The Masters of Evil

The Masters of Evil

(pop culture)
Ascheming supervillain with a grudge aggregates other costumed criminals to attack Marvel Comics' mightiest superheroes, the Avengers: this successful formula is the basis of each of the numerous iterations of the durable villain team, the Masters of Evil. Marvel's hitmakers Stan Lee and Jack Kirby devised the formula in The Avengers vol. 1 #6 (1964): Nazi scientist Baron Heinrich Zemo so hates Captain America that when the World War II patriotic paragon is revived by the Avengers after two decades on ice (in suspended animation), Zemo recruits Giant-Man and the Wasp's enemy the Black Knight, Iron Man's nemesis the Melter, and Thor's adversary the Radioactive Man as the first Masters of Evil. The gruesome group paralyzes much of Manhattan with Zemo's “Adhesive X” until being routed by the Avengers. The implacable Zemo returned in the very next issue, joined by Asgardian deities the Executioner and the Enchantress, unsuccessfully attempting to turn the thunder god Thor against his teammates. Undeterred by defeats, Zemo and his Masters of Evil tried twice more to destroy the Avengers before the Baron met his demise in issue #15 (1965). The Masters of Evil regrouped in Avengers #54 (1968), with returnees Radioactive Man, Black Knight, and the Melter partnering with Klaw and Whirlwind, under the leadership of the enigmatic Crimson Cowl (revealed to be the sinisterly sentient android Ultron). This Masters variation struck at the Avengers through their trusted butler Jarvis. Ultron was dismantled at the end of this extended storyline, but later returned. A third incarnation of the Masters of Evil rallied in 1982, masterminded by Egghead, the evil scientist with the egg-shaped cranium who had been a foe of Hank (Yellowjacket) Pym's since the size- and costume-changing superhero's Ant-Man days. Whirlwind and Radioactive Man were back, joined by the Beetle, Moonstone, Scorpion, the Shocker, and Tiger Shark. Egghead was killed in the fracas. Baron Zemo's rancorous son Helmut (Baron Zemo II) gathered a fourth version of the Masters of Evil in 1987, with returning and new members. Zemo bucked tradition by surviving this encounter, but the Avengers nearly did not—the Masters demolished their headquarters and brutalized the heroes. A few years later, Dr. Octopus organized a legion of supervillains as the fifth, easily forgettable version of Masters of Evil. Lee and Kirby's original blueprint had worn thin, but 1997's sixth variation enlivened the concept. Baron Zemo II, the Beetle, the Fixer, Goliath, Moonstone, and Screaming Mimi masqueraded as superheroes—Citizen V, MACH-1, Techno, Atlas, Meteorite, and Songbird, respectively—as the Thunderbolts. Most of the “T-Bolts” actually switched camps, becoming good guys fighting to live down their bad reputations. This reinvigoration of Lee and Kirby's criminal confederation made two subsequent revivals of the Masters of Evil (both spearheaded by a new Crimson Cowl, Justine Hammer) infinitely more interesting, with a rivalry forming between the old Masters (the T-Bolts) and the new. Outside of comics, Masters of Evil Baron Zemo I, the Melter, and the Radioactive Man teamed with the Red Skull in a “Captain America” installment of the cartoon anthology The Marvel Super-Heroes (1966), while Zemo II, the Absorbing Man, Boomerang, Cardinal, Dragonfly, Moonstone, Tiger Shark, and Whirlwind were the Masters of Evil on FOX Kids' animated The Avengers (1999–2000).