Ok, I think I’ve found the superhero with the best rogues gallery, in my opinion of course. Spider-Man, and not just because I grew up with him and he was my family’s favorite hero.
I think there’s two big reasons.
- A good power set. Spider-Man is in a sweet spot, strength-wise, where you can pit both low-end nominal humans and strong supervillains against him without it seeming too implausible. This isn’t like (and I know I’m using DC here) Superman where his foes have to be either cosmic or kryptonite-based, or a Daredevil/Batman/Punisher where they have to be weaker.
- The lack of an “evil counterpart” for a while. Evil counterparts are tricky. They have to eventually lose, but they’re symmetric so the fights frequently become less than ideal. The Hulk (Abomination) and Iron Man (A parade of power-suited villains) are notorious for this. It took Spider-Man decades to get a direct evil counterpart in the form of Venom, and even he’s better than most.
This, mixed with silver age creativity, makes Spidey’s villains memorable. Sadly (or maybe not sadly), Marvel has had an aversion to making new villains for a while. I’ve heard part of it is a reluctance by writers to create something they won’t have financial or creative control over, but that doesn’t explain all of it. I think it’s just because the comics themselves are doubling down on being niche, while the movies still have decades of material to mine.
So, reading the latest entry in Marvel’s new Elektra series, I began to fill with rage. This was bad-and not the sort of enjoyably bad I can chuckle at, this was-bad bad. Ok, at least I can have fun screaming at it.
I’ll admit the only reason I read it was because it had Arcade in it, making me perhaps the only person to check out comics for that character. And maybe I shouldn’t have. It’s awful. Terrible. Turgid. Has no sense of fun for what should be a zany trip to Murderworld. Arcade is working for the Kingpin and he’s rambling, and Elektra’s rambling, and the whole thing is an unintentional parody of an unintentional parody of Frank Miller’s classic style. It’s eighth-rate noir (suddenly, This Is The Police doesn’t look so bad) interspersed with a deus ex machina-resolved fight against an Arcade-piloted giant robot that only served to remind me of Arcade’s far superior portrayal in Ultimate Alliance.
There’s no reason for this series to be here. And this brings me to the next topic of this post. There is an unmistakable comics diversity problem. It’s just not that kind.
The “Marvel Diversity” controversy is something I’ve tried to bypass. I tend to just ignore it or roll my eyes at either the most ridiculous demands on the internet or the most hamfisted attempts to implement it. I couldn’t even react with the sense of bemused chortling I had with the internet slapstick that ensued when Blizzard made Overwatch star Tracer a lesbian. (My slightly tasteless guffaw was that she would make history–by being someone that fanfic shippers would force with no evidence into being straight.)
I think there is a diversity problem in comics, but it has absolutely nothing to do with what the characters are. No, it involves an excessive diversity of titles that dilute and get tangled in each other. Elektra got involved in a wave of Daredevil spin-offs around the same time. Is there really a need for this? Really? And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
To return, one footnote that shows how twisted and tangled this whole comics mess is that there were multiple recent low-number Elektra titles. It took me a bit of effort, I can’t imagine what it would be like for a comics neophyte.
Like I’ve said before, superheroes are held down by comic books. You could argue they’ve outgrown them. The millions of people who bought Ultimate Alliance saw an Arcade far closer to his original form, and his character concept than the low thousands who bought the 2017 Elektra or his abominable butchering in Avengers Arena. And for that I’m thankful.
So, I took my drawing “””skills””” and made more supervillains that have been in my mind.
Ok. Two of these are major, and one is a placeholder of sorts. I’ll let you guess who is what. One guess only. More seriously,
- Fir (pseudo-German for “four”, I did find an early 1900s pan-Germanic conlang that had it as four, so that works) is the final member of the Dead Hand. I put off drawing him for so long because I knew exactly what he looked like but didn’t have the drawing skills. Fir is, to be honest, an homage to the Kaiser Knuckle General, who is himself a rip-off of M. Bison from Street Fighter. So I guess it’s a rip-off of a rip-off, down to the powers? Fir came in fully formed, fighting in a pseudo-WWI and wearing a uniform to match (I wanted a field style one to distinguish him from the General’s ornate one.) Ok, he looks like a first graders attempt to draw Charles de Gaulle.
- The Razor. The helmet makes him look worse. I imagined a ski mask under a barred helmet, like this or this. The Razor has a backstory. See, he started off as a minion supervillain a long time ago whose power was——–ready——he had a knife. That was it. Now he’s a sort of Charles Atlas genius combined with a walking arsenal of guns and knives who serves as the initial villain of an outline I’ve written.
- Finally, the man in a ghille suit smoking a pipe. There was going to be an evil military commander there with a MacArthur style pipe smoke, but I both lacked the skill and didn’t yet have a clear theme. So I added a camo helmet, a scribbled-on ghille suit, and kept the pipe. Maybe he’ll become a more prominent character. I dunno.
So, yesterday, I finally drew some bad concept art of supervillains I’ve had in my head for a while. They are known as the Dead Hand, a reference to both a Russian nuclear system AND the “Four=Death” similarity found in East Asian languages. And yes, there are only three of them in the picture. That’s all I had room for. Forgive my terrible drawing.
So, each one of these has a story.
- Empat (Malay for ‘Four’) started off with just the camera powers. Then I realized she was in a “what does Aquaman do without being in the water” situation and made her leverage her camera powers to superhuman accuracy. Then I gave her incredible intelligence and reaction time too, so her brain can process looking through countless cameras at once and switch images before even a supercomputer can react. Her look, I have to admit, owes a lot to the Payday series.
- Ceathair (Irish for ‘Four’, although it’s a complex language that way) started off as Peter Walsh, the protagonist of One Two Three Dead. Then that fizzled out and I went with him being past the point of no return, because let’s face it, Darth Vader is more interesting than Anakin Skywalker. Then I realized he’d been one of my dime-a-dozen Punisher types and turned him into someone with a magic sword. His durability keeps increasing-as of now, he can easily survive being splattered. The shirt and tie is actually a reference to the pro wrestlers Irwin R. Schyster and Mankind, who wore similar clothes.
- Cztery (Polish for “Four” is the newest. Originally, the leader of the Dead Hand, Richard Shi, was going to be a member, but his Q/Ellemist level powers made him too strong. So I had to swap in someone who had an indirect power. I’ve had a concept for “chemists” who mixed packs of chemicals in ramshackle arrays of tanks, and leveraged it into making her.
So, I’m finally ridding myself of the “Punisher Syndrome.”
See, an awful lot of my envisioned superheroes were basically variations on the theme of that skull-chested vigilante. Which is to say, they’re walking arsenals that achieve their superhuman qualities simply through ridiculous amounts of training.
Not all of them have gotten changed. But I’m very thankful that enough have-and that I’ve had the imagination to make them different. After all, I don’t want the walking arsenals to overlap too much.
Sometimes, an artist is meant to mock or attack something, but they end up actually looking good. DC was mocking the 90s belts and pouches fashion with Magog. Not only was he drawn so well that the garments flowed a lot better than their targets, but the authors ended up actually liking his design.
Similarly, the irreverent One Punch Man set its sights on Dragon Ball villains and spiky-haired power-ups in particular with villain Lord Boros. Instead of something like an even more disproportioned Broly, Boros ends up as an interesting and effective design himself.
So, a mockery can become art by itself.
Arcade, one of the Marvel villains ideal for one story, yet utterly unable to work in anything beyond it.
Arcade, for most of his existence, was/is a normal human in a bad 70s suit and giant bow tie who builds deathtrap amusement parks called Murderworlds and has an inexplicable ability to capture superheroes and plop them in there. Appearing in the second-rate title Marvel Team-Up, by all means he should have been a one-issue wonder who would be “lucky” to be a victim of the Scourge, a character created to eliminate “embarrassing” villains.
Instead, the legendary Chris Claremont liked the character and used him as an X-Men villain, and he became a B/C-list supervillain, even earning a place in Marvel Ultimate Alliance.
There have been multiple attempts to make Arcade a “serious” threat, the largest and most recent being the Hunger Games/Battle Royale ripoff Avengers Arena. None have worked. How could they work? It takes so much effort to force a character whose gimmick is ridiculous even by comic-book standards that one might as well make a new character or use someone more appropriate.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Thankfully, the version that I call “Classic Arcade” is an ideal ‘filler’ villain that almost any low-mid level superhero can face. The amusement park gimmick can make for some interesting visuals, and Arcade rarely facing the heroes directly means his reappearances aren’t quite as contrived as-well, everything else about him.
The Ultimate Alliance appearance uses Arcade well, with his presence being an excuse to have a carnival level and some extra-hammy voice acting.
Even crossovers can work-there is nary a Marvel crossover I’ve come up with that doesn’t involve the other crossover characters being tossed into Murderworld.
Now, there’s arguably little that’s truly original. This is why, when I make my superhero fantasies, it’s not difference of powers that I focus on so much as difference of character.
But one bizarre coincidence, notable in almost how exact it is, and how coincidential it is, has stood out. See, there’s a character who can manipulate time, using it as de facto teleportation to outmaneuver enemies.
That describes Overwatch’s hero and mascot Tracer. But it also describes a supervillain in a notorious tie-in comic made twenty-five years before. The comic was NFL Superpro, one frequently trotted out as one of the worst of all time. The villain was, with a name fitting the football style, Instant Replay.
Instant Replay appeared twice, the second time also having an oddly coincidental connection to Tracer, as he had been phasing in and out of time uncontrollably, then semi-controllably. In both cases, he was defeated in a few panels (although the second time, the Superpro needed the help of his non-superpowered niece. Really).
So, either this is a massive coincidence, or someone at Blizzard decided to base a prominent figure in their newest flagship game on a throwaway villain in a decades-old throwaway comic. The latter is unlikely, and Instant Replay’s own style bears similarity to GI Joe’s Snake Eyes.
But it’s still an interesting thing to behold.
I have a strange liking of supervillains wearing bad 1970s suits. I think it’s a combination of two characters. The first was the Marvel supervillain Arcade, who was (note the past tense) a ridiculous filler villain who threw superheroes into ridiculous dangerous amusement parks.
(Sadly, he turned into a bloodthirsty long-haired figure who gained plot-induced superpowers of his own and presided over a ridiculously blatant Hunger Games/Battle Royale ripoff. That story is one of the few that I’ve removed from my personal continuity-I like the classic villain too much)
The other was Gene Hackman’s portrayal of Lex Luthor in the 1978 Superman movie. Hackman refused to go bald for the film (save for one scene), so he had to wear ridiculous “wigs” on top of his bad 70s suit. Both characters were made in 1978, and I doubt their styling was a coincidence.