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Nuclear Man: What Happened To The Superman 4 Villain & The Actor Who Played Him?

Throughout the years, there have been a number of strange choices when it comes to the evildoers selected to take on the heroes in comic-book-themed cinema, but one odd example that arguably still confuses fans to this day is Nuclear Man, who first debuted in the 1987 feature film "Superman IV: The Quest For Peace."

The character, a one-dimensional, nuclear-themed copy of the titular hero, was created from a strand of The Last Son of Krypton's hair by Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman). After battling Christopher Reeve's Superman across the globe, in space, and on the moon, the villain, played by actor Mark Pillow, is thrown into a nuclear reactor, turning the weapon of mass destruction into a viable energy source. While that epic encounter seems like it would be part of a great motion picture experience, "Superman 4" is heavily maligned for being one of the worst Superman movies ever to be released. While he most assuredly met his demise in the flick that ended the franchise and became one of the lowest-rated Superman-related titles on Rotten Tomatoes, the less-than-stellar reception hasn't stopped Pillow or DC from continually radiating toward Nuclear Man years later.

Since "The Quest for Peace," fans may be curious to learn that Pillow has made some fascinating revelations offering insight into some of the questionable decisions that went into the cultivation of the character. While they each endured prolonged absences from the mainstream, the two have remained active in their respective ways, probably leaving many wondering what the actor and villain have been up to since the credits rolled on "Superman 4."

Mark Pillow's acting career was limited in the aftermath of Superman 4

Despite Mark Pillow's big screen debut as Nuclear Man in "Superman 4" not going according to plan, the actor continued to chase his dreams of stardom, making moves that included participating in an entry from the series "Wiseguy" as Russell Haynes in 1988. When sitting down to talk with Yahoo in 2013, Pillow revealed he almost took part in another popular eighties franchise, saying, "I had an interview with Sylvester Stallone for a role in 'Rambo 3', playing a special-ops Spetznaz officer."

Unfortunately, things didn't work out, and Pillow couldn't secure a part until the next decade. "Things were pretty quiet until the early '90s when I went off for a year and a half to do 'The Alaska Kid,'" the actor revealed in the interview. "We shot that in Russia, Poland, and Czechoslovakia, and I played the Jack London character." The role in the 1993 German-Russian-Polish mini-series ended up being his final credit that made it in front of an audience, although he did lend his talents to one last feature. "I went back on one film in 2000, a remake of the Burt Lancaster / Tony Curtis film 'Trapeze', filming in Belarus." The actor added, "I wasn't the lead. The shoot was for about six weeks, but as I understand it, it's never been released."

It turns out he couldn't escape the career-killing meteor-sized disaster left in the wake of "Superman 4." But while things didn't work out as planned, even years after stepping away from the acting profession, Pillow has had no objection to talking about the surprising amount of revelations concerning the Nuclear Man character that explain why the villain hasn't been held in such high regard over the years.

The actor is partially responsible for Nuclear Man's era-appropriate aesthetics

Since the live-action Superman movie's dismal reception, Nuclear Man hasn't been the most embraced bad guy, which is puzzling considering that the character has many of the same powers as Superman and possesses superior strength. He also had abilities such as gravity manipulation and razor-sharp claws able to pierce the Man of Steel's skin, weakening the Kryptonian to almost dying. Despite being a formidable individual, he has been continually derided by many over the years, and one aspect that certainly hasn't aged well is Nuclear Man's appearance, which Pillow may be partially to blame.

Years later, Pillow has talked to many outlets, such as the All-Star Superfan Podcast, regarding several Nuclear Man-related topics, including his two-piece spandex costume. It was revealed that Pillow had some say concerning the interesting aesthetic design. "That wasn't the original design," the actor said at around the 5:21 mark on the podcast. "I saw the original design, and I came in and had some ideas of my own, and they incorporated some of those into it, like taking off the sleeves and wearing gauntlets. That was new to the costume. Very comfortable costume actually to wear." And as far as the hairstyle is concerned, Pillow admitted, "That was me. That was the eighties." He added, "You think about the eighties and the bands. It was all about big hair. That was kind of the look back then. So that was my hair that I had. I don't know, back in the time, that was a Southern California look."

While Pillow may be partially responsible for Nuclear Man's forever designation to the worst-dressed supervillain list, he was powerless regarding the ill-fated direction decided for the evildoer that would ultimately derail the character's potential.

Financial struggles and strange decisions didn't help Nuclear Man's chances

There are several reasons that many fans don't remember "Superman 4" and its villain fondly. "The Quest For Peace" budget was drastically cut, restricting production and special effects. Also, a large amount of footage shot was dropped from the film, including several crucial scenes involving another Nuclear Man played by Clive Mantle that would have preceded the one featured in the theatrical cut, adding more cohesion to the film's narrative and development for Mark Pillow's character.

But those aren't the only things that could very well be attributed to Pillow's Nuclear Man being the butt of the joke more often than not. The fact that Nuclear Man wasn't actually voiced by the actor that played him but instead by Gene Hackman, who played Lex Luthor, the villain's creator, restricted Pillow's efforts on set. And it turns out that wasn't the initial plan. "That was an odd, late choice to have Gene do Nuclear Man's lines and have me lip sync to them," Pillow revealed to Yahoo. "Gene didn't expect that, and neither did I. It led to a very wooden performance, which made it a challenge. All I was doing was following Gene's voice, which gave me very little scope to do anything."

The fact that a number of scenes involving Nuclear Man ended up on the cutting room floor and the constricting parameters Pillow was forced to endure at the last second obviously affected not only the overall performance but the reception of the character, who could have been one of Superman's greatest enemies. But despite all that, Nuclear Man has managed to pop up now and again in some pretty substantial DC stories.

Nuclear Man has made a few appearances since Superman 4

While Mark Pillow has managed to stay busy and discuss his experiences with the character, Nuclear Man hasn't gotten much attention outside of the 1987 feature film. In fact, Nuclear Man wasn't heard from until many years later.

One of his few other appearances occurred in 2017 when Nuclear Man made a cameo appearance in the animated series "Teen Titans Go!" appearing in the two-part episode event from the fourth season called "Justice League's Next Top Talent Idol Star" as one of the many contestants participating in the titular contest.

In October 2018, Nuclear Man appeared briefly in "Superman Vol 5 #2." In the comic, Rogol Zaar, fresh off his defeat at the hands of Superman and Supergirl, encounters the "Superman 4" villain who has been given a different origin. It is revealed he was a failed experiment from the House of El and that the Phantom Zone was a perfect place to rid themselves of Krypton's mistakes and unwanted relics. The two battle, and while he manages to pose a threat early on, Zaar kills Nuclear Man.

But it isn't just cartoons and comics for the motion picture evildoer. In April 2022, Nuclear Man officially entered the CW's Arrowverse, which is comprised of shows like "Arrow," "The Flash," "Supergirl," and "Superman & Lois." In the comic book "Earth Prime #2 Superman & Lois," which takes place within the shared universe, a flashback reveals Superman fighting Nuclear Man to thwart the destruction of Sin City at some point in the past. 

Despite the downfalls of "Superman 4," the film's villain has become a significant part of the caped Kryptonian's lore. After such an interesting journey, some may wonder how Mark Pillow feels about his connection to Nuclear Man.

Mark Pillow is proud of his Nuclear Man legacy

"Superman 4" may have seemed like a less-than-ideal endeavor to experience, but some may be surprised to discover how Mark Pillow feels when looking back on the events that took place while watching the 1987 feature. "When I look and I watch the film, I remember the days, each of the days we were filming and thinking what a great privilege I felt every day showing up to set to be able to slip on that costume, stand across from Christopher and just get to play for a while," the actor said in an interview at Motor City Comic Con with Comic, Beer, & Sci-Fi. "So when I see it I think that. I think the joy." 

While things did not go according to plan for "The Quest For Peace," and there certainly are several regrets, Mark Pillow does hold his experience with the character and the film in very high regard. He confirmed as much at the 31:20 mark of the All-Star Superfan Podcast, where he said, "I think the choices that were made and, of course, the cuts, the sense of disappointment of what it might have been or could have been but so grateful for the opportunity to have been part of it that just almost overshadows any disappointment that came later with the realization it wasn't quite the film that we all expected to see." Pillow's appreciation for getting the chance to play a persona in a Superman movie and being part of the cherished legacy of such beloved heroes is stronger than the Man of Steel himself, and no force in the universe could deter his love of being Nuclear Man.