The Nuclear Option: 15 Radioactive Superheroes and Villains

Captain Atom being ripped apart by energy

You know how just about every hero or villain in the Marvel Universe got their powers from the radioactive bite of an arachnid, the gamma exposure from a bomb test, or the splashing of some goo onto their eyes? We decided to throw all of that out and instead look into some of the more interesting characters whose powers aren't necessarily derived from radiation but are instead radiation-based.

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You won't find Bruce Banner on this list because while the Hulk came into being due to radiation, his powers of super strength and durability aren't radioactive. For this list, we picked through the comic book pages and found 15 amazing characters who could fry an egg from 100 yards or disassemble the atoms of a star if the mood struck them. With that in mind, here are 15 radioactive superheroes and villains.

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Radioactive Man jumping from a plane
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Radioactive Man jumping from a plane

You can't get more on the nose with a name than Radioactive Man. There have been numerous characters over the years to hold onto this handle, but for this list, we are focusing on Chen Lu. Lu was introduced in "Journey into Mystery" #93, written by Stan Lee and penciled by Steve Ditko in 1963. Lu was a Communist agent in the People's Republic of China and a nuclear physicist who spent much of his free time exposing himself to small doses of radiation until his body was able to withstand an incredible amount (kids, don't try this at home). After doing this for a period of time, he developed superpowers and his physiology changed so that he became Radioactive Man!

Lu's skin changed to a green hue due to his exposure, but his real adaptation is the ability to manipulate the microwave spectrum. He can create heat, induce radiation poisoning in his targets, and can even create a hypnotic light to confuse his enemies. He has long been an enemy of the Avengers and though he was originally unable to fully control his powers, the character was retconned so that he now has full control.


Damage Grant Emerson DC Comics

Another aptly-named character, Damage is the superhero identity of Grant Emerson. Emerson's powers manifested while he was living in Georgia in a small suburb of Atlanta. At first, his strength became incredibly enhanced as well as his endurance, but when he got into a fight with Metallo, he lost control of his powers and destroyed his school. He later learned that he was the result of a program that injected the DNA of numerous metahumans into a human child with the hopes of manifesting great powers. For Emerson, the project was successful, but in many ways, it was too successful. He has always had difficulty controlling his powers and his actions often result in the damage of nearby buildings and infrastructure as well as the potential harming of innocent bystanders.

With his powers fully established, Emerson's body has become a biochemical fusion reactor. He can utilize this ability to control and discharge fusion energy in numerous ways. He can fire off beams of energy as weapons and can absorb great deals of energy as well. Some of the injected D.N.A. that went into his creation belonged to J'onn J'onzz, Barry Allen, Rex Tyler and many others.


Hazmat ripping apart her protective suit using her powers

Like many of the characters on this list, Hazmat is something of a tragic figure. When Jenny Takeda's powers began to manifest, she nearly killed her boyfriend with a kiss. Her particular superpower (or curse depending on how you look at it) is to exude toxic and radioactive material from her skin. Shortly after putting her boyfriend in the hospital with a coma, Norman Osborne took her in to help her with her problem, but in true Osborne fashion, he only worked to worsen her condition. She was then brought into the Avengers Academy by Dr. Hank Pym who has been working to help her to control her powers.

Hazmat must wear a containment suit at all times for fear of exposing her teammates to the array of deadly emissions from her body. Her entire body is toxic, even including her sweat and hair. She can absorb toxic substances into her body and can create radiation in the form of an electromagnetic pulse, which she uses as a weapon against robots, cyborgs and other mechanically-enhanced enemies. She made her first appearance in "Avengers Academy" #1, written by Christos N. Gage and penciled by Marko Djurdjevic.


Captain Atom flying towards the viewer

There are two characters who shared the Captain Atom moniker, but for this list, we are focusing on the second, Nathaniel Christopher Adam. Nate, as he preferred to be called, participated in an experiment to avoid execution for a crime he did not commit. He was placed into a chamber alongside a strange alien alloy, which was being tested for durability by detonating a nuclear device above it. Seriously. Somehow, Nate wasn't killed, but rather was propelled two decades into the future. When he arrived in his new time, he found that the strange alloy had bonded to his skin, giving him a metallic appearance and incredible powers.

Nate has a plethora of powers ranging from the somewhat standard buffs of super-strength, speed, sight, invulnerability and healing to some more radioactive abilities that allow him to manipulate all forms of energy, create an energy shield, absorb energy and even strike out at his enemies with a blast power. He even possesses the ability to manipulate the quantum field, which allows him to generate an infinite amount of energy to accomplish whatever task he desires.


Wildstar floating in front of a star in space

Drake Burroughs started life as a normal astro-engineer working his way around the 30th century but was drastically changed during an accident. While working on a new type of propulsion system, a part of the engine broke and Burroughs was engulfed in anti-energy. As a result, his body was completely destroyed, having been replaced entirely with anti-energy, but still in a conscious form. He was essentially a cloud of abstractly shaped anti-energy until his comrades could fashion a containment suit for him to wear and retain a semblance of his original humanoid shape.

At first, he goes by the name ERG1 (Energy Release Generator 1) for his containment suit, but after he is accepted into the Legion of Superheroes, he is codenamed Wildfire from that point on. His powers include all manner of energy manipulation and absorption as well as radiation projection, immortality and much more. He made his first appearance in "Superboy" #195, written by Cary Bates with pencils by Nick Cardy and Dave Cockrum in 1973.


Atomic Man surrounded by smoke and planets

Adam Mann was a scientist who was working on a sample of Uranium 235 shortly following the detonation of the first atomic bomb (and prior to the general public's awareness of what the stuff could actually do) when he was suddenly changed into a new form of entity. Mann found that he had become immune to all forms of radiation and was impervious to injury from gunfire, flame and even electricity. He also gained the ability to see radiation all around him unlike normal people and could produce an incredible amount of gamma radiation from his right hand.

He was, in many ways, the first superhero of the Atomic Age and was introduced in "Headline Comics" #16, penciled by H.C. Kiefer, August Froehlich and Charles Voight in 1945. Mann adopted the name Atomic-Man and set out to fight crime and stop people from using elements like Uranium for nefarious purposes. He didn't last very long in the books with only nine printed appearances, but as an early entry into the Atomic Age of Comics, he was certainly an important development in radioactive character design.


Negative Man flying

Lawrence Trainor was a normal human test pilot for the United States Air Force when he flew an experimental space plane called the K-2F into a cosmic storm at a higher elevation than the mission had planned. The cosmic rays turned his skin transparent and made him radioactive so nobody really wanted to be around him after that (you might have noticed the bandages in the image above). Trainor wasn't just radioactive though, he actually had within him a new being made of energy whom he could project out of his body. With his newfound powers and bold, but bandaged look, Trainor joined the Doom Patrol.

Like most of DC's characters, he has undergone some retconning and reimagining post-Crisis and with the "New 52," but the original Negative Man was able to separate his other half who is capable of flight and intangibility. He can create explosive blasts when he makes contact with positive energy and is able to generate heat and radiation. He first appeared in "My Greatest Adventure" #80, written by Arnold Drake and Bob Haney with pencils by Bruno Premiani in 1963.


Firestorms combining their powers to become Fury

There have been many Firestorm characters over the years, often depicted as a composite character requiring two separate people to combine in order to become Firestorm. Due to character development and some serious retconning with the "New 52" series of books published by DC, we are going to focus on the newest version of Firestorm and his ultimate form, Fury. Ronnie Raymond and Jason Rusch are both able to turn into individual Firestorm characters when using the Firestorm protocol, though Jason wears a yellow suit while Ronnie's is red. When the two Firestorms combine, they create a new character called Fury.

Fury is incredibly violent and immensely powerful, so they rarely combine to create him unless absolutely necessary. Their powers are incredible and allow them to manipulate matter and energy at the molecular level (if it is inorganic). They can also manipulate energy and generate powerful fusion blasts from their hands. Other powers include flight, an ability to become intangible, superhuman strength, energy manipulation, energy-based construct creation, and quite a lot more. Fury first appeared in "Fury of Firestorm The Nuclear Men" #1, written by Ethan Van Sciver and Gail Simone with pencils by Yidray Cinar.


Original Human Torch on the cover of Marvel Comics #1

The first Marvel superhero and the original character to take on the name Human Torch was an android named James Hammond. He was created as an oddity of sorts by a scientist who was showing him off to a crowd of onlookers when he broke free of his glass dome and flew through the roof. He adopted the name James Hammond and became a police officer so he could better fit in and study human behavior. Because of his unique abilities and immense power, he became entangled in fights with other powerful beings such as Namor the Sub-Mariner and he even fought alongside the Allies in the Second World War.

Hammond shares many of the same powers as the modern Human Torch, Johnny Storm. He is able to create and control fire and blast it at his enemies, can create and control different forms of radiation, generate his own heat and flame and even has the ability to breathe fire. Hammond has made many appearances over the years and has been a member of the Invaders and the New Invaders. His first appearance was in "Marvel Comics" #1, written and penciled by Carl Burgos in 1939.


Nuke from Squadron Supreme blasting energy at an enemy

Nuke is yet another example of why it's a good idea to play around in nuclear waste (just don't quote us on that). Albert Gaines was just a regular guy working at his local nuclear power plant on Earth-712 in the Marvel multiverse when exposure to nuclear waste didn't do the likely thing, which would be to kill him via some horrific cancers. No, instead, he gained immense superhuman powers! You know, that old chestnut. Nuke was asked to join up with the Squadron Supreme. Unfortunately, he was very close with his parents and became enraged when they began to die of cancer as a result of exposure to their son and his radioactive powers.

Nuke possessed the ability to shoot radiation from his hands and was able to fly. He was also shown to have super strength and could focus radiation into beams of energy and even duplicate the shockwave from an atomic bomb. He first appeared in "The Defenders" #112, written by J. M. DeMatteis and penciled by Don Perlin, but was eventually killed off in a confrontation with Doctor Spectrum that resulted in his accidental death only a few years after being introduced.


Red Star flying and surrounded by flame

Leonid Kostantinovitch Kovar was exploring the wreckage of an alien spaceship alongside his father when he touched the controls and caused the craft to explode. Rather than being blown to bits in the explosion like most people, Kovar was instead changed and imbued with superpowers. Being a loyal Russian, he offered his services as a superhero to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and took on the name Starfire. Unfortunately, there was someone over in the Teen Titans who called the name first, so he decided on Red Star instead, which fit in with the whole Soviet Union aspect of his origin story.

Though he was employed by the U.S.S.R., Kovar was still a superhero who would befriend many members of the Teen Titans. Granted, there was some typical distrust of the Soviet superhero given the ongoing Cold War, but that eventually eased and he has worked with the Titans on numerous occasions. His powers include pyrokinesis, the ability to alter his form into pure energy, and he can fly, as well as has other less interesting powers like super strength and stamina. He first appeared in "Teen Titans" #18, written by Marv Wolfman and penciled by Nick Cardy in 1968.


Firestar flying through the city

Angelica "Angel" Jones' abilities first manifested while in high school. The other girls were angry with the attention she was receiving from the most popular boy in the school and the frustration led her to overheat her chocolate milk using the powers she wasn't aware she possessed until it exploded all over a teacher. That landed her in detention, but it also helped her to realize she had superpowers. This was especially evident when she melted everyone's ice sculptures in a competition. She decided to keep her powers a secret at first, but later donned the superheroine identity of Firestar.

Firestar's original debut was on the animated series, "Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends" but would make her print debut only three months later in the first issue of the comic going by the same name, written by David Marks and penciled by John Romita Jr. in December 1981. Firestar is a mutant who has the ability to manipulate the microwave spectrum of light energy. She can produce radiation and light, has energy absorption and manipulation, and can strike at her enemies with blasts of energetic particles. She also possesses the ability to fly and control fire at will.


Red Hulk holding a smoking gun

Wait... didn't we say there wouldn't be any Hulks on this list? We might have cheated a little bit since most folks are thinking of the big, green brute when they think of the Hulk, but there was another massive monster whose powers actually did manifest as a form of radioactivity. That honor goes to the very first Red Hulk, also known as General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross. Ross' first appearance was all the way back in "The Incredible Hulk" #1, written by Stan Lee with pencils by Jack Kirby, but we finally got to see him shed his more human qualities and become the Red Hulk in "Hulk" #23, written by Jeph Loeb with pencils by Ed McGuinness.

While in his Red Hulk form, he possesses many of the same traits as the traditional green Hulk, but with one slight difference that lands him on this list: he can drain and absorb the energy of his target either through touch or proximity and also generates an incredible amount of heat. Once he drains an enemy's energy, he can use it to increase his own power levels with the aim of using it against them.


Dr. Solar flying and using his powers

There has been more than one character called Solar, but for this list, we are focusing on the reimagined character from the Valiant and Dynamite Entertainment universe named Doctor Phil Seleski. Seleski was a physicist who was involved in an accident with a nuclear fission reactor (noticing a theme here?), which required him to jump into it to stop a meltdown. Instead of being destroyed, he was turned into a being of pure energy able to control literally everything in the universe. In an homage to the original character created by Gold Key Comics, it turned out that he had actually built a wish-fulfillment machine and he had subconsciously wished to become Doctor Solar from the comics he read as a child.

As Dr. Solar: Man of the Atom, Seleski has the ability to do absolutely anything he wants when it comes to energy. Since we all know that matter and energy are equal, he can do anything to everything. He can travel through time, absorb and manipulate all forms of energy and convert it into matter and then back into energy again. He can even create wormholes and manipulate gravity as well as travel at the speed of light.


Dr. Manhattan from the Watchmen film as a trio

When it comes to powers based on radioactivity, you can't look much further than to Doctor Manhattan. He began as a simple lab technician named Dr. Jon Osterman when he was trapped in a radioactive particle test. His entire body was destroyed down to the molecular level, but he was able to rebuild his body and return as Dr. Manhattan. He has such an immense level and amount of superpowers, that he doesn't really even qualify as being a human anymore, so saying he is a superhuman would be a misnomer. Dr. Manhattan is, for all intents and purposes, a god.

Manhattan has the ability to fundamentally alter matter and energy and can even create life if he so chooses. He can destroy a target at will simply by deciding that they need to cease existing for a while. He is immortal and invulnerable, so killing him isn't really an option. He even has the power to manipulate and travel through time. He can see all the events of his life (past, present and future) happening simultaneously and became so detached with humanity that he cannot be considered human anymore. He even was responsible for the DC event known as "Rebirth" from the post-Flashpoint and "New 52" realities.

Did we miss any of your favorite radioactive heroes or villains? Sound off in the comments and let us know who you would like to see featured in a list like this one!

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