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Because few places are as friendly to juxtapositions of folklore and pop culture as the fourcolor comics page, ancient American Indian tales of evil spirits such as the Wendigo provide the perfect fodder for supervillainy. Although the horror writer Algernon Blackwood's classic 1907 tale “The Wendigo” is frequently cited as the birthplace of the creature, far older Inuit lore describes a 15- feet-tall flesh-eating creature of the Minnesota north woods known as Witigo, Witiko, Wee-Tee-Go, or Wendigo, all of which translate roughly to “the evil spirit that devours mankind,” or even “cannibal” among various Great Lakes Indian tribes. According to many tribal myths, a human being who resorts to cannibalism finds himself magically transformed into a Wendigo, a large hairy snowcreature with glowing eyes, giant yellow fangs, a grotesquely long tongue—and an insatiable hunger for human flesh. Other tribes posited that any man or woman guilty of entering a pact with an evil spirit might be changed into a Wendigo, thereafter lurking in the woods, awaiting victims to murder. While the Wendigo may have served the Algonquins and other tribes as a cultural alarum concerning the evils of cannibalism, it has also treated the readership of Marvel Comics to more than three decades of entertainment. Introduced by writer Steve Englehart and penciler Herb Trimpe in The Incredible Hulk vol. 2 #162 (1973) as a shaggy, ravenous, superstrong adversary for the Hulk during the Bigfoot-obsessed 1970s, the role of Marvel's Wendigo is played initially by a hapless French Canadian named Paul Cartier. A Francophone named George Baptiste was the next to be transformed—Cartier gets better—battling the Hulk in the two-part saga that introduced future X-Men superstar Wolverine in the landmark Incredible Hulk #180–#181 (1974). In the early 1980s Francois Lartigue served as the next unwilling iteration of the hungry were-beast, attacking the Hulk and Alpha Flight's Sasquatch before being cured by Alpha Flight's mystic healer Shaman. In the early 1990s, guided by the pencils and prose of fan phenom Todd McFarlane, a fourth and (as of 2006) unidentified individual later served as a vessel for the Wendigo spirit, which Spider-Man and Wolverine discovered has been framed for child-murder in a small town in British Columbia. Although the Wendigo was conceived as a denizen of the backwoods, the creature has done battle with Marvel's good guys in the concrete jungles of New York City. Various Wendigos seemed to proliferate greatly over the years, bringing their fangs and talons to bear against Wolverine, Captain Marvel, the Hulk, Alpha Flight, and Wild Thing. A Wendigo once even teamed up with erstwhile Ghost Rider John Blaze (in Blaze #4, 1994)! While Marvel's take on the Wendigo legend transcended the comics page in 1998 by becoming an action figure, it has by no means supplanted the original folklore that engendered it; the underlying Indian legends continue to inspire twenty-first-century pop cultural reinterpretations, such as writerdirector Larry Fessenden's horror film Wendigo (2001). Regardless of how many two-legged snacks succeed in evading the Wendigo's maw, the creature's future seems assured.
The Supervillain Book: The Evil Side of Comics and Hollywood © 2006 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.