As the third phase of the MCU comes to a close, we only now move into the realm of comic book storytelling I’ve eagerly anticipated since Nick Fury crept into Tony Stark’s Malibu mansion whispering the sweet dream of the Avengers Initiative. The team assembled and their roster includes the ranks of A-List, B-List, C-List, and even a few Z-List characters. Handled with thoughtful and loving cinematic care, the gulf between characters like Captain America and Rocket Racoon has dwindled significantly. Marvel Studios proved that no character is too silly or absurd to exist. With the old guard fading into the background, we’re ready to celebrate The Eternals, Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu, and whomever else Kevin Feige pulls free from their nearly endless source well.
The same goes for the villains. The Avengers have pummelled all the popular kids and a few of the dweebs as well. We’ve watched them crack the skulls of Loki, The Red Skull, Ultron, and the Mad Titan Thanos. In their solo adventures, they’ve scraped the bottom of the barrel a few times, but in doing so, they’ve increased the visibility of oddities like Ego the Living Planet and Ghost.
Unlike even the worthiest of Avengers, Peter Parker comes pre-packaged with a rogue’s gallery to rival Batman’s criminal lineup. Outside of the MCU banner, Sony Pictures Entertainment has already blitzed their way through the best of them: Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, Venom, Sandman, The Lizard, and Electro. When they leaped into partnership with Marvel Studios a decision had to be made regarding his big bads. Shall we take another pass at the classic villains, or should we attempt to revitalize goofballs like The Vulture, The Shocker, and The Scorpion?
Cue Michael Keaton’s crazed Bruce Wayne voice, “Wanna get nuts? Let’s get nuts!” In casting the man who was once Batman and Birdman as The Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming, the MCU continued its trend of grounding the bizarre in emotional truth. The scenery could be chewed, but it had to be done with reason. In a universe that has already explained away The Falcon’s bird costume as an experimental military-grade winged exoskeleton suit, what’s so weird about a blue-collar arms dealer flying the friendly skies? Direct an actor of Keaton’s caliber to a sincere tone and the most foolish of concepts can be realized.
With The Vulture established as a serious threat towards Peter Parker, there is no limit to the weirdos deemed acceptable for a cinematic treatment. But before we get to The Gibbon, Spider-Man: Far From Home will test the possibilities of comic book makeovers by stuffing the handsome mug of Jake Gyllenhaal beneath the fishbowl helmet of Mysterio. Never in my wildest dreams did I think we’d ever see this particular costume realized, and never did I believe it would look so fitting on a bod.
Purple cape? Check. Eyeball cape clasps? Check. Gold gauntlets? Check. Green spandex? More or less – check. Accompanying clouds of green gas? Check. Flowing atop the DGAF swagger of Gyllenhaal, Steve Ditko’s design is suddenly the most hotly anticipated action figure of the year. Being goofy bad has never looked so good.
Wait a second? Bad? Based on the latest trailer for the sequel, Mysterio appears to be one of the good guys. He’s hanging out with Nick Fury. He’s battling elemental demons terrorizing tourists. He’s supposedly helping heal a tear in dimensional space caused by The Snap(s) seen in Avengers: Endgame. One of Parker’s classmates goes as far as to call him “Iron Man and Thor rolled into one” before Flash Thompson shuts him down by emphatically stating, “He’s no Spider-Man.” Yer damn right.
First appearing in Amazing Spider-Man #13 published in June of 1963, Mysterio proclaims to be a valiant superhero willing to take down Spider-Man after he goes on a crime spree robbing banks. News reports of Spidey’s criminal activities are so convincing that they force Peter Parker to see a psychiatrist because he believes that the radioactive spider bite might have caused a split personality. The therapy sessions prove to be a little too probing for a kid attempting to maintain a secret identity. Parker decides to confront his accuser instead.
Mysterio and Spider-Man clash on the Brooklyn Bridge, and the wallcrawler retreats in defeat due to his inability to circumvent the new guy’s seemingly magical powers. Parker places a spider-tracer on Mysterio and follows him back to a secret lair. There he discovers that Mysterio is Quentin Beck, a failed special effects technician that used his talents to frame Spider-Man and boost his ordinary abilities. Now unimpressed by his trickery, Parker easily bests Beck in a rematch by relying on his spider-sense to navigate Mysterio’s smokescreen.
Quentin Beck clashes with Spider-Man over and over and over again. Whether he acts alone or alongside The Sinister Six (some combination of baddies that usually contains at least Green Goblin, Doc Ock, and Electro), the sadsack F/X man never achieves his revenge against Peter Parker. The closest the villain ever came to any sort of satisfaction was when he went against Daredevil in Kevin Smith and Joe Quesada’s much celebrated Guardian Devil storyline.
After the far too complicated and convoluted Clone Saga narrative that consumed the Spider-Man comics for years, Mysterio could not trust that the Peter Parker of today was the same Peter Parker he clashed with in Amazing Spider-Man #13. Rather than wasting his efforts on a New York hero he had never defeated, Beck sets his sights on vigilante lawyer Matt Murdock instead. Using his skills of illusion and information on Murdock purchased from the Kingpin, Beck orchestrates a plot involving the Anti-Christ, the arrest of his law partner Foggy Nelson, and the murder of his one-time girlfriend, Karen Page.
Pushed to a boiling rage, Mysterio was hoping that Daredevil would kill him in glorious combat because he recently learned of an inoperable brain tumor. Murdock, of course, refuses. With no chance of honor, Beck puts a gun in his mouth and pulls the trigger. So ends the sad tale of Spidey’s silliest looking villain. Except…
No one ever dies in comics. There are two competing storylines that resurrect Beck. One in which he floats out of hell to chastise a couple of wannabe Mysterios. Another in which he claims to have faked his suicide in front of Daredevil. Whatever the case, Beck finds greater purpose by jumping from one dimension to the next, which is a trick the Gyllenhaal version claims to have mastered in Far From Home.
The Ultimate Universe was created in 2000 when writers Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar were tasked with updating Spider-Man and X-Men for the modern era. After decades of continuity, Marvel Comics were rather alienating towards new readers. Here was an opportunity to welcome fresh eyes and update a few tired concepts. For the most part, the launch was a complete success because it never dared to connect with what was happening in those other denser timelines.
The classic fishbowl Mysterio made his Ultimate Universe first appearance as a Hollywood fabrication. In Ultimate Spider-Man #55, Teenage Peter Parker finds his way onto the set of a Sam Raimi directed wallcrawler biopic because a classmate was cast as an extra. While never outright named, it is implied that Bruce Campbell is acting under the mask. Sadly, the deadly chin never goes crazy, and this iteration never returns.
In a crossover comic event entitled Spider-Men, the Peter Parker of the original Marvel timeline tumbles into the Ultimate Universe where he encounters Miles Morales (who has donned the Spider-Man costume after his Peter Parker is killed in a fight with Green Goblin). The two Spider-Men go toe-to-toe with a robotic avatar of Mysterio that is being controlled by the Mysterio in the other dimension. Beck concocts a series of illusions equaling a greatest hits of Spider-Man bad guys. The experience is almost overwhelming to Morales, but Parker guides him through the B.S. thanks to his many years of ignoring Mysterio’s tomfoolery.
Defeated, Parker allows Ultimate Nick Fury to keep Mysterio in their dimension. He’s happy to be free of the pest. Naturally, there is another mega-crossover event in the making that smashes all of the multiverses together and will eventually redeposit Quentin Beck as a continuous thorn in Peter Parker’s side. Stay tuned for the MCU’s inevitable adaptation of Secret Wars.
You can dismiss the fishbowl as dumb and ridiculous, but he’s also pretty damn memorable. As such, a creator never wants to be rid of him, and Marvel writers delight in torturing Mysterio with infinite failure. What I’ve appreciated about his more recent appearances is that as a punching bag he has built up a tremendous amount of rage. Your laughter fuels his hate. When he channels that darkness the goofy Mysterio is actually quite scary.
So, looking at the entire comic book history of Mysterio, there is no way we can believe the charm of Jake Gyllenhaal in Far From Home. He may say he’s from another Earth, and he may look like he’s battling elemental creatures, but more likely than not, he’s the cause of all the harm we see befalling webhead in this latest trailer. Quentin Beck is a living lie. Don’t get lost in his dreamy stare.