Hello, and welcome to the first in a series of Spider-History articles entitled “Spider-Tracer”. Today we’ll be taking a look at the many villains Spider-Man has adopted into his villainous rogues gallery over the years. Let’s begin…
One of the things Marvel Comics are most famous for, is their shared universe. Therefore, it’s not uncommon for its many heroes to trade sparring partners from time to time. In fact, a whole company-wide crossover in the late 80’s known as “Acts of Vengeance” utilized this idea for the basis of its story. One hero who’s made great use of this concept, even before the aforementioned crossover, is our favorite Web-Head.
The first time Spider-Man ever fought a villain from someone else’s rogues gallery occurred in Amazing Spider-Man #5 (Volume 1, 1963) when he battled the menace of Doctor Doom.
While Spidey and Doom would go on to have many more great battles over the years, the Latverian dictator is still considered by most to be a primary antagonist of the Fantastic Four, despite what a certain 1981 Spider-Man cartoon would lead you to believe.
The reason for that is most likely due to the fact that Doom has such a personal tie and enmity for Marvel’s First Family tied into his history. Some may even consider Doom to be a villain to the entire Marvel Universe itself, which wouldn’t be unfounded; he has fought everyone from Iron Man to the Incredible Hulk, for example.
So, to summarize, while Doom makes for a great Spidey villain (constantly seeking power with no responsibility, a theme nicely explored in the 90’s Spider-Man cartoon’s “Secret Wars” adaptation), he’s not someone I’d immediately identify as a Spider-Man bad guy.
Going back to the Incredible Hulk, Spider-Man fought his old adversary (alongside a certain Man Without Fear), the Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime, in Amazing Spider-Man #16 (Volume 1).
The Ringmaster and his cronies could hardly be considered Spider-Man exclusive, but their next encounter in Amazing Spider-Man #22 (Volume 1) had the distinction of bringing Spider-Man into confrontation with his first female villain, Princess Python.
Rather than continue to only battle Spider-Man over the years, Princess Python decided to stick with the Circus of Crime, bedeviling many of the heroes of the Marvel Universe; they even interrupted Hank Pym’s marriage to Janet van Dyne!
Who, then, could be considered the first foe Spider-Man borrowed for a story, only to add them to his list of regular enemies later? I believe that distinction belongs to the Beetle, whom Spider-Man first battled in Amazing Spider-Man # 21 (Volume 1). The Beetle, real name Abner Jenkins, first appeared in Strange Tales #123 as an enemy of the Human Torch, who was kind enough to help Spidey take ol’ Abner down in in their first battle.
The Beetle and Spider-Man would go on to have a few more fights over the years, such as the time he took Aunt May hostage (you can probably figure out how well that went for him), but the Beetle appeared in more issues of Daredevil’s comic than that of Spider-Man comics.
I wouldn’t say the Beetle became a more prominent Spider-Man enemy until after the famous landmark Iron Man story, “Demon in a Bottle”. Following his battle with Stark, Beetle’s outfit was severely damaged, thus forcing him to seek out the Tinkerer for an upgraded battle armor.
Beetle wanted to make a big name for himself, so rather than simply charge into a fight with Spidey and lose, he decided to study Spider-Man’s moves from afar while he forced the Ringer to engage the Web-Swinger in battle. He armed his suit with the information he discovered, yet still wound up in a prison cell when it was all over. However, following this battle, the Beetle made more and more frequent appearances in Spider-Man comics, even forming his own team of criminals, the Sinister Syndicate, who went on to cause many problems for Spidey over the years.
While Abner later went on to join the Thunderbolts and reform, his legacy as the Beetle lives on thanks to Tombstone’s daughter, Janice Lincoln, who took up the Beetle name for herself. Even though it’s been almost 20 years since Abner reformed in real time, his many appearances in Spider-Man cartoons, video games, and toy lines have also helped to cement his well-deserved spot amongst Spider-Man’s many enemies.
Speaking of the Beetle and his team of criminals, the Sinister Syndicate, he brought along two other minor foes who’d battled Spider-Man previously that started out as enemies for other characters: Boomerang and Speed Demon.
Boomerang started out as a Hulk foe (with a much uglier costume; be thankful I don’t show it here), while Speed Demon started off as an Avengers villain with the name Whizzer (not the first Marvel character to do so; he changed his name and costume in Amazing Spider-Man #222). Both villains primarily fought Spider-Man together and separately over the years, and even co-starred with the Janice Lincoln Beetle in the short-lived series, “The Superior Foes of Spider-Man”.
While the legendary Steve Ditko stopped working on Spider-Man with issue #38 of Amazing Spider-Man (Volume 1), he would still add one more prominent Spider-Man villain to his repertoire, though it was most likely unintentional. Along with writer Tom DeFalco, who would later go on to write some very memorable Spider-Man stories, Ditko introduced the villainous Jack O’Lantern in Machine Man #19.
Picking up right after these events, writer Roger Stern introduced Jack to Spidey’s world in Spectacular Spider-Man #56, complete with a very cool Frank Miller cover.
Jason Phillip Macendale (Jack’s real name) would be brought over to the main title, Amazing Spider-Man, by his co-creator Tom DeFalco. This would lead to several more appearances in the book, before Macendale had whom he believed was the original Hobgoblin, Ned Leeds (later revealed to be false in “Spider-Man: Hobgoblin Lives”) killed so that he himself could assume the Hobgoblin identity. While Macendale would hold onto the role of Hobgoblin for almost 10 years in real time (despite never living up to his predecessor’s name), he was eventually killed off when the true original Hobgoblin, Roderick Kingsley, returned. Tired of the bad reputation and publicity he was drawing to the Hobgoblin identity, Kingsley personally ended Macendale in his prison cell.
Surprisingly, Macendale has stayed dead, but the Jack O’Lantern name has been adopted by several others since, the most recent one being a villain of Flash Thompson/Agent Venom.
Our next villain would go on make a far better villain for Spider-Man than his original foes, the Champions (gotta love arachnids vs bugs, amiright?). Swarm, real name Fritz von Meyer, would first appear in Champions #14. Swarm is a Nazi beekeeper composed of, you guessed it, bees!
Swarm would fight Spider-Man several times over the years, even engaging in battle with his clone, Ben Reilly (during his brief stint as Spider-Man). Turns out Swarm’s a team player, considering he joined a group of Spider-Man villains formed by the Chameleon, the Exterminators, and later formed his own group of villains calling themselves the Sinister Six.
He even recently joined a group of Spidey villains calling themselves the Hateful Hexad. Since his introduction into Spidey’s world, Swarm’s appeared in two Spider-Man cartoons, as well as a Spider-Man toyline back in the 90’s.
Sometimes, when a certain writer or artist likes a character, they bring them with them when they leave one book to work on another. J.M. DeMatteis, former Captain America writer, brought the villain Vermin with him when he wrote one of the most beloved Spider-Man stories of all time, “Kraven’s Last Hunt”. He’d fought Spider-Man one previous time in an issue of Marvel Team-Up (#128, also written by J.M. DeMatteis), but “Kraven’s Last Hunt” is what definitely secured his spot amongst his fellow Spidey villains.
J.M. DeMatteis used Vermin for two more major stories (one of which was “The Child Within”, co-starring a rather green Harry Osborn, in Spectacular Spider-Man #’s 178-184 and later in Spectacular Spider-Man #’s 194-196). Vermin would go on to appear in many more Spider-Man stories afterwards.
While our final villain in this line-up is definitely more of an X-Men villain, I’d be remiss not to mention him here. After all, Spider-Man himself considered this guy #21 on a list of his top 30 foes in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #23. That’s right, I’m talking about the unstoppable Juggernaut!
Often cited as one of the best Spider-Man stories of all time, Juggernaut first battled Spidey in Amazing Spider-Man # 229-230 in a story aptly titled “Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut” by Roger Stern and John Romita, Jr. It’s Spidey vs. impossible odds in one of the biggest battles of his career, inspired to stop the unbeatable foe after failing to save a friend from his wrath. You know things are bad when Spidey has to resort to driving a gasoline truck into his enemy! This story inspired several more battles between the two, including a sequel titled “Something Can Stop the Juggernaut” by Stern and Lee Weeks. Juggernaut even showed up in a Spider-Man toy-line, the video game “Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions” as a boss, and the cartoon, “Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends”. He may be an X-Men villain, but Juggernaut’s given Spider-Man enough trouble over the years that he definitely needs to be included on this list.
Is there a villain(s) in the Marvel Universe that you feel would be a better enemy for Spider-Man, or at least make for a great story? Let me know in the comments section below!