Bug-Based Bad Guys

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Hellgrammite. The Brave and the Bold vol. 1 #80 © 1968 DC Comics. COVER ART BY NEAL ADAMS.

Bug-Based Bad Guys

(pop culture)
With over 800,000 species of “Class Insecta” populating the planet, insects are a fertile source of inspiration for supervillains. The Beetle, the enemy of the Human Torch, Spider-Man, and Daredevil, invaded the pages of Marvel's Strange Tales #123 (1964), published the same year the Beatles invaded America on their first U.S. tour. He is actually Abner Jenkins, a former aero-engineer who designed a winged suit of purple-and-green armor with suction-cupped, blastfiring gloves. The Beetle appeared on TV in the 1980s cartoon Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends and in 1994 on the animated Iron Man. The Scarlet Beetle did not fare as well, proving that even the House of Ideas' master architects Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were occasionally guilty of poor construction. This Ant-Man adversary was an actual beetle given human intelligence and malevolence by atomic radiation. With his telepathic control of insects, the Scarlet Beetle attempted to take over Earth—exactly what Mr. Mind, the bespectacled, super-genius “World's Wickedest Worm” and foe of the original Captain Marvel, has done on several occasions in his career that spans back to 1943. Mr. Mind bears no relation to the Mindworm, the brain-draining mutant that first fought Spider-Man in 1974, or the Earthworm, the little-seen sewer dweller who debuted in an Earth-Two Huntress tale in Wonder Woman vol. 1 #309 (1983). Ancient Egyptians regarded the scarab as sacred, and scarabs have figured prominently in the histories of several comic-book characters, including Captain Marvel and Blue Beetle, and supervillains as well. Captain America (1944), the Republic Pictures fifteen-chapter movie serial based upon the Marvel Comics superhero, introduced the mysterious Dr. Maldor (actor Lionel Atwell), a treasure hunter aka the Scarab, whose arsenal included a Thermo-dynamic Vibration Engine, Electronic Firebolts, and a poison called “the Purple Death.” The Scarlet Scarab (not to be confused with the aforementioned Scarlet Beetle), an Egyptian archaeologist who controlled the supernatural power source the Ruby Scarab, debuted in Marvel's The Invaders vol. 1 #23 (1977). A female Egyptian assassin named Scarab attempted a hit on Batman's junior partner in Robin vol. 2 #124 (2004). Scarab was not the only insect-inspired supervillain driving Batman buggy. No one took Killer Moth (first seen in 1951) seriously until he metamorphosed into the monster Charaxes in 1995 (although he remained the costumed Killer Moth on the Cartoon Network's Teen Titans, 2003–2006). The same might be said of Firefly. Introduced by writer France Herron and artist Dick Sprang in Detective Comics #184 (1952), he was Garfield Lynns, a lighting-effects expert in the Gotham City theater circuit, who turned to crime in an embarrassingly flashy purple-and-green ensemble with a bug-antenna cowl, blinding Batman and Robin with incandescence. Down-and-out gambler Ted Carson became a different, one-time Firefly in Batman #126 (1959), emitting a “deadly glow” beam from his cowl. Firefly was retooled in the 1990s as a warped arsonist who was nearly burned alive in an attempt to incinerate Gotham. He has appeared on the television cartoons Batman: The Animated Series (1992–1995) and The Batman (2004–present), the latter series inspiring a Firefly action figure. Another arsonist Bat-foe, the Firebug, premiered in 1979 and flickered in and out of the limelight until Firebug II showed up in 2005, having purchased the original villain's gear in an Internet auction. Winged insect-villains have buzzed through comics' pages for decades. The hypnotic Queen Bee, Zazzala of the bee-world Korll, and her submissive drones have been DC Comics nuisances since 1963, but Harvey Comics' rip-off Queen Bea, with her antennae-topped tiara, appeared only once in a 1967 B-Man adventure. Veronica Dultry, in X-Men #94 (1975), gained wings and mesmeric bug eyes from an insect-DNA gene-splicing experiment and became Dragonfly, one of the Ani-Men (and later, the Masters of Evil). Marvel's gossamer-winged Gypsy Moth, first seen in Spider-Woman vol. 1 #10 (1978), was originally a loner with little use for others. This telekinetic mutant learned to bond, becoming a team player with the Masters of Evil, the Night Shift, the Femizons, and the Thunderbolts, and in the twenty-first century she is known as Skein. Tiger Moth, Dragon Fly, and Silken Spider were an all-girl rock band that bombed out as supervillainesses after crossing paths with Poison Ivy in Ivy's first adventure in Batman #181 (1966). The Yellow Wasp, an ego-driven costumed crook who zipped about on wings and in a Waspmobile, felt the sting of pugilist-hero Wildcat's fists in several 1940s adventures, and the Killer Wasp, reportedly his son, became a foe of the Justice Society in 2000. Some supervillains have gotten underfoot in ant- and roach-patterned identities. Athlete Eddie Whit performed several dangerous acts of larceny in his pink-hued guise of the Ant in 1966, but as the Teen Titans discovered, he was acting against his will. The Man of Steel once fought an army of giant ants led by his best friend, who under mind control became “King of the Giant Ants” in Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #54 (1961). Luke Cage's mid-1970s enemy Cockroach Hamilton was an expert brawler and marksman but was a bug only by nickname, unlike the human-sized Cockroach, Howard the Duck's foe (first seen in 1980), who scaled walls, had flesh-stabbing pincers, and evolved other life forms with his Cosmic Key. The cool-headed She-Hulk's fear factor was put to the test in her 1985 graphic novel when she was ambushed by the Cockroaches, a mass of humanconsuming insects operating under a shared intelligent mind. His nearly inviolable carapace made the Hellgrammite, the roach-man from The Brave and the Bold #80 (1968), a serious threat to the team of Batman and the Creeper; Hellgrammite raided Metropolis in the early 1990s and has posed a threat to Superman several times since. Locusts, one of the great “supervillains” of the Bible, have also plagued comic books in the form of supervillains. Professor August Hopper is an entomologist in a winged battlesuit who calls himself the Locust. Brandishing high-tech weapons such as a silken snare and a stun ray, the Locust has attacked several Marvel superheroes with insect armies, beginning his crime career in X-Men #23 (1966). Tower Comics' T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #17 (1967) introduced King Locust, a shakedown artist aided by mechanical grasshoppers. In 2005, Marvel's “Ultimate” Universe introduced “Gah Lak Tus,” the Fantastic Four's planet-eating enemy Galactus re-created into a robo-bug pestilence. Swarm, the supervillain first seen in Marvel's The Champions #14 (1977), is a living, flying cluster of thousands of insects. Impervious to physical attacks but vulnerable to pesticides, Swarm has fought Spider-Man and the Secret Defenders. Other bug-based bad guys with labels like the Fly, Bug Man, Humbug, Bug and Byte, Baron Bug, and the Hornet have been swatted into obscurity, but DC's Bug-Eyed Bandit (first seen in The Atom #26, 1966) deserves special mention. One might have thought that Bertram Larvan raided his kitchen for his supervillain uniform: his purple helmet, shaped like a colander, allowed him to direct mechanical insects, and his green, waffle-sized goggles elicited snickers from even the most impressionable young readers. The Bug-Eyed Bandit died unceremoniously in Crisis on Infinite Earths #12 (1986), but instead of letting his father rest in peace, Larvan's son adopted the Bandit's preposterous guise.