So Captain America: The Winter Soldier marches into theatres this month, pitting the Star-Spangled Avenger against the Winter Soldier, who in a shocking twist turns out to be… well, that would be telling. It’s a good choice of antagonist for our hero, because you can only go back to the Red Skull well so many times… and good grief, the pickings get awfully slim once you start going down the list of Cap’s other foes. How slim? Meet the Ameridroid, a 20-foot-tall android who looks exactly like a giant-sized Captain America… and was built by an ex-Nazi scientist… who was hiding in a secret lair underneath the streets of Newfoundland’s capital city for 30 years… and transferred his consciousness into the robot when Cap discovered his base… then proceeded to beat the bejeezus out of Cap before he realizes he’s become a “freak” by trapping his mind inside a giant robot shell who’ll never again know the touch of a woman… so he walks out into the wilderness to find himself. Um… okay.
Why no movie deal? You’re kidding, right?
“Introducing one of the biggest nut jobs Cap has ever faced!” screams the cover of this guy’s debut appearance — though the sound of a giant collective yawn might have caused some readers to miss that blurb. The self-styled “urban avenger” is your bog-standard 1990s super-vigilante with a generic armored costume, a generic power-staff and absolutely no back story to explain how he got either of them or why he chooses to target New York City jaywalkers and jerks who play their boomboxes too loudly. Cap meets him when they both encounter a suicidal man (and friend of Cap’s) at the top the Brooklyn Bridge, a fellow whom Blistik orders to jump because he’s causing an unnecessary scene that’s disrupting traffic below. He caused Cap exactly the small amount of grief you would expect, and hasn’t been seen since.
Why no movie deal? Even if we could get past the painfully generic costume, the unexplained motive for blasting litterbugs and the silly, Emily Post-approved dialogue (“That’s intolerably rude!”)… there’s just no getting around the fact his name sounds like a brand of lip balm. And that just ain’t right.
3. Cowled Commander
“Gosh, I don’t know how my brilliantly eeeeee-vil scheme failed. It had everything: a mysterious name that commanded respect, a purple cowl that threw my entire face except my eyes into total darkness, snazzy yellow gloves and green boots to offset my orange tights, an inescapable steel room for any meddling super-heroes, a two-way closed-circuit TV for intimate chats with my victims, and a gaggle of C-list super-villains at my disposal to spread crime and terror throughout New York City — all so that I, a New York City police sergeant, can realize my dream of the public giving me permission to get tougher on the same criminal scumbags in my employ! Was it the laugh? Maybe it was the laugh. Gotta remember to practice that for next time.”
Why no movie deal? I’m not even going to ask the obvious questions, like how an NYPD officer would have amassed the money and materials to pull off such a ludicrous scheme to advocate for a police state, or why he would have chosen such a… let’s call it flamboyant way to stoke public anger against crime. No, I’m just going to focus on the fact that his elite team of super-villain henchmen consisted of the Eel, Plantman, Scarecrow, Porcupine and Viper (not the crazy hot one, but the original Viper who was killed by her because she wanted his name). Go ahead, look up the bios of those tenth-rate losers and tell me again if you see the flaw in this criminal mastermind’s plan.
A team of criminal jugglers. Jugglers, for the luvva Pete. Yeah, I think we’re done here. What, you want more? Sigh. Fine. Bombshell’s the gal who plays with explosives, Knickknack’s the short guy who juggles anything, Oddball plays with his balls (stop that!), Ringleader throws rings and Tenpin throws… aw, you guessed. They were mercenaries who sold their lethal services to anyone in need of their unique services: whimsical mobsters, sadistic parents in search of birthday party entertainment, that sort of thing.
Why no movie deal? Get out. Now.
From the interwebs: “Larry Ekler was the son of a hard-working, lower-class man who never stopped believing in the American dream, no matter how bleak his life was. When his father died penniless, without even enough money to pay for his funeral, Larry became determined to lead a revolution that would make people realize that the American dream was a falsehood, kept alive only to keep people in line, and to exemplify the struggles of the common man.” Dubbing himself Everyman, Ekler decided the best way to announce the start of his revolution was to fight Captain America, the living embodiment of the American dream, to prove the natural superiority of “the common man.” That fight lasted about as long as you’d expect. He came back later as a serial killer named Zeitgeist; it didn’t help.
Why no movie deal? Sure, there’s potential in the idea of a self-styled “everyman” lashing out at his country and its symbols because he feels betrayed by a government that failed to serve the people. But geeeee-zus, where did this guy get the idea that ordinary Americans dressed up in orange tights, yellow puffy sleeves and a pink-and-black vest designed to highlight one’s luxurious chest pelt? Also, his weapon of choice? A fencing foil that fired energy bolts. You know, in honor of all the average Americans who vehemently defend their right to bear lightning-releasing fencing foils.
John Robert Keane was a professional acrobat who turned to crime; he first appeared in 1966 and was assassinated in a 1974 issue of Captain America. Learning his craft from one of the world’s greatest trapeze artists, Keane decided his acrobatic skills were enough to embark on a life of crime. Sharpshooting, martial arts, safe cracking, computer hacking — Keane apparently considered these skills as “nice to haves” in the master criminal toolkit compared to, say, the ability to do a kick-ass tuck-and-roll. In hindsight, the results were predictable. To be fair, he held his own in his first fight with Cap… except that it was a Captain America lookalike, and he folded like a cheap lawn chair when he later fought the real deal. After he was killed as part of a plot to discredit Cap, his brother took his name and costume — but he only did it to expose an insurance company’s scam involving policies for super-villains.
Why no movie deal? Confession time: where I grew up, a “tumbler” was what we called a plastic drinking cup that would, as you say, tumble to the floor when nudged with sufficient force. So right off the bat I can’t look at this guy and not think about plastic cups falling to the floor, which always makes me smile. Also, check out the Tumbler’s dialogue above. In Tumbler’s own words, Cap is a “trained acrobat” — and, I think we can all agree, a lot more besides (tactician, hand-to-hand combatant, you name it). So… what’s Tumbler’s point here? That he’s really good at just one of the many skills that Cap has mastered over the decades? That… doesn’t sound scary.
7-8. Professor Silas X. Cragg and the Man-Brute
One was an old enemy of Captain America who was able to synthesize a version of the Super-Soldier Serum; the other was an ordinary schmo with a criminal record and a chip on his shoulder. When they met, it was… well, not exactly love at first sight, but Cragg knew a fine physical specimen when he saw one. (“Psychological tests? Pfft! Waste of time! Now let’s get busy pumping you up with untested steroids!”) Imbuing his test subject with his serum, Cragg then had the man now known as Man-Brute ambush Cap at a fake charity event. Man-Brute was on the verge of killing Cap when he was distracted by a young boy who rushed up and tried to make him let Cap go; Man-Brute fled the scene and made it back to Cragg’s secret lair, where he revealed the young boy was (oh, irony!) Man-Brute’s own estranged son. So they scuffle, Cragg gets electrocuted, Man-Brute goes on to become cannon fodder in the comic book of a superhero who’s only slightly less forgotten today than he is. The end.
Why no movie deal? There’s a neat story in the idea of the same super-serum that enhanced Captain America falling into the wrong hands… but this one ain’t it. No cheap O. Henry-esque twist (“He was my son all along! Nooooo!”) can cover up the fact these two are as dull as day-old dishwater and stupid to boot, given the money Cragg could have made selling that serum to customers in the market for instant muscles (which, if I know my Internet ads, can also be defined as “pretty much everyone on the Internet”).
Denise Baranger, a.k.a. Vamp, was a professional criminal and double agent working under cover as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent; her only power, besides her good looks and a killer judo chop, was an “Absorbo-Belt” that enabled her to duplicate the powers and abilities of other people nearby. But then she meets a guy who has his scientists genetically alter her so that she transforms into a powerful and hideously mutated beast whenever he pushes a button by remote control… men, am I right, ladies? In her beefed-up Animus form, she’s super-strong, telekinetic and can fire psionic force bolts from her forehead, and the only way to defeat her is to shatter her crystalline club (seen here), where she stores most of her “psionic energy.” She was last seen as the victim of a lethal vigilante who cleaned house through Marvel’s titles in the ’80s.
Why no movie deal? Um, okay. Not to get all Freudian here, but we’re talking about a woman who was a skilled martial-arts artist and had a handy ace-in-the-hole in the form of her Absorbo-Belt… but the only times in which she posed a real threat to Cap was when she unconsciously took on the form of a hairy, man-shaped brute. Plus her source of strength as Animus (the word for the Jungian concept of a woman’s inner masculine personality) was the long, rigid, club-like object that, when destroyed, took away her super-strength. I don’t think you need to be a student of Gloria Steinem or Andrea Dworkin to see the problem here.
10. Brother Nature
Sigh. From elsewhere on the web: “A nature enthusiast, the man who went on to become Brother Nature decided to become a park ranger. For three years, he was fairly happy with his job, until he found out that a large section of woodlands was sold to private developers. Feeling that he had no other choice, Brother Nature used every eco-terrorist technique in the book to stop the developers, before he was eventually caught and beaten. The workers, thinking they had murdered him, threw him in a ditch and bulldozed it over. While he lay in his makeshift grave, he had a vision of the goddess of the Earth appear before him. She appointed him nature’s guardian, and granted him his superhuman powers.” Those superhuman powers included the ability to communicate with animals, control the weather and even cause earthquakes by shifting tectonic plates — not a shabby set of powers by any means. So what does he do with those powers when Cap asks him nicely not to endanger the lives of loggers working in the forest? Nothing much, just attacks Cap with lightning, earthquakes, a deer stampede, you name it — only to realize too late he was destroying the very forest he was trying to protect. Bummer.
Why no movie deal? Cap works better as a hero fighting Nazis or shady government types trying to subvert American ideals; a fight between loggers and eco-terrorists is a little more of a gray area than he’s used to. Plus, between the accidental destruction of his forest and the really easy way he was tricked into surrendering in a later appearance, this more-misguided-than-evil character is not what you might call a criminal mastermind.
HAHA AHHAHAH AHahAH HAhAAHAh AHAHAHahahaha HAH ha ha ha heh heh heh……whew. Man, I needed that. So, where was I? Oh, yes, Gamecock. This villain started out as BWHA HA HAA HAHA HA HAHA SNICKER SNORT GUFFAW CHORTLE I MEAN SERIOUSLY LOOK AT WHAT THIS MORON WORE IN PUBLIC!!!!! What, was he sitting at home in his study one night wondering how to strike fear into the hearts of his enemies when a rooster flew through his window?? “Thank you, father. I shall become… a gamecock!” And the best part is this street-gang leader somehow convinced his gang members to also dress up in rooster-related attire. I would very much like to know how that staff meeting went the first time he brought it up for discussion.
Why no movie deal? To be fair, he’s not a total loser in the weapons department — the talons on his wrists and ankles are nothing to sneeze at. But Gamecock’s ludicrous name and costume marked him as a joke from the moment he was introduced, so much so that Marvel readers singled him out for death in 2001 when Wolverine writer Franki Tieri asked for suggestions about which character to send to his death in his “Bloodsport” story.
Over the years, Magneto has invited many mutants to join his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. And despite the obvious marketing flaw in his choice of team name, he has managed to attract some pretty powerful minions to his side over the years. Peeper wasn’t one of them. This guy was recruited alongside fellow mutants Burner, Lifter, Slither and Shocker to do Magneto’s bidding when the mutant terrorist wanted to exploit a spaceship’s technology; while his power to see miles beyond a normal human’s range was useful for spying and reconnaissance missions, it didn’t help much when he was face to face with Cap, who tossed Peeper down a trash chute before moving on to the actual physical threats. Taking the hint, Peeper changed his name (to Occult), uniform and employer to become a mutant mercenary. A second battle against a second Captain America (John Walker, who took over briefly in the ’80s when Steve Rogers resigned) ended with the guy getting kicked in the head hard enough to shatter his helmet, strangled and throw off a giant flying rock to land in power lines below, electrocuting him almost to death. Ouch.
Why no movie deal? Well, to start with, “he sees real good” is the kind of super-power that doesn’t translate well on a Burger King cup. Then there’s his name and super-bulging eyes, which suggests a peeping pervert more than a mutant-rights activist. And while more recent stories have tried to give him a personality beyond “sniveling height-challenged toady,” it’s hard for some guys to shake off the idiocy of their first appearances (just ask Paste-Pot Pete).
13+. Hawk Riders
How lame are these guys? They don’t even merit a mention in the Marvel Universe Appendix site — and those guys list everything! “Good lord! I never expected this!” Cap says upon first sight of his opponents… and yeah, guys in orange jumpsuits and blue short-shorts riding on giant hawks is kind of unusual. Knocked out of the hunt to get Cap by the mysterious force known as “the wind,” the flying Hawk Riders break off their attack and let their ground troops — guys riding giant diatryma birds — take over. Why is Cap fighting them? Something about S.H.I.E.L.D. agents being telepathically murdered and a beautiful hostage mentally begging him for help… you know what, it doesn’t really matter. All you need to know is this: this “elite guard” of a secret base for bad-ass villains actually fell for the “lean in close because I have something to whisper to you” trick right before Cap outruns their birds long enough to trick the whole lot of them into running right through their own minefield.
Why no movie deal? Because I don’t think Chris Evans could stop laughing long enough to film any scene where he’s fighting a guy riding a giant extinct relative of Big Bird.
14+. Army of Assassins
The thing you need to know about Captain America is, once you eliminate the Red Skull and a few other Nazis and politically motivated villains, he doesn’t have the greatest gallery of rogues. For a long time, especially in the ’80s, his biggest fighting opponents included unionized herpetophiles and hand-me-down villains from other superheroes — that is, when he wasn’t fighting the latest bunch of masked nobodies bankrolled by the Red Skull. By default, Baron Zemo’s appearance was usually a welcome change of pace from the Skull’s omnipresent villainy, though even he sometimes seemed a little redundant with the whole “Nazi mastermind with a bug up his butt over Captain America” shtick. One thing Zemo excelled at: throwing armies of faceless, identical minions at our hero, in the hopes that maybe one of them would hit the target. But nope — these guys imaginatively titled “Army of Assassins” made Imperial Stormtroopers look like crack shots, and even (as seen here) got their hats handed to them by inanimate round objects. “That blamed thing must be alive!!” one of them actually squeaks, too afraid to even consider maybe jumping out of the way. No, it’s just better at the fighting stuff that you are, pal.
Why no movie deal? While there’s a great movie premise in the story of an average guy who takes a job as a criminal mastermind’s minion because it offers great medical benefits, I don’t think any of these guys would be right for the part.
15-16. Sando and Omar
I don’t know why I keep wanting to add “go to White Castle” at the end of their names; I just do. This titanic team-up of fraudulent entertainers-slash-Nazi spies appeared in the very first issue of Captain America back in 1941 (the one with Hitler getting a fistful of patriotic justice on the cover courtesy of Cap); they were re-introduced to readers in a 1965 flashback story, a year after Cap’s own resurrection. In one of Cap’s first cases, he investigated the possible connection between a string of attacks on U.S. bridges and munitions factories and a strange little man (that would be Omar, the bald one up top) who predicted they would happen. As it turned out, Sando and Omar were German spies using their fake stage show to demoralize the American war effort while building up their reputations as actual psychics… just in case the whole “Nazis ruling the world” thing didn’t work out, I guess.
Why no movie deal? First off, if you’re a saboteur/spy and a teenager in a goofy mask can clean your clock in a fistfight, then you might want to consider another line of work. Second… look, the Riddler is a good character in the right writer’s hands, and he can get away with broadcasting his upcoming crime sprees because that’s part of his charm and/or psychosis. But wouldn’t the job description for a stateside saboteur/spy during World War II call for a higher level of discretion? Why did these two never seem to realize that setting yourself up as a psychic who predicts future acts of sabotage might give someone cause to wonder how much you really know about those attacks?
Does your brain hurt when comic fans start talking about parallel Earths? Too bad! Nighthawk (the blue-cowled fellow conversing with Cap here) is a renegade hero from an Earth where his former superhero team took over the world and started rehabilitating criminals against their will; he followed Mink, Remnant and Pinball to Marvel’s “official” world when they decided to give the criminal career a try in a dimension where that kind of stuff wasn’t happening. Mink is a cat burglar with artificial claws and her own (swear to God) “mink stink,” Remnant is a mutant with the not-so-awesome power to make textiles do his bidding, and Pinball (seen above) is a guy who decided a rubber suit that turns him into a giant bouncing sphere was his ticket to fame and fortune. After a brief heart-to-heart, Cap convinced Nighthawk to join forces with the three criminals and go back to their Earth to restore freedom to its people… and then five minutes later, Pinball died when someone fell on top of him.
Why no movie deal? Take a look at the panels above; this is literally the sum total of Pinball’s “fight” with Captain America. Seriously. And I love how nonchalant Cap is about taking him down; he literally doesn’t even pause his conversation with Nighthawk while he casually flings his shield at an oncoming Pinball rolling his way. And let’s just say the other two didn’t make him break much of a sweat, either.
20. Richard Milhous Nixon (a.k.a. Number One)
No, you shut up. This actually happened! Back in the early ’70s, there was this big storyline involving Cap, Falcon and the X-Men joining forces to fight (insert ominous cackle here) the Secret Empire. Their plan to take over the United States had something to do with harnessing the power of mutants and discrediting Captain America, but all you need to know is the climactic battle took place on the White House lawn. When it was clear his plan to trick America into surrendering control to him failed, the Secret Empire’s Number One (a cackling fellow always disguised by a hood with the number 1 drawn on the forehead) ran inside the building (which: top-notch security detail, Secret Service dudes). Cap followed in hot pursuit, dramatically ripped off his hood and…. “Good lord! You!! But you…you’re…” And then the man commits suicide, sending Cap into a yearlong funk in which he renounced his identity and dressed up as Nomad, the man without a country. Given what was happening in the United States at the time, it wasn’t a stretch to see Nixon as the never-identified high-ranking White House official, and writer Steve Englehart later confirmed he did in fact have the nation’s 37th president in mind when he wrote the story of a man who risked everything to gain power.
Why no movie deal? “Let’s see, I’m a paranoid man who achieved his nation’s highest office, I have the entire U.S. military at my command, and I can do anything I want thanks to the network of operatives in my employ who will do anything necessary to keep me in power. I know! I’ll take over a terrorist organization in disguise and build a giant flying saucer fueled by mutant powers to achieve my REAL goal of… um… Maybe I should just stick to erasing tapes.”