I forget whether my brother or I coined the term “Marvel Team-Up villain,” but it firmly established itself as handy way to describe that class of disposable, 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, 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.