8:30am PT by Richard Newby
Who Could Be Marvel's Next Big Villain After 'Avengers: Endgame'?
Major changes for Marvel Studios are expected to occur in 2019 as the cinematic universe that began in 2008 shifts direction post-Avengers: Endgame. Perhaps the most interesting development this year in regards to Marvel Studios’ future won’t come from a film at all, but Disney’s acquisition of Fox’s library of characters — hundreds from the pages of Marvel’s Fantastic Four and X-Men comic books. With the deal expected to close this year, it seems a larger Marvel Cinematic Universe is now inevitable.
We know that Marvel Cinematic Universe versions of Fantastic Four, and X-Men films are somewhere on the horizon, but it remains to be seen what ties, if any, will be kept from Fox’s franchises. While that’s being sorted out, Marvel Studios is wasting no time gearing up for the next phase of their cinematic universe, with a film lineup that includes Spider-Man: Far From Home, The Eternals, Black Widow, Black Panther 2, Doctor Strange 2, and Shang-Chi. The big question on the minds of many fans is how these films, and the others that will follow, will tie together to form a larger narrative, a narrative that would hinge on the introduction of a new big bad who could make just as sizeable an impression as Josh Brolin's Thanos. With the expectation of the Fox/Disney merger being finalized, there are numerous villains who would make sense in the context of the aforementioned lineup of films and cause plenty of strife for a new iteration of Avengers of whatever collection of heroes remain after Endgame.
Kang has been at the top of many wish lists for some time, which should come as no surprise considering he’s one of the only prominent Avengers villains who hasn’t made his onscreen debut. The reason for this? Kang the Conqueror is actually the father, at least one version of him, of Fantastic Four leader Reed Richards. Kang, or Nathaniel Richards, first appeared as Rama-Tut in Fantastic Four No. 19 (1963) before appearing as Kang in Avengers No. 8 (1964). Richards discovers a time-travel machine created by Doctor Doom and uses it to travel across time, establishing himself as a pharaoh (Rama-Tut), a despot in the future (Kang) and a master of time (Immortus). Over the years, he’s used his time-travel machinations to pit the Avengers against alternate versions of themselves, establish empires throughout time and space and become a major cosmic player. Kang’s history gets somewhat wacky, as comic book time travel so often does, and involves a series of deaths, rebirths, and clone fake outs. But Marvel Studios has a penchant for simplifying certain characters and concepts, sometimes too much, to make them easier to digest. Perhaps the easiest way to handle Kang is as a scientist who gets his hands on the time stone after the events of Endgame and through his machinations brings the time-displaced Fantastic Four back to the world, setting the stage for the next major crossover event with Kang at the center.
There’s no X-Men without Magneto. While Fox’s X-Men series has thoroughly explored the character, arguably more than any of the X-Men save Xavier and Wolverine, and shown him as both villain and hero, there’s still plenty to more to do with the Master of Magnetism within the MCU. There’s of course the question of how mutants will be introduced in the MCU, which could easily be answered by the undoing of Thanos’ decimation, and rumored time travel scenario in Endgame that could find a significant percentage of the population return with their genes altered and an awareness that the world has always had mutants. When the Disney-Fox merger was first announced, one of the most prevalent ideas concerned Avengers vs X-Men, following the 2012 crossover event of the same name. If that were to happen, it likely wouldn’t be a straight adaptation. But there is an interesting element within it that could be used to establish Magneto. In that event, the Avengers are criticized for turning a blind eye to the treatment of mutants and not doing enough. It’s easy to imagine Magneto as an extremist whose methods are wrong but his grievances are right. He could be someone who could question the attentions of our heroes in a world that has once again changed. And it’s perhaps through his questioning of the Avengers that the X-Men are born, alternative heroes with different priorities. Sure, Magneto can bend metal, but he can also bend the parameters of heroism in some fascinating ways.
The High Evolutionary
Here’s an interesting character that Marvel Studios already has access to but he also happens to be one of the most convoluted characters in the Marvel Universe, so strap in. The High Evolutionary, who first appeared in The Mighty Thor No. 134 (1966), has had encounters with nearly every character in the Marvel Universe. Like Kang, the High Evolutionary’s history is a tangled knot of events. Scientist Herbert Wyndham created a serum in the 1920s that gave him the godlike ability to genetically alter humans. He later partnered with scientist Jonathan Drew, whose daughter Jessica became ill, leading the men to use Wyndham’s serum on her, resulting in the creation of Spider-Woman. After the scientists were attacked by a werewolf (this is serious stuff) the injured Wyndham created a suit of armor and continued experimenting on humans and evolving animals. The High Evolutionary also created Counter-Earth, a better version of Earth, though lacking in superheroes. After encountering the highest form of life, The Beyonders, The High Evolutionary went mad and set about forcibly molding humanity, leading to a conflict with the Avengers, known as The Evolutionary War. He tried to drop an “evolutionary bomb” on Earth to usher humans into their next stage of existence, so that they might have a higher place within the cosmic chain of order. If Thanos’ preoccupation is death, then The High Evolutionary’s is life, though the result no less destructive.
The High Evolutionary is … a lot, and perhaps the kind of character who turns off prospective comic readers. But the MCU is well established enough to start going a little deeper into its stable of characters. And with the franchise becoming more cosmic, a madman who fancies himself a god and seeks to bring about evolution to forcibly create peace and benevolence seems too interesting to pass up. The High Evolutionary could also be combined with elements of Michael Korvac, an individual with cosmic powers who seeks to make Earth into a Utopia and goes mad in The Korvac Saga. There are interesting questions that could be raised by considering what Marvel’s superheroes are ultimately working towards. Aren’t they also hoping to help humanity evolve and ultimately make Earth a better place? What if they encountered someone who could do it with a single move? Even with the necessary streamlining that would be required, The High Evolutionary has too much potential to pass up. Plus, Avengers: Utopia has a nice ring to it.
The Devourer of Worlds would certainly make a sizeable threat for any gathering of heroes, and has remained one of Marvel’s most popular villains since his debut in Fantastic Four No. 48 (1966). Considered one of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s finest creations, the character previously appeared, disappointingly so, as a giant cloud in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007). It’s high time we see him in all of his giant, purple-helmeted glory. Galactus, who feeds off the energy of planets, has most-often appeared in the pages of Fantastic Four and Silver Surfer. He could be the kind of villain, like Loki, who serves as an antagonist in more than one film. Of course, any battle with Galactus would come down to more than trading blows with the giant, though Thor has given him quite the beatdown on numerous occasions, and could open the door from some clever action sequences that rely on the heroes doing more than facing off against a horde of aliens or robots. With Adam McKay recently discussing his interest in helming a Silver Surfer film, and giving Galactus a cameo in Vice, it seems likely that he would appear in a Silver Surfer film before taking on The Avengers or any other group of heroes. But his inevitable search for a new herald will surely lead him to Earth and into conflict with The Avengers, The Fantastic Four, The Guardians of the Galaxy, and The Eternals. How cool would it be if Avengers: Endgame ended with a post-credit scene of Galactus awakening in the cosmos?
The omnipotent cosmic being is another character that Marvel Studios already has access to. The jeri-curled entity who orchestrated Secret Wars has been suggested to be the most powerful being of the universe. He’s the kind of adversary who doesn’t pose a physically interesting threat to Marvel’s heroes, given that he could wipe them all out just by thinking about it. But he has created interesting scenarios that have led to some of the greatest battles in the Marvel Universe. In Secret Wars, The Beyonder creates Battleworld, and kidnaps a number of Earth’s heroes and villains in order to watch a never-ending battle between good and evil. Secret Wars was actually created as a means to sell toys, but has since become one of Marvel’s most enduring stories, in part because it led to Spider-Man donning the symbiote suit that would eventually become Venom. Though an action-heavy event, some of the more interesting moments in Secret Wars happened when characters who didn’t often interact were stranded together, and new alliances of both heroes and villains were formed. Perhaps the most fascinating thing to come out of the Beyonder’s machinations on a character level was that it forced both heroes and villains to consider their alignment with good and evil. Characters like Magneto tried to be a hero but the mistrust of the Avengers saw him return to villainy. The Russo Brothers have said numerous times that they would love to direct a Secret Wars movie. While such an event would likely be a ways off so that new characters have time to be properly introduced into this world and build relationships fit to later be shattered, it would be a great means to put Marvel’s characters through the moral wringer.
We’ve saved the best for last and he needs no introduction. Of all the villains yet to appear in the MCU, Doctor Doom stands head and shoulders above the rest. While he’s appeared in every Fantastic Four film adaptation, the character has yet to be done justice. A brilliant scientist and sorcerer, Doctor Doom is a match for any hero, or villain, who would stand in his way. He’s been a dictator, stolen the Power Cosmic, taken the powers of the Beyonder, traveled through time, assumed the role of god, and even briefly operated as a hero. Outside of the comics, he’s even served as the inspiration for Darth Vader. Doom offers a complexity that shouldn’t be rushed. Instead, the MCU should give us a chance to see his journey from Reed Richard’s friend to a villain who earns the attention of the Galactic Council. While Doom should appear in the Fantastic Four film, Marvel should hold off on a fully realized version of the character for some time, and instead wait until they can reveal him as a force fully worthy to take on the might of Marvel’s heroes. Doom could make his presence known in Doctor Strange and Black Panther sequels, as Marvel steadily delves into his darkness as both magician and dictator. While a complaint with Thanos was that he was built-up for too long and seemed to be doing nothing in between the time of his reveal in The Avengers and getting the Infinity Stones in Infinity War, Marvel could easily avoid this with Doom by integrating his quest for power more tightly into the films. If he’s handled with care, Doctor Doom should be worth the wait.
Although there was a time when it seemed Marvel Studios was going through their central villains, Loki, Red Skull, Ultron, Ronan and Thanos, too quickly, there are enough major threats left in the Marvel Universe to see this franchise continue on for another several decades. As Marvel Comics prepares to celebrate its 80th anniversary this year, we can’t help but think that Marvel Studios, with resources both new and old at its disposal, could continue its cinematic universe for just as long, especially with the right villains waiting in the shadows.