Exploring Fictional Radioactive Characters On Chernobyl Anniversary
Thirty-seven years ago today, the worst nuclear accident in history occurred at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant near Pripyat, Ukraine.
This historical event has had some recent attention because of Russian troops kicking up radiation dust at the beginning of their invasion of Ukraine; additionally, a few years ago, HBO released the incredible Emmy Award-winning miniseries Chernobyl. But I’ve been fascinated by this event my entire life. When USSR officials began recruiting all available men to the site of this horrific disaster, my father, an engineer, was planning to go too. We lived 300 miles away in the southwestern city of Chernovtsy, Ukraine. However, my mother was almost nine months pregnant with me at the time, and she refused to let him join the effort.
So, basically, I saved his life!
Perhaps because of Chernobyl, or perhaps due to the array of supernatural books and films and TV shows I devoured as a young child after arriving to the U.S. in the 1990s, I have also had a lifelong fascination with superpowers. Since so many characters become magical after being exposed to radiation, I often find myself wondering where my superpowers are.
This all started with the 1994-1998 kids show The Secret World of Alex Mack. Alex (played by Larisa Oleynik) is an ordinary preteen girl living in Arizona near a chemical factory. While walking home from her first day of junior high, she is nearly hit by a truck from Paradise Valley Chemical and drenched with an experimental substance that gives her special powers, including telekinesis, shooting electricity from her fingers and the ability to dissolve into water. I was a big fan of this show in its time. I’m pretty sure that I even tried to close my eyes and turn into water.
Here’s a fun list of more shows and films that involve radiation-inspired superpowers!
Peter Parker, who was bit by a radioactive spider, is one of the most well-known superheroes, so there are many, many reiterations of Spider-Man films, cartoons and books. My favorite one is the 2002 Tobey Maguire version, which my daughter and I just stumbled upon scrolling through Disney+. James Franco, Willem Dafoe, and Kirsten Dunst? Yes, please. Even future True Blood werewolf Joe Manganiello makes an appearance.
DC Comics’ Dr. Manhattan, who first appeared in the 1986 comic book Watchmen #1, then played by Billy Crudup in the 2009 film and then by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II in the 2019 HBO Watchmen series, is a nuclear physicist who is transformed into a godlike being by a lab accident. He can see the future, the past, as well as the entire universe, among many other cool things. However, he is no longer an actual human being, which can be problematic at times.
Godzilla’s body emits its own radiation, so he’s gotta be on this list! Godzilla can do all sorts of cool and dangerous things like contaminate water sources, raise temperatures and create mutations in other species, on top of having super-strength and size. In the original 1954 film from Japan, Godzilla was an allegory for the effects of the hydrogen bomb. (You can see a full list of Godzilla films here.)
Probably the best superhero show ever made is Amazon Prime’s The Boys, and its connection to Chernobyl is also the closest, as in Season 3, Soldier Boy is found in Russia after years of experiments have caused him to become a walking nuclear reactor. In a fun twist, he can also take away other superheroes’ powers!
The list of books, shows and films involving characters with special powers is nearly endless at this point, as is the list of powers people have come up with in the process. The power to read minds would probably be my choice, but I’ll take anything at this point!