By Ben Kalman
WHERE EVIL LURKS . . .
The Masters of Evil. The very name causes Avengers everywhere to tense up and look over their shoulders. Yes, the Masters of Evil is the first Marvel villain team, and it’s certainly one of the fiercest. Every one of the eight incarnations of the Masters of Evil has given the Avengers more than their fair share of headaches.
Today we’re going to look at the first four incarnations, as these contain the Masters of Evil characters that are specifically included in the Avengers set.
MASTERS OF ZEMO
The Masters of Evil first came about in the mid-60s, when Baron Heinrich Zemo (the original Baron Zemo) recruited three fellow super-villains: Nathaniel Garrett, the original Black Knight; the Melter; and Radioactive Man, Chen Lu, to help him attack New York. New York was where Captain America, Baron Zemo’s most hated foe, resided with the Avengers. Using his infamous Adhesive X*, Zemo and the Masters fought the Avengers to a standstill—until Rick Jones saved the day, taking an antidote concoction that was created by Paste Pot Pete. He freed Captain America and Giant-Man, and prevented the Masters of Evil from continuing their destructive paths. The Avengers captured all of them, save for Zemo, who fled to his base in South America.
However, it wasn’t long before the Masters of Evil were back in action, as Enchantress and Executioner joined forces with Zemo in the hopes of defeating the Avengers. While Zemo lured Captain America into a wild goose chase, Enchantress used her charm powers to control Thor’s mind and send him into battle against his other teammates. The Masters of Evil were once again doomed to failure, since Thor ended up overcoming his hypnosis and sent Zemo’s airship deep into space.
But Enchantress was not so easily defeated, since she was an Asgardian goddess. She brought the airship back to Earth, where Zemo transformed the beleaguered Simon Williams into Wonder Man and coerced him to attack the Avengers, threatening to withhold the antidote that Wonder Man needed for survival if he didn’t do Zemo’s bidding. Pretending to save the Avengers from an attack by the Masters, Simon was welcomed by the Avengers. With a little magical help from Enchantress, he was made a probationary member of the team.
He rewarded the Avengers by leading them to a trap in the Amazon, where he single-handedly defeated them and then brought them to Zemo’s South American stronghold. However, Wonder Man had a change of heart at the last minute, releasing Thor from his bonds, and helping the Avengers chase the Masters away. This selfless act was not without consequence, as without Zemo’s antidote, Wonder Man “succumbed” to his condition. He would be “brought back to life” more than once throughout the Avengers history, both as the Vision and as himself.
The two super-teams would lock horns a few more times, with the Masters of Evil being defeated by the Avengers each time. Black Knight and Melter would rejoin the team in the penultimate battle, with Thor defeating the two of them, causing Enchantress and Executioner to turn tail back to Asgard. However, Heinrich Zemo wasn’t so lucky, as he made the mistake of kidnapping Rick Jones in order to threaten Captain America. With the resonance of Bucky affecting him, the good Captain chased Zemo down to the Amazon. In the heat of battle, an errant shot by Zemo caused an avalanche, which buried and killed the Baron. Such was the end of the Masters of Evil—for several years, at least.
Heinrich Zemo had a brilliant mind and was a brilliant tactician, despite being an average man. Although his stats are fairly normal for a 4-drop, his leader ability gives his teammates a huge boost against impossible odds, like bigger opposing characters.
Melter, like many of the Masters of Evil over the years, was an aggressive villain who gave little thought to defending himself. This is reflected in his high ATK of 4 but low DEF of 1, his extraordinarily strong ability of taking out the Big Boys (characters of cost 5 or higher), and his huge defensive liability. His ability is a ray or beam that can literally melt through armor, and it’s most often used against Iron Man. The Melter melts Iron Man’s armor, taking him out of the action (reflected in the KO ability). But since his melting beam is artificial and isn’t an inherent “power, he’s defenseless without his belt, so he’s easy to take out once he’s used his ability.
Nathaniel Garrett, the original Black Knight, had no powers to speak of, but he did have a Pegasus as a steed. Although he’s a small drop, his advantage lies in his power lance, which fires blasts of heat, energy, or electricity, and doubles as an actual lance, which is why he removes and eliminates reinforcement, though only for front row characters. He essentially flanks the characters and prevents them from being reinforced by others, which is why he doesn’t have to be in combat to use his ability.
Dr. Chen Lu, the Radioactive Man, has the ability to absorb, manipulate, and emit radiation. His game text reflects his ability to gain power through radiation at the expense of others, who get ill from prolonged exposure. He provides an extra payment-power push of nuclear power, but you can’t recruit any other characters due to his radioactive side effects.
The Executioner is an Asgardian warrior, through and through. His stats are average for his size and cost, but his ability reflects his willingness to do anything necessary to defeat his opponent in combat. He fights to the finish at the expense of a teammate or other character card, but it gets results when it wins him a KO.
Finally, Amora, or Enchantress, has various mystical and magical arts at her disposal. While it would be nice to see an ability reflecting her charm powers (perhaps by having her somehow gaining control of male characters), this version focuses on her mystical side rather than her amorous side. She uses resource points to stun characters, which the Masters of Evil seem to find in abundance. The more mystical resources at her disposal, the more damage she can do, and she can take out multiple characters in a single turn if there are enough resource points.
THE FIRST ERA OF THE CRIMSON COWL
In the late 60s, the Masters of Evil re-emerged, but they did so with an almost entirely new cast of characters. Zemo remained dead (and he’s one of the few characters who’s pretty much remained dead ever since), and there was no Asgardian aid this time around. The Black Knight had plummeted to his death in a fateful battle with Iron Man, which left Melter and Radioactive Man as the sole original members of the Masters of Evil.
This version of the Masters was formed by Ultron under the guise of the Crimson Cowl, who gathered Melter and Radioactive Man, plus Klaw and Whirlwind, who doubled as the Wasp’s chauffeur. Not knowing that Nathaniel Garrett had died, Ultron sent him an invitation to join as well. This invitation was received by Garrett’s nephew, Dane Whitman, who took on the identity of the Black Knight to see what the fuss was all about.
Ultron then turned to Jarvis, the Avengers’ trusted butler, and used his encephalo-beam to hypnotically suggest that Jarvis would not be able to pay the medical bills his ailing mother had incurred. Ultron “suggested” that Jarvis help them in return for the necessary payments. The blackmail ploy worked, and Jarvis unwittingly betrayed his friends and employers by providing the Masters of Evil with the codes and blueprints for the Avengers Mansion security system. However, Ultron wasn’t done yet, as he didn’t pay up and then framed Jarvis for the crime. By setting him up in the Crimson Cowl robes, it appeared that Jarvis was the leader of the new Masters of Evil!
Meanwhile, the Black Knight had seen enough, and went to warn the Avengers. Ultron had foreseen this, and sent the Masters to stop him. He sent his trusty Pegasus Aragorn to send for the Avengers, who arrived too late and were captured. They were placed inside a hydrogen bomb as Ultron revealed himself. He also revealed his plans to blackmail New York by using their lives and the lives of every New Yorker as a bartering tool.
It was Jarvis who would save the day, redeeming himself by escaping and finding the Black Knight, who saved the Avengers and helped defeat the Masters of Evil. This would also help him earn a spot on the team.
Ultron was a strong, tactical leader. He stayed behind the scenes, and let the others do his fighting for him, which is why his Crimson Cowl version has the leader ability and gives fellow attackers a leg up by stifling reinforcement.
Klaw, who went from sniveling lackey to power player to eventual leader of this incarnation of the Masters for their final caper, is made of solidified sound, and he projects that sound through an amplification device on his arm. He can create hard sound constructs, which are reflected in the plot twist’s card text as sound representations of real people, but also could be just about anything else. He can also use the sound sonically, as seen in the Sonic Disruption card, which essentially paralyzes his opponents while they try to block the sound from their ears. Klaw’s own text shows his high DEF—it’s hard to hurt him, let alone to stop him—and the ability to put a character out of action by overloading them with sound. It costs a little bit, but the exertion is worth it.
Finally, Whirlwind’s ability is to daze an opponent as they try and keep up with him. He spends resource points to accomplish it, but the result is total exhaustion, and he doesn’t skip a beat as he doesn’t need to exhaust himself to use the payment power.
It was a long time (about fifteen years) before the Masters resurfaced, this time under the leadership of Egghead, Hank Pym’s oldest enemy. Pym was going through a viciously rough patch in his life, as he had recently divorced Wasp and was about to go on trial for treason. This made it the perfect time for Egghead to surface with his plans to invent and build a high-tech arsenal with stolen plans and parts and sell them to the highest bidder, and also to drag Pym’s name through the mud while he was doing it. He was directly responsible for Pym’s trial in the first place, having previously manipulated Pym into helping him by threatening the life of Pym’s niece, Trish, if Pym didn’t help him steal some adamantium from the government. Not only had he lied about Trish being in danger of dying, but he had brainwashed Trish into claiming that Pym was solely responsible for “kidnapping” her and for the theft.
With Pym ready to go on trial, Egghead formulated a plan to further frame Pym and force him to help Egghead create some high-tech devices. But first, Egghead had to build a team of super-villains to push this plan forward, and he had to test them out in the field. His first attempt failed miserably. Egghead broke Tiger Shark, Moonstone, Scorpion, and Whirlwind out of prison, intending to use them to rob a medical center for supplies. That plan went down the tubes once they got caught up in an unnecessary tangle with the Avengers. Whirlwind decided to “visit” Wasp before the heist and dragged his fellow Masters into a brawl that they couldn’t win. The four of them were all imprisoned.
Realizing that Whirlwind was a liability and that Scorpion wasn’t enough of a team player, Egghead freed only Tiger Shark and Moonstone from prison once again, and this time topped off the Masters with Shocker, Beetle, and Radioactive Man. This time, they succeeded. They broke into Pym’s court proceedings, pretending that Pym was secretly their leader and that they were there to break him out. They succeeded in “rescuing” Pym, but were forced to leave the captured Shocker behind. At first, Shocker claimed that Pym had hired him, but the Avengers discovered that Shocker had actually been brainwashed by Egghead and were able to use him to determine the location of Egghead’s base.
Meanwhile, Pym was being forced to work for Egghead, but he had some tricks of his own. Instead of building a machine to expand one’s lifespan, as Egghead had demanded, the machine that he built was actually a powerful weapon. When the Masters put Pym in the machine to test it on him and make sure it wasn’t a trap, Pym activated the weapons system and single-handedly defeated the Masters. The Avengers arrived just in time to stop a desperate Egghead from firing a gun on Pym. In fact, the arrow that Hawkeye lodged in Egghead’s gun barrel caused the gun to backfire and explode, killing Egghead. Pym was eventually cleared of all charges when Moonstone and Beetle provided evidence of his innocence in exchange for their own freedom.
Egghead was not as tactically intuitive as Heinrich Zemo or as strong as Ultron. However, he was more innovative and resourceful than the two of them, and far less egocentric. He knew he was brilliant, but he let others do his work for him, as he knew that he was best suited for the armchair and not for the battlefield. This is why his leader ability grants others around him the Masters of Evil team affiliation and why he can give them a DEF bonus as well. Whereas Zemo and Ultron were powerful and felt they were better than their lackeys, Egghead lurked in the background and only fought when necessary. But he could get things done when he needed to, and his high ATK reflects the powerful array of weapons that he had at his disposal.
Tiger Shark is a vicious and unfriendly character. His high ATK and average DEF shows that, like many of the Masters, he prefers to be on the offensive and doling out the aggression. His payment power reflects his tendency to get more and more aggressive in the heat of battle, giving a stat boost when he’s in the thick of it.
Dr. Karla Sofen, also known as Moonstone, became very powerful after absorbing the powers from a stone from the blue area of the moon. She could fly, phase, and shoot beams of energy and light. However, her card’s game text reflects her other side, which is Dr. Sofen the psychologist and, as her version suggests, master manipulator. Able to coerce others into doing as she wished, she resembles Emma Frost in her willingness to go to just about any length to come out on top in the end. Her ability to bring an opponent’s character to the front row reflects her ability to befriend even the enemies, use them for her own agenda, and be prepared to betray them at a second’s notice. In fact, in a later incarnation of the Masters of Evil, she was able to do this to the unstable Blackout, as she was the only one other than Helmut Zemo who could control him.
Beetle is one of the most important members of the Masters, as he would be integral in their shift to the Thunderbolts, in overcoming Helmut Zemo’s secret agenda, and in remaining as a team. (More on that next week.) His effect reflects his ability to befriend his teammates and to contact them when necessary, but also to remain on his toes and remain standing after the dust settles, as he can search out a copy of himself to give you an automatic power-up.
MASTERS MOST EVIL
The fourth incarnation of the Masters of Evil are the most infamous, as the troop organized by Helmut Zemo did what no others could—they gave the Avengers the beating of their lives. Sure, Ultron was able to capture them and even break into the Mansion, and Helmut’s father, Heinrich Zemo, was able to capture most of them with Wonder Man’s help, but Helmut superseded them by putting Avengers Mansion under siege and putting the boot to a variety of Avengers characters.
Helmut was Henrich’s son, and he blamed Captain America for the death of his father. Helmut’s life revolved around getting revenge on Captain America, not believing that it was his father Heinrich’s own fault that he had died. Because of this, he gathered the largest and most dangerous group of criminals ever imagined for the most daring of evil crusades ever envisioned—to attack and take over the Avengers Mansion, taking down the Avengers from within.
He had Absorbing Man and Titania free Moonstone, posing as police officers taking her into custody. Screaming Mimi and Grey Gargoyle snuck Yellowjacket out of prison, and, though they were captured, Yellowjacket escaped. Zemo also hired the Fixer, Goliath (Erik Josten, who had served under his father), Blackout, Mr. Hyde, Tiger Shark, Whirlwind, and The Wrecking Crew, which consisted of Bulldozer, Thunderball, Piledriver and The Wrecker.
Zemo sent several of his members on reconnaissance missions to find out info on the Avengers—who was there and who was absent, who was stressed out and who wasn’t, and who liked or disliked whom. They waited until all but Hercules and Jarvis were in the mansion, then hired Black Mamba, in her civilian identity of Tanya Sealy, to take Hercules out for a night on the town. At this point, they attacked. With the Fixer jamming the emergency transmissions to prevent a call for help, they battled past the security systems and easily took the mansion, along with Jarvis as a hostage. Their caper had begun and the mansion was indeed Under Siege.
Their first victim was the Black Knight, who was ambushed upon return by Mr. Hyde and Yellowjacket, who knocked him out cold. Next, the Fixer faked a call by the Wasp to Captain Marvel, who was banished to the Darkforce Dimension by Blackout.
It was Captain America who first uncovered the siege, notifying the fake Wasp that he had taken Whirlwind into custody, and puzzling at her apathetic response. He discovered that the real Wasp was actually at home, and they set off to figure out what was going on. They ran into a plastered Hercules, who waved them off and stumbled into the fray. Hercules took out Tiger Shark, and was in the midst of dispatching of The Wrecking Crew and Mr. Hyde when Goliath cold-cocked him. The others joined in and pummeled the unconscious son of Zeus half to death, sending him into a deep coma. Captain America was next, as he fell to the Fixer’s re-programmed security system and then to the heel of Zemo’s boot. Zemo then ordered Blackout to cover the entire Mansion and grounds with Darkforce energy, to prevent anyone else from stumbling in. However, the real Wasp had escaped their grasp, and transported Hercules to the hospital, with Ant-Man’s help.
Titania and Absorbing Man tried to get into the hospital to finish the job on Hercules, but were stopped by Ant-Man and the Wasp, who then decided to rally the troops and take back the mansion. Meanwhile, Helmut Zemo was attempting to torture Captain America. Cap’s resolve was solid, though, and from physical confrontation and threats to the opening of Cap’s foot locker and the destruction of his personal effects, nothing seemed to even cause Cap to flinch. Infuriated, Zemo ordered Mr. Hyde to kill Cap and Black Knight, but to do away with Jarvis first. Hyde removed Jarvis’s gag and started to pummel him, his tortured screams eliciting the first reaction from Cap—a stern glare and a single tear.
Then, all hell broke loose. Wasp’s cavalry re-invaded the Mansion, shutting down the power supply and freeing Black Knight’s sword, which he used to free both Captain America and himself. Captain Marvel had escaped her Darkforce prison with the help of the Shroud, and she rejoined them, while Wasp, Ant-Man, and Thor banded together to take down Mr. Hyde. One by one they battled on and took care of the Fixer, The Wrecking Crew and Goliath, and, with the aid of Dr. Druid, removed the barrier around the Mansion. Captain Marvel took off on a Moonstone hunt, but Moonstone wasn’t paying enough attention to her surroundings. While trying to get away from Captain Marvel, she slammed head first into the side of a cliff and broke her neck. Yellowjacket tried to escape in Zemo’s airship, only to crash back into the Mansion, forcing her to surrender. Dr. Druid went to the roof, where he tried to wrest Blackout away from Zemo’s mental control. The strain of this is what killed Blackout.
Finally, Captain America reached the roof and found himself face to face with Zemo. When Cap told an accusatory Zemo that his father had caused his own death, Zemo lost control and flung himself at Cap. Cap side-stepped and knocked Zemo off balance with his shield. Zemo slipped over the edge of the roof, and, hanging by a single hand, refused Cap’s offer of a hand up, falling to his apparent death below. He would survive, and all of the Masters would end up in police custody. Eventually, Zemo would break free and reform the Masters of Evil as the Thunderbolts.
Helmut Zemo was more sadistic and cunning than his father, making him more of a born leader and less of an individualist. His precise strategies left little room for error, which is why this attack was so successful and damaging. Unfortunately, his one weakness was his need for revenge, which clouded his path to glory. This is reflected in his ability, with very strong stats and a solid game effect—but that solid effect is limited to his teammates. When he is der Kapitaine, his opponents are in disarray, but when he steps to the front himself, he loses momentum.
Grey Gargoyle’s ability is to turn people to stone, which is an effect that last about an hour. In game text, this translates into the ability to prevent opponents from readying for a turn, and he can use his ability multiple times without activating himself, unlike the Melter or Shocker. As well, he has a high DEF of 6, as he is made of stone himself, which makes him tougher to take down.
Marcus Daniels (not to be confused with the other Blackout from the Underworld) has the power of Darkforce manipulation. He can conceal himself in it, or he can use it to enshroud teammates, somewhat protecting them from attack (hence, granting reinforcement).
The Wrecking Crew, as the plot twist suggests, are a sub-team that work together, engaging in pack tactics to swarm and pummel an opponent . . . much like they did to Hercules. This is why they all have the version “Wrecking Crew” and are rewarded for having that version when you play the plot twist.
The Wrecker is the leader, which is why he gives the rest of the team an immediate stat bonus, and he can also push them on by giving them an additional ATK bonus and the ability to attack hidden characters. He is also extremely strong, as he has powers that were granted to him by Karnilla, the Asgardian Norn Queen. These powers were intended for Loki, but mystically enchanted The Wrecker’s crowbar instead. (In a recent issue of Avengers, he was taking on Spider-Woman, Captain America, Luke Cage, Wolverine, and Spider-Man and decimating all of them).
Thunderball has a wrecking ball and chain, which is virtually indestructible and can actually shoot beams of electric energy. His powers are also Asgardian in nature, which is why he gets a significant stat boost and invulnerability if you don’t manage to recruit The Wrecker.
Piledriver is also the recipient of Asgardian mystical magic. Although he doesn’t have a special weapon, he’s just plain strong. Piledriver specializes in takedown maneuvers, which is why you can discard him to KO stunned characters.
Finally, Bulldozer, the guy with the big shiny head, is also mystically enhanced by Asgardian magic, and also has Army combat training—though he tends to prefer to ram into people with a vicious head-butt. Still, his power to prevent attackers from being stunned reflects his bull charges.
The next incarnation of the Masters of Evil was a short-lived group led by Dr. Octopus, intent on invading the Mansion once again, and after that came the Thunderbolts incarnation. This was followed by a recent group that was led by the new Crimson Cowl, underworld magnate Justin Hammer’s daughter Justine.
Next Week: When Masters Become Heroes . . .
Questions? Queries? Comments? Send ‘em along and I’ll try to get them answered in the column! Email me at:
Kergillian (at) hotmail (dot) com
* Adhesive X is the most powerful adhesive ever created. An invention of [Heinrich Zemo’s, there is no known solvent for it save Paste Pot Pete’s “antidote.” This is why the card prevents an exhausted character from readying—that character’s literally “stuck.”
Also known by his screen name Kergillian, Ben Kalman has been involved in the Vs. community since day one. He started the first major online community, the Vs. Listserv, through Yahoo! Groups, and it now boasts well over 1,700 members! For more on the Yahoo! group, go to http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Marvel_DC_TCG
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