Spider-Man's Animal-Themed Adversaries!
As the old proverb says, “you can know a man by his friends”, but I believe a man can also be defined by who his enemies are. In the case of comic book superheroes, a compelling collection of villains (or “rogues’ gallery”) can only enhance an already solid character. Having a memorable rogues’ gallery certainly isn’t essential to ensure superhero immortality, but it sure doesn’t hurt. The best rogues’ galleries can be defined along simple criteria, such as Batman’s collection of dark lunatics, or the Flash’s gimmicky felons….but when it comes to an overarching theme, Spider-Man’s rogues’ gallery wins the prize.
Looking back over the past four decades of Spidey comics, it’s hard not to notice the huge number of animal-themed villains he’s encountered. Considering his powers and heroic identity are also based on a member of the animal kingdom, I guess it makes sense that so many of Spider-Man’s villains followed suit…..immediately, I might add.
Right out of the gate, the inaugural issue of The Amazing Spider-Man #1 (1963) introduced the threat of the Chameleon, a master of disguise named for the color-changing reptile.
The very next issue featured the debut of The Vulture. Sure, an old man with wings wasn’t what most would consider an A-list threat….but he sure beat the back-up story’s “Terrible Tinkerer”, another old man who created high-tech weapons.
If the animal-themed villain trend wasn’t already apparent, Spider-Man #3 (1963) drives it home with the first appearance of eight-limbed Doctor Octopus, arguably webhead’s most famous foe.
Three issues later, it’s comic book pseudo-science at its best as biologist Curt Connors attempted to regenerate his missing arm using reptilian DNA. Well, it worked…with only that teensy little side effect of mutating into a six-foot Lizard wearing a lab coat!
The big fella on this alternate (unpublished) cover of Spider-Man #10 (1964) is Ox, the hired muscle of “The Big Man”. No superpowers, just a burley mob strongman straight from Central Casting.
Mac Gargan (best criminal name ever) was a private detective hired by J. Jonah Jameson to spy on Peter Parker. In Spider-Man #20 (1965) Jameson financed a battlesuit and biological enhancements to make Gargan into The Scorpion. Forgive me for featuring the cover of Spider-Man #145 instead. Not only is it quite a bit more dynamic than issue #20’s cover (apologies to Steve Ditko), but it’s also the very first Spider-Man comic book I bought off the stands way back in 1975. Hey--nostalgia trumps historical accuracy every time, pally boy!
“Ladies and gentlemen…the Beetle!” No, not one of the mop-topped Lads from Liverpool, but the bucket-headed bad guy with the giant, tri-fingered gloves. Originally a foe of the Human Torch, the Beetle became a bit of a freelancer in later years, popping up here in Spider-Man #21 (1965), along with the Torch himself.
The rampaging Rhino crashed the party in Spider-Man #41 (1966). One of the first villains with the guts to wear a full-body “peek-a-boo face” animal costume, the Rhino was promoted to the Hulk’s rogues’ gallery of major-league bruisers a few years later.
Australian Frank Oliver learned how to leap like a kangaroo after studying (and living with!) the animals for years, parlaying his new ability into a life of crime as the fur-vested Kangaroo in Spider-Man #81 (1970).
Spider-Man’s old foe Kraven the Hunter slips mutant circus acrobat Martin Blank an herb potion to enhance his natural abilities (this being 1972 and all). Kraven neglected to tell Blank about the animal rage the potion would trigger, resulting in Blank becoming the out of control Gibbon. Counter to the claim on the cover of Spider-Man #110, the Gibbon didn't turn out to be a “Marvel Superstar” after all. In fact, years later, he teamed up with the Kangaroo and the Grizzly (more on him in a bit) to form “The Legion of Losers”.
Astronaut John Jameson, son of the gruff Daily Bugle publisher, discovered a mysterious jewel while visiting the moon. In Spider-Man #124 (1973), the jewel transformed him into the fearsome Man-Wolf, just in time for a popular resurgence of monster and horror movies.
You’d think Spidey saving his bacon from the Man-Wolf would’ve inspired a change of heart, but Jonah returns to his war on the wall-crawler in Spider-Man Annual #10 (1974). This time around he’s commissioned The Human Fly to take down Spider-Man, but as you can see from the cover below, things didn’t go exactly as Jonah had planned.
South American mercenary and fellow arachnid Tarantula makes his spike-toed debut in Spider-Man #134 (1974), while inadvertently inspiring today’s comically pointed women’s shoes.
Taking a page from the Rhino and his peek-a-boo face costume, ex-wrestler Maxwell Markham dons a furry, strength-enhancing exoskeleton in Spider-Man #139 (1974) to become The Grizzly, seen here settling an old score with Jonah Jameson.
Supplying Markham with the high-tech Grizzly suit was the mysterious Jackal, who’d been making cameo appearances in the Spider-Man title for nearly a year. Eventually, the Jackal was revealed to be….Peter Parker’s college biology professor? Yes, secretly infatuated with Peter Parker’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy, Dr. Miles Warren created a perfect clone of Gwen following her death (along with a clone of Peter). Spider-Man #149 (1976) marked the final showdown between the real Peter Parker, Warren and the Spider-Clone.
Or did it?
Unfortunately, as most of you know, this storyline inspired an infamous, universally loathed sequel published during the early 90’s, so if you’re looking to pin the blame for “The Spider-Clone Saga” on anyone, blame the Jackal!
The rip-roarin’ Razorback appeared in Spectacular Spider-Man #13 (1977). This redneck truck-driver was also a mutant with the rather “specialized” ability to pilot, drive or operate any vehicle (not exactly a first-round draft pick for the X-Men). Add that to the electrified mane of his wild-boar cowl and you’ve got yourself….well, a pretty stupid character.
Initially portrayed as an attention-seeking cat burglar in Spider-Man #194 (1979), The Black Cat eventually reformed, gained probability-altering “bad luck” powers and even had a brief affair with Spidey himself.
The threat du jour during the late 1970’s was the “imminent” danger of killer bees, inspiring the creation of the villainous Swarm, first appearing in the short-lived team title The Champions. However, from his second appearance in Spectacular Spider-Man #36 (1979) and beyond, this sentient swarm of bees became a recurring Spider-Man foe.
Thomas Fireheart became the werecat Puma in Spider-Man #256 (1984), though he can be seen more clearly on the next issue’s cover. The Puma was originally a mercenary hired to kill Spider-Man, but soon grew to admire the hero and became a recurring ally of his.
On that redemptive note, that about does it for our Spider-Man villain "wildlife adventure”. Of course, many other classic Spidey villains have nothing to do with animals (like the Green Goblin, Electro or Sandman)….and many, MANY more villains are just too stupid to talk about (I’m looking at you, Big Wheel!), but after this little safari of animal-themed adversaries, it’s clear that Spider-Man’s rogues’ gallery remains the undisputed “San Diego Zoo” of comic book villainy.