Spinoff Villains

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A handful of Spider-Man villains are better known for their roles in other series. By far, the most successful is the Punisher. The question with this guy isn’t whether he’s good enough to belong on a list of the best Spider-Man characters, but whether he’s a Spider-Man character to begin with. He’s not even part of the rights for the film franchise.

The core of the character is perfect. A veteran wages a war against all criminals after his wife and children are killed by criminals. His ultracompetence makes him compelling, and also makes him an archtype (hard to imagine he’s been around for nearly forty years) which others have tried to imitate. He’s a human character able to kick the asses of superheroes/ supervillains, and he has a unique code of ethics which may just be preferable to that of the heroes. He also walks the hero and villain better than any character in comics. He has an interesting relationship with Spider-Man, forcing the wallcrawler to make some difficult moral decisions. But Spider-Man writers won’t have the final say in what happens to him, especially after he became a member of the Thunderbolts.

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The Kingpin is unusual. Because of Daredevil: Born Again, he was the the villain of a story that is probably better than any story Spider-Man’s ever appeared in. He appears often enough in the Spider-Man comics, but at this point he’s considered more of a Daredevil foe. That’s where he became the humble seller of spices, and developed the legitimate businessman facade which would eventually be copied by Lex Luthor (pre-Crisis of Infinite Earths Luthor was always a man scientist) and Norman Osborn.

The Kingpin was introduced as a very big man who can beat the hell out of superheroes, and has done so several times. Someone whose bulk is underestimated, he’s an immensely scary guy, and proves his ruthlessness and effectiveness often. This isn’t to suggest that he’s flawless as a crime boss, as his desire to keep Daredevil’s identity his own little secret nearly gets him killed by his own allies. And he had a well-known and imperfect love for his wife and son, which didn’t work out too well.

It’s worth noting that many Spider-Man villains have fought Daredevil. The first supervillain Daredevil fought was Electro, who returned to lead a team of bad guys in Daredevil Annual #1. Denny O’Neil and David Mazzuchelli had a well-received story with the Vulture. Ed Brubaker’s three year run included encounters with Hammerhead, Tombstone and the Enforcers. One reason for this is that Daredevil isn’t as strong as Spider-Man, so the less imposing Spider-Man villains can still be formidable opponents for a man with less super-powers. However, writers have to figure out how to make those same bad guys effective enemies against Spider-Man, after they take a beating from a guy weaker than Spidey.

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With Morbius, Marvel has a similar choice as they did with Venom. Should this notable Spider-Man villain be spun off into his own series? Morbius is not as essential to the series, so it won’t do much harm to the Spider-Man comics. He’s less popular as a character, so a monthly may not sell very well. He did headline Adventures into Fear in the 1970s, and his 1990s book lasted for more than two years.

He was called the Living Vampire as a way to get around restrictions by the Comics Code of Authority, but it does make him unique. It emphasizes his curse, and his science-based origins. So the character does have potential. He may also have a short shelf-life, unless writers can figure out how to resolve his quest (finding a cure for his condition) with continuing his adventures. Until that happens, he’ll be stuck in stasis.

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The Sandman was probably the first Spider-Man villain to disappear for another series. After four appearances in Amazing Spider-Man, he became a founding member of the Frightful Four, and would go on to plague the Fantastic Four. He wouldn’t return to the Spider-Man comics until Marvel Team-Up started, and this was during the brief time when the book was considered a Spider-Man/ Human Torch vehicle, as opposed to an exclusively Spider-Man title.

It’s an interesting aspect of the Sandman’s history obscured by later untold tales. Because he’s such a great Spider-Man villain, and was so underutilized during the period, writers may be more likely to feature him in high school and college era adventures, even if it contradicts an obscure line from Marvel Team-Up #1 about how they haven’t fought often since his first adventures. So the Sandman popped up in Untold Tales of Spider-Man, as well as Joe Kelly’s Webspinners arc, set during Peter Parker’s prom, and Amazing Spider-Man Annual #37’s flashback to Spidey’s first encounter with Captain America . He had returned to being one of Spider-Man’s most prominent recurring foes long before I was born, so his lapse from the title isn’t a particularly important continuity point.

The Infinite Spider-Man is a series of mini-essays regarding Marvel’s options for the future of the best character in comics.

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About Thomas Mets

I’m a comic book fan, wannabe writer, politics buff and New Yorker. I don’t actually follow baseball. In the Estonian language, “Mets” simply means forest, or lousy sports team. Currently, I’m writing a few comic books about my grandparents’ experiences in Soviet Estonia for Grayhaven comics. You can email me at mistermets@gmail.com
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