In this feature, writer Rick Coste takes a look at the villains who have vexed our favorite wall-crawler over the years. From Doc Ock to Jigsaw, no villain is beyond the spotlight’s glare.
It seems that I have a thing for villains who struggle for respect, yet often fail time and again, to find it. It’s probably why when I was a kid I had such an affinity for Peter Parker. I saw myself in him as portrayed by Stan Lee. In Peter’s personal life it was always one step forward and two steps back. So too is it with the villains that have begun to populate the “Villain Spotlight” feature. This time around is no different. Enter…
In the last installment of the “Villain Spotlight” I focused the spotlight’s cold, bright eye on the Tarantula. The Tarantula was a Gerry Conway, Ross Andru creation and from the same time period, the one haunted by the advent of the Jackal, comes the Grizzly (Amazing Spider-Man #139-140, 1974).
We find out in this premier appearance of the Jackal’s new cohort (or patsy) that he was once a professional wrestler who went by the name of ‘The Grizzly’. His real name was Maxwell Markham and he was savage in the ring, with a penchant for putting his opponents in the hospital. True to form, a young J. Jonah Jameson saw an opportunity to bless his readership with some scathing editorials so he took it upon himself to bring ‘The Grizzly’, and thus Markham’s career, down. Flash forward a few years and Markham, seeking revenge, storms the offices of the Daily Bugle in hopes of meting out some bear justice on Jonah. This issue also contains one of my favorite panel sequences. I don’t know if it’s Gerry’s or Ross’ sense of humor but it captured the mood of this little arc perfectly.
Spider-Man puts a stop on the Grizzly’s efforts by tearing apart his bear suit along with the exoskeleton underneath.
As with some of his other villains, Conway seems to enjoy dipping into the past to bring them back. He did so again in 1985 (The Web of Spider-Man #58, 1985) when he allows the Grizzly a rematch. Seeking out the Tinkerer, Markham gets the old genius to restore his old, moth-eaten bear suit, as well as his rusty exoskeleton. Our sympathies are with poor Markham. He only wants to get back some of the respect he felt he lost during his first confrontation with Spider-Man. He isn’t such a bad guy when it all comes down to it (as we will see later). Spidey apparently shares our feelings since he throws the fight. He figures it’s the best way to stop the Grizzly’s rampage while allowing for Markham to save some face. In a touching end to the issue it is revealed that Markham figured out what Spidey did and was just glad to have had another shot at him.
The next writer to give the Grizzly a go is J.M. Dematteis (Spectacular Spider-Man #244-246, 1997). While Spider-Man is battling an unhinged Chameleon (DeMatteis is a genius when it comes to story with a psychological angle to them) the Grizzly is busy putting together a little group of villains he initially refers to as “The Spider-Man Revenge Squad” but is unofficially known as the Legion of Losers. This little group of wanna-be titans of terror include a new Kangaroo, the Gibbon, and the Spot. Particularly telling is Spider-Man’s summation of the Grizzly and Gibbon as “‘just a couple losers who stumbled into super-villainhood by accident”. To prove Spidey right the Grizzly misses out on a majority of the fight by getting his hand stuck in a wall.
Both the Grizzly and the Gibbon decide that perhaps they are sitting on the wrong side of the law and turn the tables on their temporary teammates. They also consider turning over a new leaf…
As crime fighters (Spectacular Spider-Man #252-253, #256, 1998).
While Spider-Man deals with Kraven the Hunter’s son Alyosha and Kraven’s ex-lover Calypso the two new “super-heroes” make the rounds in a vehicle even more ridiculous than the Spider-Mobile… the Bear-Mobile. Markham, true to form, quickly totals his new set of wheels by driving it into the Hudson (didn’t this happen to the Spider-Mobile also?). Why did he do this? Because he thought it was equipped with aqua gear. It wasn’t.
The two eventually stumble upon a bank robbery being committed by the White Rabbit gang led by White Rabbit herself. She demands one billion dollars from the city or, as she puts it, “the dynamic duo are doomed”. The mayor responds by coughing up a portion of the ransom… $2.50.
All of these setbacks, from his ill-fated attempt at a rematch to his equally humiliating run as a hero, prove to be too much for Markham so he lays low for a while. He occasionally turns up as background fodder in a panel or two, typically in bars (Spider-Man: Get Kraven #1, 2002). And then, in perhaps one of the more shameful issues to bear the name of Spider-Man, we see a lonely Grizzly searching for love online (Spider-Man Tangled Web #19, 2002). I hate to even include this little story (my apologies to Mr. Markham) but I would be remiss if I didn’t. Freshly out of prison Markham sets up an online dating profile and the only kiss he gets is from the Rhino. Yes… you read that right. The Rhino. I’m not going to even go into how that little transgression happened (suffice to say it was an accident of which neither of them are proud). How Markham even landed in prison is never explained for the last time we saw him was during his attempt to go straight. Perhaps it was the result of some shenanigans instigated by a late night drinking session.
Between bar visits (Sentry #5) he is cold-cocked by Starfox (She-Hulk #5, 2005) and is blown up by the Punisher while attending a villains-only funeral for Stilt-Man (Punisher War Journal #4 2007). He tangles with the Punisher again (Punisher War Journal #14-15, 2007) when Alyosha Kravinoff puts together a menagerie of animal themed super-villains. These include the Rhino, the Vulture, Kangaroo, Tiger-Shark, Mandrill, among others. Drugged and made mentally unstable they turn on each other with the Grizzly ripping off one of Man-Bull’s horns.
Markham kept an even lower profile after that. When money became a problem he went out west to rob a casino (Deadpool #23-25, 2008). In a complicated game of betrayals Deadpool gets the best of Markham and leaves him holding the bag… of Deadpool cash.
Since he’s already out west Markham decides to make the best of it, joining up with the forces of evil during Norman Osborn’s ‘Dark Reign’ days. In California he joins the Atlas Foundation (Agents of Atlas #2 & #5, 2009) and is eventually given the order to track down and kill the Punisher (Punisher #4-5, 2009). He, of course, fails.
Despite all of this, Norman Osborn sees something in Markham. Perhaps it’s stubbornness. Whatever it is, Osborn brings Markham in to join the Thunderbolts in order to take down the Atlas Foundation which is imploding (Thunderbolts #139-143, 2010). Markham eventually finds himself at the Siege of Asgard and battling the Mighty Avengers while trying to capture the Spear of Odin for Osborn. He manages to grab hold it briefly before being taken down by a diminutive Ant-Man who flies into his ear and ruptures his ear drum with one well-placed boot kick.
So where is Markham today? I am happy to say that he is no longer on the Raft. As you may know, the Raft is no longer a containment for super-villains as it was most recently converted into a headquarters for Spider-Ock (Superior Spider-Man #13, 2013). Unfortunately he is not doing so well as this sequence shows (The Superior Foes of Spider-Man #11, 2014).
He may be down on his luck but he is most certainly alive and kicking.