Having a terminal medical condition can be one of the most traumatic experiences anyone has to go through. The sufferer and their family members are forced to deal with the knowledge that only a certain amount of time is available to them. It’s a relatable kind of struggle that’s been reflected in an obscure comic character called Cardiac. Associated with Spider-Man, Cardiac is an anti-hero who doles out his own brand of justice based around his hatred for corrupt medical corporations. The Comic Vault is looking into his history to understand what makes Cardiac worth reading about.
Dr Elias Wirtham was a surgeon and owner of a biological research firm, with his motivations centred on the death of his brother Joshua. His brother had a terminal illness, though he could have been saved if not for the greed of a medical corporation. They had a cure ready but didn’t want to distribute the medicine because it wouldn’t have been a profitable time. This sparked Wirtham’s vendetta against big organisations, leading to him dedicating his life to researching life-saving medicine.
His research caused him to replace his own heart with a beta-particle reactor and create a vibranium weave mesh beneath his skin. The implants channeled energy through his body, increasing his strength, speed and agility to superhuman levels. Wirthman took on the name Cardiac in reference to his powers.
Cardiac began targeting medical companies and during a raid on Sapridyne Chemicals, a company that had chemicals used to produce cocaine, he encountered Spider-Man for the first time.
Cardiac and Spider-Man’s dynamic is complicated because they’ve worked together and fought each other several times. An example is when they cooperated to defeat the villains Styx and Stone, though Spider-Man tried to restrain Cardiac afterwards. Another time, Cardiac destroyed a drug shipment but didn’t fight Spider-Man, claiming he wasn’t there to ‘destroy a misguided hero.’ Spider-Man doesn’t approve of Cardiac’s crime fighting methods, though can understand his motivations.
Cardiac has an ‘ends justify the means’ kind of approach to crime-fighting. He’s not above killing criminals if they get in his way, though he has been shown to regret his actions. Wirtham’s desire to save the terminally ill has been shown on several occasions. He opened up the Hospital for Emergency Aid and Recuperative Therapy (HEART) using stolen medical supplies. Cardiac has gone so far as to steal from police evidence in order to help a girl with severe brain damage.
Wirtham’s medically induced powers also make him an intriguing character. He utilised his intelligence to upgrade his body and design special technology. Along with his energy powers, Cardiac wields a pulse staff that can be used as a conduit. It fires concussive blasts that are powerful enough to stun people like Spider-Man.
Cardiac’s methods open up an interesting debate about the nature of medical care. In many countries, healthcare is expensive and some people aren’t able to afford the bills. It could be argued that Cardiac is fighting for a worthy cause by helping the less fortunate. On the other hand, Wirtham’s motivations have given him a narrow world view steeped in vengeance and bitterness. The death of a family member is a relatable motive that drives some individuals to work outside the law. It raises the question of how far someone would go to help a loved one if they knew there was a cure.
Whether you agree with his methods or not, Cardiac is a character with potential. I’d like to see him used more often and think he could support his own miniseries and be used in more stories outside the Spider-Man universe.