to stop it. Eventually, Collins managed to wrestle back control, but the terrors of his origin still haunt him nonetheless.
5. METALLO (NEW EARTH)
This cybernetic supervillain first made his Superman debut in 1987, but he wasn’t always a Superman-hating Terminator. John Wayne Corben was once a simple conman who was fatally wounded in a car crash. He was conveniently discovered by a passing cybernetics expert, Professor Emmett Vale, who saw Corben’s misfortune as a chance to fulfil his life-long dream of destroying Superman. Like Lex Luthor, Vale harbored a deep-seated hatred of Supes, driven by mistranslating a message from Jor-El he found after discovering Superman’s Kryptonian vessel.
Believing Superman to be the first of an army of alien invaders, Vale forced Corben’s brain into a “metallo” body powered by Kryptonite and rebooted him with one purpose — to kill Superman. Not best pleased by this, Metallo killed Vale and ended up being defeated by Supes. Even worse, Luthor stole his valuable Kryptonian “heart” — killing him. Or did it..? (Not really. He always finds a way to return!)
Victor Stone seemed to have it all — the son of a pair of successful cybernetic scientists and a teenage athletics star with a promising future ahead of him. The only thing missing was his parents approval of his dreams… and for them to stop using him as a lab rat. Then his life took a turn for the worse. While visiting his parents at S.T.A.R Labs, a time-travel experiment went horribly wrong, ripping open an interdimensional portal to allow a gelatinous monster through to kill Victor’s mother and leave his body (seemingly) irrevocably damaged.
His father, Silas, managed to force the creature back and close the portal. Desperate to save his dying son, Silas restored the broken parts of Victor’s body with cybernetic prosthetics. Victor awoke horrified at his new body, convinced a life of normalcy was over. He was right — but luckily, joining the Teen Titans gave him a new lease on life.
3. THE CYBERMEN
The Daleks are generally considered to be Doctor Who’s greatest enemies, but the Cybermen certainly come in at a close second, and their origins are arguably far more disturbing. Cyborgs are usually lonely creatures, but these cybernetic horrors belong to entire “races.” Originally, the “Cyberman of Mondas” (Earth’s former twin planet) were Mondasians who became humanoids to survive, but modern Who fans will be more familiar with the Cybermen created by “Cybus Industries” with the dark aim of “upgrading” humanity.
The true tragedy of the consequences of this forced conversion is glimpsed through Torchwood‘s Lisa Hallett, who Ianto attempts to save, and Doctor Who Season Eight character, Danny Pink, boyfriend to the Twelfth Doctor’s assistant, Clara Oswald. Danny’s reanimated corpse is cyber-converted by Who villain, Missy, along with an army of others, and leads a suicidal rebellion against her in the grim and emotional Season finale.
Cyborg origin stories don’t come much more dark and disturbing than Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 cinematic classic. In a futuristic Detroit, the police force has been effectively privatized by mega-corporation, “OCP” with the aim of eradicating crime for good. The only problem? Unreliable humans. When Officer Alex J. Murphy is brutally killed by a “cop killing” gang led by Clarence Boddicker, shady OCP Junior Exec, Bob Morton seizes his chance to test out his pet project — the “RoboCop” program.
Without permission, the company transplants what’s left of Murphy into a “full body prosthetic” cyborg. Limited memories strip RoboCop of his former life, though certain mannerisms like his gun-twirling ability clue some into his true identity. Aside from the obvious body horror, the most disturbing aspect of his story is the idea of a company treating people as “property” or “products,” whose lives are theirs to destroy and rebuild in any way they see fit.
1. DARTH VADER
Before the iconic mask and cloak, Anakin Skywalker was just a slave boy living on Tatooine. One day, his life was changed forever by the arrival of Padme Amidala, Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice, Obi Wan Kenobi. Qui-Gon sensed Anakin’s potential to become a powerful Jedi — even predicting him to be the “Chosen One” who would “bring balance to the Force.” The Jedi Council, however, were skeptical of the darkness that resided within him. Following Qui-Gon’s death, Obi Wan vowed to fulfil his master’s dying wish and made Anakin his padowan.
But, despite Obi Wan’s efforts, Anakin continued to struggle with his deep-seated fear of losing those he loved. Anakin succumbed to the Dark Side and was gravely wounded in an epic battle against Obi Wan, leading to the replacement of all his limbs with prosthetics. Learning of Padme’s death, he realizes that all his sins have been for nothing. The reveal of the old, sick man beneath the imposing mask in Return of the Jedi remains one of the most tragically shocking in cyborg — and cinematic — history.
Which cyborg do YOU think had the most harrowing journey to half-life? Let us know in the comments!
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