May 6, 2012

Spider-Man's Greatest Villains #200-191

This makes slightly more sense in context.
(Amazing Spider-Man (volume 2) #8, written by Howard Mackie, art by John Byrne and Scott Hanna)
So, as Andrew embarks on his own quixotic quest to acquire every Fantastic Four appearance ever, I too have taken on (at his sadistic suggestion), a celebration of Spider-Man's greatest villains!  One of the things that makes Spider-Man the world's greatest super hero is his villains; no other hero has such a diverse and awesome rogues gallery (sorry, Batman, but I'm with Jacob). Plenty of sites will give you the top 25 villains, and sure, that's cool.  But you know what's cooler?  200 villains.  Yes, in celebration of Spider-Man's 50th anniversary (and, let's be honest, probably his 51st, given how fast I write these things), I, Rob London, Canada's foremost Spider-Manologist, will count down a bicentennial of Spider-foes.

The criteria will be:

  1. How much I personally like them.
And yeah, that's about it.  So sorry, Hydro-Man, you can forgot about the top 10 until you pay back that twenty bucks.

That said, Spider-Man has fought like every villain in the Marvel Universe, so I'm not letting just anyone in here.  So to apply for the Top 200, you have to have made your first appearance in a Spider-Man-headlined title (including Marvel Team-Up) - so this means go pound sand, Juggernaut and Mephisto.  That said, because I am a total hypocrite, I am making some exceptions: you'll find out what they are eventually.  Anyone who started out in a Spider-Man title but spent the majority of their villainous career in another character's rogues gallery (as per my wholly arbitrary standards) is out, so go take a hike, D'Spayre and Jigsaw (the Kingpin may primarily be a Daredevil villain now, but he still fights Spider-Man all the time). Characters who later became Spider-Man's allies, but spent a significant time as villains, still count, so you're in, Rocket Racer and Man-Wolf, but tough luck, Prowler.  And...uh, I don't know what to do with the Punisher.  Guys, what should I do with the Punisher?

(For the purposes of this list, Peter Parker and Ben Reilly both count as Spider-Man.  Mattie Franklin does not.)

So, without further ado, let's get this started.

#200. Doctor Zeus

Also he has living stone statues.  What the hell kind of doctor is this guy?

First Appearance: Marvel Team-Up #2 (1997)

Created By: Tom Peyer and Pat Olliffe

What's His Deal: Saddened by modern-day Greece's embrace of globalization, Doctor Zeus wishes to restore it to its ancient glory with his genetically-engineered Menagerie of Myth - oh, and he wants to turn Greece's television viewers to stone with his Medusa.  Spider-Man and Hercules team up to take him down, and once he sees that he's displeased the gods, Dr. Z commits suicide-by-Gorgon.

Why He's Great: Okay, he's not that great.  But listen, this is Spider-Man's 200th greatest villain.  You were expecting maybe Mysterio?  You should see the guys who didn't even make the list.  But what Doctor Zeus has that, say, the Pro or Warzone or Killshot don't is that he is goofy as hell.  Doctor Zeus is an old-school, multiple-disciplinary Marvel Team-Up mad scientist.  I mean, he genetically-engineered a Medusa that turns people into actual stone.  Also, his name is Doctor Zeus.

What Should I Read?  Well, his one-and-only appearance is Marvel Team-Up (volume 2) #2.  But it's a fun issue, and you can probably get it super-cheap.

#199: Doppelganger

This is Bob Barker, reminding you to control the Infinity War duplicate population.  Always spay or neuter your Doppelganger.
(Amazing Spider-Man #378, written by David Michelinie, art by Mark Bagley)

First Appearance: Infinity War #1 (1993)

Created By: Jim Starlin and Ron Lim

What's His Deal: As part of a plot to something something cosmic something something evil, Adam Warlock's evil purple duplicate the Magus created an army of evil duplicates of Earth's superheroes.  After that whole cosmic rigmarole was over, Spider-Man's feral double, the Doppelganger, hung around and eventually hooked up with Carnage and his band of crazy freaks.  Carnage tired of him towards the end of Maximum Carnage and killed him, but he's recently returned from the dead to aid Carnage once more.

Why He's Great: Wait, you're saying.  This guy should be way higher.  He was in Maximum Carnage!  Well, as I previously established, Maximum Carnage is terrible.  The Doppelganger, likewise, is incredibly shallow.  He's just a mindless animal, detritus from a crossover in which Spider-Man was a minor participant at best.  He does look kind of cool, I guess.  Still, he's lucky he beat out Doctor Zeus.

What Should I Read?  Zeb Wells and Clayton Crain's Carnage and Carnage USA miniseries, both of which have the Doppelganger, are actually pretty great.  Pick 'em up.

#198: Hunger

My need to feed gives me the will to survive. 
First Appearance: (Crown) Peter Parker: Spider-Man #76 (1997); (Hunger) Peter Parker: Spider-Man #4 (1999)

Created By: (Crown) Howard Mackie and John Romita, Jr.; (Hunger) Howard Mackie and Bart Sears

What's His Deal: Hydra agent Crown was given superhuman powers, but they came with a price, inasmuch as they were slowly killing him.  He killed the scientist who gave him those powers; years later he clashed with Spider-Man and that scientist's son, who had also undergone the process to become the armored SHOC.  While trying to capture SHOC, Crown seemingly died in battle with the living vampire Morbius; however, agents of sinister US Senator Stewart Ward recovered him and transformed him into the vampiric Hunger, who went on to battle Spider-Man, Marrow, and Blade.

Why He's Great: Okay, in his original appearances as Crown, this guy was pretty sweet; he had that Howard Mackie bad guy dialogue that was still cool, and John Romita Jr. basically drew him to look like Blackheart, and I thought his relationship with Hydra scientist Andrea Janson was actually kind of touching.  As Hunger...jeez, I don't even know.  Spider-Man already has a vampire villain he fights all the time, and Hunger doesn't bring anything to the table that ol' Morb doesn't.  Also, his costume is terrible.  Were sideways ponytails ever cool?

What Should I Read? Peter Parker: Spider-Man #79-80.  It's a nice, albeit extremely '90s-y,action-packed  two-parter.  If nothing else, read it for the JRJR art.

#197: Skull-Jacket

It's a good thing his suit also had RNA, I guess...

First Appearance: Spider-Man Unlimited #11 (1996)

Created By: Fabian Nicieza and Dave Hoover

What's His Deal: Skull-Jacket is a soldier for the Russian mob; his specialized costume collects blood samples and analyzes their RNA, allowing him to create a perfect holographic disguise.  When he impersonated the wrong person, however, he ran afoul of Spider-Man (Ben Reilly) and the Black Cat!

Why He's Great: Very little about Skull-Jacket makes any kind of sense.  His powers are the goofiest kind of technobabble - and really, if you could take a blood sample and ascertain someone's entire appearance via their RNA (?), wouldn't that have way better applications than becoming a cut-rate Chameleon?  Also, why is his name Skull-Jacket?  He doesn't have a skull anywhere on his costume, nor does he wear a jacket, much less a jacket with a skull on it.  Still, I do like his super-'90s costume, and he presents an interesting albeit ridiculous spin on the whole shape-shifter thing.

What Should I Read? Well, again, only the one appearance to track down, and it's by Fabian Nicieza, so you know it's solid - it has some great interplay between Reilly and the Cat, too.  You can browse the back-issue bins, or check it out in The Complete Ben Reilly Epic Volume 3 trade paperback.

#196: Phreak

I think he and Josie Beller go to the same tailor.

First Appearance: (Steve Petty) Web of Spider-Man #35 (1988); (Phreak) Web of Spider-Man #36 (1988)

Created By: Gerry Conway and Alex Saviuk

What's His Deal: Steve Petty is a puny nerd, constantly bullied by the jocks at Midtown High; a quiet boy, he seeks solace in his scientific research.  Sound familiar?  Maybe like a certain Peter Benjamin Parker?  Well, instead of hanging around radioactive chelicerates, he rebuilds the Living Brain and sets it against his tormentors...and when that doesn't work, he tries on a crazy experimental exoskeleton.  Unfortunately, this also makes him crazy, so he blames substitute teacher Peter Parker and kidnaps his wife Mary Jane.  Spider-Man then beats him up.

Why He's Great: Phreak is, perhaps, the first attempt to create an evil Peter Parker; it's been done a number of times since.  Unfortunately, the story is a little too unsubtle in its comparison of the two.  You also have to love his now-extremely-dated codename; phreaks were proto-hackers who illicitly tapped into phone systems.  The costume isn't helping matters much, either.  I'm not a huge fan of the bare-midriff/no-pants look on women in comics, and it works even less for men.

What Should I Read? In Web #35-36, Conway sets up his multi-year runs on the Spider-books after more than a decade away; thus, these two issues see the debuts of the Persuader, the new Tarantula, and Tombstone, all of whom went on to more illustrious careers than the Phreak.  So I say check 'em out.

#195: Xandu

Actual magic spells or...goopy stuff?  This isn't exactly Sophie's Choice, Xandu.

First Appearance: Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2 (1965)

Created By: Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

What's His Deal: Xandu was an occultist who dabbled with powers beyond his ken.  During one of his experiments with black magic, his lover Melinda was killed; however, the magical nature of her death led Xandu to believe she was merely in a trance.  Desperate to save her, he sought out the Wand of Wattomb, which was in the possession of Doctor Strange; Spider-Man became involved in Xandu's quest for the Wand, and helped Strange defeat him.  Xandu repeatedly clashed with Strange and Spider-Man over the years, and eventually breached the Death Dimension Melinda now inhabited...yeah, this isn't a Spider-Man story at all, is it?

Why He's Great: Oh, Xandu.  You look at a list of Spider-Man villains, and what do you see?  You see a bunch of animal guys.  You see some mad scientists and/or the victims of mad science.  You see some gangsters.  And you see Xandu.  Xandu is a perfectly good Doctor Strange villain; unfortunately, he fights Spider-Man like every time he appears.  He still gets on the list by virtue of his pedigree, and also because he has a sweet monocle.

What Should I Read: You really can't go wrong with Steve Ditko drawing Dr. Strange, so check out ASM Annual #2.  It's available in a bunch of trades - Essential Spider-Man volume 2, Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus 1, various volumes of Marvel Masterworks...

#194: Schizoid Man

Ironically, hates King Crimson.

First Appearance: (Chip Martin) Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #36 (1979); (Schizoid Man) Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #38 (1980)

Created By: (Chip Martin) Bill Mantlo and Jim Mooney; (Schizoid Man) Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema

What's His Deal: Chip Martin's birth was difficult; to ease the delivery, his mother was given an experimental drug that entered Chip's bloodstream.  As experimental drugs are wont to do in the Marvel Universe, this gave him a split personality and the ability to manifest his thoughts into reality.  Eventually, psychiatric therapy was able to cure poor Chip, suppressing his powers and his other self, and he grew up to become an ESU grad student...until a costume party he was attending was crashed by Morbius.  Chip flipped out and became the rampaging Schizoid Man.  Spider-Man, in the process of transforming into the Spider-Lizard (don't ask) went nuts and beat the crap out of him.

Why He's Great: This is a well-written story, and goes out of its way to say "hey, Spider-Man, this guy is not okay, you probably shouldn't be punching him so hard", which is refreshing.  But he really doesn't feel like a Spider-Man villain, does he?  Generally not a fan of guys who can alter reality, either - there's just a certain sameness to them.  They conjure some snakes, they conjure some monsters, they conjure some knives...what can I say?  I just prefer the grounded, realistic villainy of men in animal costumes.  Plus, this is another guy hamstrung by his costume.  He looks like the glam-rock version of those black-white Frank Gorshin aliens from Star Trek.

What Should I Read? Mantlo's first run on Spectacular Spider-Man is highly entertaining, and debuts some classic villains; Schizoid Man isn't his best creation, but Spectacular #38-39 is a fun read all the same.  You can read them in Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man volume 2.

#193: Fusion (Herbert and Pinky Fusser)

$2.50, maybe...
First Appearance: Amazing Spider-Man #208 (1980)

Created By: Denny O'Neil and John Romita, Jr.

What's Their Deal: Dwarf twins Herbert (a nuclear physicist) and Pinky (a janitor) Fusser were fused together in a nuclear accident into Fusion, the Twin Terror!  Naturally, they rampaged across New York until Spider-Man stopped them.  They were later abducted by the cosmic Stranger and studied on his laboratory world until Quasar rescued them.

Why They're Great: Denny O'Neil had a great run on Batman.  He had a great run on Daredevil.  He even had a great run on Iron Man.  But Spider-Man...just wasn't his thing.  His brief, strange run on Amazing Spider-Man left us with an enduring villain (Hydro-Man), an intermittently-enduring supporting cast member (Madame Web), and a bunch of crazy crap like Fusion here.  I'll give O'Neill points for originality here, at least.  Twin radioactive little people?

What Should I Read?  Fun fact: his first appearance is the first issue of Amazing Spider-Man John Romita, Jr. ever drew!  So you could look it up just for that.

#192: Drom, the Backwards Man

Also he wears a toga for some reason?
(Web of Spider-Man Annual #3, art by Don Perlin)

First Appearance: Marvel Team-Up #31 (1975)

Created By: Gerry Conway and Jim Mooney

What's His Deal: Okay, bear with me here.  So, apparently due to time-travel experiments being conducted in the future, this guy, Drom, was born an old man, and ages backwards.  He needs special machinery to speak and digest food, because everything about him is backwards.  He also needs to drain energy from people to slow his de-aging.  Also, if you break the mirror that he uses to maintain his identity, he de-ages into oblivion.  That last thing is exactly what happens when he fights Spider-Man and Iron Fist.

Why He's Great: There is no way Gerry Conway didn't write this story while on drugs.  None.  

What Should I Read? If you're going to read Drom's one-and-only appearance, I recommend you do so in the same state Conway was in when he wrote it.

You know, Connecticut.

(I know I have two Gerry Conway villains at the bottom of the list here, but that's in no way meant as a slam on Conway.  He's written a ton of Spider-Man books, and created a lot of villains...and yeah, there are a couple clunkers in there.  But there's more to come, and I promise we'll see his better creations in lofitier positions on the list.)

#191: Sneak Thief

You know what's great for sneaking around in?  Metal armor.

First Appearance: Spider-Man: The Arachnis Project #1 (1994)

Created By: Mike Lackey and Andrew Wildman

What's Her Deal: Gifted with the mysterious ability to evade detection by electronics, Sneak Thief was hired by the survivalist Life Foundation to plunder the nation's valuables for their underground vaults.  As the Foundation is wont to do, they double-crossed her, and she stole a bunch of armor and teamed up with Spider-Man and fellow-betrayees the Jury to get back at them.

Why She's Great: Spider-Man: The Arachnis Project is maybe the worst Spider-Man book I've ever read, and I have read a lot of damn Spider-Man.  The dialogue is impossible to read without cringing, the new characters introduced within are terribly grating, and it's not exactly Andrew Wildman's best work either.  So, if I hate this book and everyone in it so much, why is Sneak Thief even on this list?  Well, a good character should elicit strong emotions from the reader, and Sneak Thief passes that test.  She's awful and unlikeable, and even if that wasn't the intent, it's what resulted.  So, given that I hate her, I must give her a place on this list over characters I am indifferent towards.

What Should I Read?  Nothing.  She only appears in Spider-Man: The Arachnis Project, and reading that should only be undertaken by professionals.

Next: #190-181!  Shadowy government operatives!  Virtual reality!  Explo-skeletons!

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