Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

Some villains are just underrated.

Like any fanboy, there’s one thing about comics that I never get enough of and that’s seeing some semi-obscure character finally get their due and take center stage in a story. How long was Bullseye a lame villain until Frank Miller made him the most deadly killer in the Marvel Universe?

I liked Heroes for Hire personally, but did Luke Cage, Danny Rand, and Misty Knight mean much to people until Bendis starting writing New Avengers and Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction wrote Iron Fist? And be honest, did you even know who Jessica Drew WAS until about three or four years ago?

To me, this is the true art to comic book writing. Taking a character who has been cluttering up the works for some thirty or forty years and giving them a feel. Something that makes that character tick, that makes them fit in the big scope of the entire continuity. What’s their place, exactly? What purpose do they serve? What are they like to be around?

Now, heroes…heroes, I’d like to think, are easy to modernize. Because afterall MOST heroes are human. Or have some human qualities. It’s just a matter of establishing their strengths and flaws and letting them play out.

Villians? Villians are trickier.

Not every villain has that phantom-of-the-opera Dr. Doom thing or savior-gone-bad Magneto thing going on.

In fact, most MAJOR Marvel villains tend to fall into two categories. They’re either screaming, cheesy powerhouses who say things like "NO! I will DESTROY YOU! DESTROY! Victory will be MINE!" or they’re bloodthirsty, inhuman monsters who have almost no thought or emotion other than the instinct to kill. But you know what? Sometimes making a villain work is just a matter of letting it ride.

Okay, fine, maybe they are a relentless powerhouse hellbent on destroying the heroes and that’s their only motivation. Or maybe they’re just a sick fiend with nothing on their mind but death. And we don’t have to reinvent the wheel and come up with some complicated inner-turmoil or revamp to justify it. Instead we just need to "go big or go home" with it. If they’re crazy, HELL, make them really crazy, but make them dangerous, something that the heroes have to stop and contend with and worry about.

I’d like to think that Annihilus is a good example of the best of both worlds formula of supervillian- a raving lunatic who borders on being a sadistic, animal (a big, insect-like spore growth in a metal suit). The thing is? For the longest time, Annihilus was PATHETIC. There was no reason for him to be. Besides superhuman strength and stamina, a cunning intellect, and a reputation across the Negative Zone (see last week's post) that has earned him the title "The Living Death Who Walks." Annihilus sports a Cosmic Control Rod, a piece of technology designed after he literally ingested the entire knowledge of the civilization that birthed him, the Tyannans. The Rod allows Annihilus to control and manipulate matter and ultimately, makes him immortal (his only real goal- survival for survival’s sake. Annihilus is obsessed with living, despite the harsh existence of the Negative Zone.)

Pretty badass villain, right?

But for the longest time Annihilus was always saying, and doing, stupid, STUPID things. He was the LAMEST villain. I SWEAR there is a panel of Annihilus in an issue of Fantastic Four answering a phone call after sneaking into the Baxter Building (the F.F.’s HQ). After the caller hangs up, Annihilus laughs to himself, saying something like: “Foolish woman! She had no idea who I was AT ALL! HA HA HA!" This comic really exists. I can’t place the issue, but it was definitely John Byrne’s run of F.F. in the 80’s (not knocking on John Byrne…I think he was trying to get at the alien-ness of Annihilus, the idea that what seemed trivial to us was a monumental victory to him. But still. Come on.)

I’ve made it clear that I was an Annihilation and an Annihilation: Conquest fan. The cosmic set of characters in Marvel is very under-rated. It’s strange to mix Star Wars kind-of mentality with superheroes; I know it gets a weird flavor in your mouth. I really think Kieth Giffen has sort of launched this line into a new renaissance. The Kree and the Skrull, Galactus, the Phalanx and the High Evolutionary, I'm kind of loving it all coming together, lately.

And my favorite bit, of course? Annihilus.

THIS was the Annihilus that you always imagined he would be. At the head of a massive, insect-like invasion fleet from another dimension, carving his way across the universe in a storm of blood. This is what Annihilus needed. Not a revamp. Not a new character becoming a new Annihilus. They just needed to give the guy a chance to REALLY DO what he had always been threatening to do: conquer the whole damn universe!

See, it’s OKAY to have a villain rave and say obsessive-like things, IF they’ve really got the juice to back up the threat. Annihilus’ disturbed ramblings seemed a lot less comical when he was helming his weird hive battlecruiser and blowing the Shi’ar, the Kree and the Skrull to pieces.

Of course, Annihilation was also a sort of end to Annihilus; Richard Ryder (A.K.A. Nova) literally ripped his frickin’ guts out. I mean REALLY though- he stuck his hand down his throat and just tore Annihilus' weird, freaky, spore-born organs out. A nice, over-the-top, grisly end for an over-the-top villain. Or hey…maybe not? The Cosmic Control Rod has some interesting properties and Annhilation ends with a baby spore-insect born in the hands of one of Annihilus’ former generals.

Baby Annihilus has made another appearance recently, in War of Kings: Ascension (which I’m a fan of too, lately - again, some really obscure players in the Marvel Universe are the big stars, so it’s not for everybody). It’s complicated and Darkhawk (an underrated Marvel hero who is often struggling with visions/prophecies about the future in one form or another) is involved, but let’s just say that the days of angry, raving anthropomorphic power-armored insect supervillains probably aren’t over yet.

The classics never die.