Wednesday, March 25, 2015

5 Reasons You Should Care About … The Masters of Evil

On last week’s Agents of SHIELD, Cal (Kyle MacLachlan), whom nerds may know better from the comics as Mr. Hyde, assembled a team of random supervillains (Angar the Screamer!) in a revenge play against Director Coulson. It reminded me of Marvel’s best-known team of random rotating supervillains, the Masters of Evil. And with Daniel Bruhl (Inglourious Basterds) believed to be cast as Baron Zemo in Captain America: Civil War, now seems like a good time to familiarize oneself with the nasty brigade.

The basics: The Masters of Evil were created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Chic Stone and first appeared in 1964’s Avengers #6, during a time when villain teams kept some variation of evil in their name to let obtuse Silver Age readers know where they stood. See also the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (X-Men) and DC’s Legion of Super-Villains.

1. Seemingly anyone can be a Master of Evil: Past Masters include both Barons Zemo (Heinrich and Helmut), two Black Knights, the Melter, Radioactive Man (the green Chinese scientist, not the Simpsons character), the Enchantress and her Executioner, Wonder Man, Ultron, Klaw, Whirlwind, Egghead, Moonstone, the Scorpion, Tiger Shark, the Beetle, the Shocker, the Absorbing Man, Blackout, Black Mamba, Fixer, Goliath, Grey Gargoyle, Mr. Hyde, Screaming Mimi, Titania, the Wrecking Crew, Yellowjacket, Doctor Octopus, Gargantua, Jackhammer, Powderkeg, Puff Adder, Justine Hammer, Cyclone, Flying Tiger, Man-Killer, Aqueduct, Bison, Blackwing, Boomerang, Cardinal, Constrictor, Dragonfly, Eel, Icemaster, Joystick, Lodestone, Man-Ape, Quicksand, Scorcher, Shatterfist, Shockwave, Slyde, Sunstroke, Supercharger, Gypsy Moth, Hydro-Man, Machinesmith, Max Fury, Princess Python, Vengeance, Black Talon, Brothers, Grimm, Carrion, Crossfire, Diablo, Firebrand, Griffin, Killer Shrike, Lady Stilt-Man, Pink Pearl, Squid, Taskmaster, Bi-Beast, Madcap, Ringer, Madame Masque, Daimon Hellstrom, Cullen Bloodstone and Lightmaster. Not gonna lie, I have no idea who half these people are, but I assure you they’re all evil. EVIL!

2. They once trashed Avengers Mansion: The fourth incarnation of the Masters, gathered by Helmut Zemo, was so large they managed to outnumber and overwhelm the Avengers, taking over their base of operations, torturing Jarvis the butler, beating Hercules into a coma, kidnapping Captain America and leaving Wasp the only Avenger left standing. The team inevitably crumbled due to clashing agendas and egos, especially between the younger Zemo and Moonstone.

3. They turn good guys bad: In his very first appearance in Avengers #9, Simon Williams, aka Wonder Man, was pitted against the Avengers as a pawn of Zemo. He originally died in that issue but was brought back nearly a decade later in 1972’s Avengers #102. Another Avenger who once joined the Masters was Dane Whitman, the Black Knight, who infiltrated the team to defeat them from the inside. Whitman is the nephew of the previous Black Knight, Nathan Garrett, who was one of the original Masters.

4. And bad guys good: After Onslaught, when the Fantastic Four and Avengers got sucked into a pocket dimension for a year, a new superhero team emerged called the Thunderbolts, who turned out to be the Masters of Evil in disguise. Some of the team’s members went native and ended up becoming legitimate good guys, including Songbird (formerly Screaming Mimi), and the Beetle. Beetle, aka Mach V, is used to hilarious effect as Boomerang’s parole officer in Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber’s much-missed Superior Foes of Spider-Man series. As the Thunderbolts, Zemo’s team ended up fighting a separate Masters of Evil organized by Justine Hammer, daughter of Justin Hammer, industrialist and foe of Tony Stark.

5. They made the Thunderbolts name stick: A book with the Thunderbolts title has been published fairly consistently since the original series by Kurt Busiek and Mark Bagley debuted in 1997, with slight tweaks to the concept along the way (and a rather dubious one in which the book became about an underground supervillain fight club). After Civil War, they became a team of unreformed supervillains on tight, Norman Osborn-controlled leashes. After Siege, they became Luke Cage’s team of reformed baddies. And after A vs. X, they became the Red Hulk’s team of anti-heroes.

Read this: “Avengers Under Siege” by Roger Stern and John Buscema (Avengers #270-276), the 1986 storyline in which the Masters trash Avengers Mansion. Also read Busiek and Bagley’s original run on Thunderbolts.

Watch that: Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, which adapted a number of Masters of Evil stories, including “Avengers Under Siege.”

Dan Grote’s new novel, Magic Pier, is available however you get your books online. He has been writing for The Matt Signal since 2014. He and Matt have been friends since the days when making it to issue 25 guaranteed you a foil cover.

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