With his recent appearance in the Amazing Spider-Man Civil War tie-in, I thought it might be appropriate to give Mendel Stromm (a.k.a the Robot Master, a.k.a Gaunt) his day in the sun. He’s a man of many faces – professor, robot creator, friend of Osborn, and, of course, loser.
So if you are one of the ten of us reading the Amazing Spider-Man Civil War II tie-in, you saw this panel:
Now, you may not be as on the ball as our friend Clayton Cole is and it is possible that you do not recognize this Ditko era villain. The truth is, you’ve probably read plenty of stories that involved him. While he himself is a loser of gigantic proportions, he is involved is quite a few of Spidey’s biggest moments. So, here is the history of Stromm – issue by issue – in all its glory. (I read them all so you don’t have to.)
Mendel was an unhappy child, always sick and generally miserable except when he was tinkering with robotics. Now if it were today, he would probably focus his attention on winning Battle Bots, but since this was written before that, he instead chose to become a robotics professor. That’s where the problem came in because he had one student that changed his life – Norman Osborn.
Stromm could see that Osborn was a genius and was intrigued by his potential. Osborn, however, was more intrigued by how he could use this guy to his advantage.
His first appearance was in Amazing Spider-Man #37. He is just getting out of prison and is being spied upon by his old cell mate, Foswell, who suspects that he may be up to no good and can get a story out it for the Bugle. Spider-Man tries to follow him, but fails. However, we do get this crazy picture out of it:
As the story progresses, we learn that Stromm blames Osborn for stealing his tech and setting him up to serve prison time. Rather than press a law suit using the tax payers’ dime, Stromm just spent the last ten years in a cell plotting revenge. In fact, that’s how Foswell knows to follow him. He remembers Stromm talking about getting revenge all the time. To get his revenge he creates two very Ditko-looking robots.
Of course, Spider-Man is the fly in the ointment and continues to step in to save Norman Osborn who would rather just be left alone to deal with the problem. In the end, Spidey defeats the robots (oh… spoiler alert) and captures Stromm. Just as the police arrive, we get a strange scene:
So Spidey saves Professor X um…
Brad Douglas um… Mendel Stromm, but ironically, the push out of the way makes Stromm have a heart attack and he dies. It is then that we get the panel that shows that Stromm was never meant to be the big super villain, he was only there to increase suspense with the Osborn plot.
In fact, while we have met Norman in the comics before and while we have seen the Green Goblin previously, this is the first time we see that Norman is Harry’s father (if you couldn’t figure it out by the Tootsie Roll hair style).
It takes over a decade of comics to see him again except for in flashbacks (Marvels loves to include him on flashbacks). In Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man #68 in 1982, a robot attacks the FBI. They think Stromm must have faked his death, but it turns out that this new Robot Master is really just a robot built to look like Mendel.
It looks like that’s it for Stromm’s place in the Marvel Universe. For over a decade he only appears in reprints and flashbacks (or reprints that include flashbacks!). Then came the ‘90s.
There are nine appearances in 1996 alone. Tracking stories during this time is a bit more difficult because some editor thought it would be great if the stories crossed over all the titles (which defeats the point of having multiple titles, but since it forces the readers to buy all titles if they want to the story, works out for Marvel).
Amazing Spider-Man #411 starts us off, so we need a little background to understand what is happening (but remember, it is the ‘90s, so understanding what is going on was not a priority). Peter Parker has realized that he is the clone and that Ben Reilly is the real deal, so he left and Ben has taken over. Ben is also dating the daughter of the murderer of Uncle Ben (I had forgotten that) because that makes so much sense.
In the mess that is going on around the clone saga, some mysterious guy (Stromm) appears and is in failing health (makes Aunt May look quite spry) and threatens Dr. Seward Trainer into helping him “rejuvenate” his dying flesh. Later in PPTSSM #234, we continue the sub plot by showing Trainer trying to stand up to the villain, but since it appears that Trainer has been targeting Peter and Mary Jane, Stromm has some leverage against him. Apparently the person Stromm is working for knows all about their secret identities and is taking steps to hurting them all. Trainer is upset because he evidently made a deal so that Ben would not get hurt, but the Hobgoblin beat the crap out of Ben anyway because hobgoblins are going hob. Ben and Peter go off on the hunt to find out who is behind all of this. The story continues in Sensational Spider-Man #5, when Ben and Peter meet up and join forces with the Molten Man, Mark Raxton, who is apparently a good guy now and owns a spiffy fire retardant suit.
Meanwhile, back in ASM #412, The Molten Man has broken into where Trainer and Stromm are working on the rebirth process to rejuvenate what is left of Stromm. Peter and Ben are helping him, but soon leave him out to dry. Trainer starts whining about how dangerous this has become and so Stromm goes to take care of Molten Man personally. Hmmmm, Raxton is literally molten metal and Stromm is only kept alive because he now has some metal parts…. I’m thinking he didn’t think this through so well. However, we do get some great shots of little Normie popping the head off of a Spider-Man action figure on a sub plot page. Ah…that little scamp!
Since Raxton’s suit pretty much takes away all of his powers, Stromm comes out on top and then starts to take on Spidey (which is Ben, remember), but Ben has no idea who he is.
To be fair, he has a green cloak, a mask that the artist couldn’t decide how much it would cover his face, and robotic parts covering most of his face and up to this point the name of this character had not been revealed. Apparently 1990s editors thought that the return of Stromm would be mind blowing to their audience. So to drag it out a bit longer, Stromm taunts him a bit and gives himself a new name.
Unfortunately for Gaunt, even though he is able to get into the rejuvenator, it had been sabotaged, and does not work. We have big explosions and even though the heroes get out, they assume that the bad guys must have perished. But, 20 year-old spoiler alert, they don’t and we get to met Gaunt’s employer. Well, we see Gaunt’s employer. Well, we see his hands. They are not stroking a white cat, so the writer really missed an opportunity there.
We get a break for a few months, until October in Amazing Spider-Man #416. The Marvel event of that year was Onslaught and now most of the heroes are dead (spoiler alert – they get better). Spidey’s alive and kicking, though (or at least his clone is), and he stops some petty crime. It isn’t until the end that we see Gaunt lurking around and he reveals that his mysterious employer is none other than the Scrier. *yawn* Then, in ASM #417, We learn that Scrier is NOT Gaunt’s employer, but just another employee that is also working for Gaunt’s mysterious employer. Ugh. Talk about dragging out a storyline…
As we close out 1996, we start the new multi-title story arc – Revelations. The first part of that arc starts up with Spectacular Spider-Man #240. Trainer is finally successful in rejuvenating Stromm and in doing so, learns who the villain behind the villain is. He immediately goes off to warn Ben and Peter. The story really heats up in Sensational Spider-Man #11 because Gaunt finally attacks Ben and Peter and reveals that he is none other than Mendel Stromm, the Robot Master! ‘90s readers everywhere gasped in amazement – but that’s not all! Mary Jane, now quite pregnant, goes into labor because a mysterious waitress by the name of Alison Mongraine puts a roofie in her drink. MJ calls Peter’s beeper (because all the cool kids had one back then), but of course Peter is trapped and cannot go to her. We are promised that in the next issue, the mysterious mastermind will be revealed! Who is Gaunt a.k.a. Robot Master really working for? It’s quite titillating.
Amazing Spider-Man #418 even has on the cover that the mysterious mastermind will be revealed and shows a really big Mendel Stromm about to tear Ben Reilly a new one. MJ is heading into the hospital and of course everyone is wondering what could be so important that Peter would not respond to his beeper at such an important event.
Of course, we now know it could never have really happened that way, so here is an updated panel:
There. That’s much better. Stromm unleashes some of those Ditko-style robots on Ben, but after an issue long fight, Ben comes out on top, strips Stromm down to his robotic panties, and before he can try to get free, the mastermind reveals himself:
It is then implied that Osborn kills Stromm (again). This is also the famous issue where MJ’s baby is supposedly delivered still born, but is obviously carted away and given to Osborn by Alison Mongraine.
Striking while the Normal rod is hot (boy, I probably could have worded that better…), Marvel put out a one shot issue explaining what happened to him since his death and reappearance. I did not buy that issue at the time and it is not on Marvel Unlimited. I found one summary of the issue and it doesn’t mention Stromm’s part in it at all. My theory is that it is probably no more than a flashback or how he started working for Osborn, but if any readers are familiar with this issue, please let me know Mendel’s role in it.
In another one shot, Peter Parker, Spider-Man also explored previous storylines involving Osborn. In this case, it shows Osborn looking for and finding Stromm’s formula. Peter Parker fails to make an appearance in this issue, despite the title as it is mostly about George and Arthur Stacy.
Continuing the connection of Stromm to the Stacys via Osborn, Spider-Man Unlimited #17 mentions him in passing, but since he is dead (Marvel dead, that is), he really doesn’t play a major role here. Then we go a full four years until he pops up in a two-part story in Peter Parker, Spider-Man #27 and #28.
The story starts with Peter wondering why Mary Jane hates him being Spider-Man and why she left him (we’re in 2001, folks – awful territory here so beware) when out of nowhere, Stromm appears.
Stromm has seen better days. He’s sending electrical surges everywhere he can and showing his 8 bit face on every computer screen in New York. Spidey tracks down the source of the surge only to find that Stromm is having a worst time than previously thought.
The Stromm then gives his story of how he got a head in life. The writers of these issues apparently never read the ‘90s version of Stromm as the story seems to pick up from his first appearance. In fact, I’m not sure they actually read the first story, as they sort of skipped that whole heart attack thing. In fact, I’m positive the artist had never looked at a Spider-Man story. Here is an image of Joe and Randy shoe shopping with Mrs. Robertson.
It seems that he created the Machine to allow him to control robots with his mind. This backfired as the machine now controls him and used his body parts for whatever machines use people body parts for. Stromm now begs Spider-Man to kill him in order to save everybody from the Machine. Spidey says, “Nope. I don’t do that,” and left him there to contemplate what to do. I guess he figured Stromm’s not going anywhere.
He eventually decides to help Stromm. He has a computer hacker buddy (because we all have one of those, right?) make a virus that puts the system in an endless loop. That way he doesn’t kill him, he just keeps in him stand-by mode. He then tells Stromm that he will not rest until he finds a way to fix him. At which point he walks away and forgets all about him.
Well, that’s not entirely true. It seems, according to Penance Relentless #2 and #3 (the comic about Speedball after Civil War when he is going by Penance and is hurting himself to get powers) that Spidey phoned in an anonymous tip to the FBI about Stromm’s whereabouts. The FBI thought it a good idea to put him in the witness relocation program and here we are 8 years later (in real time) dealing with Penance breaking into Stromm’s home (which is very nice and really big – I’m going to have to find a way to get on that deal). Mendell has done very well for himself as we can see:
But it doesn’t take long before Penance beats several of his robot servants and then goes about repeating the word “one” over and over again until Stromm has had enough and starts crying like the sissy he is.
Penance gives him one chance to live. All Stromm has to do is tell him how to activate some nuclear launch codes he has so that he can hurt Nitro who is currently vacationing in Atlantis. Stromm’s all of a sudden a little wuss now and shows him how. We only get to see Stromm one more time and that is when Stark goes to question him, but Penance’s constant repeating of the word “one” has shaken him so much, that he is literally hiding under his sheets when talking to Stark.
There you have it. Nobody has even bothered to mention him since Civil War until now. And that brings us full circle. Robot Master has his nerve back (and a new hat) and he’s going after Osborn again.
And now you know.
Of course, a character as vital and intricate as Stromm can’t be left off the silver screen. He got his big break in Raimi’s first Spider-Man movie. He’s the poor sap that tries to keep Norman from performing tests on himself and then he is stupid enough to try and save Norman when it appears that Norman has possibly died in the green gas chamber. He only appears as Dr. Mendel Stromm, as Norman decisively kills him before he is ever able to develop into Robot Master or Gaunt. He is portrayed by Ron Perkins, who has also acted in several (IMDb lists 84 entries for him) movies and TV shows from General Hospital to Doogie Howser to Heroes.
He also appeared in Spider-Man: the Video Game in 2002, a game modeled after this movie. He was voiced by Peter Lurie, who has made quite a career of voicing video game and cartoon characters. What was I thinking when I chose teaching as a career?
Villain Profiles is a category started two years ago by a Ryan on the Crawlspace. I hope to add a few more and keep the category alive until Ryan decides to crank them back up again. Go ahead and read his other profiles on the Crawlspace and let me know which villains you’d like to see profiled in the future.
Lindsay, Jason. “Comics : Flashback – Peter Parker: Spider-Man #Minus 1.” Spiderfan. Comic Boards, 2004. Web. 2 Aug. 2016. <http://spiderfan.org/comics/reviews/flashback/sm_ppsm.html>.
“Mendel Stromm.” Behind the Voice Actors. Inyxception Enterprises, 2016. Web. 21 July 2016. <http://www.behindthevoiceactors.com/characters/Spider-Man/Mendel-Stromm/>.
“Mendel Stromm (Ron Perkins).” Spider-Man Films Wikia. Wikia, n.d. Web. 15 July 2016. <http://spiderman-films.wikia.com/wiki/Mendel_Stromm_(Ron_Perkins)>.
Miller, Gary. “Comics : Sensational Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #11.” Spiderfan. Comic Boards, 2004. Web. 29 July 2016. <http://spiderfan.org/comics/reviews/spiderman_sensational/011.html>.
“Ron Perkins.” Internet Movie Database. Amazon, 2016. Web. 15 July 2016. <http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0674052/>.
Winchell, Adam. “Comics: Sensational Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #5.” Spiderfan. Comic Boards, 2009. Web. 29 July 2016. <http://spiderfan.org/comics/reviews/spiderman_sensational/005.html>.
Winchell, Adam. “Comics : Spectacular Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #234.” Spiderfan. Comic Boards, 2013. Web. 28 July 2016. <http://spiderfan.org/comics/reviews/spiderman_spectacular/234.html>.
All scans are from Marvel Unlimited