21 Iron Man Villains Who Will Definitely Not Be Coming Soon to a Theatre Near You
1. The Actor
Iron Man 3 is rocketing into theatres this weekend, and it looks like the big bad villain in this outing is either the Mandarin or Tony Stark’s architect (“No, no, a large mansion jutting out from a cliff on the California coastline is totally safe”). Every good superhero flick lives and dies on the quality of its villains, so it’s a good thing Iron Man has plenty of those to choose from. But let’s be honest: there are plenty of bad guys from the Iron Man comics that will never, ever make it to the big screen. Ironically enough, that list includes the Actor, ace infiltrator working for the Russians back when they were an evil empire. Like Spider-Man’s nemesis, the Chameleon, the Actor can perfectly impersonate anyone, and he was quite successful at stealing state secrets until he ran up against Tony Stark and his, ahem, “bodyguard.” The cruelest of ironies; although he failed in his mission, he discovered Iron Man’s secret identity, but he didn’t get a chance to spill it before he was shot by his employer, the Red Barbarian — who, to be fair, was pretty upfront about the whole “barbarian” thing during the job interview.
Why no movie deal? Well, he only appeared in one issue of Tales of Suspense, making him one of Iron Man’s very lesser-known nemeses. Also, can you imagine the Abbot-and-Costello routines that would happen if a character called “The Actor” appeared in an Iron Man film? “Who’s the new villain?” “The Actor.” “Yeah, I know an actor is playing him, but who’s the villain?” “The Actor.” “Fine, which actor is playing the villain?” “Tom Cruise.” “And the name of the villain he’s playing is called…?” “The Actor.” “No, Tom Cruise the paleontologist! Of COURSE I’m talking about Tom Cruise the Actor!” And so on.
The thing you have to remember about a lot of the early Marvel Age stories is… well, they’re actually not that good. Sure, there are a few gems in there, but most of the villains that went up against Daredevil or Thor or Iron Man in their earlier issues were generic aliens/robots/bank robbers who could easily have been assigned to another hero’s book and no one would have blinked twice. Until Iron Man found his groove fighting industrial spies, Communist agents and the occasional world-conquering type, he was stuck duking it out with the likes of Gangantus. Follow this plot, if you will: created by an unknown extra-terrestrial race that first whizzed by Earth about 80,000 years ago, Gargantus was a giant robot constructed to resemble the Neanderthal-like cavemen the aliens encountered the last time they were here. It arrived in the town of Granville and used its hypnotizing eyes (seriously!) to conquer the townspeople — a vital first step in any world-conquering scheme, obviously — but the aliens’ plans were foiled by the intervention of Iron Man, who was alerted to the invasion because one of the young women trapped by the monster’s machinations didn’t show up for their date. No one cock-blocks the Starkman, Gargantus. Anyway, Iron Man shows up, some big magnets tear the robot apart, the aliens fly away and never return. The end.
Why no movie deal? Jeezus, were you even paying attention to what I just wrote? Also, as reported on the Marvel Wikia: “Gargantus used a large club as a weapon.” Yeah, that’s way too much firepower for Iron Man to deal with.
Somewhere around the mid-1980s, Marvel gave up resorting to radiation accidents as their secret-origin standby and went with something a little more believable: “aw hell, we’s just born this way. Now let’s wrestle!” Neil Donaldson was one of the growing number of mutants in Marvel’s universe, but where others were blessed with the power to control the elements or the strength to lift water buffaloes with ease, his natural ability was a little less impressive; namely, he had the power to weaken molecular bonds with his hands, literally disintegrating anything he touched. A handy power when it’s time to clean out the garage, perhaps, but not the kind of talent that leaves one open to a lot of career options. Not surprisingly, his efforts as an industrial saboteur soon brought him to the attention of James Rhodes, who was wearing the Iron Man armor during one of Stark’s “glug-glug” moments.
Why no movie deal? Well, let’s start with the name. Termites are known for eating wood, not tunneling through the earth and undermining building foundations. It’s also not a name that inspires terror as much as it does a call to the Orkin Man. Then there’s the whole visual of Termite’s modus operandi — he causes buildings to collapse, which doesn’t help him in a fight against Iron Man unless he first asks our hero to wait inside the building he’s trying to topple. The best he can do is threaten the lives of people inside a building, then made his getaway while Iron Man is stuck saving civilians. Next!
Alton Vibereaux was your average Cajun-born seismologist when he fell into the San Andreas Fault while testing an experimental machine. And of course he ends up with super-vibrating powers instead of dying a horrible, squishy death. Why? Because this is the Marvel universe, that’s why, a place where anyone who accidentally ingests a radioactive kumquat is out fighting crime with super-fruit powers the next day. Unfortunately, the same accident that gave Vibereaux his powers also ravaged his good looks and drove him insane — so not quite a fair trade-off, when you get right down to it. Blaming his boss for his misfortune, Vibro launched his vendetta with a vengeance, but Iron Man put a stop to that nonsense. Them One Percenter types, they gotta stick together.
Why no movie deal? Sure, the very lovely Charlize Theron took home the hardware for making herself look super-ugly in Monster, but what A-list actor is going to wear a face like this for a superhero flick? Also, Vibereaux and Vibro are way too close to another word that’s related to “vibrate,” and we don’t need any more childish snickering from the balcony seats, thank you very much.
Obadiah Stane was one of Iron Man’s most formidable opponents, so it makes sense that he would be the brains behind the badness in the first Iron Man film. But like a lot of criminal masterminds, Stane was a bit too obsessed with the whole “chess as a metaphor for controlling lives” thing. How obsessed? He hired assassins who literally dressed themselves up as chesspieces: bishops, knights, even a rook (Stane himself stood as the king; there was also a “queen,” but I’ll leave that person’s identity a secret in case anyone wants to go check out the early-’80s run of Iron Man they appeared in, which is actually pretty good). So the Knight gets a flying robot horse — because what’s the point of playing a knight if you don’t get a flying robot horse? — the Rook uses a castle full of death-traps to get our hero and the Bishop… um, excommunicates Iron Man? I admit, it’s been a while since I read that particular issue.
Why no movie deal? Well, there’s the whole matter of Stane being dead in the Marvel movie universe, which means there’s no paycheque for these guys if they decide to hassle Downey’s Iron Man in any future sequel. Also… a bishop? Why not throw in a few Uzi-packing nuns while we’re at it?
The motives that drive people to acts of super-villainy can be many and varied. Some are out for revenge against a world that rejected them, some are looking for recognition of their unheralded genius, and some are just in it to score a quick payday. What you don’t find often are people who turn to super-villainy out of fear of losing their employee benefits. That’s what happened to Tom Wilkins, Stark’s security chief at the London branch of Stark International, when his anxiety about getting fired turned into a form of paranoid schizophrenia. He stole experimental heat- and cold-controlling equipment from Stark’s plant, fashioned a costumed identity for himself and lured Stark to his division by committing acts of vandalism with the intent of killing him. As a doctor explained to Stark at the end of the story, “In his twisted mind, if the head of the company — you — were dead, there’d be no one to fire him.”
Why no movie deal? Let’s start with his questionable taste in codenames. An endotherm is any warm-blooded animal that maintains a consistent body temperature regardless of the outside environment, so it’s anyone’s guess why Wilkins decided that was the perfect name for someone who projects intense heat and cold. Also, while it’s completely feasible for someone like Stark to be targeted by a disgruntled employee or someone with a beef against capitalism, it’s a bit silly to see him almost get killed by someone who just really, really loves the company’s health plan.
7. The Mad Pharaoh
His actual name was Hatap, but you know how it is; act a little cuckoo just once and suddenly it’s “the Mad Pharaoh” everywhere you go. Hatap was involved in some pretty heavy black arts when he started a rebellion against Cleopatra. When the battle turned against him, he drank a potion that put him in a state of suspended animation for 2,000 years. You know where this is heading, don’t you? Sure enough, an archaeologist buddy of Tony Stark digs him up in the modern era, and before you know it Hatap is back and cursing the site’s excavation workers with a deadly disease, only promising to cure them if Iron Man agrees to go back in time and help him defeat Cleopatra’s forces. So Stark goes back in time, falls in love with Cleopatra (as one must), saves the day, yadda yadda yadda.
Why no movie deal? To begin with, there’s the question of why exactly a man who has mastered time travel and the ability to spread deadly plagues among his enemies would need the help of a guy in a fancy tin suit to achieve his empire-conquering goals. Then there’s the humiliating way he met his demise; namely, by dropping his magic time-travel charm on the ground after Iron Man squirted oil on it, and then falling on top of an upturned sword when he lunges to grab it. For some bad guys, Iron Man has to haul out the really heavy artillery to take them down; for this shlub, all it took was a few squirts of WD-40.
8. The Melter
Speaking of squirts. Bruno Horgan was your average American industrialist specializing in weapons for the U.S. military when a government inspection revealed he was using shoddy materials. Whoops. While Tony Stark scooped up his defense contracts because his weapons actually, you know, worked, a bankrupt Horgan decided the only rational thing to do was to blame Stark for sabotaging his work and ruining his life. And as luck would have it, he found among his ruined company’s assets a weapon prototype that generated a beam capable of “melting” iron on contact (no heat was created in the process, which is why Iron Man isn’t saying “YEEEAARRRRGGGGGH!” in the image above). Thus armed with the means to liquify Stark’s greatest weapons, Horgan began his career of crime and calumny as… the Melter! And then he joined forces with the Dissolver, the Dissipater and the Coagulator to form the Lethal Legion of Matter Manipulators. No, not really.
Why no movie deal? You’re kidding, right?
9. Doctor Strange
No, not the guy you’re thinking of. That Doctor Strange first appeared in Strange Tales #110, cover-dated July 163; this Doctor Strange made his first (and, for obvious reasons, only) appearance in Tales of Suspense #41, two months earlier. Carlo Strange was your typical mad scientist, concocting all manners of weaponry in his mountain stronghold when a lightning bolt struck him, increasing the electrical energy in his mind and making him smarter (and madder) than ever. He used his power boost to take mental control of Iron Man, forcing the hero to free him from prison. He later built an “S-bomb” and threatened to destroy the planet unless every nation surrendered to him within 24 hours. His new fortress was protected by an indestructible force field (which any self-respecting mad scientist would have), so he was sitting pretty until Iron Man found a way inside and shut down his operation.
Why no movie deal? See the cheek-clenching gal in the background? That’s Strange’s daughter, Carla, who was the inspiration for all his world-conquering pursuits. But if he felt like he deserved a World’s Greatest Dad mug for literally trying to give her the world, things must have gotten pretty awkward when Carla, appalled by her father’s evil nature, threw two flashlight batteries at Iron Man when he needed a power boost. Think about that for a minute. In the heat of battle, the world’s most technologically advanced weapons system got a jump-start from two D-cell batteries. I don’t think any money made from a potential product-placement deal with the Duracell folks is worth seeing that.
10. Death Squad
There were actually two separate Death Squads that went up against Iron Man; both sucked. The first was led by the Melter — ’nuff said — and counted “fought Iron Man at a comic convention” among its highlights. The second, pictured above, was a group of mercenaries hired by a mysterious employer to kill Tony Stark. The fact Stark is still among the living gives you some idea of how well they succeeded.
Why no movie deal? First, they suck at their jobs. With all the firepower pictured here (and then some), they couldn’t do the simple job of shooting one ordinary, weapon-less industrialist from ten feet away. Second, they are hopelessly trapped in the ’90s, right down to the massively oversized weaponry, clichéd codenames and pocket-bedecked uniforms. Third: “Death Squad…?” Since we’re all about the ’90s on this one: could their team name be any more generic? Why not call yourselves “Murder Team” and show how much you really care about a good first impression?
11. The Unicorn
Milos Masaryk was a Soviet intelligence agent assigned to security detail at the laboratory of an inventor who was developing advanced weaponry. One of the inventor’s projects was a helmet that could discharge destructive energy blasts from its (snicker) “power horn.” After the inventor high-tailed to the U.S., Masaryk was given the helmet and the mission of avenging the disgrace caused by the inventor’s defection. Which he started by trashing Stark’s factory and putting Stark’s buddy/employee “Happy” Hogan in the hospital. He’s been handed his hat, er, helmet by Iron Man on a regular basis ever since.
Why no movie deal? Sometimes, it’s easy to figure out why certain characters went with the name they chose. Crusher, Mauler, Destroyer: these are names that make it clear you’re out to mess someone up. In the Unicorn’s case, it’s not so clear why he thought his was an acceptable super-villain name. Maybe there was some language or cultural misunderstanding involved. Maybe Milos was too low-ranking to have a say in the decision-making process, and he couldn’t really go against his Soviet superiors when they told him to call himself “Unicorn.” But you would hope that someone at some point in the process would have realized that allowing their costumed agent to be named after mythical creatures best known for adorning blacklight posters and the Trapper Keepers of teenage girls in the ’80s was probably not the best way to sow fear and terror in the decadent West.
12. The Blood Brothers
So there was this brief time when Iron Man wasn’t beating on Soviet agents or industrial spies and instead flying around having cosmic adventures with space aliens. All the Marvel heroes did it at one point or another; it was like a fraternity initiation or something. Anyway, major-league bad guy and movie cameo enthusiast Thanos first appeared in Iron Man #55, the same issue that introduced the Blood Brothers. In their first appearance, the alien siblings acted as Thanos’s guardians of his Earth base; later stories saw them filling the role of “aliens, powerful and pissed off” whenever a Marvel hero needed that particular type of opponent for a workout.
Why no movie deal? As noted elsewhere on the web: “Each Blood Brother’s tremendous strength and durability is dependent on his proximity to his twin. When standing together, the two have a high degree of superhuman strength, but if separated weaken to below even normal human levels. While 20 yards from one another, they’ve been rendered unconscious from a blow from a normal human being.” So there’s that. Result: the two of them were once beaten by the titanic team-up of Iron Man and Daredevil. Daredevil, for the luvva Mike. That’s one helluva liability to bring into battle, regardless of how ugly you are.
13. Ichabod Rasputin
God bless Steve Gerber, the writer of this particular tale, is all I can say. The skinny: While Stark is out enjoying a walk through Central Park one evening, he comes across a street preacher who claims to be Rasputin, High Priest of Tavi, the Angel of Dearth. As readers learn in a handy-dandy flashback, Rasputin spent his entire life studying magic and constructing his “Tavistick,” a skull-adorned staff which he claims can “make rocks walk and clouds talk.” Naturally, the citizens of the Big Apple treat him as just another kook in the big city… until he actually animates a giant statue at its unveiling, forcing Iron Man to destroy it before it can do any serious damage. Rasputin panics when his staff is broken during the heat of battle and flees in terror from the monster he created… but as you can see above, he didn’t get far.
Why no movie deal? Honestly? I just wanted an excuse to show those panels. Hee. And how exactly does someone who just got hit by a car end up in that, er, awkward position? Also: he’s worried about a monster he created that he believes could destroy the whole world if it isn’t stopped… so where the hell is he running to? Jersey?
Given Iron Man’s deep roots in the American military-industrial complex, he’s often used by writers who want to make a point about American foreign policy, the futility of war, man’s inhumanity to man — you get the idea. During the Iraq War, for instance, Stark spent time in the Middle East defending American interests and questioning his country’s presence in that part of the world. Vitriol debuted around this time; she was once a gifted chemist in Saddam Hussein’s regime who realized a little too late that creating new toxins for a madman was probably not the best use of her talents. An accident involving a vat of chemicals turned her into a being composed of acid that could dissolve even Iron Man’s armor, and so she sought revenge on American soldiers and Iron Man for the way her fellow Kurds were abandoned by American forces during the 1990 Gulf War.
Why no movie deal? Leaving aside the murky politics of her situation (and the fact that most films about the Iraq conflict have fizzled at the box office), Vitriol’s defeat came about when Stark dropped a giant load of magnesium hydroxide — a.k.a. milk of magnesia — on her position. “If you want to stop an acid attack, there’s nothing better,” he tells a U.S. general. New rule: any super-villain who can be neutralized by a good dose of antacid cannot be considered a serious threat.
15-16. Dr. Kurarkill/Quasar the Future Man
Apparently, Quasar has seen the future and it’s a shirt-optional kind of place. Dr. Kurarkill had a dream. She dreamed of a world where geneticists with hidden laboratories under creepy-looking hotels could live in peace creating machines that turned humans into apes and, using the psychic energy harvested during the process, turn other apes into super-evolved human beings. “Why not just cut out the middleman and find a way to turn humans into evolved humans?” you might ask yourself, probably right after “But why would anyone with scientific training believe a human is the result when you force a chimpanzee to evolve?” Because SHUT UP THIS IS SCIENCE, that’s why. Her greatest success: Quasar, whose constant diet of psychic energy from other humans gave him brains and brawn beyond that of an average person, and he used that big brain of his to… um, act as a bellhop and fetch human test subjects for his master? Okay, then.
Why no movie deal? First, I don’t care how evolved you are, there should be a rule somewhere that says guys who count bulging biceps and bellhop experience as their main assets should not be seen giving Iron Man more than a five-second workout. Second, there’s only room for one shirtless super-villain in the Marvel universe and Quasar, baby, you ain’t him. Third, Kurarkill — clearly no fan of the “don’t shit where you eat” approach to life — sees nothing at all suspicious about naming her hotel “Murder Mountain Lodge” and occasionally helping herself to one of the paying guests when she needs a quick test subject. That kind of behavior won’t boost her Yelp ratings, I can guarantee you that.
Born into poverty in the slums of Athens, Mordecai Midas eventually made something of himself and — inspired by his mythological namesake — became obsessed with being the richest man in the world. This obsession is probably what turned him a little crazynuttycuckoo, since he started dressing like an ancient Greek ruler, built a flying fortress that resembled an ancient Greek city and hired “centurions” (which is a Roman term, but what the hey) as his personal guards. Oh, and then there was that whole “Midas touch” thing, where he developed gloves that allowed him to encase people and things in a gold-like substance. Or the time he turned himself into a solid-gold giant and took an unscheduled dive into the ocean that didn’t work out so well. He entered Stark’s life when he tried to add Stark Industries to his holdings during a most hostile takeover. He even succeeded at one point, but he was defeated when Stark’s ex-fiancée with latent mental powers returned from the insane asylum and hit him with a psychic brain blast that reduced Midas to a mindless husk. It’s scary when you’re not sure if I’m making this stuff up, isn’t it?
Why no movie deal? Aside from the questionable characterization and far-fetched plot points cited above, Midas will never face Iron Man on the big screen because of his massive size, a condition that forced him to rely on a floating hover chair for mobility. And while he could be as wily and dangerous as any other crooked tycoon, a climactic battle against a delusional, morbidly obese guy in a hover chair doesn’t scream “heroic battle of the ages” to me. Plus, Jabba the Hutt is pretty much the only one who could pull off the “immobile, blubbery crime lord” thing, and even he was no match for a princess in a bikini.
18. Mister Doll
No, his first name wasn’t Ken. Nathan Dolly was a dealer in curios and art objects when he came across an extraordinary doll during his African travels. He discovered he could reshape the doll to resemble whomever he wanted, and that he could cause that person to feel immense pain by manipulating the doll’s features. He decided the best way to use his new voodoo doll was to coerce rich businesspeople into legally signing over control of their businesses to him, which worked out all right for him until he targeted Stark. After an initial encounter, Stark cobbled up a “alter-the-doll-from-a-distance” doohickey and used it to make the doll resemble Mister Doll himself, who was so shocked by the change he dropped the doll and knocked himself unconscious when the doll hit the floor. There’s more stuff about him transferring his life essence into life-sized mannequins, but it’s far too stupid to get into here.
Why no movie deal? Fer crissakes, the man calls himself Mister Doll!!! I don’t care if you are the reincarnated son of Satan travelling through the blood-red skies in a chariot made from the bones of the innocent while you feast on the flesh of your enemies; nobody, and I mean nobody, is going to look at a name like that and not collapse into a heaping fit of giggles. Especially when it’s paired with that — what is that, a hood? Cowl? Homemade Viking helmet gone awry? What is the proper term for that… thing on his head?
19-20. Freak I/Freak II
Dealing with innocent victims who go on a rampage after a traumatic transformation is such a common occurrence in superhero books that I would be shocked to learn the police in those books didn’t have a scanner code for it (“all units, we have a 10-47 in progress at Dr. Connor’s laboratory; suspect is reptilian, repeat, reptilian”). The first Freak was “Happy” Hogan, Stark’s friend and employee who was subjected to an experimental “enervator ray” Stark just happened to have lying around when Hogan was mortally injured. The procedure saved him, but it also mutated him into a virtually mindless giant, and he went on a rampage before Iron Man subdued him. Years later, Eddie March was badly injured in a fight while wearing the Iron Man armor, and a desperate Stark subjected him to the same ray, hoping the modifications he made to the device would prevent any further outbreaks of acute monster-itis. It didn’t work as planned, and March went a-rampagin’ until Iron Man knocked him out with a few well-placed karate chops.
Why no movie deal? It’s not as if the whole “my friend has turned into a mindless beast that I must stop without hurting him” thing isn’t a worthy dramatic choice; Spider-Man has gone down that well with at least a half-dozen foes. It’s just… well, come on. This is Tony Stark, one of the most brilliant men on the planet, a guy who wears weaponry that allows him to go toe to toe with the Hulk — and we’re supposed to believe a mindless creature whose entire script reads “growl; smash stuff” could give Iron Man anything more than a half-second of grief? Or that Iron Man hasn’t ever figured out a techno-gizmo way to stop enemy combatants without resorting to lethal force? Right.
21. Black Lama
“Well, now,” you’re probably thinking to yourself. “That is a pretty sad list of Iron Man villains. Surely, it can’t get any more ridiculous than Mister Doll or Quasar the Future Man or some guy with super-melting powers, can it?” Oh, it can. The Black Lama first showed up in the mid-’70s as a hooded figure who worked behind the scenes, sending other costumed operatives into battle against Iron Man. He stayed in the shadows for a few years until he instigated a “war of the super-villains” by inviting as many villains as possible to fight each other, with the sole survivor winning a golden globe that would allow the winner to achieve all his dreams. When it was over and Firebrand, a minor-league Iron Man villain, came out on top, the truth about the Black Lama’s origins was finally revealed. And I really can’t improve on how his Marvel Wikia entry phrased it:
“[T]he Black Lama was a traveler from an alternate Earth, the king of one of many small kingdoms that exist there instead of the United States of America. Not only that, he was actually the other-dimensional counterpart of Gerald Ford, the then-president of the U.S. He had grown bored with his all-too-mundane life as king, and had sought excitement by traveling to another dimension via the Golden Globe. But the transition had driven him insane; in his delusional state, he had decided to make someone change places with him and send them back to his world; he believed this would restore his sanity.”
So there you have it: the Black Lama was an alternate-Earth version of Gerald Ford who came to Iron Man’s Earth as a tourist, went insane during the journey, and decided the best way to restore his sanity was to send someone from Iron Man’s world back to his own world in his place with the power of his shimmering golden ball. And he apparently had no qualms about sending a deadly super-villain back to his homeland. Oh, and on his world he was the monarch of the Kingdom of Grand Rapids, in case anyone was wondering. And without his furry, fox-eared mask, he looked like Mr. Spock with jewels glued to his forehead. The Seventies really were a strange time…