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Nuclear Nasty

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"Touch a button. Things happen. A scientist becomes a beast."

A sub-trope of I Love Nuclear Power, Nuclear Nasty is a monster (usually the Monster of the Week) created when a creature is exposed to radiation. Very common in 1950s monster movies, as well as works trying to be throwbacks to that era for obvious reasons. Tends to be an Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever. These creatures are often common sights in a Standard Post-Apocalyptic Setting.

When played straight, this is a case of Artistic License – Biology. This becomes slightly more plausible if an organism is irradiated and its offspring are born as mutants, rather than some weird transformation happening to the irradiated organism itself. See also Toxic Waste Can Do Anything, Radiation-Immune Mutants, a Required Secondary Power for some of these nasties. However, in most cases, high exposure to nuclear radiation usually results in death of most animals and humans (which makes post-apocalyptic nuclear war scenarios of fighting mutated creatures highly unrealistic). That being said, there have been several species that are able to adapt to nuclear radiation, as evident with Chernobyl where, although radiation levels are still lethal for most humans without adequate protection, several animals manage to survive with minimum or no mutations. In fact, the only major mutations they suffered were adaptations to protect them against the ill effects of radiation, such as higher levels of antioxidants and better DNA repair mechanisms. They even live longer because of it.



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    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • There were quite a few radiation created monsters in Marvel's early monster comics, including a fairly adorable weed with mind-control powers and a scarecrow made giant and mobile by nuclear radiation.
  • The Incredible Hulk and his gamma radiation-empowered friends and enemies would certainly qualify. At one end of the spectrum you've got lucky folks like Doc Samson and She-Hulk, who just look like impossibly buff people with green hair or skin, and at the other end you've got freaks like the Harpy and the Abomination. Their degree of self-control after their mutation varies from one individual to the next, too. There have been gamma-mutant animals over the years, too (mainly dogs), but they tend not to survive beyond a single issue.
  • Also from the Marvel Universe: Nuklo, the radioactive son of the Whizzer and Miss America.
  • In Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1977), Godzilla fights a yeti which has been turned by nuclear radiation to match it in size and strength.
  • The French comic Les eaux de Mortelune (The waters of Deadmoon) had mutant animals. Lyon is now inhabited by giant flies, Avignon by giant termites and Les-Baux-de-Provence by giant telepathic praying mantises.
  • The Big Bad of another French comic, Bikini Atoll, is a horribly mutated and homicidally insane man, one spawned by the nuclear tests that were performed in the eponymous area during the 1950s. The story ends with him being eaten by a mutated shark.
  • Franquin's Idées Noires has one comic about a talk-show debating over the dangers of nuclear energy. A woman calls them to claim that nuclear energy is perfectly harmless since her husband worked in a reactor for 10 years and is fit as a fiddle and that everybody opposing nuclear energy is either a hippie or a communist. Turns out her husband and children are horribly mutated and she spouted lies just because "There ain't a reason that we should be the only ones in deep shit!"
  • Played to the darkest possible extent in Alan Moore's Swamp Thing run, where the creature known only as "Nukeface" is a perfectly normal human derelict driven insane by drinking nuclear waste... who still poses quite a threat to a small town unaware of his presence. He even succeeds in killing the protagonist until Swampy figures out how to grow a new body.
  • Played with in Superman: Red Son. When Superman, who was raised in Soviet Ukraine, meets the Bizarro clone created by Lex Luthor, America's smartest scientist, for the first time, due to Bizarro and an American nuclear sub crossing territorial waters, Superman punches him, accidentally activating Bizarro's "telescopic x-ray vision." As a result, the submarine's crewmen get a severe case of radiation poisoning, and Superman comments: "birds became irradiated and dropped from the sky for fifty miles around."
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: Atomia uses nuclear radiation as part of her process of turning humans into her mindless superpowered mooks.

    Fan Works 
  • In the Star Trek: Voyager Parody Fic "The Killer Dame", the crew drive the Hirogen off the ship by irradiating Neelix's supply of dreaded leola root, creating a giant rampaging leola root that even the Hirogen dare not eat. Then Neelix decides to start carving it up for food, making the crew wonder if they should invite the Hirogen back again.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms is the Trope Maker, although the bomb isn't credited with creating the monster (a dinosaur that had been frozen in Arctic ice) so much as bringing it to the modern world (by melting said ice during a nuclear test).
  • Them! is probably one of the most well known movies featuring this trope.
  • Godzilla may well be the mascot for this trope. The original incarnation, whose backstory was used in most later movies, was originally a dinosaur mutated by an H-bomb. The 1998 remake uses a similar origin, but Zilla was mutated from a marine iguana instead.
    • The 2014 incarnation is the one subversion, as that Godzilla and the other giant monsters existed long before the Pacific nuclear tests, which were actually attempts to kill them. That said, Godzilla and the Mutos were originally from a time when the world was intensely radioactive, and feed off radioactive material. This presents a problem when the Mutos steal a live nuclear warhead and use it in their nest at the heart of San Francisco...
    • The Shin Godzilla version likewise has a different backstory from its predecessors. This Godzilla was originally a sea creature mutated by nuclear waste into a single organism, eventually taking the form of a dinosaur-like monster with shriveled arms, open wounds and sores all over its skin, an unnaturally large mouth lined with teeth, and a skeleton grown into the flesh of its tail.
  • The mutated algae in The Horror of Party Beach possess human corpses, which, for some reason, tended to look in practice like a muppet version of the Creature from the Black Lagoon with a mouth full of hot dogs.
  • Bert I. Gordon loved this, whether it's the giant grasshoppers from Beginning of the End, The Amazing Colossal Man, The Food of the Gods, the horrible cyclopic giant from The Cyclops, or the giant ants who mind control people by farting pheromones on them from Empire of the Ants.
  • Roger Corman also had quite a few of them, like The Beast who Brings Death With Its Touch from Teenage Caveman, the three-eyed; horned; big-nosed mutant from The Day the World Ended, the giant leeches from Attack of the Giant Leeches, and the titular creatures from Attack of the Crab Monsters.
  • The Incredible Melting Man, with an incredibly disgusting appearance done by Rick Baker himself, who gets stronger as he melts (how that works is anyone's guess). The movie started off as a parody, but the distributors wanted it to be a serious horror film and exorcised all of the comedy from the final cut.
  • The 1957 B-movie From Hell it Came (Head Injury Theater article here) featured a tree-man named Tabonga.
  • Tromie, the giant, mutant radioactive squirrel from the not-quite-serious Class of Nuke 'Em High series by Troma.
  • The Last Days of Planet Earth a.k.a. Prophecies of Nostradamus features a few creatures mutated by radiation in New Guinea — carnivorous trees, poisonous leeches, flesh eating flying foxes (big ol' bats), and cancer-ridden human cannibals. The film also shows "softbodied humans" (severely mutated humans) at the very end. The last two depictions got it banned in Japan — where it was made.
  • The Beast of Yucca Flats has a man getting caught inside a nuclear test explosion, becoming the eponymous beast.
  • C.H.U.D. had homeless people in New York's sewers turned into mutant cannibals by illegally dumped radioactive waste.
  • The original Night of the Living Dead (1968) includes a speculative Hand Wave about radiation from a returning space probe to Venus causing the Zombie Apocalypse. This explanation is discarded in the subsequent Dead films, however.
  • The frog-people from Hell Comes to Frogtown are likely this, and they likely also have a few more exotic features, given the infamous "Dance of the Three Snakes" scene.
  • In The Hideous Sun Demon, Dr. Gilbert McKenna is exposed to radiation which causes him to turn into a monster in sunlight.
  • Atomic Shark features a shark mutated by a nuclear submarine wreck, leaving it covered with radiation burns, glowing red, and emitting enough heat to cause things around it to burst into flames. It's also more or less a swimming one megaton nuclear bomb that will detonate if killed. Just to make things stupider, some fish that the shark passed nearby become irradiated also, are caught and served up at a seafood restaurant, and cause both the kitchen and a diner to explode.
  • The creatures from Nightmare City aka City of the Walking Dead are actually Technically Living Zombies mutated by the fallout from a nuclear disaster. While the radiation did give them enhanced strength, speed and immunity to bullets (except headshots), it also destroyed their minds, turning them in rage-fueled psychopaths and made them incapable from producing red blood cells which forced them into eating flesh and drinking blood of humans to survive. Most notably, the director says the film is not a zombie movie but an anti-war and anti-nuclear flick.

  • Andre Norton:
    • Star Man's Son had mutant creatures in a post-apocalyptic world.
    • No Night Without Stars. A dog/wolf hybrid large enough to ride, for example.
  • Metro 2033: Looks like the heavily irradiated, post-nuclear Moscow became a gigantic nest of monsters, mutants and dinosaurs.
  • In David Drake's short story "Men Like Us", a post-apocalyptic wanderer tells the people of a town that most of the stories about mutants were exaggerated. Babies with extra limbs or heads existed even before the bombs and even if there are more born now the wasteland has not been kind to them. Sure, there were dog-sized rats but they've mostly been wiped out. And Changelings? Men made immortal by the blasts despite being skeletonized in some cases? Don't be ridiculous. Later they attempt to behead him, and his neck knits back together as they're pulling out the axe. And then his more conspicuous friends show up.
  • Joseph Payne Brennan's story "The Corpse of Charlie Rull" concerns leaked radioactive waste turning a heart attack victim into a killer zombie.
  • Gone: The Gaiaphage was initially a virus created by aliens to spread life which then crashed into a nuclear plant by meteor, which combined with the meteor killing a human and some of that person's DNA being incorporated into the Gaiaphage, led to it mutating and becoming a terrifying Eldritch Abomination which feeds on nuclear fuel.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The X-Files: Fluke man! More accurately called Tape man... Flukes and tapeworms are both flatworms, but flukes do not have scolexes. Tapeworms do. (But "tapeman" isn't nearly as cool sounding as "flukeman".)
  • The Daleks in Doctor Who were initially explained in "The Daleks" to be the result of a nuclear bomb detonated by the Thals in the distant past. They had locked themselves in metal travel machines to survive the radiation and over many years mutated into something else (although their experiments later reveal them to be a particularly extreme form of Radiation-Immune Mutants — they aren't just unharmed by radiation, they need radiation to survive). Most of this was ignored in later appearances and they were completely Retconned in "Genesis of the Daleks" in the 1970s. Although given the appearance of the pepper pots, this may simply apply to the Thal mutated Daleks (Laths?) and come after the Kaled-Daleks.
  • Ultraseven featured two Monsters of the Week with this theme.
    • When Ultra Garrison tests a planet-destroying nuclear missile called R-1 on the seemingly uninhabited world of Gyeron, they end up with the mutated sole survivor coming to Earth as a giant monster with a Breath Weapon of radioactive dust.
    • An earlier episode had aliens called the Spell (or Spehl). They had been horrifically injured by nuclear holocaust on their home planet, leaving them with a thirst for blood that was the only thing which could ease their radiation burns. However, they got Exiled from Continuity when controversy about them resembling atomic bomb survivors popped up.
  • Ultraman had an episode where nuclear bombs lost in the Pacific Ocean ends up mutating a Fish Person called Ragon (previously seen in Ultra Q) into a gigantic and violently insane creature. Worse still, an undetonated nuclear bomb is precariously dangling on Ragon's scales...
  • Star Trek: Voyager: In the episode "Juggernaut", the crew encounter a Malon garbage ship whose crew have almost all been killed. One of the survivors claims it was the work of a "Vihaar", a monster supposedly born out of the radioactive waste carried on the ship. While Vihaars are generally believed to be mythical, this particular one turns out to be very real. It's actually a former crewmember who was horrifically mutated by the radiation, and became murderously insane as a result.

    Pro Wrestling 

    Tabletop Games 
  • All over the place in Gamma World, though modern versions use Nanomachines and Magical Particle Accelerator as an explanation. Some of these include giant insects, the many-legged Centisteed, the multi-armed Snake People called the Menarls, the cactus horse, the humanoid metal-to-rubber-making bunny rabbits called Hoops and The Yexil.
  • Monsterpocalypse has those cozy radioactive giant insects that eat you, instead of making you a super hero.
  • Although it was mainly based on hard science, the After the End game The Morrow Project allowed for radiation-mutated animals that were treated as monsters.
  • Mutant Future had mutated monsters.
  • Paranoia had at least one mutated monster: giant intelligent cockroaches in the adventure "Into the Outdoors with Gun and Camera".
  • d20 Modern's Urban Arcana setting has the Nuclear Toxyderm, a pile of nuclear power plant waste given life.
  • Promethean: The Created has the Zeka, nuclear Prometheans who have the ultimate in Blessed with Suck. Not only do they suffer Disquiet, they spread fallout wherever they go, meaning they can rarely interact with humans and have a lot of trouble undertaking the Pilgrimage. As a result, most of them go Centimanus, and hoo boy, do they go Centimanus. Two NPC examples are Oleg Wormwood (an Eastern European arms dealer who longs to get his hands on a suitcase nuke and start some real fun) and Tsar Bomba (a hulking brute who seems content to just barge into nuclear power plants, subject the staff to a slow death, and bask in the radiation as the place starts to go critical). And that's not even starting on the Carcinomas...
    • Zeka can have a Bestowment (innate power) that lets them irradiate corpses to bring them back as zombies. The Irradiation tree of powers also includes the abilities to control insects and then, later on, to mutate those insects into giants (ala Them!). It's also mentioned that the Wastelands created by Zeka tend to include huge, mutated invertebrate lifeforms.
  • Werewolf: The Apocalypse puts a corrupted form of radiation in the hands of minions of the Wyrm. In fact, nuclear fallout is regarded as somewhat holy by the Black Spiral Dancers (werewolves who fell to the Wyrm); one of their greatest sacred sites is a hive under the Trinity test site.
  • Bleak World has the Radio Zombie class of the Experiments. They require a perfect 10 to keep up their human disguises, and get no bonus to keeping it up anyway. Furthermore, their magic and skills make it so that they are built to destroy their opponent, as such it is nearly impossible to maintain a good karma playthrough with the Radio Zombie.
  • In Pathfinder, the Irradiated Deadnote  are a Super Soldier project Gone Horribly Right, produced by a Mad Scientist replacing warriors' blood with radioactive sludge that she distilled from an alien spaceship ruin. It makes them superhumanly powerful, gives them radioactive flesh and Zombie Puke, and converts their victims into more Irradiated Dead, but it turned them into ravenous uncontrollable undead rather than obedient minions for the scientist.

    Video Games 
  • Being inspired in part by 1950s sci-fi and taking place after a nuclear war, the Fallout series has a bunch of these. Mutated animals include giant roaches, mantises, scorpions (including the fearsome Albino Radscorpion), flies, ants, geckos, and rats (both the regular kind and mole rats the size of large bulldogs), monstrous bears with hairless skin covered in lesions and tumors, and deer and cows with two heads. Shall we mention that tougher varieties can shrug off minigun bursts and high explosives? It's zigzagged in that, canonically, the mutations stem at least partially from a Mutagenic Goo Synthetic Plague called the Forced Evolutionary Virus (FEV) that the US Government cooked up before the war — precisely how much each element is to blame is unclear, as there was a conflict between the creators over the matter.
    • Ghouls are people who mutated from long term residual radiation (and maybe some FEV thrown in too) that allows them to absorb and even heal from it, specifically the Glowing Ones who see radiation as being "comfortably warm". Feral ghouls are ghouls that have lost their minds over the years as the higher functions of the brain is not preserved as well as the rest of the nervous system.
    • Swampfolk are crazed rednecks who are mutated due to long term residual radiation in the waters of Point Lookout and inbreeding who have become ungodly tough and viciously territorial of their swamp lands.
    • Lonesome Road has the Tunnelers, Lizard Folk that live beneath the ruins of Hopeville and seem to be mutated from either lizards or the people of Hopeville themselves.
    • Far Harbour has plenty of irradiated nasties found nowhere else inhabiting the Island, such as harmless if grotesque mutant chickens and rabbits, packs of mutated wolves, humanoid angler fish, enormous bipedal salamanders and giant, monstrous arthropods such as hermit crabs that use abandoned trailers as shells and two-story tall Fog Crawlers (once some sort of shrimp), all thanks to the radioactive fog shrouding the Island.
    • Certain Perks can turn you into one. Rad Child and Rad Regeneration makes you regenerate when you have radiation poisoning, and Atomic! makes you stronger and faster when exposed to radiation, on top of giving you a boost to your AP regen.
    • Super Mutants, Mutant Hounds, Centaurs, Cazadors and Nightstalkers avert this, as the former three are created by the FEV and the latter created by the morally bankrupt and insane scientists of Big Mountain, specifically Doctornote  Borous. It's strongly implied that the Deathclaws fit into this category too, having originated as Jackson's Chameleons genetically engineered by first the pre-War US government and then the Master to serve as living weapons.
  • Used seriously, but knowingly, in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater to explain why some of the animals are bigger (like the tree frogs) or more aggressive (like the gavials) than they are in real life. Para-Medic even compares it to Godzilla.
  • In StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm the Torrasque strain is unlocked after some Ultralisks are hit directly with an experimental nuke, and Abathur incorporates the radiation into their genome.
  • It Came From The Desert suggests this is what created the giant mutant ants.
  • The fangame Pokémon Uranium features a "Nuclear" elemental type that is basically this trope. Nuclear type Pokémon are typically found near failed nuclear power plants. For Nuclear counterparts of pre-existing species, the radiation has corrupted them and turned them hostile; repels don't work on them, and, if captured and used, they are disobedient like a high-level traded Pokémon. They are distinguished from their non-nuclear counterparts by a black and green color scheme, as well as having unique radiation-based attacks. There are a handful of Nuclear types that lack a Non-Nuclear counterpart — these are stable and can be captured and trained like a normal Pokémon without the obedience problems. Nuclear type attacks are super effective against everything except Steel and Nuclear, and Nuclear type Pokémon are weak to every type except Nuclear, making Nuclear type Pokémon Glass Cannons in battle.
  • Ashes 2063 has bug-dog hybrids, cannibal mutants, animate plants and so on, all of which seem to thrive in radiation-heavy areas. However, you can see and read snippets of such creatures showing up even before the nukes dropped such bug-dog sightings in pre-war printed media, which raises questions as to their real origins.

    Web Videos 

    Western Animation 
  • Adventure Time:
    • The season 5 premiere implies the Lich was created by a nuclear bomb. Later episodes would establish he'd been around long before that, the bomb just made his current incarnation.
    • "Simon and Marcy" has Simon and Marceline wandering into a ruined city and being attacked by mutated, misshapen creatures who are implied to have been the inhabitants of the city.
    • In "The Vault", Finn's past life Shoko is turned into a giant, horrible monster after falling into a radioactive river. However, it seems as though the process also caused death by radiation poisoning shortly thereafter, so it mostly just gave her a different-looking ghost.
  • Duke Nukem in Captain Planet and the Planeteers is a human mutated by radiation into a hulking yellow figure with Super Strength. He goes beyond Radiation-Immune Mutants into actively feeding on nuclear materials and energy, can fire bolts of lethal radiation from his body, and is inconsistently portrayed as a Walking Wasteland as a result.
  • One episode of The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius has Jimmy and his friends investigating a lake monster. Jimmy initially dismisses the claims, then spots his dad pouring radioactive waste into the lake, Oh, Crap!.
  • Blinky the Three-Eyed Fish and some other creatures living in the lake near the Nuclear Power Plant from The Simpsons.
  • Putty-Thing and Fish-Guy from The Mask are two teenagers who exposed themselves to radiation in hopes that they would turn into Insector the Bug-Man, but they both forgot the bug. Of course, it's all deliberately outrageous and Played for Laughs.
  • Ed, Edd n Eddy: when the Eds tell a bedtime story to Jonny, Ed's version begins with the Kanker Sisters eating radioactive mashed potatoes and turning into giants.
  • Toxy in The Trash Pack Mondo TV cartoon is a case of the toxic waste itself being the monster. Being a Trashie made out of a poorly-disposed item, he's the most dangerous, being a living toxic waste barrel still filled with his contents. He has to be detained by the robo-haulers before he hurts anyone.
  • Total Drama's fourth season, Revenge of the Island, is full of these, as prior to the events of said season, Chris McLean rented Wawanakwa out as a toxic waste dump, causing the flora and fauna to mutate. Even Dakota, one of the contestants, is turned into a monster after exposure to nuclear waste.

    Real Life 
  • There has been investigation into whether nuclear accidents like the Chernobyl disaster have mutated animals over generations. It didn't. In Real Life, this wouldn't be able to happen. The nuclear poisoning will kill any higher animal or at least give health problems. The children of given animals may have some abnormalities but usually not good. Scientists discovered that numerous species of birds that lives in the general area of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone have actually thrived and adapted to the irradiated areas. They began creating more antioxidants that are needed to repel free radicals that would normally age the bird into a premature death.
  • For the ultimate real-world inversion of this trope, check out what The Other Wiki has to say about Deinococcus radiodurans. It's a microorganism (so an inversion on the size front, as well as the radiation-effects front) capable of surviving radiation doses a thousand times greater than what's required to kill a human being. It's a pain in the ass for nuclear reactor operations since it can survive in places where life really shouldn't (like cooling pipes), and it also causes problems with radiation sterilization to preserve food long-term. Being resistant to a whole pile of other things as well, it's known in the world of microbiology as "Conan the Bacterium".
  • Operation Crossroads, the first post-WWII nuclear weapons test at Bikini Atoll, was a serious debacle due to the second bomb in the test being set off under water. Seawater turned out to be a superb transit vector for fallout, and decontaminating the test ships in the operation proved to be utterly impossible. Stafford Warren, the senior medical doctor from the Manhattan Project, realized how dangerous conditions were but he was unable to convince his superiors to cancel the operation for several days. He was finally able to do it by showing them an x-ray of a surgeonfish he had pulled out of the lagoon. The impressive factor was that the fish was so radioactive it had created the x-ray spontaneously when exposed to x-ray film.
  • The trouble here is that radiation-prompted mutations would happen randomly. Such mutations are overwhelmingly silent (cause no change in phenotype), deleterious (cause a reduction, sometimes drastic, in reproductive fitness), or lethal (cause the individual to die as an embryo, fetus, or infant). For a large macroscopic change to present itself in a living thing, a number — usually a large number — of genes have to be mutated in a specific pattern, with no severely deleterious or lethal mutations happening. The odds against this are rather large, we're afraid. Even this change is itself much more likely to be useless or deleterious, like having an extra pair of legs, than to create de novo even a mildly useful complete trait.
  • While we don't get mutations in the conventional sense, the nasty side of being exposed to something nuclear is that (human) parents are at a more increased risk of having children with birth defects, has a higher risk of developing cancers, or many other numerous health problems. And that's supposing one doesn't succumb to radiation sickness or cancer first.