It’s possible that here on Chasing Amazing, I have a little bit of a villain fetish. I admit it. I love supervillains. As much as I love the compelling backstory of Peter Parker/Spider-Man, like any good popcorn-munching, entertainment-seeking lemming, I need to see things go “boom.” That’s where supervillains come in because unless you’re the Hulk, heroes very rarely make things go “boom.”
Which brings me to yet another – albeit strictly dedicated – rant about the Jackal, the primary antagonist for Amazing Spider-Man’s current mega-storyline, Spider Island. I’m still having a difficult time understanding why, out of the entire library of awesome supervillains, they decided to go with the Jackal as the impetus behind their first major Spider-Man storyline in years.
At first I thought it was because of Jackal’s involvement in the failed and derided “clone saga” from the 1990s. But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I realized that my dissatisfaction with the character, also known as Professor Miles Warren, runs much deeper than a storyline from the 1990s. It goes all the way back to the origins of the character.
I’ve debated on a few occasions what constitutes a good villain, but to generalize about it again, I’ve found the most successful adversaries typically are power-hungry masterminds with enhanced strength, intelligence or technology (or a combination), bent on taking over the world. With that one sentence, you’ve described such villainous luminaries as Doctor Doom, Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, Magneto, and on and on and on. The way I see things, the only acceptable sub-category is maybe someone with less worldly ambitions, but with an incredibly sympathetic backstory. In that case, you have a guy like Eddie Brock’s original Venom.
Jackal doesn’t qualify as any of those. In the world of professional wrestling, Jackal is the cowardly heel who cheats and manipulates and fans pay money to see get beaten to a bloody pulp. And while characters like that can draw attention and money, it’s usually only for the short-term, because if you keep bringing them back and finding ways for them to survive, you leave your audience exasperated.
The Jackal is created out of cowardice. After killing his professorial colleague, Warren dons the Jackal persona and sets his sights on rectifying a personal grudge. He blames Spider-Man for the death of Warren’s former student Gwen Stacy. When Jackal’s origin is explained in Amazing Spider-Man #’s 148-149, I was able to accept that Warren really cared for Stacy as student, because of her innocence and aptitude. But then the story takes a bit of a twisted turn when we learn that Warren’s feelings are actually obsessive and lustful, and he instead creates a clone of Gwen (complete with closest you’re ever going to get a to a nude drawing of Gwen in the 1970s).
And whereas the vast bulk of supervillains with a grudge take it upon themselves to do their dirty work, Jackal is always seeking mercenaries to take care of his business. This goes all the way back to his very first appearance in ASM #129 when Jackal hires The Punisher (in his first appearance as well). In the span of 20 issues, Jackal also hires Scorpion and Tarantula, before relying on a clone of Spider-Man he engineered himself before we are led to believe that he dies during the ensuing fight between Spidey and his doppelganger. Yes, Jackal has some battle skills – he apparently has claws treated with some kind of electrodes. But the reader very rarely sees him in action.
So we have a character who’s very proud of his cowardice, who won’t fight his own battles, and who is difficult to sympathize with because of his unhealthy obsession with a dead girl who’s about 30 years his junior. Somehow, despite how richly detailed Jackal’s backstory may be, he pales dramatically with a Doctor Doom or Magneto.
Granted, it’s unfair for me to compare the Jackal to two of the greatest villains in comic book history. But talking strictly as a long-time reader, I think it’s fair of me to be critical of his placement in what’s being promoted as such a vital storyline in the Spider-Man universe. What can’t be forgotten in all this, is that Jackal is the “clone” guy and if any story is going to involve genetically engineered DNA, like a virus that gives people spider powers, I guess Jackal is your man by default – unless you want to go in a different direction and give your readers and more satisfying villain who not only makes things go “boom,” but also gives you something to cheer about as it’s happening. My only hope for the Jackal, is that his cowardly, lecherous ways are finally wiped out and eradicated from the Marvel universe.