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September 19, 2017

Separated at Birth: the beetle-browed villains of American comic books


The Free Dictionary provides a definition of “beetle-browed”:

[Middle English bitel-brouwed , having grim brows, sullen, perhaps from bitil, betil, bug, beetle (from the resemblance of a pair of thick eyebrows to the tufted antennae of a cockchafer); see beetle1, or from bitel, sharp (probably from Old English *bitol, biting, from Old English bite, bite); see bit2 + brouwed (from brow, brow; see brow).]

Beetle-browed villains in comic books visually convey malevolence through a deep scowl. The remarkable similarity between some of these characters, though, extends beyond their visages. These villains also are very heavy-set, often donned in armour, frequently (but not exclusively) capable of projecting explosive forces from their hands, are alien, and seem born to rule. The examples we have listed below are the most obvious.

In the images below, we have deliberately not identified which character is which and modified the images to greyscale. The similarities are remarkable.

grayscale-tyrants

When we get into the pedigree of the characters, listed below in chronological order of creation, we can see that writer Jim Starlin was responsible for the creation of three of these characters, for different publishers:

Darkseid (Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #134, DC Comics, 1970) Creator: Jack Kirby
Thanos (Iron Man #55, Marvel Comics, 1973) Creator: Jim Starlin
Mongul (DC Comics Presents #27, DC Comics, 1980) Creator: Len Wein and Jim Starlin
Lord High Papal (Dreadstar vol 1, #11, Eclipse Comics, 1984) Creator: Jim Starlin
Apocalypse (X-Factor #5, Marvel Comics, 1986) Creator: Louise Simonson
Gog (Justice Society of America, vol 3, #16, DC Comics, 2008) Creator: Geoff Johns
Morax (Empress #1, Icon, 2016) Creator: Mark Millar (about which we have previously written)

This is hardly the first time this replication has been recognised, and it is fair to say that the creators of each version has found inspiration from earlier characters. Given the first in line is Jack Kirby’s Darkseid, it is curious to note that in Mr Kirby’s biography, written by Mark Evanier and entitled “Kirby: King of Comics” (Abrams Books, 2008), the inspiration for Darkseid’s visual appearance was actor Jack Palance:

jack palance

We conclude by noting that these beetle-browed cosmic tyrants, and other villains, spend much time ruminating on thrones: in order, Mongul, Darkseid, Thanos, Apocalypse, Morax, Despero and Monarch.

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