Feels like it’s been quite a while since I put together one of these surveys of absurdity. So what say we take a look at five more Marvel villains from the past who tried their hardest, but who somehow failed that ineffable test towards being legitimately dangerous–and who instead came across as ridiculous, absurd, and dopey.
THE MATADOR, DAREDEVIL #5. You can never go wrong starting off with a Daredevil villain, especially one from prior to around 1980. The Matador was the first foe Daredevil contended with while under the pencil of artist and co-plotter Wally Wood. So while the adventure looked great, there was still something a bit lacking. The Matador held the city in a grip of terror due to his daring robberies–this despite the fact that he never carried any sort of weapon apart from his bull-fighting cape, and he made most of his heists happen by throwing said cape across the windshield of a moving armored car and then plundering the vehicle after it had crashed. So he was as much a threat to motor vehicle safety as anything else. What’s more, he beats the crap out of Daredevil half a dozen times in his first appearance before the sightless crusader is able to dope out that he’s secretly disgraced bullfighter Manuel Eloganto, who was exiled from t3he sport due to his cruelty. Armed with this thoroughly useless piece of knowledge, the Man Without Fear sets a trap for the Bullfighter Without Peer, and in the end, defeats him. This didn’t prevent the Matador from returning a few times over the years, initially as a part of Electro’s Emissaries of Evil. Stan Lee scripted his stylish first appearance.
THE KANGAROO, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #81. But enough shooting fish in a barrel, let’s look at a few of the top-selling titles. After eighty issues, one gets the sense that editor Stan Lee had exhausted his collection of Time-Life Wildlife Cards when it came to creating new enemies for his neurotic wall-crawler, as this 81st issue saw Spidey having to content with the hoppity-hop-hop menace of the Kangaroo. He’d gained his extraordinary leaping abilities after having lived among the Kangaroos in his native Australia, eating what they ate, living as they lived. Which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but go with it. After the Kangaroo accidentally killed a man in the ring (by kicking him in the head, clearly a foul) he became a wanted fugitive who led lawmen on a worldwide chase to the United States. It’s hard to believe that Spidey was stymied for even two panels by this pouch-laden goon, but the Kangaroo steals a vail of an experimental bacteria, and the web-slinger can’t go to town on him without fearing that it will get shattered in the fight, thus exposing the city to the toxin. Eventually, though, he’s able to recover the vial and put paid to the Kangaroo. But like the Matador before him, this didn’t stop the Kangaroo from returning–and at least in his second appearance, then-writer Gerry Conway had his super villain fix-up man Jonas Harrow give the Kangaroo some cyborg implants which made it a scootch more plausible that he could stand up to the wall-crawler. His first appearance was scripted by Stan Lee, with plotting assistance from John Romita and art by John Buscema and Jim Mooney.
THE GIBBON, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #110. But Stan Lee and John Romita hadn’t quite hit the bottom of the animal-themed villain barrel just yet, for there was still this guy waiting in the wings. Based on his first appearance, it’s difficult to say whether Lee and Romita were intending to make their new creation, the Gibbon, into a super-villain or a bona fide super hero . But as this was the last issue of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN that Lee scripted and he left the character in the middle of a cliffhanger situation, that decision was ultimately made by his successor Gerry Conway. The Gibbon is the wonderfully named Martin Blank (decades before John Cusack) who has the physicality of a simian for no particular reason. But he’s ugly, so he’s been shunned and taunted by his fellow man, and he’s sick of it. He was also a circus performer who was forced to dress up as a gibbon to entertain the crowds, and who longed to be a popular headliner like the main acrobats. A chance encounter with Spider-Man inspires him to put on a costume and try to find fame and social acceptance as the Gibbon. He seeks out Spidey and tries to convince the wall-crawler to let him partner up, but the cold-hearted super hero laughs right in the Gibbon’s face. Bad form, Spidey–because the dejected Gibbon is found by Kraven the Hunter, and turned into a weapon against his arachnid foe. Like his two predecessors, the Gibbon continues to show up with some degree of regularity, proving that you can’t keep a Stan Lee character down forever.
THE GAMECOCK, CAPTAIN AMERICA #183. Here’s an arch-villain so lackluster that he didn’t even manage to make the cover of his first appearance. He was one of the earliest African-American super-villains to be introduced at Marvel, and like more of his brethren than it pays sanity to think about, he embarked on his criminal career while wearing a chicken suit. The fact that Gamecock’s debut was drawn in the singular style of Frank Robbins did him and his outfit no favors–Robbins was a fine cartoonist, but he wasn’t entirely at home at this point in his career with depicting super heroes. So his Gamecock is lanky and awkward and a bit bug-eyes. The whole thing reads as just a bit racist, despite the pure intentions of writer Steve Englehart. The Gamecock is busy establishing his bonafides in Harlem when he runs afoul of Captain America, then in his soul-searching period as Noman, the Man Without a Country. Cap is trying to locate his missing partner the Falcon, and he figures that Gamecock may have struck his buddy down in a fit of avian jealousy. All of this comes to nothing, as the Gamecock manages to elude Nomad, but thereafter didn’t turn up again for close to twenty years. So clearly, his outfit didn’t cause the crimelords of Harlem to accord him the proper respect. He was much later killed off by reader demand in an underworld fight club in the pages of WOLVERINE.
THE HYPNO-HUSTLER, PETER PARKER, SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #24. Some villains are the product of the time in which they were created ,and no no-goodnik better embodies this than the Hypno-Hustler, the creation of Bill Mantlo and Frank Springer. He made his singular appearance in the late 1970s, right when the Disco craze which inspired him went stone-cold, and it feels almost as though he was created simply to justify Mantlo titling the story “Spider-Man Night Fever.” The Hustler himself doesn’t have any powers per se in this first adventure: it’s his back-up singers, the Mercy Killers, whose sonic tones entrance those that hear them. But the Hustler put their powers to good loot to rob the crowds that came to see them play and perform in the manner of the Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime, just with white polyester. (it is perhaps not eh best idea to subject yourself to an act called the Hypno-Hustler and the Mercy Killers in the first place, so his victims kind of deserved what they got.) Spidey, though, dopes out that the Hustler’s headpiece protects him from the Mercy Killers’ music, and that’s all they wrote for this one-hit wonder. (Mantlo wasn’t content to just work in one genre of music when it came to inventing piker super villains: he’d previously originated the equally daft Tapping Tommy, the song-and-dance hitman, in a DEFENDERS fill-in). Like the rest of the players on this list, the Hypno-Hustler couldn’t stay put in limbo, and was brought back by a couple of later creative teams–none of whom, apparently, cracked open the original story to learn any of the particulars of the character. And really, given this cover, can you blame them?