Nathan Kiehn is the author of over 100 blog posts on his family website Keenlinks and "The Gray Guard" ebook fantasy trilogy on Amazon.
Bring on the Bad Guys
It’s pretty much common knowledge amongst Spider-Man fans that the Web-Slinger has one of the most varied, colorful, and crazy collection of villainous adversaries around, perhaps matched only in infamy by the Rogues Galleries of DC heroes Batman and the Flash.
How many other heroes can attest to the fact that so many of their archenemies have been around for over fifty years and have been incorporated into all kinds of other mediums? Take the Fantastic Four, for instance. Both film franchises (the original two movies and the recent bomb) have featured Dr. Doom prominently in all three films. With Batman, we have three film versions of the Joker—Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger, and Jared Leto—with a fourth now with Joaquin Phoenix.
With Spidey, however, the only villain to have surfaced twice in the movies is the Green Goblin, and Disney has since stated he will not be used in the MCU. Therefore, while Dr. Octopus, Sandman, Venom, the Lizard, Electro, the Vulture, and Shocker have all made it to be the big screen already, films have a lot more options to select from as well. Spider-Man: Far from Home just gave us Mysterio, Hydro Man, Sandman, and Molten Man. The fact that none of these villains have made it to the screen before now just adds weight to their own longevity, obscure as some of them might be, as well as the depths of Spidey's rogues gallery.
However, as long-lasting as Spidey’s foes are, creators always like to bring in new elements and new foes for the hero to face. It’s been true for the last fifty years—especially true in the early years of Spidey stories, since writers and artists first had to craft a Rogues Gallery for the guy—and the train has never stopped chugging. Villains pop out of the woodwork like crazy, and never has this been truer than in the 21st century. We’ve received a torrent of new foes in the last several years, so I think it’s time to cover which ones worked.
So I’ve gathered ten of the best new bad guys for your viewing pleasure. Yes, this is an opinionated list, so your collection will most likely be different than mine. This is also an ordered list, meaning the higher we go, the better the villain we find. Are we ready? Alright, let’s go.
After the company-wide event called Civil War, Spidey’s marriage to Mary Jane was retconned, and a newly single Wall-Crawler was crawling walls and spinning webs. But because this was a brand new take on Spidey, it was also time to introduce some brand new villains. Overdrive was the first, appearing in a Free Comic Book Day issue before making his way into several other issues over the first couple years of new Spidey adventures.
Overdrive has the ability to control nanites and uses them to interact with technology, particularly cars, to turn them into any shape he desires. He typically uses these vehicles for high-speed heists and has altered everything from limos to a school bus. An employee of the villainous Mr. Negative, Overdrive has run afoul of Spidey on several occasions and usually tries to speed from the scene of a crime.
This guy barely makes the list. Of all the Brand New Day villains, he’s probably one of the least used and is one of the lamest. Even as a member of Boomerang's "Sinister Six" in Nick Spencer's Superior Foes of Spider-Man, the guy was more or less comic relief. However, what puts him on here is his abilities. The nanites are a really intriguing idea, and creators can have a lot of fun playing with such abilities. It also makes for some fun vehicle-related adventures for Spidey. Unfortunately, his lack of appearances makes him one of the worst of the best.
Another Brand New Day foe (actually, a lot of these are…), Screwball is a parkour wizard who livestreams her crimes and fights with Spider-Man to rack up views on the internet (kinda like me...wait, what?). A villain for the 21st century, indeed. Much like Overdrive, this is really the extent of who she is. No backstory, no real abilities. A cool, sleek costume and a rude attitude drive her well.
Also like Overdrive, she barely makes the list. In opposition to our previous entry, however, Screwball has appeared far more often, used by writers Dan Slott, Marc Guggenheim, and Mark Waid as back up in two different stories where she served as a B-level villain for Spidey to tackle.
The idea behind her is great. Her creators took an actual activity—parkour—and embedded it seamlessly into their comic book universe. Ever thought a superhero with actual powers like Spidey would have to go toe-to-toe with a glorified urban gymnast? No? Well, neither did I, and the writers pulled it off. Nice. Plus, her longevity carried over into Slott’s Superior Spider-Man, where she appeared for an issue, pulled a prank, and was promptly beaten half to death by Spidey (with Doc Ock at the controls). It’s a brutal beatdown for such a low-grade villain, but by having Screwball appear, Slott was able to channel his hero’s new taste for brutality wonderfully.
Damian Ryder’s the kind of villain who may have been better for the 90s, around when the Jurassic Park films were coming out. With his guns, razor-sharp teeth, and extended arm-blades, he feels like one of the uber-violent villains of that period, too. But while he feels a little shoehorned into the Spidey world, he at least has an interesting backstory.
Created by Marc Guggenheim, Velociraptor’s origin was revealed over a Spidey annual and then a short story line a few issues later. In the annual, Ryder attacked Peter Parker, believing him to Ben Reilly, and all audiences knew was that Reilly had done something to him. In the later tale, it was revealed that Ryder and Reilly had been work associates and that Ryder blamed Reilly for his velociraptor condition and the death of his family when their house burned down (which wasn’t Ben’s fault).
Ryder represents a deeper look at villainy than the previous entries. Maybe he feels forced, but he’s got quite the origin story—a man blaming others for his problems and losses and seeking revenge—and almost managed to burn Aunt May’s house down! Perhaps he’s never been seen since (he’s dead), but at least he made an impact.
7. Ana Kravinoff
As her name clearly shows, Ana is related to Kraven the Hunter, an old foe of Spidey’s who had killed himself in the late 80s. She’s his daughter, in fact, and made her debut by hunting and almost killing Spidey. Well, okay, it was his roommate by mistake, but whatever. Fact is, for those fans missing a brutal hunter like Kraven, his daughter was a nice replacement for the moment. Oh, and she’s a teenager, a kid, so seeing so much evil in such a small frame was troubling.
Ana had nice staying power as well, becoming a part of the long-running “Gauntlet” storyline, which saw the resurgence of old Spidey foes and the resurrection of her father, Kraven. As part of that, Ana kidnapped both Madame Web and Mattie Franklin, almost killed Spidey’s clone Kaine, and fought Spidey and his friends several times.
Ana is truly the first insane character on this list. Over several issues, you watch as she slowly becomes more consumed with her family’s scheme, quoting poetry and walking around with unsheathed knives. Clearly a disturbed character, she makes for a fierce foe, and the moment when Spidey gains the upper hand against her family and causes her to flee in terror like a little girl is a fantastic comeuppance.
6. The Queen
Created by Paul Jenkins, the Queen was a former World War II soldier named Adriana Soria who was experimented on and developed telepathic powers. In the present day, she used these to control the “insect genes” in various New Yorkers and Spider-Man himself, causing him to turn into a grotesque, giant spider. Gross. Oh, and she had a bomb that was gonna wipe out the city. Fun!
Believed to have been killed, the Queen returned for Slott’s “Spider Island” story, where she used the Jackal to infect hundreds of New Yorkers and transform them all into grotesque, giant spiders. Even grosser. Drawing on their spidery connection to her, the Queen herself transformed into an even more grotesque, even more massive spider goddess that went toe-to-toe with Spidey and the Avengers.
While the Jenkins’ story is intriguing and gives her a nice origin, it’s the “Spider Island” tale that cements her as a fierce villain. She’s the ultimate leader of this horde of Spiders, and her final form is staggering and monstrous. As the first “big bad” on this list, the Queen is a terrifying foe that almost destroyed New York twice.
Yet another Brand New Day villain marches onto the list, this time in the form of “Freak.” An unnamed druggie, Freak encountered Spidey after stealing some money from a homeless shelter and slipped away the lab of one Dr. Curt Connors, the Lizard. Ingesting what he thought were drugs, Freak transformed into a horrid abomination and went a couple rounds with Spider-Man, mutating after each battle.
While he hasn’t appeared as often as I would like him to, Freak earns this spot largely because of his powers. You see, Freak mutates every time he’s killed, developing a resistance to whatever killed him. So when a cop shoots him in the head during his first appearance, Freak then becomes bulletproof. After burning in a fire, Freak then becomes flame retardant.
It means Spidey’s gotta think of a clever way to get rid of the guy, which he does by drawing him towards more drugs. Is it silly? Yes, but it’s the kind of silly only a comic book fan would accept. Maybe he’s not as dangerous as the Queen or deadly as Ana, but Freak remains a personal favorite just because he’s the classic style of villain we geeks love to read about.
4. Mr. Negative
While Mr. Negative didn’t initially appear during Brand New Day, he made a big splash in the first few issues when it was revealed his true identity was Martin Li—an entrepreneurial philanthropist who funded the F.E.A.S.T. Project, where Aunt May volunteers! As Mr. Negative, he’s a deadly gang lord trying to crush all the other gangs in New York, becoming the ultimate leader.
Negative’s powers and leadership make him a fierce opponent. Not only is he strong enough to punch Spidey through a wall, Negative has a “corrupting touch” he once used on Aunt May to make her a sinister version of herself. He also has hordes of “Inner Demons,” seemingly undying warriors that he’s used to battle the Maggia, and has developed gas that targets his enemy’s DNA, including Spider-Man and the Karnelli family.
And out of all the Brand New Day villains, he’s stuck around the longest. Even with his identity revealed to the world during Dan Slott’s Amazing Spider-Man run, Mr. Negative continues to haunt his little corner of the Spider world.
Of all the villains listed here so far, Morlun is by far the oldest. Introduced by J. Michael Straczynski on his multi-year run on the book, Morlun was a vampire-like menace intending on draining Spider-Man of his energy completely. He trounced Spidey completely a couple of times, in various battles which raged across the city of New York, leaving Spidey broken and, at one point, without an eyeball. Spidey eventually killed him, dying in the process himself, but both would return.
After that, Morlun was out of the public eye for quite a while, returning for the “Spider-Verse” event by Dan Slott. Here, he and his entire family of energy-draining vampires were bent on ridding the whole multiverse of Spiders. Much like the Queen, Morlun and his ilk became the arch-foes for a whole series of adventures that raged across the main book and several tie-ins.
While Slott’s version is less philosophical than Straczynski’s original creation, Morlun comes across both stories as a dangerous, nigh-unstoppable creature of destruction. Of all the enemies here, he is the most powerful…
…but that doesn’t necessarily make Morlun the most intriguing of Spidey’s foes. The honor of being “most mysterious” is awarded to Menace, a Goblin-like creation introduced, once again, during Brand New Day. The “secret identity” route had already occurred with both the original Green Goblin and the Hobgoblin, but I always appreciated the twist here. This Goblin attacked political campaigns and even murdered a mayoral candidate.
Eventually, it was revealed this Goblin was Lilly Hollister, daughter of mayoral favorite Bill Hollister and girlfriend of Harry Osborn. The revelation is an intriguing one, as it steers away from the others by having this be a character readers were already familiar with, thus making the rereading of Brand New Day all the more enticing. Plus, this was the first big subplot of Brand New Day, and having the various writers thread readers along before dropping this bombshell makes for good reading.
Like Morlun, Menace has fallen prey to Slott’s pen, becoming nothing more than an armored Green Goblin lackey during the Superior Spider-Man storyline. Still, she was a great villain while she lasted. Maybe I’ll sign a petition.
This may seem like an odd choice for Number 1. For those of you who don’t keep up with Spidey comics, Massacre was a regular joe named Marcus Lyman who, due to an accident that also killed his wife, lost connection to a part of his brain that allowed him to feel emotion. Thus, he became a remorseless killer, only stopped by Spider-Man after he proceeded to kill several hostages and shot the Web-Slinger in the chest.
A Dan Slott creation, Massacre appeared again during Superior Spider-Man, where he escaped a mental institution, killed its director, and went on a terrifying rampage. Once again, Spidey stopped him, but this version of Spidey ended him for good, with a bullet to the head. But just before he died, Marcus felt terror, the first and only emotion he’d felt in years.
It’s a dark villain, but Slott managed to create a real monster from a man without any superpowers. Massacre became a dark figure with a large impact in only a few issues and, to readers, felt incredibly visceral and real. He’s the kind of real villain that exists in the world today; he’s the type of character that reminds us why we love superheroes: because we don’t have them in real life. Any villain that can make that kind of impact, not just in the comic book world but in reality too, is a well-written, well-conceived creation. Probably the best thing Slott gave us during his run.
Baddies Brought on
As I said, Spidey's history is chock full of various villains, some old and ongoing, some new and exciting. Current readers will have just finished Slott's run and the enticing horror that the "Red Goblin" (Norman Osborn wearing the Carnage symbiote) brought with him; these same readers are also picking their way through Nick Spencer's run, scratching their heads over the mystery of a new villain introduced in Issue #1. Video game fans are currently working their way through Insomniac's Marvel's Spider-Man for the PS4, enjoying fighting new incarnations of several old foes. We've seen a lot of interesting, terrifying archenemies over the past five decades in multiple mediums, and it seems like the writers and artists only promise to be bringing us more supervillains over the next fifty years.
© 2018 Nathan Kiehn