Captain America is not only one of the most well-known superheroes, but one of the oldest as well. Steve Rogers made his first appearance in March 1941 in Captain America Comics, written by Joe Simon and pencilled by Jack Kirby, both of whom would go on to become legends in the comics medium (Kirby would practically create the entire Marvel Universe). On the initial cover, Cap was depicted slugging Adolf Hitler. Unfortunately, having Captain America cold-cock the most evil man in human history sets the bar unfairly high for any future villains he might face, and while some like Red Skull and the Winter Soldier have managed to stand out among his Rogues Gallery, quite a few others have paled in comparison.
In celebration of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which hit theatres last weekend, we have compiled a list of the most downright insane villains Cap has fought. A great deal of thanks is owed to the editors of The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe A-Z, who dedicate their careers to compiling data on these fictional crackpots.
5. The Porcupine
Created by Stan Lee and Don Heck and first appearing in Tales to Astonish #48, Weapons designer Alex Gentry had one goal: to make battle armour that resembled and drew on the traits of a porcupine. Besides its obvious prickly defences, the suit could launch deadly quill projectiles as well as various knockout gasses. When Gentry realized he would likely earn nothing for creating the suit, he went rogue and decided to use the suit to take up a life of crime. Like ya do. His criminal activities led him into confrontations with the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men and, of course, Captain America. In none of these encounters did he emerge as the victor, though he became quite skilled at avoiding capture.
It was during one of his few bouts of incarceration that the “supervillain” decided that the criminal life wasn’t meant for him, and after his release he unsuccessful tried to sell his armour to other organizations, all of whom basically laughed in his face. In spite of these rejections, Gentry became concerned that the suit would be used for evil, and tried giving it to the Avengers for safekeeping. Cap saw this as an opportunity to infiltrate a criminal organization Gentry might have an in with, and he convinced the former weapon’s designer to pretend to capture him for this purpose. During the infiltration, a skirmish broke out and Gentry ended up fatally impaled on one of his own quills, though during his dying moments Captain tried to convince the former villain that he had done some good. He was later buried in a cemetery reserved for members of the Avengers for his efforts.
Created by Mark Gruenwald and Paul Neary, Karl Morgenthau, a.k.a. the Flag-Smasher, made his first appearance in Captain America #312 in late 1985. Speaking with Comics Interview in 1988, Gruenwald said he intended the Flag-Smasher to represent anti-nationalism in the same way Red Skull was symbolic of the Third Reich. In that way, both characters were emblematic of their respective eras, especially considering that during Flag-Smasher’s first appearance in the mid-’80s patriotism was at an all-time high—“better dead than Red” and all that.
Anyway, on to the insanity: Karl Morgenthau turned away from the concepts of countries and nationalities after his father, a Swiss diplomat, was killed during a riot that broke out in an embassy. Forming the organization ULTIMATUM (Underground Liberated Totally Integrated Mobile Army To Unite Mankind), Flag-Smasher aimed to do away with nationalism and its resulting feelings of superiority so that no other children would have to see their diplomat parents crushed in a stampede at the Latverian embassy or any embassy. Though not possessing any superpowers, he was skilled at close-quarters combat and spoke a variety of languages, including the artificially constructed and politically neutral Esperanto. He was later assassinated, but his mantle was taken up by fellow ULTIMATUM agent—and Canadian!—Guy Thierrault.
Well that’s horrifying. The monstrosity above is not a compressed, cybernetic Michael Shannon but a major recurring villain in the Marvel Universe. A Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing, MODOK was born George Tarleton, a scientist working for Advanced Idea Mechanics (AIM) who is mutated into the… thing seen above in order to improve the Cosmic Cube. It should be known that MODOK’s creators were not so foolish to make a machine designed only for killing, and in his original form he was known as MODOC, designed only for Computing. Regardless, the former technician turns against his creators, wreaks havoc, etc. Captain America first encountered the being in a 1967 issue Tales of Suspense, wherein Cap’s SHIELD agent ally and girlfriend Sharon Carter was captured by AIM.
In his enhanced and freakishly stumpy form, MODOK possess an extremely high IQ as well as mind-control abilities. MODOK’s unusual appearance is the result of brain—and, consequently, head—expanding so much that he needs an exoskeleton and hoverchair to support it. While he has yet to appear in an official Marvel film, he remains one of the most popular villains in the company’s fiction and is a frequent nemesis in various animated television shows and video games. Though one is forced to wonder how his idiosyncratic form would translate into a live action setting—
GAH!!! EVERY DAMN TIME!!!!
Apart from eventually facing off with Captain America, Hate-Monger was one of the first villains the Fantastic Four would face, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby themselves and appearing in the 21st issue of FF. According to the Marvel Database, Hate-Monger was first encountered by the Fantastic Four as the cowled figure—looking much like a purple Klan member—was openly spouting hateful rhetoric. During a confrontation, the heroic quartet was zapped by his “hate ray,” which made the superheroes fight amongst themselves. By the issue’s end, the FF had overcome the ray’s effects, and the Hate-Monger was killed by his own formerly manipulated followers. In a revelation that will pretty much put a stopper on any appearance the villain might make in the upcoming Fantastic Four reboot, Hate-Monger was unmasked and revealed to be Adolf Hitler—well, at least a clone of him.
This wasn’t the end of Hate-Monger/Boy from Brazil, though, as additional clones would appear, with one of them teaming up with Cap’s main foe Red Skull in Super Villain Team-Up #17. As of this encounter, Hate-Monger—and, presumably, Hitler’s very consciousness—remains trapped in a copy of the Cosmic Cube.
1. Richard Nixon
Initially a covert branch of HYDRA, one of the big bad organizations in the Marvel Universe, the Secret Empire was known for its behind-the-scenes manipulations. One of their most infamous appearances was in the early-to-mid-’70s Secret Empire storyline in the Captain America and the Falcon title, wherein the group attempted to defame Cap and stage a coup d’état. The group was ultimately defeated by Captain America and its lead agent, Number One, unmasked himself and committed suicide.
Now, while this Number One’s identity was never revealed, it was heavily hinted that this shadowy figure was none other than the President himself. While the name of the Marvel Universe’s American President was not revealed in the comic itself, it should be noted that this storyline was published during the Watergate scandal and Richard Nixon’s subsequent resignation. One could say this would be food for thought, but storyline writer Steve Englehart basically confirmed that the comic’s president was Nixon on his official website, saying that he engaged in some self-censorship in hiding the figure’s identity.