Mysterio: Spider-Man and the Sadistic Illusionist

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BY July 9, 2019

First Appearance of Mysterio: Amazing Spider-Man #13
Created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

Now that many of us have seen Spider-Man: Far From Home, let’s get to know the great illusionist a little better. Mysterio in one of the most popular Spider-Man villains of all time, but he should probably be taken a lot more seriously than the superheroes realize.

Mysterio’s Origin

Spider-Man Mysterio
(Marvel Comics)

Quentin Beck, the original Mysterio (there were two others), was a brilliant special effects artist in Hollywood. Unfortunately, he was a terrible actor, and couldn’t make the leap from behind the scenes to in front of the camera. So, naturally, he becomes a supervillain. His original intent was to make the world believe that he was the greatest superhero of all time. To do this, he brings down Spider-Man. J. Jonah Jameson already hated Spider-Man and was more than happy to give Mysterio press.

Beck starts making it look like Spider-Man is committing crimes around New York. His illusions are so convincing that even Spider-Man starts believing Mysterio and thinks he’s going insane. He even seeks the help of a psychiatrist. Of course, Spider-Man eventually figures out what Mysterio is doing and exposes him. Mysterio vows revenge (as villains tend to do) when he’s arrested.

Right away, Mysterio becomes one of Spider-Man’s most formidable enemies and a fan favorite. With his fishbowl helmet, green costume and purple cape, he was also one of Spider-Man’s most visually interesting villains too. He’s also one of the most underestimated villains not just for Spider-Man, but for the entire Marvel Universe. When Quentin Beck wants to destroy someone, he does a damn good job of it, even if he’s defeated in the end.

Six Sinister Mysterio Stories:

Spider-Man/Deadpool Vol 1: Isn’t It Bromantic

Why yes, that is the Deadbuggy. (Marvel Comics)

Spider-Man and Deadpool have a strange relationship. Deadpool has a crush on Spider-Man while the Webslinger begrudgingly calls the Merc with a Mouth a friend. They both talk—a lot—so it’s easy to see why a comic pairing these two together is a great idea. And the first major villain Spider-Man and Deadpool take on is, of course, Mysterio. Mysterio wants to bring Spider-Man’s alter ego Peter Parker down, and hires Deadpool to do it. He tricks Wade Wilson into murdering his friend. When Deadpool figures out what he did, he goes to Hell to get Spider-Man back and then swears revenge on Mysterio. Oh, he also runs over Mysterio with the “Deadbuggy.”

Webspinners: Tales of the Spider-Man: The Menace of Mysterio

J. Jonah Jameson Mysterio
(Marvel Comics)

Webspinners was an anthology series that had top creators write short Spider-Man arcs. And in the very first arc, Mysterio performs one of his cruelest illusions ever. This time, however, Mysterio doesn’t target Spider-Man. Instead, it’s J. Jonah Jameson’s unlucky turn to experience absolute Hell—almost literally. Mysterio convinces Jameson that not only is he dead, but he’s in hell and all of the demons look like Spider-Man. But if you think this is sadistic, we’ve got more stories to talk about.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1/Spider-Men

Spider-Men #3 Cover (Marvel Comics)

In one of the first crossovers between the main Marvel Universe and the Ultimate Universe, Miles Morales and Peter Parker team up to defeat Mysterio. It turned out that Mysterio operated in the Ultimate universe for a while. He created a robot version of himself and even threw Ultimate Kingpin out a window (Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1), taking over the criminal underworld in the process. We don’t learn how much control he’s had in the Ultimate universe until Spider-Men. Mysterio might have failed to become a criminal mastermind in his own universe, but he built a crime empire in the Ultimate one.

Spider-Man: Return of the Burglar

Mysterio Triumphant
(Marvel Comics)

Mysterio does a number on Spider-Man in this seminal arc by Marv Wolfman and Sal Buscema. First, he convinces Spider-Man that Aunt May is dead so that the Burglar—THE Burglar, as in the one who killed Uncle Ben—could break into the Parker home and rob some hidden mob fortune. Making Peter think May is dead isn’t even the first terrible thing. Mysterio makes Spider-Man believe that he’s drowning. Sure, Spider-Man escapes the illusion, but this time, Mysterio gets the upper hand. He fills Parker with chemical depressants that temporarily neutralizes his powers. Mysterio just walks away, leaving Spider-Man a wreck. But hey, at least Aunt May isn’t really dead, right?

Old Man Logan

Mysterio does what no other Wolverine villain could: Breaks him (Marvel Comics)

Mysterio’s most evil acts weren’t even in Spider-Man comics. And they are so sadistic, he makes Loki and Joker look like amateurs. Mysterio only appears briefly in Old Man Logan, long enough to destroy Wolverine in ways that no other X-Villain was ever capable of. Using the scents of Wolverine’s enemies and his illusion technology, Mysterio tricks Wolverine into believing that his foes have invaded the X-Mansion. Wolverine kills them all—every single X-Man member. When Mysterio draws back the curtain and Wolverine sees what he did, his psyche breaks. He spends the next few decades refusing to pop his claws. Lady Deathstrike, Sabretooth, Cyber, Sinister, Magneto—none of them could break Wolverine the way Mysterio did.

Daredevil: Guardian Devil

Two Thumbs Up for this Comic (Marvel Comics)

Mysterio spent his entire career trying to drive Spider-Man insane. But then he was diagnosed with cancer, and given a small life expectancy window. Quentin Beck abandons his quest to break Spider-Man. His bucket list has one item: drive a superhero insane. Mysterio’s target is one of Spider-Man’s best friends, Daredevil. And man does he come close to succeeding. He frames Foggy Nelson for murder, makes Karen Page think she has AIDS—before getting Bullseye to kill her. During all of this, Daredevil protects a baby that might be the antichrist.

Mysterio does all of this hoping that Daredevil will kill him. But when Matt Murdock refuses to, Quentin Beck kills himself. However, what Mysterio did to Daredevil affected him for the two decades of comics that followed. It started him on the downward spiral that turned him into the Kingpin for a time and a demon of the Hand. He would’ve never sought redemption in Mark Waid’s run, which led to him having to hide his secret identity in Charles Soule’s run, and to where we are now in Chip Zdarsky’s current run. Two decades of painful stories all because Mysterio chose him for his swan song.

Far From Home

Mysterio’s big screen debut feels overdue, but it was worth it. Jake Gyllenhaal is fantastic as Quentin Beck and creates one of the most memorable villains in the MCU. While his background story changes, his methods haven’t, nor has his ambitions. Hopefully, we’ll also see him in Insomniac Games’ Marvel’s Spider-Man 2. Wherever he appears next, it’ll be fun to see how he terrorizes our favorite superheroes again.

All images via Marvel Entertainment

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Roman Colombo finished his MFA in 2010 and now teaches writing and graphic novel literature at various Philadelphia colleges. His first novel, Trading Saints for Sinners, was published in 2014. He's currently working on his next novel and hoping to find an agent soon.

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