3 iconic Marvel arch-enemies (who started out as someone else's enemy)
People say that it’s the villains that make the hero. Without the Joker, Batman would basically just be a bat fetishist with a grudge against purse snatchers and weed dealers, and without Dr. Octopus or the Green Goblin, Spider-Man would be stuck fighting guys whose powers are “having a rope” or “terrible ’60s karate”.
For sure, every hero worth his name has at least one enemy who’s synonymous with him, who are each other’s polar opposites, a yin to their yang and other poorly co-opted eastern philosophical ideas. However, not every iconic arch-nemesis actually starts out battling said polar opposite. For every Joker and Lex Luthor, there are a few who had to strike out against other do-gooders before finding that special someone they could begin a lifelong blood feud with.
Coming up with a recurring enemy for Wolverine is harder than it sounds, because he has a habit of gutting them from throat to crotch like a misbehaving catfish, which is sort of understandable when your power is mostly indestructible claws and mood swings. However, there’s one bad guy who’s closely associated with Wolverine, and that someone is the bestial Sabretooth, who makes Wolverine look pacifistic with his body count. While their exact history varies (war buddies, really terrible siblings, etc.) depending on who’s writing one of the dozen or so X-Men titles that week, there’s very bad blood between them, mostly because Sabretooth has made it his life’s mission to make Wolverine’s life a living hell for no reason other than to be a dick.
However, not only did Sabretooth not start out as Wolverine’s mortal enemy, he didn’t even have his comically powerful healing factor yet. In fact, in his original appearance, his power set was basically “big hairy guy with pointy nails.” Why? Because his original enemy was Iron Fist.
Yep, badass Sabretooth had to be a surmountable obstacle for a white guy in karate pajamas, and not even a main villain at that. Sabretooth started out as a henchman working for random mobsters alongside Iron Man villain Constrictor. The next few years wouldn’t exactly be the kinds of memories you’d put in a biography, as Sabretooth spent most of his time losing to heroes like Luke Cage, Spider-Man, and at one point, friggin’ Felicia Hardy AKA the Black Cat. You know, the Spider-Man love interest whose main ability is stretching the limits of how much of your tits you can show off without getting an Adults Only rating?
It wasn’t until Sabretooth became a member of Mr. Sinister’s Marauders, and participated in the infamous Morlock Massacre which targeted the various low-powered mutants living in the New York sewers, that he not only became a major threat but became associated with the X-Men and eventually Wolverine. It just goes to show, sometimes all you need to turn your image around is some crimes against humanity.
Sabretooth isnt the only X-Men foe who started out getting knocked around by the assorted superhumans who infest the Marvel universe and make things difficult for murdering psychopaths. Mystique, a shapeshifter and expert spy, has long since made herself known as one of the most persistent foes of Charles Xavier and his students. It probably helps her longevity that in the live-action movies, she looks like an actress from a softcore adaptation of the Smurfs.
However, despite her connection to the X-Men, not only did she not start out as one of their enemies, she wasn’t even called Mystique at first. She debuted under her own name, Raven Darkholme, in the pages of Ms. Marvel. She originally masqueraded as the Deputy Director of DARPA, and used her position to steal secret weapons technology from the U.S. government, because that always turns out well. She also beat Ms. Marvel’s boyfriend to death while masquerading as her, which is a smart thing to do to someone who can throw you into the sun.
While Mystique would remain enemies with Ms. Marvel for years afterwards, it wasn’t until she decided to form her own version of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants that she first encountered the X-Men. She allegedly reformed the Brotherhood to take on the anti-mutant presidential candidate Robert Kelly, but if you’re going to use the whole anti-racist angle, you probably shouldn’t put “Evil” right there in your name; that’s just bad PR.
These days, Mystique’s connection to the X-Men is unbreakable, especially since she’s actually the mother of two of them (Rogue and Nightcrawler), as well as the mother of one of their worst enemies, the genocidal racist Graydon Creed, who pretty much became an anti-mutant bigot because his mutant parents abandoned him for being human. Granted, it doesn’t make Mystique mother of the year, but it seems a bit harsh to go straight to ethnic cleansing because you have mommy issues.
Also, the armbands are a bit of a red flag.
Daredevil’s history is full of villains that are just awful. Maybe Stan Lee had trouble thinking up credible threats for a guy who’s essentially just an acrobat in a devil costume, but the early Daredevil stories are plagued by bad guys with terrible gimmicks, like the Jester, the Matador, and most infamously, Stilt-Man, a guy whose power is literally just having a suit with extendable legs.
The closest Daredevil had to a competent arch enemy in those days was the Owl, a former Wall Street finance investor who turned to crime after getting caught for tax evasion, sort of like a terrible reverse Al Capone. This all changed in the early 1980s when writer (and later professional crazy person) Frank Miller took over the title and began to focus on darker stories with Daredevil as an anti-hero. As such, the clowinsh rogues gallery no longer fit, so Miller introduced a character who would from now on be associated with Daredevil: crime lord Wilson Fisk AKA the Kingpin.
Daredevil and Kingpin’s feud during Frank Miller’s run would be the stuff of legends, and would also introduce other iconic enemies such as the Hand, Elektra, and Nuke, but as you can probably guess, Kingpin didn’t start out as Daredevil’s enemy. Instead, he had his debut in the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man, as one of several non-powered mobster enemies Spider-Man fought in his early days.
Unlike his later incarnation as an unflappable, stoic crimelord, the original version of Kingpin was… I think the best word to describe it would be “high-strung.”
His evil plans were also a good deal more cartoon-y, with things like laser canes and giant robots, traditional super-villain fare because Marvel in the ’60s only knew how to write one type of bad guy. Despite being a Spider-Man villain for almost 20 years, the Kingpin never really fit in all that well, and looked really out of place when Spider-Man’s rogues gallery became increasingly focused on flamboyant super-criminals like Hobgoblin and Dr. Octopus. That said, the two do still occasionally fight each other, though these days the proceedings take a decidedly satirical nature.
Want more super-villains? Find out why Tony Stark is really the arch-villain of the Marvel movie universe or check out our recaps of the DC Comics sitcom Powerless.