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High Evolutionary: Details Only Huge Fans Know About Marvel's Powerful Scientist

The High Evolutionary is a brilliant mind and a cosmic genius, with incredible powers and unique abilities that he's used to terrorize the Marvel Universe since the 1960s. First introduced as an enemy of the Mighty Thor in 1966, he soon graduated to chief adversary for some of comics' greatest super-teams. He's even led his own armies against alien worlds, and crafted his own home planet. But The High Evolutionary has unfortunately never been among the most talked-about villains in the Marvel comics. Despite his immense power and stature, he often cedes the spotlight to more famous supervillains like the Mad Titan Thanos or Kang the Conqueror.

But with his imminent arrival in the Marvel Cinematic Universe's cosmic trilogy capper "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3," the High Evolutionary is about to become known to millions. With a vast array of terrifying skills and a ruthless ambition to rival any villain in comics, he's as fascinating and awe-inspiring as any villain we've seen before. Throw in a cosmically complicated backstory, and only the most serious Marvelites can claim to know the ins-and-outs of the High Evolutionary. With this primer, however, you too can know everything you need to know about the MCU's next big bad.

Marvel's unsung mad scientist

Unlike so many cosmic despots in comics, from DC's Darkseid to Marvel's own Thanos, the High Evolutionary was once a mortal human being, and a brilliant scientist gone mad. Sure, the mad genius trope is one of comics' most enduring traditions — with the likes of Dr. Doom and Lex Luthor chief among them — but the High Evolutionary's origin takes him from simple scientist to supreme god-like scourge of the galaxy.

He was once known as Herbert Wyndham, an English geneticist who in the 1920s was enamored with the works of Nathaniel Essex (who himself would one day become the X-Men villain Mr. Sinister). On his own, Wyndham had at least some success in evolving lower mammals artificially, but struggled to achieve his ultimate goal of cracking the evolutionary code. While at a scientific conference in Geneva, however, Wyndham was approached by a mysterious visitor who would later be revealed as an Inhuman in disguise. This strange man revealed all the secrets that Wyndham required for his work, and with the help of his assistant Jonathan Drew, he finally succeeded, creating a unique serum that could evolve creatures into a humanoid state. 

Wyndham and Drew would use the serum successfully, but their twisted experiments resulted in their expulsion from Oxford University, who saw their genetic tampering as an abomination. But his road from frustrated, underestimated mad genius to interstellar warlord and tyrannical super-villain wasn't a straight line.

Master of Wundagore

Despite being banished from Oxford University, the mad scientist Herbert Wyndham and his colleague Jonathan Drew had no desire to discontinue their work. But they needed a new place to conduct their experiments, somewhere far from the reach of the scientific establishment whose rigid dogma would stifle their genius. To that end, the pair would settle in the remote Wundagore Mountains in Eastern Europe, away from any prying eyes. There, Wyndham and Drew would found the Citadel of Science, a secretive home where they could work in secret, without the meddling orthodoxy getting in their way.

A massive castle-like structure situated in the mountains, the Citadel of Science became the breeding ground for all manner of mutated creations. A cow was evolved to become a humanoid woman named Bova, who would be the Citadel's housekeeper and nursemaid to the New Men, an entire race of mutagenically-altered anthropomorphic animals that include pigs, pandas, horses, and beyond. The New Men eventually formed their own society in the mountains, and began referring to Wyndham as Lord High Evolutionary.

A select few of these New Men were trained as elite warriors who guarded the Citadel, and became known as the Knights of Wundagore. But over time, factions eventually formed within this animal-humanoid society. A rebellious creature known as Man-Beast — an evolved wolf — led a revolt against the High Evolutionary, who was forced to fight some of his own creations.

Chthon and the Scarlet Witch

Longtime Marvel readers will know that the Wundagore Mountains — introduced in the pages of "Thor" #134 in 1966 as the home of the High Evolutionary — are a major location in the Marvel Universe, closely tied to a number of notable heroes. It was also home to the being known as Chthon, an Elder God who dwelled in its caverns where he wrote the original Book of the Darkhold. After escaping to the Flickering Realms, Chthon later devised a plot to return to the mortal world of man, and it involved the wayward Maximoff twins, Wanda and Pietro, better known as Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, the children of Magneto. 

It was in the Wundagore Mountains that the Magneto's peasant wife Magda had escaped and given birth to the twins, and it was the High Evolutionary who took her in and gave her refuge. The Maximoffs spent their earliest days at Wundagore, and it was Chthon and his worshippers who infused Wanda with chaos magic, which later empowered her to become the Scarlet Witch, believing they were mutant abilities. But later retcons revealed even more, with the knowledge that Wanda and Pietro may not have been Magneto's children at all, and were in fact genetic experiments of the High Evolutionary himself.

Chthon, however, was ultimately released from his imprisonment by Gregor Russoff, an ancestor of Werewolf by Night Jack Russell, but was defeated by the Knights of Wundagore.

Superhero creator

Wanda Maximoff wasn't the only future superhero who was "created" at Wundagore. In addition to various New Men and the Knights of Wundagore — as well as a number of villains who emerged from his lab such as future Thunderbolts member Mongoose — the High Evolutionary was either directly or indirectly involved in the evolution of a few major Marvel heroes. The first of these is the original Spider-Woman, whose alter ego is Jessica Drew. If that name sounds familiar, it's because she's the daughter of Herbert Wyndham's original colleague Jonathan Drew. 

Initially, Spider-Woman's origin was that she was an actual spider evolved by the High Evolutionary. Later years saw her story retconned, and it was established that Jessica Drew had come to Wundagore as a child with her father. To cure her of a deadly disease, Wyndham created a treatment involving radioactive spider blood, giving her super-human abilities. Later, Drew would become an outcast among the New Men due to her human origins, and would leave Wundagore, later taking the moniker of Spider-Woman.

But that's not all: several other creations of the High Evolutionary wound up becoming major heroes, most notably White Tiger. Taken from the rainforests in Asia, a white tiger was mutated and evolved into a humanoid warrior whose genetic traits were specifically designed to track down rogue New Men, in particular the villainous Man-Beast. Years later, White Tiger would leave Wundagore too, winding up as a member of the Heroes for Hire alongside Luke Cage and Iron Fist.

His powers are the result of his own experiments

While Lord High Evolutionary's exosuit did grant him some incredible abilities, he was still mostly an ordinary human. But thanks to a nearly incalculable number of breakthroughs in his work, Wyndham began evolving his own body beyond that of a mere mortal. He used his genetic evolutionary accelerator on himself, gaining a number superhuman powers as a result. But the most prominent boost he received was the augmentation of his intellect, which increased to a staggering degree.

Over time, the High Evolutionary became disillusioned with his Earthly home, no longer content with the limitations of his terrestrial-based Citadel of Science. To further his work, he turned the Citadel itself into a spacecraft and sent it into the cosmos, which turned him from an ordinary superhuman into a cosmic powerhouse, as he continued evolving himself beyond the furthest limits of man. 

By the time the High Evolutionary returned to Earth, called back by his New Men, a vast array of new powers and abilities were a part of his genetic structure. This even included the nearly magical ability to evolve or devolve any living creature with but a thought, making him as close to a god as one could be.

Founder of a parallel Earth

While many fictional franchises have employed the concept of the multiverse, with different intersecting realities offering up alternate realms and variations on their characters, Marvel actually had a parallel Earth within the main Marvel Universe. Not a parallel reality, the world dubbed "Counter Earth" was a world created by the High Evolutionary as a vast, global experiment, and situated in the exact opposite place in our Earth's orbit of the sun. Founded by the High Evolutionary and his New Men after he'd left planet Earth, his goal was to design a duplicate planet that was free of evil, sin, and corruption.

This second planet Earth was an identical but alternate Earth, even including variants of popular Marvel characters like Reed Richards, Bruce Banner, and Peter Parker, as well as real-life figures like Richard Nixon. It was the High Evolutionary's goal to "evolve" a world into an ultimate paradise full of flawless human beings, and Counter Earth allowed him to get close to achieving it. But the villainous Man-Beast once again caused problems, infecting the planet with the evil that the High Evolutionary had hoped to erase.

Worse still, when knowledge of Counter Earth reached Marvel's pantheon of demi-gods like Galactus and the all-powerful Beyonders, it became their target. Galactus attempted to devour the world for his next meal, while the Beyonders wanted it for their own planet museum. 

He was a father to Adam Warlock

With a never-ending determination to seek the perfect being through evolution and genetics, the High Evolutionary has given life to a number of his own creations. But he's also notably helped evolve another being who himself had been created as the purest form of humanity: the hero known as Adam Warlock. Created by a mysterious group of scientists seeking mankind's perfection themselves, he was known only as "Him" upon his creation. But after battling his creators, "Him" reentered his birthing cocoon, only to be recovered by the High Evolutionary.

Indeed, the High Evolutionary was for some time a surrogate father to "Him," whom he renamed "Adam Warlock." He aided Adam in his new form, guiding him as a mentor. At this time, the High Evolutionary was in possession of the so-called Soul Gem, which he gifted to Adam Warlock to help unlock his potential, and assist him on his next assignment: to save Counter Earth from the threat of the vile Man-Beast. Following his success in freeing the planet, Adam Warlock would become a champion to the people of Counter Earth before defying the High Evolutionary and setting out on his own adventures as a quasi-mystical savior of the cosmos.

Since then, Adam Warlock has become a cornerstone of Marvel's cosmic stories. He's become a foil for Thanos throughout several "Infinity Gauntlet" sagas, and he's led the Guardians of the Galaxy. But his journey to interstellar hero all started under the tutelage of the High Evolutionary. 

Marvel's greatest villains

Though The High Evolutionary might not be as well-known as the likes of Galactus, Magneto, Dr. Doom, or Thanos, he is nevertheless one of the Marvel Universe's greatest threats. He's crossed paths — and crossed the proverbial sword — with just about every major hero, from Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four to the Avengers and the X-Men. Some of his earliest appearances found him in scrapes with Thor and the Hulk, and before long he was menacing the planet itself. In the late 1980s, before "The Infinity Gauntlet," the High Evolutionary was the catalyst for one of Marvel's great company-wide crossover events, "The Evolutionary War."

In that story, the High Evolutionary decided to bring his quest for humanity's perfection to a global scale, and it took the combined efforts of the X-Men, Avengers, Fantastic Four, and countless others to stop him. He and his Knights of Wundagore waged war with the Acolytes of the Savage Land, while on the cosmic playing field he clashed with the Phalanx and defied the Eternals in a story that saw him taken down by the New Warriors. More recently, he even encountered the heroes of the Ultimate Universe in a storyline titled "The Eternity War."

Suffice to say that while he might not be as recognized a villain as Marvel's most famous, the High Evolutionary is as big a bad as any there is, and has the battle scars to prove it.

A legacy in animation

The High Evolutionary may have never been one of the foremost villains in the Marvel Universe, but he's made a surprising number of appearances outside of comics. While it's taken him 15 years to make his live action debut in the MCU — where he's played by "Peacemaker" star Chukwudi Iwuji in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" — he's appeared in animation as far back as the early 1990s. In the "X-Men: The Animated Series" episode "Family Ties," the series visits Wundagore to explore the history of Magneto's children, and the High Evolutionary figures prominently into the story. 

A few years later, he would appear in an episode of the much-maligned "Spider-Man Unlimited," a series that was entirely based around the Counter Earth. On this world, the High Evolutionary rules a society of evolved animals called Beastials, while humans struggle to survive. In the kid-friendly "Super Hero Squad," the High Evolutionary is a bit sillier, voiced by "Star Trek: The Next Generation" star Jonathan Frakes, and by Corey Burton in an episode of "Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H."

The High Evolutionary was next seen on screen in the 2016 "Guardians of the Galaxy" animated series, in which he battles the Avengers and the Guardians after kidnapping Rocket Raccoon, Groot, and Captain Marvel. In a subsequent episodes he is trapped within the realm of Adam Warlock's gem. He also appeared in "Marvel: Avengers Alliance" in a mission in the Savage Land where he fights alongside Mister Sinister and Spider-Man villain The Lizard against A.I.M and the dinosaur baddie Sauron.

He's not your typical villain

Marvel is known for their complex supervillains, with the likes of Magneto, Dr. Doom, and even Thanos being more than mere maniacal monsters out to conquer. The High Evolutionary is no different, and might be one of the most compelling baddies in the Marvel universe, for power is not typically his ultimate aim. 

Determined to perfect the human genome, the High Evolutionary is a noble scientist on a quest for knowledge. His power and ruthless pursuit of his goals is what makes him dangerous, as he becomes willing to kill anyone who gets in his way, and risk the lives of countless millions in his twisted experiments. But he's been a noble anti-hero at times too, fiercely protective of his own creations, and sometimes even innocent human life. He once even called upon the aid of the Fantastic Four to help him protect the people of Counter Earth when it came under attack by Galactus. In that story, the High Evolutionary proved himself worthy of compassion, attempting to save the life of the interstellar planet-devouring demi-god when his consumption of the Poppup homeworld left him near death.

Deadly and powerful, the High Evolutionary has nonetheless demonstrated that he is not truly evil. He has been a kindly father figure to heroes like Adam Warlock and nurtured an entire race of new beings. That said, his value for life can be fleeting, as his low opinion of less evolved creatures usually puts him at odds with Earth's greatest superheroes.

He was almost Wolverine's creator

Since his introduction in "The Incredible Hulk" #181 in 1974, Wolverine has been the most popular X-Men character, and arguably the most beloved Marvel hero of them all. But Wolverine's origin was for decades shrouded in mystery, with very little known about his past prior to his entry into the Weapon X super-soldier program. It wasn't until the mid 2000s that Marvel would reveal his story, but the tale of how a little boy named James Howlett became the vicious clawed hero Logan wasn't always destined to be his origin. In fact, an abandoned storyline would have seen the High Evolutionary play a key part in Wolverine's past.

Long an urban legend, artist and writer John Byrne revealed to Comics Journal in 1996 the story of an abandoned origin story for everyone's favorite feral mutant (via UncannyXMen.net). Byrne explained, "The first origin that was concocted, was that he was actually a mutant wolverine, boosted up to human form by the High Evolutionary." According to Byrne, however, there became doubts about the idea because it seemed a bit too similar to the original origin story for Spider-Woman. "That works except that Archie [Goodwin, a Marvel writer] did a similar number in the first Spider-Woman story. And no matter how things have changed in that strip since, the idea has been done before so we dropped it."

Oddly enough, the concept of the High Evolutionary taking a small, feral clawed animal and evolving him into a walking, talking mercenary seems to be making a comeback in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3."