Superheroes with innate attacks

A familiar stereotype is that of the cyborg anti-hero with a concealed pistol built into his arm. This is very similar to the stereotype of a demigod who can hurl thunderbolts at will (or his watered-down derivative, the wizard who can shoot lethal bolts of force from his finger).

It is difficult to determine exactly when action heroes first got implanted weapons. Wikipedia claims:

As early as 1843, Edgar Allan Poe described a man with extensive prostheses in the short story “The Man That Was Used Up”. In 1908, Jean de la Hire introduced Nyctalope (perhaps the first true superhero was also the first literary cyborg) in the novel L’Homme Qui Peut Vivre Dans L’eau (The Man Who Can Live in the Water). Edmond Hamilton presented space explorers with a mixture of organic and machine parts in his novel The Comet Doom in 1928.

Many early depictions of superpowers linked them to weapons. For example, in The Coming Race, vril is used by means of tools; there are no characters who can shoot blasts of vril out of their bare hands. (However, it seems that the author intended vril to depend on personal consciousness, not unlike typical fictional depictions of “psychic” forces.)

Vril can be harnessed by use of the Vril staff or mental concentration.

A Vril staff is an object in the shape of a wand or a staff which is used as a channel for Vril. The narrator describes it as hollow with ‘stops’, ‘keys’, or ‘springs’…

If we take “vril” to be a stand-in for the 19th century idea of “astral light” directed by “hermetic magic,” then Bulwer-Lytton was just writing about an idealized version of Golden Dawn magic – which was not surprising, considering that he was a member of the Golden Dawn.

The classic pulp era was still ongoing when Howard Carter opened King Tut’s tomb in 1922.

1923 and 1924 seem to have seen cyborg heroes in the stories “La Poupée Sanglante” and “La Machine à Assassiner” which I have not been able to find in English.

Soon, Egyptian themes were showing up in superhero fiction. E.g., 1930 saw the introduction of Ogon Bat:

In 1939, Marvel Comics introduced an android with flame-producing superpowers called “The Human Torch.”

Confusingly, while this android hero is a clear precursor to cyberpunk heroes with robotic or semi-robotic bodies, Marvel re-used the same name for a different character with a human body and no cybernetic implants.

Also in 1939, Adam Link appeared in the original short story “I, Robot,”
which explicitly referenced Shelley’s Frankenstein.,_Robot_(short_story)

In 1945, C.S.Lewis presented a cyborg villain in That Hideous Strength.

Superman used “heat vision” no later than 1949:


Heat vision was initially introduced as “the heat of his x-ray vision” (a byproduct of his existing x-ray vision powers) in Superman (vol. 1) #59 (July 1949);

Just 3 years later, Tetsuwan Atomu was a robot superhero with machine guns built into his hips:

In 1958, Jack Vance published The Languages of Pao, which featured cyborgs with ray-guns implanted in their fingers. This appears to have had great influence on many later fictional cyborgs.

8-Man (the resurrected cyborg crime-fighter) debuted in 1963, with special armored skin and energy-replenishing cigarettes:

In 1966, Doctor Who‘s “Cybermen” also featured weapons implanted in their bodies.

The original novel Cyborg was published in 1972:

Wolverine’s cyborg claws debuted in 1974:

1975 saw the implanted hand-grenade of Death Race 2000:

The cyborg-with-a-concealed-handgun trope took spectacular form the in the manga Cobra which debuted in 1978, twenty years after The Languages of Pao:

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