This gallery contains 14 photos.
What is it with comic book supervillians and buttons, anyway?
The March Madness Super-Animal Showdown isn’t the only big comics event of the month. For the last several years, March Modok Madness has celebrated this season with a concentrated mindblast of M.O.D.O.K. mania …
I am M.O.D.O.K. by Marc Basile
Featuring submissions from around the world, from both pros and amateurs, this unique blog trots out several original Modoks every day!
Bat-M.O.D.O.K. by Xum Yukinori
It’s one of my favorite feeds, and all the more precious because it happens only once per year.
truly Mad M.O.D.O.K. by Phillip Horton
There’s still plenty of time to enjoy the 2015 edition of March Modock Madness (and all past entries are still on-line, too). M.O.D.O.K. compels you to glide your hoverchairs over to March Modock Madness right now!
A superhero is only so great as the costumed crazies he gets to battle. The rich rogues galleries of heroes like Batman and Spider-Man undoubtably contribute to those characters’ enduring appeal. I’d even argue that someone like the Flash would unambiguously be a second-tier hero (instead of a quasi-A-lister) if he didn’t command a roster of memorable villains to call his own.
Captain America is definitely an A-list hero, but is this due more to his iconic costume and role in comics history, or to his collection of super-powered rivals? Read on for my list of the Top Ten Captain America Villains, and then let me know how you think Cap’s most dastardly enemies stack up!
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10) The Grand Director
He has a complicated history, and owes his origin to a publication quirk, but the concept behind the Grand Director lets him squeak onto my list at #10.
Captain America has had two major publication periods — the wartime books published from 1941-1949, and the modern reintroduction of the character commencing with Avengers #4 in 1964. But in-between, Cap experienced a brief revival in the 1950s, which was not considered part of Marvel history until Steve Englehart resurrected the character for an early-1970s story, depicting him as a paranoid, ultra-patriotic double of our star-spangled hero. Driven mad by the cut-rate Super Soldier serum that gave him his powers, this forgotten Captain America became a vessel for all of America’s worst excesses in the McCarthy era of the 1950s.
Later, the character would be given a white spook suit and become the Grand Director, who is less interesting than a Red-baiting Captain America impersonator (who would be less interesting than a legitimately Red-baiting Captain America, but we can’t have everything). It’s all a bit of a muddle and serves to suppress that first awesome concept.
Continuity aside, the Grand Director is ultimately a tragic figure — a fallen hero manipulated into betraying everything he held dear by the next entry in my Top Ten List …
9) Doctor Faustus
A master of mind-control, mastermind of the neo-Nazi National Force, and the evil agent who twisted and manipulated the Grand Director for his own foul purposes, Doctor Faustus still may not have made this list but for a singular act of villainy. He does have deep roots in Cap’s history (having first appeared in Captain America #107), but with this subtle psychological powers, Dr. Faustus is little more than a second-rate Mysterio (without the groovy Steve Ditko costume).
I don’t care if he has a monocle and an Austrian accent … Doctor Faustus is pretty lame. But he did turn Sharon Carter into an unwitting pawn in Ed Brubaker’s Death of Captain America saga, and if you can punch the ticket of your arch-nemesis, then you get on the list!
(But he’s still a second-rate Mysterio!)
8) Baron Strucker
The first of several Nazis on this list, Baron Strucker might have been whistled up out of central casting — he has a monocle AND a Heidelberg fencing scar!
First appearing in 1964’s Sgt. Fury And His Howling Commandos #5, and eventually coming to lead HYDRA, Baron Strucker might more properly be considered a foe of Nick Fury and the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but he’s battled Cap a time or two, and he also provides an excuse to show a bit of Steranko art, from that era when Strucker was undoubtably at his coolest.
Will Baron Strucker figure in Joss Whedon’s pending S.H.I.E.L.D. television series? The movie side of the Marvel Universe isn’t so deeply connected with World War II as the comics upon which is it based, so it seems unlikely that Strucker will appear in anything like his original form … but in a world where the Guardians of the Galaxy are getting their own movie, anything is possible! Hail HYDRA!
This is kind of a cheat, as I don’t really think of M.O.D.O.K. as a Captain America villain. But there is no denying that the “Mental Organism Designed Only For Killing” made his debut in the pages of a Captain America story in Tales of Suspense #93-94.
Any list is made better by M.O.D.O.K., and so everyone’s favorite hyper-encephalotic floating acronym gets the nod (though at a lower seeding than he might otherwise command!)
Batroc is definitely Captain America’s most ridiculous recurring foe (and that’s saying a lot, considering some of the names on this list), but no survey of Cap’s arch-enemies would be complete without him.
First appearing in Tales of Suspense #75, Batroc is a mercenary and a master of savate, the art of French foot fighting! That’s right, French foot fighting! Portrayed as something of a swashbuckler with his own code of honor, Batroc is more light-hearted than the Nazi psychopaths that make up most of Cap’s opposition … and no matter what his crimes, it is hard to hold a grudge against anyone with such an out-rageous Franch acc-cent, non?
Maybe Marvel will sober-up the character for his pending appearance in 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier film, given that UFC fighter Georges St-Pierre has been cast to play him, but to me, Batroc will always be that goofy bearded guy bouncing around in purple tights …
5) Winter Soldier
And since we’re talking about pending Captain America films, it’s time to take a look at the Winter Soldier, who checks in at #5 on my list.
For decades, the death of Captain America’s wartime partner, Bucky Barnes, was one of the third rails of comic book storytelling. Other heroes might take on the identity of Bucky, or Bucky might seemingly come back from the dead (before being unmasked as an impostor or a robot or whatever), but the original version of Bucky was dead as Caesar, and permanently so.
At least, he was until Ed Brubaker came along.
Brubaker’s Winter Soldier arc stands out among the finest in Captain America history. In the best kind of revisionist storytelling, Brubaker reveals that Bucky wasn’t killed outright in the final days of World War II when he plunged into the English Channel from an exploding rocket, but that instead his body was recovered by Soviet agents, and that Bucky became a dreaded sleeper agent assassin during the Cold War — the Winter Soldier!
Though he would go on to become a hero commanding his own series (but not before his appearance in Winter Kills earned a spot in my list of Top Single Issue Stories), the Winter Soldier is initially a bad guy, a pawn in the Red Skull’s plan to destroy Captain America. As such, the Winter Soldier proves one of Captain America’s greatest foes, a murderously dangerous opponent who turns our hero’s heart against him. He’s a great character, and would rank higher on this list if he’d remained a villain. I’m curious to see how this character transitions to film in new summer’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier!
4) Arnim Zola
I’ve enthused about Arnim Zola in a recent Longbox Graveyard column, so I won’t go into great depth about him here. Jack Kirby’s last great contribution to the Captain America mythos is one of Cap’s weirdest foes, obsessed as he is with creating and manipulating life, and his freaky appearance is among the most bizarre in all of comics.
Like many of Cap’s great villains, this character lives on through the Marvel Captain America movie franchise, though in a substantially more conventional form. We can only hope actor Toby Jones will soon elect to transform himself into the Arnim Zola we all know and loathe …
3) Baron Zemo
For reasons too tedious to list (though Wikipedia is undaunted), Baron Zemo is actually two different bad guys … a Captain America foe introduced in the early days of The Avengers and Sgt. Fury And His Howling Commandos, and then that same character’s son, re-introduced in The Avengers decades later. To be honest, up until now I thought they were the same guy!
But maybe false memories are integral to this character. After all, he wasn’t created until 1964, but thanks to Marvel’s mania for continuity and its continual reinvention of history, Baron Zemo is responsible for one of the most heinous acts in Captain America history. No, it wasn’t that Baron Zemo was a Nazi who wore a purple bathrobe. It wasn’t even that he founded the Masters of Evil!
No … it was Baron Zemo who killed Bucky Barnes back in World War Two!
(Plus, his mask is glued to his face. Don’t ask).
Now I must note that the order of appearance of Baron Zemo and Arnim Zola created some controversy before this list we even published! In fact, this entire column was inspired by a particularly spirited exchange on my Twitter stream:
Ever the gentleman, John Gholson delivered with this illustration of … Arnim Zemo!
Thanks, John! And for more of John’s work, please visit his Gutters & Panels blog.
2) Red Skull
The Red Skull is more than just a top Captain America villain — he’s one of the premiere villains in the Marvel Universe. He first appeared in Captain America Comics #1 back in 1941, and he’s been Cap’s arch-nemesis ever since, battling our hero throughout World War II and returning from seeming death to bedevil Cap in the present era. He even wielded the Cosmic Cube before Thanos was a glimmer in his mother’s eye! The Red Skull co-headlined Super-Villain Team-Up for awhile, and he was memorably portrayed on the big screen by Hugo Weaving in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger.
As Captain America’s polar opposite, the Red Skull is clearly one of Cap’s greatest foes — a Fascist thug and murderous mastermind to oppose our freedom-loving hero. He’s also a badass, with no real superpowers — the Red Skull holds his own with fear gas and an endless string of minions that he holds in a grip of terror. Plus, the Red Skull brings along a whole host of lesser villains that might very well have made this list on their own, like Crossbones, Sin, Mother Night, and the enigmatic Sleepers.
With a resume like that, you’d expect the Red Skull to top this list!
Who could possibly be worse than the Red Skull?
1) Adolph Hitler!
That’s right … the only bad guy who could possibly be worse than the Red Skull is the Red Skull’s creator — Adolph Hitler!
I don’t mean to trivialize a real mass murderer by including him in a comic book top ten list, but Hitler is so interwoven into the Marvel Universe that he might as well be a supervillain at this point. Plus, if a couple of crazy kids named Kirby and Simon hadn’t decided to introduce a certain new red, white, and blue comic hero by having him sock Hitler on the chin, I probably wouldn’t be writing this list today.
Keep those colors flying, Cap!
What do you think of my top ten list of Captain America’s most fearsome foes? Did I snub anyone? Overrate someone? How do Cap’s villains rate against the greatest bad guys in comics history? Sound off in comments, below!
NEXT WEDNESDAY: #98 Iron Fan
LONGBOX GRAVEYARD TOP TEN LISTS
This gallery contains 14 photos.
What is it with comic book supervillians and buttons, anyway?
The 1970s were the decade when women’s rights entered American popular culture. Helen Reddy‘s “I Am Woman” hit #1 in 1972, Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in an enormously-hyped tennis court battle of the sexes in 1973, and Archie Bunker’s battles with his liberated, live-in daughter (and every other ethnic and societal stereotype) were front-and-center in All In The Family, the top-rated television show from 1971-1976. The newsstand brought us Ms. Magazine, and a new version of Cosmopolitan aimed at young women. The state-by-state battle for ratification of the (ultimately doomed) Equal Rights Amendment was a premiere political story of the decade. Women’s Lib was happening, baby!
As a kid growing up in 1970s California I had a vague idea that women needed to be liberated from something, and I was pretty sure that being a “male chauvinist pig” was a bad thing. But being an adolescent comic book fan, I was mostly interested in women as sex objects. Throughout the late seventies and early eighties, Marvel Comics would appeal to my base yearnings with books like Red Sonja, Spider-Woman, She-Hulk, and Dazzler, but it was the first and the least provocative of the books introduced in that era that would best hold my attention — Ms. Marvel!
now you see her …
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When Ms. Marvel was introduced in late 1976, Marvel Comics was happy to co-opt the popular entertainment brand of feminism to promote the book. The mast-head told us that “THIS FEMALE FIGHTS BACK” (as opposed to the kind that doesn’t, I suppose), and the editorial filling in for the first issue’s letter column was an apologia by scripter Gerry Conway, who solemnly admitted that he was “… not totally liberated, (but) … know(s) enough to be aware that a problem exists, and to understand that we’re all susceptible to chauvinism at times,” before awkwardly explaining that Ms. Marvel wasn’t written by a woman because, “… at the moment there are no thoroughly trained and qualified women writers working in the super hero comics field.”
Because, as we all know, being a writer for Marvel comics required thorough training, like being a brain surgeon or an astronaut.
Which is to unjustly single-out Conway, because this sort of arm’s-length acknowledgement was kind of de rigueur for any sensitive issue at the time, and by addressing feminism as an issue at all, Marvel was actually being progressive.
Ms. Marvel wasn’t the only wonderful woman superhero of her time
I’ve no doubt Marvel hoped to court female readers with this title, and to close the gap with their “Distinguished Competition,” which had long outdistanced Marvel in the female superhero department, thanks to characters like Supergirl and Batgirl, to say nothing of Wonder Woman, who was enjoying television success at the time. But I’m even more certain Marvel hoped to get male readers onto this book, as all the female comics readers in the world (whatever their mythical numbers may have been) could not have been enough to sustain a Marvel book in the 1970s. The old salts in the bullpen may have had wonder stories to tell about the golden age of romance comics, but more relevant must have been the 18 million households that were watching Charlie’s Angels in the United States in 1977. The feminist movement had won women the right to go bra-less on network TV, and the merest hint of Farrah Fawcett’s nipple threatened to topple the Republic! This “women’s lib” stuff might make the book relevant, but jiggle TV was hot and in Ms. Marvel the House of Ideas had a property that could ride both waves.
With her blonde Kate Jackson swoopy-do and bare mid drift (that sometimes revealed a navel, take that, Barbara Eden!) Ms. Marvel might have been a pin-up heroine, but the stories never trended in that direction. By issue #3, Chris Claremont was aboard, bringing with him the imprimatur of writing strong female characters on Uncanny X-Men, and under his watch the book would never stoop to the wet t-shirt and butt shot antics of cheesecake books of later decades (and I say that with admiration, having scripted a dozen or so issue of Ex-Mutants, myself). Come issue #9, Ms. Marvel’s costume lost it’s bare front-and-back panels (largely to simplify coloring the character), and, more importantly, the no-nonsense alter ego of Ms. Marvel, Carol Danvers, had begun to assert herself.
… and now you see less of her
In refusing to write about Ms. Marvel as a “feminist hero,” Chris Claremont kinda-sorta made her … a genuine feminist hero. Other characters react to Ms. Marvel’s femininity, of course, but Ms. Marvel herself resists the temptation to strike a pose, put her fists on her hips, and remind everyone that she’s a woman (a rare thing in an otherwise on-the-nose era of comic book writing). And the book spends plenty of pages on “secret identity” stuff, too. Beneath her mask, Ms. Marvel is Carol Danvers, an honest-to-gosh 1970s female role model — single, a successful professional, unattached (and with a hint of doomed romance in her past), educated, and starting a second career as a magazine editor after having previously been a security chief for NASA.
It is this character of Carol Danvers that makes Ms. Marvel a diamond in the rough.
Danvers had a hot temper (easily trading barbs with her editor, Spider-Man nemesis J. Jonah Jameson) …
… but she also used her head in battle, employing fuzzy science to defeat more powerful foes with frankly ridiculous traps that she cobbled together on the spur-of-the-moment …
… but that schtick did help to separate her from the average Marvel meathead, reinforcing Ms. Marvel’s brainpower (and Claremont wasn’t above calling for a montage when he wanted to drive that particular point home) …
… and I suppose it is a cheap way to show Ms. Marvel’s “feminine side,” but she was also unique in seeming more concerned with the collateral damage of her super-powered antics than the male heroes of her day.
When I picked up this book in 1977 I might have had some vague sense of making a feminist statement, but mostly I was looking for a good new superhero book, and Ms. Marvel delivered.
With powers and costume based on a then-more-familiar Captain Marvel, the book seemed to suffer an identity crisis from the get-go, with the creative team rummaging through the storybook toolbox to give the character her own unique spin (she’s amnesic! she has precognition! she has phantom memories! she curses like Captain Marvel! she crosses over with Spider-Man! she doesn’t need Spidey anymore, now she has her own supporting cast!). When Chris Claremont signs on in issue #3 things start to settle in, but the book would still suffer for pitting Ms. Marvel against second-rate villains like Tiger Shark. The closest thing Ms. Marvel gets to an A-List villain is M.O.D.O.K., but that confrontation was sullied by having Carol sexually threatened by the villain, in a slimy dream sequence stimulated by M.O.D.O.K.’s mind-ripper beam.
If this is M.O.D.O.K.’s game, you have to wonder why he didn’t mindscrew Captain America or Iron Man when he had the chance. I suppose it is reasonable that Ms. Marvel’s gender makes her more vulnerable to the jerks she battles, but I contend it isn’t necessary. Fortunately, Carol puts paid to M.O.D.O.K. a few issues later and this run of the book doesn’t tread back into this kind of territory.
The truth is this is a forgettable run of superhero stories. The art is never better than serviceable, and when Ms. Marvel spent her twentieth issue fighting dumbass dinosaur men, I guess I’d had enough (because that’s where my collection runs out).
All these years later, I wish I’d stayed with the book, even though it only had another three issues to run. Not because I expect the stories got any better, but because in my recent read-through, I found I’d grown quite attached to Carol Danvers, the woman behind the Ms. Marvel mask. It meant nothing to me when I was a teen, but as a creepy grown-up reading comics in my garage, I found Carol Danvers refreshingly mature, well-realized, intelligent, and strong in ways that few female comic characters can claim. Against all odds, and maybe despite themselves, Marvel really did create a strong, iconic female superhero in Ms. Marvel (but then they cancelled the book, and passed the character around between different series, then raped her, then un-raped her, and turned her into a crypto-fascist, and gave her a second series) … but in truth I don’t want to know about any of the other brand withdrawals Marvel made with this character in the past three decades.
I’d kind of like my last memory of Ms. Marvel to be about a woman who was secure enough to take girlish joy in her own costume change.
Ms. Marvel was at best an average comic, but Ms. Marvel herself was a good and potentially a great character. I’m sorry it took me thirty-five years to realize it, but it did make for a pleasant surprise when I unearthed this run from the Accumulation. Still, Ms. Marvel deserved better. She deserved better villains and better art. She deserved better loyalty from me, instead of abandoning the book before it was over. She deserved to get off to a faster start rather than floundering around for a year while her readership went away. She deserved better of Marvel’s editors after her book was cancelled.
And she certainly deserved better than that “This Female Fights Back!” motto on her very first issue! Sheesh!
NEXT WEDNESDAY: #26 Longbox Soapbox (Special Six Month Anniversary Issue!)