Mark Henry Photos © 2008 World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
By Craig Tello
What does a 400-pound WWE Superstar read on his down time? Anything he wants...especially when that anything comes from the House of Ideas.
"The World's Strongest Man" Mark Henry stands tall as one of World Wrestling Entertainment's fiercest, most destructive forces and-after recently taking the title during Night of Champions-the reigning ECW champion. But Henry is one giant soothed not by music, but by Marvel Comics.
"I've been reading comics since I was a young kid," recalls Henry. "But I've been more serious as an adult because it's the only thing that entertains me other than wrestling. It's so interactive and you can take your mind to a place that is real to you."
You might not believe that the same hands that maim, maul and dominate men of all sizes inside the ring also frequently turn the pages of Marvel's carefully bound comic books. In fact, the next time you see Mark Henry ripping off the doors of steel cages or lifting a four-door sedan on WWE television, consider the inspiration behind these feats of strength: the former Power Man, Luke Cage.
"I like Luke Cage because he's very realistic and the story of Cage, theoretically, could happen in this time," the burly Superstar explains. "I mean, there could be a molecular machine that could transfer human skin to something that's like titanium."
Power Man's extraordinary origin aside, to Henry-a man who powerlifted his way to stardom in the super-heavyweight division at the 1992 Olympic games-an indestructible, super-powered, African-American protagonist like Luke Cage represents a relatable character.
At his hardened core, Cage has always been a jive-talkin', no-nonsense, beat-'em-up-type hero of the Harlem streets, a neighborhood familiar to the "World's Strongest Man," a current native of the New York City sect.
"It all goes back to reading what you know," remarks the ECW Champion. "I just enjoy it."
Though his bellows in the ring tell a tale of a mighty behemoth without conscience, Henry happily admits that the Marvel Universe resembles a reality far more distant than the one he resides in-just the way he likes it.
"[A man with Cage's powers] would be in a fantasy world," he adds. "When it comes to my entertainment in comics, I'm fine with that [fantasy world]. Those who look at me like something's wrong with me [for reading comics] just don't have imagination."
But perhaps not even the colossal WWE Superstar could have imagined Marvel's latest epic crossover event, Secret Invasion, the realization of years' worth of nefariously tactful plotting by the shape-shifting alien race known as the Skrulls. More importantly, even an astute fan like Henry had not foreseen the possibility that the "Sweet Christmas"-hollerin' character he's devoted a lifetime to following might actually be one of the wrinkly-jawed race of extraterrestrials in disguise.
"I think that Luke Cage is probably not a candidate to be a Skrull," Henry insists, while contriving a potential scenario in his braid-covered head. "If the real
Luke Cage went to jail and died, then a Skrull came and took his identity, that's a whole different story...and I'd like to get some credit for writing that," adds the plot-minded powerhouse before letting out a thunderous chuckle.
Still, in the event that the character traditionally known as Power Man turns out to be, well, not Luke Cage at all, it won't be a total crush for Henry. Like a glistening gem for the goliath and countless other SECRET INVASION readers, one shocking twist greeted Henry in the very first issue: One helluva throwback to the 1970s landscape of the Marvel Universe.
That's right, turning the pages of the Brian Bendis-scripted blockbuster, fans of vintage Marvel looks will find a pleasant surprise in the form of a canary yellow-bloused Cage, along with a slew of other heroes in garb not seen in some time, decades even.
"I love that outlandish outfit, long lapels and v-neck shirt," Henry reveals of the reappearance of Cage's original ensemble, clearly excited by the retro costume-age.
While visualizing the plot-thickening swerve, Henry bears a strong grin at the sight of the "O.G." Power Man. And, of course, the ring competitor's thoughts on the long-awaited return of Cage's tight micro-fro prove equally enthusiastic:
"I'm diggin' it, man," adds the thoroughly entertained bruiser, while primping his own mane. "I'm about to rock one myself. I'm thinking about cutting my hair."
But before he can remodel his already badass look to match that of his comic panel icon or contemplate the many surprises still to come in SECRET INVASION, Marvel.com hits Henry with the ultimate question about the ultimate showdown:
Who would, in fact, win in a toe-to-toe, blow-for-blow, barn-burning, slobberknocker involving two of the mightiest men in WWE and the Marvel Universe? If by some bizarre chance-or the mistaken press of a button on one of Reed Richards' many world-altering devices-both worlds were to collide, who would come out on top: "The World's Strongest Man" Mark Henry or "Power Man" Luke Cage?
"It's unfortunate that Luke Cage is from Harlem-like me-and would have to meet his end," says the bellicose WWE behemoth. "He's got titanium skin, but he still can drown. If I held him under water, Luke Cage would be no more. Off the Harlem River Bridge he'd go, brotha."
While the "World's Strongest Man" waits for impossible collision between the Marvel Universe and WWE, check out Henry's arguably partial picks in other one-on-one battles between both entertainment brands' biggest names...
The Incredible Hulk vs John Cena
"As much as I love John Cena, I'd have to kiss him goodbye on that one 'cuz no matter how much you beat him, the Hulk gets stronger and bigger and meaner every time."
Spider-Man vs. Rey Mysterio
"I have to give Spider-Man the up on Rey-Rey."
Dr. Doom vs. Edge
Captain America vs. Shawn Michaels
"Pre-death? I'd have to go with Cap."
Daredevil vs. Jeff Hardy
"The Man Without Fear versus the man with no conscience. I have to call that one a draw."
Wolverine vs. Batista
"I'd have to go with Wolverine."
Juggernaut vs. Umaga
"Whoa-ho-ho-ho! It's the immovable versus the [Samoan] Spike. Juggernaut. No neck!"
Ghost Rider vs. Undertaker
Galactus vs. The Great Khali
"Phew...Khali and Galactus; Khali."
Iron Man vs. Randy Orton
"Randy Orton. The odds are always stacked against him, but that S.O.B. finds a way to pull it out every time."
Stan Lee vs. Vince McMahon
"Actually, Stan Lee...I wouldn't put him in the same category [as Mr. McMahon] even though Stan is a very smart man. Mr. McMahon is physical and he's battled all the people we've mentioned before. I think him fighting Stan Lee would be an easy win for him. If I were to put McMahon against somebody, it would be someone like Professor X or Kingpin-somebody that'll fight you back. [McMahon] and Kingpin would be a good one, and I would have to go with the Chairman over Kingpin."
Catch Mark Henry on ECW every Tuesday night on the Sci Fi Channel! Also, check out Mark's profile on WWE.com!