Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

You know what would make this character truly sing? Make them generic!

The Gladiator wasn’t a good villain when he debuted in Daredevil #18 — Silver Age Daredevil didn’t do good villains — but at least he stood out. As with the Plunderer a few issues earlier, the creative team soon made him more boring.A couple of issues earlier, the Masked Marauder — a generic schemer who wears a mask and yes, marauds a lot — tricked DD and Spider-Man into fighting each other (it’s Silver Age Marvel. Piece of cake). At the end of Part One Spider-Man is swinging past the office of Murdock and Nelson when his spider-sense alerts him that Daredevil is someone inside (why would it alert him when he’s not looking for Hornhead and Matt isn’t aware Spider-Man’s there, let alone thinking of harming him? Because spider-sense is plot magic). Obviously Daredevil can’t be the blind guy, ergo it’s Foggy, even if he does look a little pudgy for a masked athlete.

Foggy sees a chance to impress Karen by convincing her he is indeed Daredevil, which leads to him, in #18 (Stan Lee, John Romita) ordering a tailor-made DD costume from a local store. Unfortunately he made a very bad choice of couturier, because this dude is a loonie.The idea of a costume designer figuring clothes make the man is an interesting twist, even if he’s suffering delusions of grandeur — yes, that outfit will totally let you take down Iron Man! Unsurprisingly, even fighting Daredevil is punching out of his weight class.As couturiers of crime go, he’s more formidable than the Mad Mod. That said, it’s hard to see what they could do with a motif like that. Still, retiring the Gladiator as a one-shot oddball loser would have made him an interesting footnote.

Instead, when he returns in #22, he’s generic. He and the Masked Marauder join forces to kill Daredevil, giving them enough underworld clout to take over the Maggia. The Gladiator comes off as a garden-variety tough guy, without even the bombast of his debut.It’s not the first time I’ve seen a creative team turn a distinctive criminal (not necessarily a great one) like Plunderer or Gladiator into a run-of-the-mill villain. When Angar the Screamer debuted he was a frustrated hippy who’d seen the Age of Aquarius destroyed by government crackdowns (the Kent State murders, for instance) and lefties selling out to the man. He’s out for revenge on the system and he now has the power to get it.

That’s a distinctive, novel motivation. It has drawbacks — it’s tied to a very specific era — but it could be adjusted with a little tinkering. Instead, Angar became a garden-variety supervillain with no motivation of note and nothing interesting about him.Or consider Tharok. When Jim Shooter and Curt Swan introduce him in Adventure Comics #352 he’s a cyborg whose biomechanical brain makes him the ultimate super-genius. Dr. Doom? Brainiac? Luthor? Morons! While Shooter failed to pull off a super-genius villain a few months earlier (Grax, an alien supposedly far smarter than Brainiac), this time it worked. The post-Zero Hour reboot Legion, however, turned Tharok into a literal killing machine — no genius, he just attacks and kills people. That’s … dull.

How about y’all? Any villains you can think of who started off cool, or at least interesting, then became boring?

#SFWApro. Art top to bottom by Romita (x4), Colan and Curt Swan.


  1. Alaric

    When Tyrak first appeared in Avengers #154, the thing that made him interesting (and dangerous) wasn’t his size or his strength- it was his genius-level tactical ability, especially combined with the aforementioned size and strength. He defeated the Avengers not simply by overpowering them, but by outsmarting them. Every time he was brought back, he was just a generic big, strong menace, without much purpose (other than showing the avengers fighting a big, strong guy).

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