Chris Peruzzi is a comic book superhero historian who is passionate about how today's comic book heroes are the new mythology for America.
What is it about Spider-Man that makes bad guys want to kill him?
Is it the costume? The webs? His wiseass remarks? Spidey just brings out the worst in people. There are villains who feel justified in giving him what he’s got coming. Villains like Eddie Brock have a true mad-on for our web-slinger in both of his identities. Norman Osborn originally believed that defeating Spider-man publicly would bring him power in the criminal community. Later on, when he became his arch-enemy, it became an obsession.
We can understand the direct hate and motivation that a villain might have in arching a hero. But what about the next guy?
There are a bunch of successors to arch-villains who made their reputations fighting Spider-man. While I can certainly name at least ten villains who have done this, I’ve decided to narrow it down to the top six. Plus, I think I already covered the Green Goblin in another article and how his brand was hijacked by the psychiatrist-gone-mad, Barton Hamilton.
I want to talk about these guys because I think it covers a very specific type of villain who is ambitious enough to ride someone else’s reputation yet not original enough to come up with his own. These guys saw an opportunity to seize an open vacancy whenever a villain either seemingly died or disappeared.
These people created a new niche of story-telling where the hero encounters someone they thought was dead and it made them wonder how they might have returned. Ironically, most of these villains did return to their mantles where they created even more havoc.
Here's a sneak peek of who made the list:
- The Vulture
- The Mystery of Mysterio
- Kraven the Hunters
- Doctors Octopi
- Scopia Rising
1. The Vulture
Why is this identity so popular? I chose to do the Vulture because–HOLY CROW–so many people have decided to take his mantle. Why? While I understand that it has to be an incredible rush to actually fly and then steal things, but as far as doing anything else, it’s sort of lame.
Okay, the super-strength is also a bonus, but the original Vulture also found out too late that prolonged use of the harness gave him cancer.
I can give kudos to Adrian Toomes for inventing the flying magnetic harness that lets him soar through the skies. After all, he was the guy who did all the beta testing and took a chance that his experimental equipment wouldn't just cut out after his first flight. Plus, I can play the sympathy card for Toomes. His business partner screwed him over shortly after he invented his harness.
The Vulture has been one of Spider-Man’s prominent arch enemies since almost the beginning. He also has consistently been his most dangerous opponent and he only became more so as he grew more adept at using his wings.
At one point, Toomes shed his mantle to another person—his cellmate, Raniero “Blackie” Drago. Drago tricked him into believing that Toomes was dying. Drago got his harness and used it for “air piracy”. Toomes later got out of jail and gave Drago a dose of whup-ass, humbling him so much that he vowed to never wear the wings again.
Then there was Clifton Shallot who just went crazy. This is what happens when people with tenure lose their classes. Shallot was an ESU professor who got his courses cancelled. He took one of the vulture’s old costumes and while he didn’t use his magnetic harness, he bioengineered his own body to grow wings and become more vulture-like. Ironically, he looked a lot like Adrian Toomes, except his wings were real. He killed his lab assistant’s roommate. Then he fought Spider-Man and was defeated when he was force-fed an antidote for his condition.
The Vulturions were a group of low-level villains that duplicated Adrian Toomes magnetic harness and ganged up together to commit crimes. There were two groups of Vulturions. The second group was formed by Toomes himself who used them as henchmen and kept them flying through a transmitter range. If they failed to deliver on their burglaries, he would turn off their harnesses in midair. The first group came from yet another of Toomes' cellmates who successfully memorized his technical designs and built four new harnesses (color coordinated) and created a gang of aerial robbers.
The latest vulture is vigilante, Jimmy Natale. He’s a mutate that kills and eats criminals. He can spit acid and has super strength. His wings are razor sharp and are part of him. He made the mistake to start some crap with the Punisher which resulted in Natale getting stabbed in his torso and jaw.
It’s ironic that the criminal who has had a mantle usurped as many times as the Hobgoblin originated with the original stealing the Green Goblin’s stuff.
Norman Osborn, the original Green Goblin, has hidden labs secreted all around New York City. It was just dumb luck that George Hill stumbled across one of them. He led Roderick Kingsley to it who, after removing all of weapons and equipment from the lab, promptly killed Hill.
Kingsley, a mysterious figure, wanted to test the Green Goblin’s equipment and even more, the Goblin’s strength and intelligence enhancing serum that caused Norman Osborn to go insane. Using a low-level thug named Arnold Samuel "Lefty" Donovan, he drugged and hypnotized him to wear the Hobgoblin outfit and sent him to battle Spider-man. Donovan died after Kingsley preprogrammed his glider to crash and explode into a building wall during the battle.
Meanwhile, Bugle reporter and husband to Betty Brant, Ned Leeds was also brainwashed into thinking that he was the Hobgoblin. Kingsley leaked his name into the underworld that Leeds was the real Hobgoblin and at the behest of Jason Macendale (Jack O Lantern) hired the hitman, The Foreigner, to kill Leeds while he was on assignment with Peter Parker in Germany.
After Leeds was killed, Macendale took the mantle of the Hobgoblin. While he was using that name, he made a deal with the demon N'astirh for even more power in exchange for his soul. N'astirh, amused, had asked Macendale if he’d seen what his soul actually looked like prior to making that deal – but went along with it as he made the demon laugh. The bargain turned Macendale into the villain Demogoblin. Eventually, Macendale exorcised the demon from his body.
An unknown impersonator had also assumed the mantle of the Hobgoblin in Nick Fury’s Secret War with the Latverian Prime Minister, Lucia von Bardas. This individual attacked Captain America outside his civilian address and attacked Spider-man, Daredevil, Captain America, Nick Fury, and The Fantastic Four in midtown Manhattan.
The latest regular Hobgoblin has been Phil Urich, nephew of the reporter, Ben Urich. This is Phil's second time taking a villain identity as he found one of Normal Osborn's goblin holes with his latest tech. This tech included a new weapon that uses sonic laughter as an assault weapon. Urich wanted to use this costume to fight crime but gave up that to become the latest Hobgoblin, using the laugh-tech with a new suit.
Three other people impersonated the Hobgoblin during this time: Daniel Kingsley, Deadpool, and Claude (Kingsley’s butler).
3. The Mystery of Mysterio
You’ve got to love a villain like Mysterio. He’s always got something up his sleeve. He has to; he has no powers at all.
If you’ve ever seen the films FX or FX2, Brian Brown’s character is Mysterio. Quentin Beck’s a legend in the special effects department. In addition to knowing how to create realistic illusions, he’s a well-conditioned stuntman, magician, hypnotist, amateur chemist, and roboticist. He actually found a way to deaden Spider-man’s spider-sense and a way to do some chemical mind-bending with Daredevil.
Considered by many to be a second-stringer, Beck’s always found a way to nearly beat his opponents with his mastery of illusion. The reason why we don’t see Mysterio more often is that whenever he’s not in jail he’s preparing for his next attack—which takes months and a fortune to finance. Make no mistake, every move that he makes has been planned for a while. However, when you can convince Spider-man that he’s only an inch tall or any of the thousand other illusions he plagued him with, you know it's worth it.
While Quentin Beck has "appeared to die" and "actually died" a few times, that has not stopped impersonators from taking his name and likeness. The first time that Beck appeared to die, his cohort and fellow stuntman Daniel Berkhart inherited much of his equipment. Berkhart thought it was just a keen idea to follow in his friend’s footsteps. He occasionally pops up as Mysterio since the original rarely makes appearances.
Berkhart’s status is unknown as he also took the identity of Jack-O-Lantern and fought against Agent Venom (Flash Thomson with the Venom symbiote) and may have perished in that battle.
The third person to assume Mysterio’s identity was a mutant transporter named Francis Klum. After battling Spider-man as himself, he contacted the Kingpin to get some of Beck’s equipment so he could be Mysterio in order to throw Spider-man on a false trail as to who he really was. Klum has been presumed dead after multiple spider bites from the collective spider conscious called Ero.
Lastly, an unknown man impersonated Mysterio but took the alias of Mysterion. Feeling that superheroes lived by a non-killing code, he foolishly put his smarts and Mysterio’s equipment against the Superior Spider-Man (Doctor Octopus in Peter Parker’s body) and the Punisher. While Superior Spider-Man kept the Punisher from killing him, he put Mysterion under mind control and recruited him for the Superior Six (along with the Chameleon, Electro, and Sandman).
4. Kraven the Hunters
One of the things that Marvel does really well is steal things.
Okay, maybe “steal” is a harsh word. Perhaps I should have said, borrow with the intent of never returning it.
Heavily “inspired” by the short story “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell, Sergei Kravinoff, aka Kraven the Hunter, appears to be based on the character of General Zaroff. Kraven was a throwback to the Russian Revolution’s aristocracy, having been born in nobility before 1917. Kraven grew up and became an obsessed big game hunter. While in Africa, he found a mystical serum that gives him enhanced strength, senses (hearing, sight, and smell) and stamina as well as slows down his aging process. Despite being over seventy years old, he has the vitality and appearance of a thirty-year-old in his prime.
Kraven does not use guns, he hunts and bags all of his animals barehanded. He considered the ultimate game to be Spider-man.
He fought and tried to capture Spider-man for years, often with his half-brother, the Chameleon, before the accumulated frustration and defeats at Spider-man’s hands took its toll. For his final Spider-man hunt, he shot him with a drugged dart that kept him in a coma for two weeks. Meanwhile, he buried Spider-man underground in a grave and impersonated him to demonstrate to Spider-man that he was his superior. As Spider-man, he captured and beat the man-rat, Vermin and kept the creature prisoner.
Once he confronted Spider-man with what he’d done, he released Vermin back into the sewers. When Spider-man had left, he committed suicide.
Normally, you’d think that would be the end. But this is the comic book world and you don’t have a grave lid that isn’t also a revolving door.
Between his death and resurrection, a few people have attempted to take Kraven’s mantle.
His two sons Vladimir and Sasha have taken the identity of “The Grim Hunter”, both failing miserably. Then Vladimir’s mutant half-brother, Alyosha Kravinoff, took the mantle. Alyosha having the benefit of having some genetic contamination due to the persistent ingestion of the mystic potions that his father had taken for decades allowed him to have those abilities naturally and gave him bestial rages – which I guess is kinda handy if mood swings can be considered a superpower.
Another son came out of the shadows, took the mantle of Kraven, and was killed after the Chameleon went mad (thinking he was Kraven after he impersonated him) and shot him dead.
Then there was the unholy union from the partnership of Mister Sinister and Kraven the Hunter that made Xraven—a Kraven the Hunter mantle mutant clone with the powers of the original X-men.
Yes, kids, a grown person thought of this one.
The original Kraven has been restored to life and has had an un-life curse broken from him by Kaine Parker, the Scarlet Spider—the original Kraven is currently at large.
You can’t keep a villain like Doc Ock down for long.
You can psychologically scar him. He’ll come back. You can destroy his original body. He’ll come back. You can put him in Spider-man’s body. He’ll come back. He just doesn’t know when to quit.
For those of you who don’t know Doctor Otto Octavius, let me illuminate you. At one time, he was the man at the edge of atomic research. He was a brilliant scientist ranking among and beyond that of Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four in the field of atomic physics. Things changed, as they always do, after Octavius was the victim of an atomic explosion lab accident that psychically connected him with the four artificial arms that he used as physical extensions whenever he was doing work with dangerous radioactive materials. The titanium robotic arms are very powerful and Octavius can control them expertly while they are with him and from a distance.
Doctor Octopus was the first villain to deliver a healthy dose of whupass to a cocky Spider-man early in his career. Upon their first battle Otto, beat the snot out of him and afterwards decided that unmasking him wasn’t worth his time. This was Spider-man’s first lesson in humility.
Doc Ock has been one of Spider-man’s most dangerous villains and has had the ultimate victory by dominating Spider-man’s own mind and taking over his body over a period of months. Currently, a copy of his consciousness is living in the robotic body of “The Living Brain”.
There have been two people that have taken the mantle of Doctor Octopus. Let me strike that, one person took the mantle another stole Ock’s technology for his arms.
The con man who stole Doc Ock’s arm technology was Luke Carlyle. Carlyle tricked Octavius into working with him as he stole the cybernetic interface design for his mechanical arms and created a six armed battle suit with greater weapons and sophistication. While the suit was certainly more advanced, the number of arms made Spider-man joke that he would not be an Octopus but more like a squid leaving him to be named “Carlyle Calamari”.
The other person who took Octavius’ mantle was scientist Carolyn Trainer (daughter of Seward Trainer) and a student of the original Doctor Octavius. Because she adored Octavius, she decided to emulate him. Trainer wasn’t really playing with a full deck as she worshipped Doctor Octopus as a father yet felt jealousy toward Mary Jane Watson once her father had started to pay attention to her. After Octavius’ body was reanimated and restored to life, she renamed herself as Lady Octopus and has since found herself on the receiving end of Captain America’s shield during Nick Fury’s Secret War.
6. Scorpia Rising
You know who’s really evil? The Scorpion. He’s really bad. He eats people.
The thing I really can’t fault him for was his motivation for becoming a guinea pig for J. Jonah Jameson and Dr. Farley Stillwell. When you’re a down and out private eye, like Mac Gargan, money doesn’t come often. Jameson threw a boatload at him if he’d be willing to subject himself to genetic engineering modification. Stillwell gave him the powers, abilities, and proportionate strength of a man-sized scorpion. Why? Jameson wanted someone on his payroll that could beat the hell out of Spider-man whenever he wanted.
The good news was the experiment worked. The bad news was the experiment worked.
Jameson unleashed Gargan on Spider-man and he beat living daylights out of him. He proved to be immune to Spider-man’s webbing and could match him blow for blow. He could follow Spider-man up walls and with his new battle suit with retractable mentally controlled scorpion tail the wall-crawler was in trouble.
The only real hitch in the deal was that the basic nature of a scorpion was to be evil and the more Gargan used his powers the more corrupt he became. Stillwell realized this problem too late. Before he could reverse the effects, Gargan’s mind had become completely in sync with a scorpion’s cruel tendencies.
Gargan has since joined with the Venom symbiote and been a member of the “dark” Avengers under Norman Osborn. While he was “Spider-man” and joined with Venom, Osborn gave him special meds that kept his evil scorpion side at bay and kept him somewhat docile.
After his Avengers’ gig, Gargan resumed being the Scorpion when he was separated from the Venom symbiote and given a new cybernetic scorpion suit.
One other person has taken the mantle of the Scorpion since Gargan.
Silvio Silvermane, mob boss in the Maggia (Marvel’s mafia), recruited Elaine Colls to be the new Scorpion when Gargan had “retired”. She changed her name slightly to be Scorpia as it sounded more feminine. Colls gets her scorpion powers from her battle suit. She has since proven to be quite competent as his successor. However, after Gargan resurfaced as the Scorpion again, she has laid low.
What is the common denominator for many of these next-generation villains?
Answer: They saw an opportunity in an open vacancy and they took it. The interesting thing about each of these guys is that they are rarely as good as the original villain. They either lack that certain “Je ne sais quoi” or they were sadly uncommitted to their new role.
The difference is the success made by the original was due to them screaming maniacally and being fully committed to not only defeating our valiant wall-crawler but also gambling that they may not walk away from that battle alive.
For example, let’s take Norman Osborn, the original Green Goblin. In the early days of his criminal career, we could say Osborn was fifty pounds of crazy rabid feral weasels in a five-pound bag. Oh sure, he was brilliant. He knew how to gather his resources and criminal lackeys - and even manufacture both a flying mechanical broomstick and a goblin glider that let him effortlessly outmaneuver Spider-man, but he was two hundred bricks short of a full truckload.
When Norman Osborn met his end the first time around, after causing the death of Gwen Stacy and facing a grief-stricken Spider-man, did he cower and cringe fearfully from Spider-man? No, he tried to use his remote control for his goblin glider to impale Spider-man through the back. It was only through his own short-sightedness and the laws of physics that defeated him.
Even after his death, Osborn’s legacies kept coming after the web-slinger time and time again. When we look at all the people who have used Osborn’s equipment and tally the numbers, we can see that at least ten others used variants of the goblin name.
Each of these next-generation phonies had the balls to risk the insane wrath of the original and yet at the same time did practically nothing to make a name of his own, hoping to cash in on the original’s reputation and fame.
Infamy is earned not stolen.
What we’ve learned from the writers is that it is the rule and not the exception that the original was the best at what he did. Why? Why else would the writers keep bringing them back? Each original villain on this list has come back either from retirement or the grave to show the pretenders exactly how it’s done.
When the original does come back, Spider-man has that much more to worry about.
© 2016 Christopher Peruzzi
Christopher Peruzzi (author) from Freehold, NJ on October 19, 2017:
I was watching the latest Patton Oswalt comedy special on Netflix last night and he mentioned something about having some Asian DNA along with his "doughy country" roots. The reason for that is that, apparently, Genghis Khan screwed everyone he met in every country he conquered.
And then we have Sergei Kravinov who fathered more children and screwed enough African priestesses to form his own medium-sized village in the Congo.
Would I consider her a legacy? Sure, why not? If this were the old Marvel title, I'd send you a "no-prize". I'll be sure to check it out in my future research.
Thanks for writing.
Nathan Kiehn on October 19, 2017:
Spidey's my favorite, and I've been enjoying blogging about him on here recently. Thanks for focusing so such an incredible rogues gallery. This is a really cool list, and I like how updated it is with entries like Jimmy Natale and references to the Superior Spider-Man.
Out of curiosity: would you consider Anya Kravinoff in a similar position? I know she never called herself "Kraven" exactly, but her first appearance is called "Kraven's First Hunter" and she is the original's daughter. I was just curious.