21+ Marvel Villains Who Really Should Have Hired a Marketing Consultant or Guidance Counselor Before Embarking on a Life of Crime
There are many time-honored ways for a young lad or lass to access the kind of power one needs to break into the super-villain business: industrial accident, genetic manipulation, supernatural intervention, you name it. But for a sizable number of would-be world conquerors and/or bank robbers, the standard origin story can be boiled down to this: “gifted inventor creates incredible device, goes on crime spree.” Which is a darn shame, especially when you consider how different their lives might have turned out if someone had just pointed out the potential profits in marketing their inventions and/or talents instead of embarking on a life of crime. Case in point: Abner Jenkins, better known as the Beetle. According to the Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe, Jenkins was “a master mechanic at an aircraft parts factory who became dissatisfied with his boring, low-paying job.” So here we have a guy who — by himself, and on his off-hours — creates a flying suit of armor that also gives the wearer super-strength and the ability to shoot electrical bolts (we’ll skip the giant suction-cup fingers because… well, seriously, look at them). But instead of high-tailing it to, say, Tony Stark or another big-league defence contractor, he decides to make a name for himself by picking a fight with the Fantastic Four. That… makes sense?
2. Fabian Stankowicz, the Malevolent Mechano-Marauder
Stankowicz was clearly never meant to be anything more than a comic-relief villain — an obviously unthreatening opponent to provide the Avengers with a light workout in between bouts with the likes of Ultron or the Masters of Evil. Still, you have to wonder what he was thinking; a gifted inventor who won the lottery, he decided the best way to invest his winnings was to create a powered armor suit and attack the headquarters of Earth’s mightiest heroes. It gets worse. He later crashed a tea party at Avengers Mansion and got KO’ed by the Wasp; for God’s sake, even David Letterman was able to knock him out during an Avengers appearance on his TV show. Eventually, the Avengers took pity on him and hired him on as part of the team’s tech support crew (a job he no doubt needed because even lottery winners can only afford so many battle suits), but surely there must have been an easier way for him to get their attention, at least one that didn’t involve the risk of becoming a shiny smear on the business end of Thor’s hammer.
I mentioned this fellow back when discussing why you should never trust a comic-book professor, but his story serves as a cautionary tale for any young physicist or electronics whiz with dreams of fame and fortune. A professor and vice-chancellor at Empire State University, Edward Lansky decided the best way to prevent government budget cuts targeting his school was to (a) invent a special suit that manipulates light energy, allowing him to fly, cast force-beams, blind opponents and create light-based objects out of thin air; (b) hire a team of super-villains to… wait a second. Inventing the flying, all-powerful suit that manipulates one of the universe’s elemental forms of energy was the FIRST part of his plan?
Quentin Beck was a special effects technician and stuntman for a Hollywood studio who came to see his career as a dead-end job, and decided that his skill sets were perfect for a life of crime. It goes to show even Hollywood types can succumb to job ennui, and it kind of makes sense that a guy with stuntwork and special effects on his résumé could make a decent living as a thief or corporate spy. Why he decided to go the full-blown super-villain route was never fully explained, nor was it explained how he was able to come up with gases and chemicals specifically designed to cloud Spidey’s spider-sense and dissolve his webbing. Or, come to think, how he became a master hypnotist and was once able to convince our hero he was only six inches tall. In the real world, every illusionist and stage show producer would be in a bidding war for his talents; in the Marvel universe, he’s a punchline who can’t even beat Power Pack. Go figure.
5. The Melter
Being a technology-based hero, it makes sense that Iron Man attracts tech-savvy foes out to beat him at his own game; witness the showdown between Howard Stark’s boy and the man known as Whiplash in Iron Man 2. As one of Iron Man’s earliest foes, the Melter set the standard; a bankrupt industrialist who saw his government contracts awarded to Tony Stark, Bruno Horgan later discovered that one of his “faulty” weapons was instead capable of melting anything made of iron (that is, it could instantly liquefy iron objects without requiring intense heat, as seen here). Despite the many industrial and military applications inherent in such a device, he decided instead to strap it to his chest and go after Iron Man, whom he figured would be easy pickings… until Iron Man showed up for their second battle in an aluminum suit (d’oh!). Horgan went back to the drawing board to create a device that could melt anything, which you have to admit is pretty darn impressive, but he still ended up biting the business end of a vigilante’s bullet. The lesson: allying yourself with an outfit called the Masters of Evil is probably not the surest way to get back on the NASDAQ.
Another Iron Man sparring partner, this time armed with the power of cold instead of the power of goo. The original Blizzard was a Hungarian scientist obsessed with immortality and figured cryonics was the way to go; hired by Stark, this poor man’s Mr. Freeze got caught stealing from the company and figured his only viable career path was using his smarts to create a suit that generates intense cold — or a jaunty snowfall, if one is feeling particularly whimsical. After meeting his death at the repulsor-rayed hands of an Iron Man from the future (don’t ask), his costume fell into the hands of a mercenary who turned out to be just as incompetent, but at least he has the excuse of not being an engineering genius capable of doing anything more than wear the suit.
7. The Trapster
…a.k.a. “the Rodney Dangerfield of the Marvel Universe.” Peter Petruski started out his super-criminal career as “Paste-Pot Pete,” and one of Marvel’s running gags involves him flying into a rage every time a hero reminds him of his original, opposite-of-awe-inspiring nom de guerre (this scene, an early encounter with Spider-Man depicted in the 2005 Spider-Man/Human Torch mini-series, is in a class by itself). But no matter — a genius in chemistry, he’s a master of all manners of adhesives and solvents, creating everything from a fireproof paste to goopy restraint systems to streams of liquid glue that can mimic Spider-Man’s webbing. Hell, he even once created a dust that can render Reed Richard’s “unstable molecules” inert — which means he has the power to get Susan Richards naked anytime he wants. But that’s not the point; the point is, obvious self-esteem issues aside, why this fellow is getting laughed at by costumed do-gooders instead of hauling down major coin at DuPont or another major chemical firm is just another ongoing mystery in the Marvel universe.
Man, Daredevil faced a depressing bunch of villains in his pre-Miller days. Between the Jester, Leap-Frog, the Matador, and this guy, it’s hard to say who deserves to take home the All-Time Goober Award. Wilbur Day first appeared in Daredevil #8 (06/65); his story was that he was an engineer specializing in hydraulic systems who stole another engineer’s designs to build a suit with telescoping legs. Why he risked imprisonment to build such a device was never adequately explained, nor was it explained how someone whose only power was a dangerously high centre of gravity could pose any kind of threat to society at large, much less any self-respecting superhero. His Wikipedia entry sums it up nicely: “The character did not age well, as his powers were more a curiosity than a real threat.” While persistence is a virtue, his unsuccessful efforts to prove he could rumble with the big boys only landed him in the morgue (and turned his funeral into a full-out brawl), much to the chagrin of firefighters, electrical line workers, and anyone else who might be in the market for a safe way to get tall in a hurry.
Consider this a handy rule in life: if a super-villain’s codename ends in “o,” he can be safely filed under “Live, Too Lame to” (Magneto being the exception that proves the rule). Curtis Carr was a research chemist for a car company who, apparently for kicks, used company time to invent a gun capable of transmuting elements. When his boss said it was company property, Carr resisted; after his dismissal, he assumed the Chemistro persona to gain revenge on his former employer. So, let’s review: he’s smart enough to create something akin to the legendary Philosopher’s Stone, something that could, say, easily turn rocks into solid gold, but he honestly expected his employer not to call dibs on it? And he thought dressing in a costume and committing criminal acts would help his case? And in his first outing as a super-villain, he accidentally shoots his foot and turns it into steel, only to later watch it turn into dust? Creators’ rights be damned — letting this guy go was probably the smartest thing his boss ever did.
Mirage is not one of the better-known villains in the Marvel universe, and with good reason. First, his costume was yellow with pinstripes, and no one ever strikes fear wearing yellow with pinstripes (and let’s not even mention the goofy handles sprouting from the sides of his head). Second, he poured his electronics genius into a suit that could project three-dimensional laser-induced images (holograms, if you will), enabling him to further his plans of becoming a criminal gang leader… instead of, say, starting his own Industrial Light & Magic-type company and making some serious above-board scratch. Alas, as is the case with so many other examples here, his criminal ways only earned him a spot on a homicidal vigilante’s to-do list. And probably not near the top of the page, either.
Here we start to see a possible reason why so many inventors and scientists in the Marvel universe go down the criminal path; if their codenames are any indication, then it’s patently obvious their marketing and branding skills have a serious lack (seriously, Plantman???). A gifted botanist who invents a device capable of communicating with plants, Sam Smithers has a spot of trouble getting the scientific community to take his discovery seriously… that is, until a freak lightning storm strikes his machine and empowers Smithers with the ability to control and animate plant life. Drunk with visions of power, Smithers adopts the Plantman persona and decides world domination is the obvious next step. OK, first: what kind of idiot leaves sensitive equipment out in the rain to get zapped by a lightning bolt? Second: That horrible M. Night Shyamalan movie aside, how exactly does he plan to get humans, many of whom own flamethrowers and weed-whackers, to cower before a bunch of plants? Finally: seriously, dude — Plantman???
12-13. Wizard/Mad Thinker
Just as Iron Man has to contend with every two-bit tinkerer who wants a piece of him, Reed Richards (the Fantastic Four’s Mister Fantastic) has a way of attracting opponents out to prove who really deserves the “smartest person in the world” title. Doctor Doom is an obvious example, but he doesn’t make this list because, hey, when you rule your own country with a literal iron fist you don’t need a stinkin’ day job. On the other hand, the Wizard and the Mad Thinker are enough to make MENSA organizers question their purpose in life. While both are bona fide geniuses within the Marvel universe, they eschew cushy think-tank and consultant gigs for the chance to wear tights, order around inferior minds and bruise the Thing’s knuckles with their chins. So… maybe not so smart after all?
Elias Wirtham is a special case, in the sense that he had already made it to the good life: a renowned physician and surgeon, he was also the owner of a biological research firm. But his brother’s death as a result of corporate greed sent him over the edge, and he replaced his heart with a “beta-particle reactor” (bu-huh?) that increased his speed and strength, and also granted him the power to project energy blasts from his fists. He sees himself as a vigilante going after corporations that put profits before people (and yeah, he’s been pretty busy these days, thanks for asking), a stance that sometimes puts him at odds with the likes of Spider-Man. So let’s review. He’s a doctor. And a businessman. Who apparently discovered the ultimate artificial heart as a means to an end, that “end” being the destruction of greedy companies. For God’s sake, man — with the money you can make from this device, you can buy all the evil companies in the world and fire the lot of them (I have a few former places of employment to suggest if you’re wondering where to start).
Let’s see. Former engineer? Check. Motivated by jealousy of a wealthy individual? Check. Said individual secretly a superhero on the side? Check. Capable of designing a special battle-suit with unique offensive capabilities — in his case, the ability to generate hula hoops with various capabilities? Check. Got the snot beat out of him despite this clear technological advantage? Check. Failed to learn from past experiences and ended up dead in a shootout? Check. Brought back to life and turned into a cyborg soldier by an ultra-secret cabal? Check. Wait… what?
Quick tip for any would-be super-villains out there: if your first impulse is to name yourself after a member of the rodent family, just save time and punch your own lights out. Alex Gentry was a weapons designer for the U.S. Army who came up with a battle suit that could shoot quills and other ammunition (flame, gases, etc.) from quill-like tubes. After deciding the Army wouldn’t pay him what he thought his design was worth, he said to hell with health and dental and went on a good old-fashioned crime spree. It was the beginning of a long list of ill-advised decisions on his part; unlike other losers on this list, though, he quickly realized he wasn’t cut out for the super-villain game and tried to sell the suit for a fast buck, though in the end that didn’t work out so well, either. At this point, I just have to ask: didn’t anyone on this list have a loved one — a wife, girlfriend, co-worker, hooker with a heart of gold, anyone — who could have gently guided them down a more socially accepable route to financial security?
17. Rocket Racer
Robert Farrell was an African-American teen living in Brooklyn. Robert Farrell was the oldest of seven kids. Robert Farrell had to take care of his siblings when his mother died. Robert Farrell was a scientific prodigy who, with only his own smarts and whatever parts he could scrounge up, developed a super-powered skateboard that was cybernetically controlled by a Walkman-like device. Robert Farrell wore a weapon-equipped costume, including rocket-powered gloves which give him the ability to hit an opponent with a “rocket-powered punch.” Robert Farrell decided crime was his ticket out of poverty until a chance encounter with a caring super-hero helped him mend his ways. Why, yes, now that you mention it — Robert Farrell was one of many crappily conceived yet socially relevant villains Spider-Man fought during the ’70s. What was your first clue?
18. Spencer Smythe
A true Renaissance man, Professor Spencer Smythe was an expert in robotics and arachnids, so of course he had no option but to combine his two great loves and destroy Spider-Man. Or at least that’s what he told himself after getting all fired up by a couple of J. Jonah Jameson’s more colorful editorials. Smythe failed on the first go-around and turned to crime to fund the creation of bigger and badder anti-Spidey robots, but the wily webslinger was always able to exploit some design flaw and escape their metallic clutches. Then Smythe got radiation poisoning from the materials he used to build his robots. (Whoops!) Fortunately for him, his son was also a genius who inherited his late father’s obsession with hunting down Spider-Man. What’s fascinating about Smythe is that, when you think about it, he had absolutely nothing to gain from causing Spider-Man’s death, other than to prove he could do it. Do you think that, had he accomplished this goal, he would stood over the battered body, say “Well, that’s that” to himself, and then carry on with the rest of his day? Or would he have experienced those post-homicidal blues that every super-villain feels when an opponent is finally vanquished?
Ah, Vulture. I still consider it one of filmdom’s great crimes that Topher Grace’s Venom made it to the big screen before Sir Ben Kingsley had a shot at playing this fellow. One of Spidey’s earliest villains, Adrian Toomes was an engineer of advanced years who invented a flying harness, only to discover that his business partner was stealing from the company. Rather than put that sorry embezzler’s ass in jail and make a fortune selling workable wings to anyone who ever dreamed of flying (which is to say, pretty much everyone), Toomes decided to take out his anger on society at large. He’s an interesting villain in that he’s a greedy old coot who’s often motivated by ageism; that is, he often acts to show young punks like Spider-Man that he’s just as big a threat as any other super-villain. This has made him a somewhat sympathic character, but still — you’d think someone well into their retirement years would be more open to concepts like “cost/benefit analysis” before swooping off rooftops.
Jalome Beacher was a chemical engineer who invented a frictionless substance that could be applied to anything. When his employers later gave him the boot and he couldn’t get a bank loan to start his own business, he sprayed a form-fitting bodysuit with his super-Teflon coating and used it to take what he figured he was owed. The chemicals on Slyde’s suit allowed him to glide along smooth surfaces at nearly 30 miles per hour, and he was almost impossible to grasp; not even Spidey’s webbing could stick to him, if I can trust my sources. I suppose I could go on about Beacher’s short-sightedness w/r/t an untapped fetish market just aching for his brand of expertise, but I’m too distracted by thoughts of how this super-slippy suit of his is supposed to help him dodge A GODDAMN BULLET when one is fired at him from the gun of a security guard, a police officer, a survivalist grandmother or… well, just about anyone these days.
So what’s dumber than a scientific genius putting his efforts into costumed criminal acts? How about a whole room of them? Advanced Idea Mechanics is a fictional terrorist organization in the Marvel universe that’s run by scientists dedicated to the acquisition of power and the overthrow of all world governments. Quoth Wikipedia: “Members of A.I.M. are required to at least have a master’s degree, if not a Ph.D., in some area of science, mathematics, or business.” So we’re not talking about unintelligent people who share a yen for world domination. But instead of going about it the normal way — inventing a middling operating system, gaining an early lead in market share, muscling competitors out of business, forcing everyone else to bundle your software with their products — these guys choose to run around in yellow beekeeper hats and create androids and mutated freaks to further their techno-utopian goals. I’d love to sit in on a recruiting session just to see how they sell themselves to prospective members: “No… no, we don’t offer stock options… not really much of a pension plan, either… but hey, who wants their very own death ray?”