The Masters of Evil is one of the largest and longest-running alliances of Super Villains in history, with assorted criminal masterminds at the helm, and comprised of an ever-changing membership ranging from minor thugs to major menaces. In many ways, they are the criminal equivalent of the Avengers, the Masters’ first and most frequent foes.
Determined to Destroy
After seemingly slaying Steve Rogers, AKA Captain America and Bucky Barnes (later Winter Soldier) during World War II, the Nazi scientific genius Baron Heinrich Zemo, AKA Baron Zemo had withdrawn to South America, where he subjugated a native tribe, carving out his own private kingdom. Zemo lived in seclusion until recent years when he learned that the Avengers had found and revived Captain America. Determined to destroy his old enemy but unwilling to face the Avengers alone, Zemo recruited the super criminals Nathan Garrett, AKA Black Knight, Bruno Horgan, AKA Melter, and Chen Lu, AKA Radioactive Man (foes of Avengers members Hank Pym, AKA Giant-Man, Tony Stark, AKA Iron Man, and Thor Odinson, AKA Thor, respectively). Calling themselves the Masters of Evil, the villains drew the Avengers into battle by spraying the streets of New York with Zemo’s Adhesive X, causing citywide chaos. Aided by adhesives expert Paste-Pot Pete, the Avengers defeated the Masters, and Zemo himself barely escaped.
The team operates under a criminal mastermind and has seen several of the greatest Super Villains leading the formidable cadre. Leaders include scientific genius Baron Heinrich Zemo, the mad robot Ultron (a rogue creation of Avengers founder Henry Pym), criminal scientist Elihas Starr, AKA Egghead, strategic mastermind, Baron Helmut Zemo, AKA Baron Zemo, and brilliant yet unstable scientist Dr. Otto Octavius, AKA Doctor Octopus. They all have a master plan to take down the Avengers and any Super Hero that stands in the way of their world-conquering aspirations.
From the get-go, the Masters of Evil form to take down the Avengers and being the greatest assemblage of Super Villains that they are, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes get a run for their money. Sometimes they target specific Avengers members depending on the team’s leader or just seek to steal from their foes.
The Masters also have repeated run ins with the Thunderbolts, whose initial members were first a part of the Masters. No matter who is leading the Thunderbolts, whether it’s Avengers veteran Clint Barton, AKA Hawkeye or Norman Osborn, AKA Green Goblin, the Masters have it out for them too.
Masterfully Evil Allies
Besides allying with each other, the Masters team up with other Super Villains to carry out their nefarious deeds, such as Thor’s foes Amora, AKA Enchantress, and Skurge the Executioner. They even join Hydra’s Army of Evil to take over the United States.
Occasionally, the Masters are betrayed by their own members, like Mac Gargan, AKA Scorpion (later Venom), and others who defect to the Thunderbolts.
Super Criminal History
Zemo formed a new alliance with Enchantress and Skurge. The trio mystically turned Thor against the Avengers, but the spell soon broke and Thor hurled them into another dimension. Upon returning, the Masters mutated embezzler Simon Williams into Wonder Man, who infiltrated and betrayed the Avengers on Zemo’s behalf; however, in the end, a conscience-stricken Williams sacrificed himself to save the Avengers. The Masters’ brief alliance with the mysterious time lord Immortus fared little better, resulting in another Avengers victory. Retrieving Black Knight and Melter from prison, the Masters regrouped in New York for an all-out assault on the Avengers while Zemo faced Captain America in the Amazon. The Masters were defeated yet again, and Zemo accidentally killed himself in battle.
With Zemo gone, the Masters broke up; but the mad robot Ultron, hiding his mechanical nature behind the costumed identity of the Crimson Cowl, recruited Melter, Radioactive Man, Ulysses Klaw, AKA Klaw, and David Cannon, AKA Whirlwind, into a new Masters of Evil in a plot to destroy the Avengers. Ultron hypnotized Avengers butler Edwin Jarvis into compromising the Avengers’ security system, even compelling Jarvis to act as his occasional stand-in, supposedly the “real” Crimson Cowl; but Dane Whitman, AKA Black Knight, secretly the heroic nephew of his recently deceased predecessor, had joined Ultron’s Masters to fight them from within. Thanks in part to the efforts of Whitman and a repentant Jarvis, the Masters were defeated; however, they soon regrouped (minus Ultron and Whitman) in an attempt to kidnap noted scientist Dr. T. W. Erwin from the annual Halloween parade in Rutland, Vermont. They were soundly defeated through the combined efforts of the Avengers and the short-lived feminist super-group known as the Lady Liberators.
The Masters reorganized under criminal scientist Egghead, who had faked his own death and framed his old foe Hank Pym for treason, recruiting Karla Sofen, AKA Moonstone, Scorpion (Mac Gargan), Todd Arliss, AKA Tiger Shark, and Whirlwind to serve him. However, an overeager Whirlwind made an unauthorized attack on his old foe Wasp, leading the Masters into an unplanned battle with the Avengers, and all four of Egghead’s recruits were captured. Freeing Moonstone and Tiger Shark, Egghead also hired Abner Jenkins, AKA Beetle, Herman Schultz, AKA Shocker, and the Radioactive Man, and had the Masters abduct Pym from his treason trial, framing Pym as their employer; they even deliberately allowed the Avengers to capture the Shocker, who had been brainwashed into believing Pym was the Masters’ leader. Egghead put the seemingly broken Pym to work in his secret lab on a project seeking a means of immortality, but Pym quickly constructed an arsenal of disguised super-weaponry which he used to defeat the Masters singlehandedly.
By this time, the Avengers had proven Pym’s innocence and tracked down Egghead, who was trying to shoot the victorious Pym in the back. Hawkeye arrived just in time to plug the villain’s energy gun with an arrow, causing a backfire that killed Egghead — an ironically fitting end, as Egghead had killed Hawkeye’s brother, Barney Barton, years earlier.
By now, Baron Helmut Zemo, AKA Baron Zemo, had assumed his late father’s title as the new Baron Zemo. Trying to destroy Captain America through his love for the Avengers, Zemo assembled the largest Masters of Evil yet, recruiting Carl Creel, AKA Absorbing Man, Mary MacPherran, AKA Titania, Moonstone, Paul Pierre Duval, AKA Grey Gargoyle, Melissa Gold, AKA Screaming Mimi (later Songbird), Rita DeMara, AKA Yellowjacket, Marcus Daniels, AKA Blackout, Henry Camp, AKA Bulldozer, Paul Ebersol, AKA Fixer, Bill Foster, AKA Goliath, Calvin Zabo, AKA Mister Hyde, Brian Calusky, AKA Piledriver, Dr. Eliot Franklin, AKA Thunderball, Tiger Shark, Dirk Garthwaite, AKA Wrecker, and Whirlwind. Grey Gargoyle and Screaming Mimi were captured by the Avengers and Paladin during Zemo’s recruiting drive, and the unreliable Whirlwind was sent off on a make-work assignment, but the rest of the Masters staged a carefully planned assault in which they managed to invade and occupy Avengers Mansion, wrecking the historic headquarters, taking Jarvis and several Avengers hostage, beating Heracles, AKA Hercules, nearly to death, and forcing Captain America to watch while Jarvis was brutally tortured. Zemo sent Absorbing Man and Titania to pick up another potential recruit, Mongoose of the New Men, but they were stopped by Peter Parker, AKA Spider-Man, before they could succeed in their mission. Aided by Scott Lang, AKA Ant-Man, and Anthony Druid, AKA Doctor Druid, the Avengers finally retook the Mansion. A few Masters escaped, but more were captured, Blackout was rendered braindead, and Zemo and Moonstone were both gravely injured. Whirlwind and Tiger Shark were soon apprehended by Tigra, Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat, and Hank Pym.
Criminal mastermind Doctor Octopus formed the next Masters with Absorbing Man, Shocker, Titania, Yellowjacket, Edward Cobert, AKA Gargantua, Jackhammer, Elton Healey, AKA Oddball, Powderkeg, and Gordon Fraley, AKA Puff Adder. This group tried to loot Avengers Headquarters during the Infinity War but were thwarted through the combined efforts of the Avengers staff, the visiting Guardians of the Galaxy and Yellowjacket, who switched sides and soon went on to join the Guardians. The Guardians and Masters were also briefly forced to team up against a horde of doppelgangers spawned by the Infinity War. In the end, half of the Masters were captured and the rest turned on Octopus, forcing him to flee.
Desmond Drew, AKA Black Talon, Goliath, and M’Baku, AKA Man-Ape formed an alliance against Wonder Man in concert with disguised demons under the auspices of Mephisto. This grouping was referred to in passing as a possible revival of the Masters of Evil (even though it more closely resembled the Lethal Legion), but they broke up almost immediately and many of these events may have been part of an elaborate illusory deception spun by Mephisto. Helmut Zemo began rebuilding his own Masters, recruiting Fixer, Screaming Mimi, Beetle, Goliath, and Moonstone; but after the Avengers were seemingly killed in the Onslaught disaster, Zemo decided to disguise his group as a new Super Hero team called the Thunderbolts, accumulating public trust and resources while plotting world conquest. The ruse worked too well, however, and most of the Thunderbolts opted to keep playing Super Hero after their cover was blown, breaking away from Zemo.
By this time, a mysterious new female Crimson Cowl had formed a more mercenary Masters of Evil alongside Klaw, Tiger Shark, Pierre Fresson, AKA Cyclone, Flying Tiger, and Katrina van Horn, AKA Man-Killer, and they repeatedly battled the Thunderbolts both before and after their split with Zemo, eventually delivering an ultimatum: rejoin the Masters or be destroyed. Taking over the abandoned high-tech Mount Charteris complex as their headquarters and recruiting a small army of new members—including Peter van Zante, AKA Aqueduct, Billy Kitson, AKA Bison, Blackwing, Fred Myers, AKA Boomerang, Donald Clendenon, AKA Cardinal (later Harrier), Frank Schlichting, AKA Constrictor, Veronica Dultry, AKA Dragonfly, Edward Lavell, AKA Eel, Icemaster, Janice Yanizeski, AKA Joystick, Andrea Haggard, AKA Lodestone, Man-Ape, Quicksand, Steven Hudak, AKA Scorcher, Shatterfist, Lancaster Sneed, AKA Shockwave, Jalome Beacher, AKA Slyde, Sol Brodstroke, AKA Sunstroke, and Supercharger—the Masters used weather control technology to launch a grand global blackmail scheme which was foiled by the Thunderbolts (now led by Hawkeye), who captured almost all the Masters and adopted the Mount Charteris base as their new headquarters.
The Cowl escaped, rebuilding her Masters with Cardinal, Cyclone, Man-Killer, Tanya Sealy, AKA Black Mamba, Sybil Dvorak, AKA Gypsy Moth (later Skein), Morris Bench, AKA Hydro-Man, and Samuel Saxon, AKA Machinesmith, and embarked on a quest to control a biotoxin produced by the late Justin Hammer that had secretly infected many super-beings, giving whoever controlled the toxin the power of life and death over them. When the Masters realized they were infected by the toxin as well, half of them—including Cardinal, Cyclone, Man-Killer, and Gypsy Moth—defected to Hawkeye’s Thunderbolts and helped defeat the Cowl, who was exposed as Hammer’s daughter, Justine. The Cowl and her remaining Masters were all captured, and the biotoxin was neutralized by Thunderbolts member Blackheath (Sam Smithers AKA Plantman). How and when the Masters will reorganize next remains to be seen.
Whirlwind took it upon himself to regroup and lead the Masters against the new Thunderbolts led by Norman Osborn. Though it was a short stint as Mac Gargan, a member of the Masters, betrayed his team, which gave the Thunderbolts the upper hand.
When Parker Robbins, AKA The Hood, desired to become the head of the criminal underworld in New York, he gathered his own army, pooling resources with other villains so that they all could accomplish their goals. His gang helped heroes beat back the Skrulls during their invasion of Earth out of self-interest because without the Earth as they knew it, their days as criminals were numbered. He was later assisted by Loki and the God of Mischeif’s gift of the Norn Stones which empowered the Hood’s own version of the “Masters of Evil”, officially dubbed The Hood’s Army.
There have been several other iterations of the Masters of Evil run by Max Fury and the Shadow Council, Dr. Edward Lansky, AKA Lightmaster, and Baron Helmut Zemo again. Zemo expanded the roster on their criminal-inhabited island nation of Bagalia, fought the Avengers yet again as well as Spider-Man (actually Doc Ock in his body) and his Superior Six. Zemo then coordinated an attack against the Thunderbolts, capturing them, leading some to join the Masters, but the subsequent battle with the sentient Cosmic Cube Kobik resulted in the death of Katrina van Horn, AKA Man-Killer.
Zemo then joined Hydra’s Army of Evil with an alternate version of Captain America and helped them take over the U.S. government. Though Hydra was fearful of Zemo’s Masters and put them all in stasis. After the Underground of Super Heroes launched a coordinated attack against Hydra, Zemo was ordered to reawaken them but T’Challa, AKA Black Panther, and the Winter Soldier stopped him before he could carry out the task.