Supergirl: Who is Hank Henshaw?

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Tonight's episode of Supergirl introduces an important character with a long history of menacing both Supergirl's Kryptonian cousin, and the rest of the DC Universe.

That would be Hank Henshaw -- here played by David Harewood. The head of the Department of Extranormal Operations, Henshaw is Alexandra Danvers' boss and Supergirl's chief skeptic (at least until Maxwell Lord shows up).

"In the comic books, he's very revengeful and has a deep, deep loathing for Superman," Harewood said during a recent interview. "I'm hoping to bring elements of that in, but if I can keep it original and still bring the Hank Henshaw fans with me, I think I will have succeeded in doing my job."

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What gives him such a mean-on for Superman? In the original comics (pre-Flashpoint), Henshaw was the captain of an experimental spacecraft -- The Excalibur -- which crashed after being bombarded by cosmic radiation upon re-entry to Earth.

Henshaw's crew was composed of friends and his wife -- an obvious homage to Marvel's Fantastic Four -- and it shattered his wife when she turned out to be the only survivor of the accident that briefly gave them all fantastic powers, and then poisoned them with radiation. Superman arrived on the scene too late to save Henshaw or his two friends, but managed to save his wife, Terri.

Later, Henshaw sprang back to life -- as a loose conglomeration of artifacts from the ship. He had developed functional immortality via his ability to project his consciousness into any electronic device. When approaching his wife caused a nervous breakdown that would lead to her death, Henshaw blamed Superman for his death and bizarre rebirth. Projecting himself into the "birthing matrix" which carried Superman to Earth -- his rocket -- Henshaw left the planet, apparently forever.

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(Photo: DC Entertainment)

But he returned later, following the death of Superman. He masqueraded as a revived Superman in a cyborg body, using Kryptonian technology and data on Superman's DNA made available to him by the birthing matrix. He would destroy Coast City, killing millions, before being defeated by a revived Superman.

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Henshaw would return a handful more times, squaring off against Superman, Green Lantern and even the Silver Surfer and Thanos. Eventually he would come to realize that what he really longed for was to have his mortality back -- and it was granted to him during the Revolt of the Alpha Lanterns. He would return once more, this time during the "Reign of Doomsday" story which reunited most of the characters from the Death and Return of Superman saga, before the end of the pre-Flashpoint DC Universe and the rebirth of the multiverse with the New 52 publishing initiative.

In the current comics, the Cyborg Superman was recently reinvented as a foe to Supergirl -- but not as Henshaw. That would be Zor-El, Supergirl's father -- or a version of him, anyway. It seems she's got some serious family drama going on...!

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Where does that leave Henshaw? Well, he's been on a mission to Jupiter with the Excalibur for a decade, and has just recently returned -- finding himself face to face with the pre-Flashpoint Superman that the "other" Henshaw hated so much in the first issue of Dan Jurgens and Lee Weeks' new series Superman: Lois and Clark.