For Those Who Came In Late: Last week, we began our-much-requested examination of what’s probably the best Rogues’ Gallery to be found in the pages of Marvel Comics, Spider-Man’s various villainous adversaries. Having already discussed such nefarious ne’er-do-wells as the Chameleon, the Vulture, the Sandman and the Lizard, today we’ll start with that high-voltage heel known as…
Electro made his debut in the pages of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #9 (another Lee/Ditko production), in the reasonably titled “The Man Called Electro!”
Electro was born when self-involved electric lineman Max Dillon was struck by lightning when working along a high-powered electric lines, somehow converting his body into a living electrical generator. As with so many industrial accidents in Marvel’s New York in the 1960s, Dillon turns his newfound powers directly to crime, fashioning a flashy (if a little over-the-top) costume for himself and calling himself “Electro.”
In one of Electro’s first bank jobs, a momentary encounter with DAILY BUGLE publisher J. Jonah Jameson convinces JJJ (with no evidence and very little logic) that Electro is actually Spider-Man in disguise, and the newspaperman wastes no time in accusing Spidey of that very thing, making the already misunderstood webslinger even more of a wanted man in NYC. Complicating matters is the illness of Spidey’s Aunt May, who requires an expensive specialist, making Peter Parker desperate to get some pictures to feed JJJ’s crazy accusations about Electro and Spider-Man.
Spidey’s first skirmish with Electro is less than successful, with Spidey not only getting knocked out by a devastating electric shock, but also being forced to fake up some photos of Electro superimposed with photos of himself, to get the money for Aunt May’s surgery. Once again, it’s Peter Parker’s scientific knowhow that saves the day in his second encounter with Electro, first making use of rubber gloves that allow him to punch Electro without getting shocked and throwing steel bearings in the air to blunt the voltage of his electric blasts, and finally utilizing a little basic science by grabbing a nearby fire hose and hosing Electro down, creating a short circuit and knocking him out.
(And the legitimate photos he took of his battle with Electro, given to JJJ gratis made up for his earlier moral lapse of selling Jameson the faked photos.)
Ditko’s Electro design is very old-fashioned in its unabashedly “comic-booky” style, and admittedly a little goofy, but I’ve always loved the Electro mask — it manages to look sinister and funny at the same time. And besides, I’ve always been of the school of thought that the mark of great character design is that you should be able to pick a character blindly out of a lineup, having never seen him before, based solely on the design. By that standard, this costume has to be considered a success: show somebody a bunch of supervillains and ask them to pick out “Electro,” and they’ll be able to point out this guy, no problem.
Electro’s never been one to make a real impact in his countless appearances over the years, being strictly more of a bank-robbin’ “take the money and run” type. I remember a particularly good appearance from writer Peter David in SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #134-#136, in which Max Dillon wises up and realizes that maybe the bright green-and-yellow costume isn’t always the best way to make a clean getaway (although he can’t help himself by the end, and winds up back in the tights, and back in the slammer). Much more recently, Electro was used to amusing effect in an issue of NEW AVENGERS, in which Electro is the catspaw used to break Sauron out of the Raft, the off-shore prison for supervillains, a jailbreak that winds up creating the current Avengers team. Electro himself doesn’t acquit himself particularly, well, but the following exchange between Spider-Man and Luke Cage about precisely how best to question Electro went along way towards making me a fan, if a still cautious one, of NEW AVENGERS:
The next classic Spidey-villain to make his debut would arrive in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #13, in “The Menace of…Mysterio!”
Once again, things start out with an impostor Spider-Man committing crimes and the real Spidey taking the blame, only this time the simulation is so convincing even Spider-Man himself begins to doubt his own sanity, even considering talking to a psychiatrist about it. However, the plot thickens when a new costumed type shows up at the Daily Bugle offices, calling himself Mysterio and promising to end the menace of Spider-Man, challenging the wallcrawler to meet him atop the Brooklyn Bridge. Spidey accepts the challenge, and the two are soon slugging it out high over the river, with Mysterio’s smokescreen and ability to dissolve Spidey’s webs giving him the clear advantage, so much so that Spidey is forced to withdraw from the fight, giving Mysterio a clear victory in the eyes of the fickle public.
When Mysterio returns to the Bugle offices to bask in the spotlight, Peter plants a spider-tracer on him, allowing him to track Mysterio back to his warehouse HQ. Once there, Spidey allows Mysterio to engage in some good old-fashioned supervillain “monologuing” (to borrow a phrase from THE INCREDIBLES) while his pocket tape recorder rolls, not only confessing to the crimes he committed while impersonating Spider-Man, but also providing his back story as well. It turns out that Mysterio was really Quentin Beck, a top-flight special effects designer for Hollywood, who tired of laboring behind the scenes, and came up with the idea of devising methods to pose as Spidey to frame him, then creating his own new costumed identity in which to take Spider-Man down and make himself a hero. Beck designed his Mysterio costume using all his FX techniques, such as the one-way fishbowl helmet, the acid spray in his gloves and his magnetized boots that also contain the canisters for his smoke screen, which a sonar device allows him to see through (while at the same time jamming Spider-Man’s spider-sense).
Now that Spidey knows Mysterio doesn’t really have any powers, and relies on nothing but tricks and illusion, his confidence soars, and he lays a restaurant-quality beating on Mysterio, handing him and his confession over to the police.
Mysterio’s unique position as illusion and effects expert allowed him to be used in innovative ways as one of Spidey’s adversaries, with him often coming up with unique plans to mess with Spider-Man’s head, such as making him think he’d shrunk to insect-size.
I always just liked the notion of one of Spider-Man’s greatest enemies being little more than a guy sitting at a mixing board. Unfortunately, Mysterio was killed off a couple years back in the pages of DAREDEVIL, when it was revealed that the chemicals used in his smokescreen and other effects had given him a brain tumor and terminal lung cancer. In his final days, Mysterio embarked on an elaborate scheme to drive Daredevil insane (his more logical target, Spider-Man, was in the midst of his “Clone period” at the time, and the wisely discerning Mysterio decided not to bother with revenge on a clone), and when that plan failed, he committed suicide.
Naturally, the Mysterio name and costume were too cool to lay unused for long, and someone else has since tried on the fishbowl for size.
Following Mysterio’s premiere was the introduction of uncontestably the most significant and most influential of the Spider-Man villains, the Green Goblin, in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #14, “The Grotesque Adventure of the Green Goblin,” by Lee and Ditko.
However, since we’ve had some lengthy Goblin discussions in the past, and yet I still feel like I have a whole Goblin column in me, I’m going to regrettably table further exploration of the Goblin for another time, although I will leave you with a taste of early Goblin goodness, as the Green Goblin takes a meeting with a Hollywood studio exec:
One of the best things about that first couple years of SPIDER-MAN wasn’t just how great villains kept showing up one after the other, but how Lee and Ditko would mix it up with a variety of different types of adversaries for Spidey to face. For example, the month after the outlandish Green Goblin made his first appearance, a slightly more realistic, if still exaggerated, character would arrive to bedevil Spidey in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #15, in “Kraven the Hunter!”
Secretly hired by the Chameleon (who had returned to New York City after being deported following his first encounter with Spider-Man), famed big-game hunter Kraven the Hunter arrives in New York and announces his intention to the world: to hunt the most dangerous game of all: Spider-Man.
What chance does a regular guy have against Spider-Man? Well, as Kraven tells the Chameleon, he does have an edge:
Spidey quickly finds a disadvantage to fighting Kraven that he hadn’t encountered in any of his other enemies: for once, his opponent his trained in combat, and quickly uses a variety of nerve holds and poisons to give himself the upper hand, forcing Spider-Man to withdraw.
In their climactic encounter, Kraven manages to lure Spider-Man (thanks to the assistance of the Chameleon, disguised as Kraven) into a heavily booby-trapped section of Central Park, where even magnetically attracted manacles don’t do much good in subduing Spidey, who eventually takes down Kraven with a combination of his spider-sense, superior strategy and a little intimidation to get under Kraven’s skin.
Kraven and the Chameleon are quickly deported (Chameleon for the second time, mind you), but it wouldn’t be the last time either of them would pop up to threaten Spider-Man. Kraven in particular would become obsessed with Spider-Man as the only game he’d never successfully captured, and after dozens and dozens of failed attempts, would finally succeed in “Kraven’s Last Hunt,” a startling miniseries event that spanned all three Spider-Man monthly series in 1989, written by J.M DeMatteis and drawn by Mike Zeck.
Herein, Kraven, driven mad from years of failing in his only goal of capturing Spider-Man, pulls out all the stops and succeeds in drugging and “killing” Spider-Man, blasting him with what looks like a shotgun at point-blank range, and burying him on the grounds of his estate. Not content with merely killing Spider-Man, the now-deranged Kraven puts on his own Spider-Man costume and replaces him, fighting the cannibal creature Vermin through the streets of New York and capturing him, doing what Spider-Man could not. After two weeks in the ground, Spider-Man awakens from the stasis Kraven’s tranquilizer blast had put him in, and digs his way out of the grave to eventually confront Kraven, who, after releasing Vermin once more for Spider-Man to capture, turns a shotgun on himself, blasting himself in the head in a final suicidal act — with Spider-Man having been conquered, his life’s work was over. It’s an odd story, very much not in the standard Spider-Man style, at times graphic and disturbing and still oddly poignant.
There have been later attempts to revive the Kraven character with heretofore unrevealed sons taking up his mantle, but they’ve all been botched conceptually (including an awful rethinking of one of Kraven’s sons as a Hollywood hipster in a transparently derivative GET SHORTY knockoff) and either rejected or all but ignored by Spider-Man readers.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #20 featured the first of numerous attempts by J. Jonah Jameson to personally engineer Spider-Man’s defeat, with “The Coming of the Scorpion!”, once more by Lee and Ditko.
Here we see for the first time gumshoe Mac Gargan, hired by Jameson to trail Peter Parker, in an effort to find out how Parker always gets such great photos of Spider-Man. Nothing quite like the appreciation of your employer, eh? Anyway, when Gargan’s investigation comes up with nothing, Jameson diverts Gargan to a new project: the creation of a man with superpowers greater than Spider-Man’s, made expressly for the purpose of defeating the wallcrawler. Under the scientific hand of Dr. Farley Stillwell (also in Jameson’s employ), Gargan is granted the proportionate powers of a scorpion, giving him superhuman strength and coordination, although Stillwell admits he has no idea what the process will do to the subject’s brain. So much for the ol’ Hippocratic Oath, eh, Doc? Gargan, however, is unconcerned, since Jameson is paying him a cool $10,000 to be Stillwell’s guinea pig. Seems a little low to me, but then again, we are talking about 1963 dollars…
Stillwell also fixes Gargan up with a cybernetic tail that’s activated by the nerve impulses in his back, giving him a devastating bludgeoning weapon that can smash through concrete. As the Scorpion, Gargan lies in wait for Spidey outside the Bugle offices, and rather easily mops up the floor with him, leaving the badly beaten Spider-Man unconscious in the rubble of a wrecked water tower.
Unfortunately for Jameson, the Scorpion goes mad with power, and decides to go into business for himself, peeling the roof off of an armored car and making off with the cashbags.
When Spidey comes to, he heads off after the Scorpion, who has sunk further into madness thanks to Stillwell’s transformation process, while Jameson hides out in his offices, paralyzed by guilt.
Spider-Man, having realized that the Scorpion is stronger and more powerful than him, alters his battle strategy, first ripping off the Scorpion’s tail to deprive his enemy of his distance weapon, then using his spider-sense and his speed to stay close while evading the Scorpion’s blows, and drilling him with hard body shots and punches at close range.
The Scorpion would make numerous return appearances to the pages of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN over the years, going after Jameson about as often as he would go after Spider-Man, as Gargan would be obsessed with revenge against JJJ once he realized that the change into the Scorpion a permanent one, sometimes even psychotically deluded into thinking that his costume wouldn’t even come off.
More recently, the Scorpion underwent big changes in the pages of Mark Millar’s SPIDER-MAN Marvel Knights series, bonding with the Venom symbiote and becoming the new Venom.
And who’s Venom, some of you may be asking?
Well, if we’re lucky, we may get to that next week…