Armagideon Time

I forget whether my brother or I coined the term “Marvel Team-Up villain, injection ” but it firmly established itself as handy way to describe that class of disposable, website like this one-note characters which tended to serve as adversaries in the various team-up books of the 1970s and early 1980s.

The gist ought to be familar to anyone who has read more than a couple issues of Marvel Two-in-One, what is ed Marvel Team-Up, or even mid-tier solo titles like Spectacular Spider-Man from the era — throwaway villains based around the thinnest of high concepts, used as a quick and ludicrous means of sustaining twenty-two pages of narrative boilerplate. Lacking the staying power or compelling hooks of true jabronies, these flimsy foils were a thin cut above the advertainment adversaries found in any given Hostess ad.

The central concepts involved were either timelessly generic (such as “a huge honking wheel of destruction” or “a bunch of silly ring-based gadgets”) or shaped from an all-thumbs interpretation of some less-than-current trend. While inhabitants in latter category could be laughably bizarre when applied to something like disco culture, things took a turn for the grotty when they involved heavier concepts…like militant feminism, for instance.

Behold the MAN-KILLER! (Because “Vagina Dentata” wouldn’t fly past the CCA and “Oh No Ladyparts” was a little too on the nose.)

This malevolent misandrist was former championship skier named Katrina van Horn whose body had been grotesquely shattered after a chauvinistic rival decided that a murder-suicide tumble off a steep cliff was preferable to losing out to an uppity dame. The crippled Van Horn was taken under the care of a sinister group of “militants” who sensed her potential use as an agent for their vague revolutionary agenda.

Though Van Horn was grateful for the super-powerful exoskeleton, goofy hovertank, and earth-toned fighting togs (including a fetching mirror of Venus emblazoned codpiece) provided by her new crypto-radical friends, she quickly (and violently) parted ways with her benefactors in order to pursue her own agenda…

…the death of all men everywhere, as decreed by the famous “How Clueless Dipshits Perceive Feminism” manifesto.

Her one-woman-and-squad-of-acolytes crusade to smash the partriarchy (in Marvel Team-Up #8, April 1972) was opposed by Spider-Man and Tigra-in-waiting The Cat. The heroes were sorely tested by Man-Killer’s superhuman strength and preternatural ability to spout Middle America’s idea of Dworkinesque rhetoric, but the fearsome feminist was eventually brought low when it was pointed out that her militant pals were actually a front group for Advanced Idea Mechanics…which happened to be run by — wait for it — a bunch of MEN.

Though the notion that Man-Killer could be rendered catatonic by a relevation of hypocrisy flies against the well-established truth that ideological wingnuts tend to double down when faced with contradictory evidence…

…it does dovetail nicely with the deeply-held geek belief that discovering a minor inconsistency in an opponent’s argument automatically equals EPIC PWNAGE.

The shock turned out to be only temporary, however. Soon Van Horn was back on the man-killing horse as both an agent for Hydra’s assassination division and as a member of Justin Hammer’s supercriminal entourage. As profitable as corporate misandry was, Man-Killer found herself returning to her purely ideological roots in Marvel Team-Up #107, when she battled Spidey and She-Hulk in an effort to spring a member of the radical sisterhood from prison.

The world in 1981 was not the same place as it was a decade prior, unfortunately. After vociferously rejecting her old activist ways, the ex-militant turned against her man-killing savior, causing an explosion that killed both women while clearing the way for a glorious post-feminist future under the Great God Gipper.

Though it seemed like Man-Killer’s story reached a decisive conclusion, the character was later brought back as both an adversary-turned-member (as “Amazon”) of The Thunderbolts…

…where she’d turned in her scars and codpiece for a new ‘do and a slightly mellower take on gender politics.

Be that as it may, I think it’s important to not lose sight of the core-concept of Man-Killer and what she represents — a horribly problematic conception of “feminism” rendered as a shrill and malevolent straw woman and marketed via a medium with a huge kiddie demographic and a long history of troubling attitudes towards women. Calling her Nobody’s Favorite is a gross understatement.

16 Responses to “Nobody’s Favorites: Whoa oh, here she comes”

  1. Kirt

    Wow… Just, wow. You’ve had some losers on this column, but this one takes the cake for ham-handedness.

  2. sallyp

    Oh sheesh.

  3. Doug Frye

    I know the Thunderbolts talent pool only ran so deep, but M-K seems like a more likely candidate to meet Scourge in the Bar with No Name.

  4. bitterandrew

    Honestly, when I first came up with the idea to feature Man-Killer, I thought she had been killed in the Bar With No Name.

    Turns out it was Letha.

  5. Jordan Levells

    I actually have the Essential Marvel Team-Up volume that has Man-Killer’s first appearance. It was the story that I came back to to read again and again years ago. Probably because on the funny as hell name of the villain. “MAN-KILLER” just seems hokey even for the 70’s. I’m just surprised it was Gerry Conway who wrote the story. I figured he’d be above stuff like this.

  6. Cary

    Jesus, that is the worst shit…but that codpiece rocks.

  7. Brad Curran

    “I know the Thunderbolts talent pool only ran so deep, but M-K seems like a more likely candidate to meet Scourge in the Bar with No Name.”

    I was fully expecting that to be how this entry ended.

  8. Kevin Lighton

    I’d guess she avoided Scourge because she was supposed to be dead already at the time.

    Then again, Mark Gruenwald was responsible for Superia, who was the same basic straw-feminism in a distinct, but equally terrible, character.

  9. Jon H

    In the first panel up there she looks like she’s going to pop her claws.

  10. Abberation, The

    Mother of God.

    This past week I’ve had unpleasant online conversations with some of most defensively-sexist dipshits 4chan has ever spawned (“political correctness devours the soul!!”) and I still wasn’t even remotely prepared for this. I was gawking at that third sample for five solid minutes with my jaw dangling.

  11. Rottgutt

    I can’t disagree with anything you’ve stated here, but I will say this one thing:

    “Crawl, manling, crawl!” would make a kick ass album title.

  12. MrJM

    I didn’t know what to get my wife for Valentines Day — but then I saw that codpiece…

    — MrJM

  13. Harvey Jerkwater

    1. “Oh No Ladyparts” must be the name of my band, if I ever form one.

    2. As soon as I saw the character, all I could think was “Gerry Conway!” And lo, ol’ Ger didn’t let me down. In his extremely slim defense, he was twenty when he wrote this deathless classic. I wrote a lot of stupid shit when I was twenty. (Not “Man-Killer” stupid, because come on, but still.)

    3. Man, how many times did Marvel go to this well in the Seventies? I swear I’ve seen this exact bit (revolutionary zealot turns out to be pawn of forces he/she hates) at least a half-dozen times. Like that time the quasi-KKK of “The Sons of the Serpent” in the Defenders turned out to be run by a black man. Yeeg.

    4. Gruenwald’s version of this, Superia, while equally dipshitted in terms of politics and awareness, was at least a hoot of a read. Jeebus, that was a weird storyline. It was dumb and retrograde, but it was entertaining. And best left alone.

    5. An interesting example of what happens when crazy people are confronted with proof of their lunacy is “The Three Christs of Ypsilanti,” by Milton Rokeach. A mental hospital in the 1950s found three men who all thought they were Jesus Christ and had them live together. Today, it would be a reality show, but decades ago, it was a book. “Double down on the crazy” is about right. A fine read for all you in internet-land.

  14. Michael

    I rather liked her stint as a Thunderbolt, where they managed to give her at least some degree of nuance and complexity… as well as a hilarious exchange with Erik “Atlas” Josten where he tried to convince her to stay on the team, where she basically told him she was a lesbian, and walked off into the sea.

    Sadly, and inexplicably, she was also around during the brief-lived, ill-advised “Fightbolts” era.

    Still, her Thunderbolts storylines prove that even the worst of characters can be handled well with the right approach.

  15. Snark Shark


    and don’t forget M.O.D.A.M., the female verson of M.O.D.O.K.!

  16. bobby sneakers

    I remember buying and reading this issue in the early 70s and even to my rural, sheltered, 12 year old brain, man-killer made no sense at all as a paragon of andrea dworkin over-the-topness. its ending troubled me so much I don’t think I ever read it again (although I’m sure I still have it somewhere).

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