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The untold truth of Marvel's Electro

Electro has never been Spider-Man's most important villain. Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus have traded that position back and forth over the years, with Venom or even Carnage getting the occasional run at the top. But Electro's always been there, almost since the very beginning, and he's kind of a cornerstone of Spider-Man's rogue's gallery.

Electro's power set is easy to sum up — he's bursting with literal electricity — and his classic costume is unmistakable in its design, simultaneously over the top and perfectly simple. Designed by Steve Ditko, who also created Spider-Man's costume, the centerpiece of Electro's look is his absolutely bananas mask, which frames his face with five giant lightning bolts. But despite his odd look, Electro has been a mainstay of Spider-Man comics and movies for a long time. And today, we're diving deep into the shocking truth behind this classic baddie. From his electrical origins to his cinematic appearances, here's the untold truth of Marvel's Electro.

The origins of Electro

Electro first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man #9 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Electro wasn't a mad scientist or a Shakespearean villain with vengeance in his heart — he was just a regular guy named Max Dillon, a former lineman for the electric company who'd accidentally been given electric powers and figured it would be good for robbing some banks. Meanwhile, Spider-Man was too distracted by Aunt May's illness to even notice the beginning of Electro's crime spree. However, Spidey and Electro would be inextricably linked by the one man who hated them both equally.

J. Jonah Jameson, editor of The Daily Bugle, happened to be in a bank when Electro showed up to rob the place. His power, confidence, and the fact that he recognized Jonah convinced the newspaperman that Electro must be Spider-Man in a new disguise. Naturally, Jameson immediately printed this assumption — "Electro is Really Spider-Man!" — in his newspaper as a fact because that's how tabloid journalism works. Peter Parker even complicated matters. Because he was so desperate for money to help Aunt May, he faked some photos of Electro becoming Spider-Man to sell to the Bugle. Naturally, Spider-Man was eventually left with no choice but to catch Electro, thus proving they weren't the same guy.

Electro is a big fan of supervillain team-ups

As far as supercriminals go, Electro always played well with others. It makes sense, given that he lacked the megalomania of many supervillains. Max was just a workaday criminal who wanted to use his electrical powers to make money, so it was often beneficial to seek strength in numbers, especially when superheroes were a constant factor. As a result, Electro was a founding member of the Sinister Six in The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1, alongside Doc Ock, Mysterio, Vulture, Sandman, and Kraven the Hunter. As the membership rotated over the years, Electro remained a constant in the group.

Not only that, he belonged to a separate group specifically for fighting Daredevil. The melodramatically named Emissaries of Evil consisted of Electro, Stilt-Man, the Matador, Gladiator, and Leap-Frog. Electro was actually the founder of the group, which he put together to get revenge for being thwarted by Daredevil.

As if that's not enough, he was also recruited by the Wizard, Sandman, and the Trapster for a brief run in the Frightful Four, a villain team that existed specifically to fight the Fantastic Four. Although he remained primarily associated with Spider-Man, Electro often doubled as kind of an all-purpose Marvel villain. Need a reasonably powerful guy to join your team of villains? Meet his price, and Electro will do the job.

The nature of Electro's powers

Comic book science is an iffy thing, and something like "electrical powers" can be defined so loosely as to be almost meaningless. Still, here are some things Electro has been able to do over the years. He can shoot lightning bolts and even create localized electrical storms. He can travel by propelling himself along magnetic lines of force. He can use the electric power within his body to increase his strength, speed, and ability to recuperate.

Electro can even imitate Spider-Man's wall-crawling ability by forming a magnetic bond with the metals in a building. Because Spider-Man's own power is (sometime) electromagnetic in nature, Electro can disrupt it, causing Spider-Man to fall off walls. He can also feel electricity moving through any electrical device and even manipulate that electricity to control the device. At peak power, he can electrocute someone who just touches his skin, although Electro himself is immune to electrocution. He can draw power from a battery or other electric power sources, so that his own stores of energy are never depleted. 

Crazier still, when an experimental procedure increased Electro's powers, he was able to fly by manipulating electromagnetic fields. He also gained magnetic powers similar to Magneto's, and he could even paralyze or manipulate other people by affecting the electrical impulses in their brains.

Electro does animation

Spider-Man has frequently been adapted into TV animation, and Electro has been there with him from the very beginning. For example, he appears in three episodes of the 1967 Spider-Man series, voiced by Tom Harvey.

In the 1980s, Electro appeared on Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends, voiced by Allan Melvin, and he even played a key role in the origin of Videoman, a character created for the series who embodied the time as a living Atari-esque video game character.

Weirdly, the 1990's Spider-Man animated series had its own version of Electro whose secret identity wasn't Max Dillon but Rhienholdt Schmidt, the son of the Nazi supervillain known as the Red Skull. This was part of a multi-episode story involving lost heroes from World War II, and it seems the writers just needed another Spider-Man villain to play the part of the Red Skull's son.

In Spider-Man: The New Animated Series, Ethan Embry played Max Dillon as a teenage classmate of Peter Parker's, who's transformed into a freakish electrical being. The version of Electro voiced by Crispin Freeman in The Spectacular Spider-Man actually has big yellow lightning crackling off of his head, instead of just a mask with that motif. In Ultimate Spider-Man, a comical version of Max Dillon is played by Christopher Daniel Barnes, who was also the voice of Spider-Man in the '90s.

Meet Ultimate Electro

In the early 2000s, Marvel launched the "Ultimate" line, in which new versions of their heroes and villains existed in a new modernized continuity. That world's version of Max Dillon first appeared in Ultimate Spider-Man #12 by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley. This Electro was way too cool for green and yellow spandex or a mask. He was bald and scarred, with a solid black outfit and only a lightning-shaped cutout at his neckline to identify him as Electro.

Unlike his more colorful counterpart, this Electro was given his powers on purpose by the villain Justin Hammer. Hammer then traded Electro to the Kingpin in exchange for a real estate contract, and Electro first encountered Spider-Man as a henchman to the Kingpin. He also joined this reality's version of the Sinister Six, which had the on-the-nose name of the Ultimate Six.

As a member of that team, he was also involved in Peter Parker's death (in the story that introduced Miles Morales). In fact, Electro was at that final battle, and he was about to deliver the killing blow on Peter himself when Aunt May shot him three times. He was later revealed to have survived, but the Ultimate Universe was phased out too soon for it to matter very much.

Electro showed up in The Amazing Spider-Man 2

While Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy featured quite a few classic baddies, Electro didn't make it to the big screen until The Amazing Spider-Man 2, the second of two films with Marc Webb directing and Andrew Garfield as the titular web-slinger. As played by Jamie Foxx, this version of Max Dillon took some visual cues from Ultimate Electro, but he had a completely original background and origin.

This time, Dillon was an electrical engineer who was impressed by Spider-Man when the hero rescued him during a battle with the Rhino. However, he became mentally unstable after gaining superpowers from a combination of lightning and genetically engineered electric eels (yeah, really), and he soon found himself in conflict with Spider-Man. After his initial capture, he was freed by Harry Osborn and given a suit that helped control his powers, making him an even more formidable villain ... but nobody Spider-Man couldn't take down before the end of the movie, of course. Granted, the Amazing Spider-Man movies definitely have some redeeming qualities, but this version of Electro wasn't one of them.

Electro in the modern age

Over the years, Marvel has made various efforts to keep the original version of Electro updated and modern in his aesthetic and sensibilities. Inevitably, that led to the loss of the big yellow lightning bolt mask in favor of a bald head and lightning-shaped facial scars, similar to his Ultimate Universe counterpart.

However, there's an inevitable conflict created by certain characters like Electro. Many modern comics creators and fans see the bright green and yellow costume as old-fashioned and embarrassing. However, that costume is what makes Electro recognizable, and it's a major part of what makes him fun and memorable. So there's this constant push and pull between the impulse to modernize and update and the need to retain what's appealing about the character, even if it's in conflict with the first impulse.

So basically, Max Dillon spent years putting on and taking off that mask, and Marvel artists have continually redesigned that mask, trying to find a way to make it "cool."

The death of Max Dillon

After years of misadventures and defeats, Max Dillon was burned out and beginning to lose control of his powers. For example, he accidentally electrocuted a woman named Francine Frye who tried to kiss him because he couldn't control the amount of electricity his body was giving off. Soon after, he lost his powers when the Black Cat overloaded him with electricity during a battle with Spider-Man.

The mad scientist known as the Jackal later broke Dillon out of prison and wanted to restore his powers. Max was reluctant ... until the Jackal revealed that he'd cloned Francine Frye. Unfortunately for Dillon, the attempt to restore his electrical powers failed when the electricity charged his special suit but wasn't absorbed by his body. To everyone's surprise (except perhaps the manipulative Jackal), it was Francine who absorbed all that energy through Max Dillon's body with a kiss, killing the former Electro in the process.

Here comes the new Electro

Possessing all the electrical powers that had once belonged to Max Dillon, Francine Frye became the new Electro, complete with her own version of the green and yellow costume, lightning bolt mask and all. This was in 2014, and she's remained Marvel's Electro in the comics ever since, even as Max Dillon continues to appear in movies and TV (although Francine is Electro, and voiced by Daisy Lightfoot, in the current Spider-Man animated series, which began in 2017).

Frye even took over Dillon's spot as a mainstay of the Sinister Six, joining a version of the team led by Iron Spider, alongside Hobgoblin, Bombshell, Spot, and Sandman. Later, she also joined an all-female version of the Sinister Syndicate led by the second Beetle, which also included Lady Octopus, Scorpia, Trapstr, and White Rabbit.

Although she's a clone, Francine retains the memories of her previous life, including how she died by kissing the original Electro. But then she killed him by kissing him in turn, so things do balance out with time. She was heavily involved in the "Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy" storyline, in which she was established as a more durable and resilient clone than the many who tend to degenerate whenever it's convenient for the storyline.

Electro is shocking fans in video games

Spider-Man has appeared in a vast number of video games over the years, and Electro has been somewhere in almost all of them. After all, a brightly colored guy who shoots lightning is perfect for a video game of just about any level of complexity. Max Dillon even got to be the main villain of one game, 2001's Spider-Man 2: Enter Electro for the Playstation.

Electro also plays a major role in the popular 2018 Playstation 4 game Marvel's Spider-Man. Voiced by Josh Keaton, Max Dillon is again depicted as bald with lightning-esque facial scars. As the game's story begins, Electro is already a veteran supercriminal that Spider-Man has fought many times, and he's currently in a maximum security prison for supervillains. During the game, Doctor Octopus breaks Electro out and asks him to join the Sinister Six in exchange for power-enhancing armor and maybe a chance to become a being of pure energy, something this Electro aspires to. As part of the Sinister Six, Electro attacks the city's power grid and teams up with Vulture to try and kill Spider-Man.

Jamie Foxx returns as Electro

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 wasn't a success, but it seems that Jamie Foxx made an impression as Electro. Despite the fact that the recent series of Spider-Man movies under the MCU banner, directed by Jon Watts and starring Tom Holland, are completely unrelated to the Webb/Garfield movies, Foxx is returning to the role of Max Dillon/Electro.

Interestingly, this follows the reveal at the very end of Spider-Man: Far From Home that the MCU's J. Jonah Jameson is played by J.K. Simmons, the same actor who played the part in the Sam Raimi/Toby Maguire Spider-Man movies. At the time, most fans assumed Marvel had hired Simmons again because he was such a perfect Jonah that nobody else could play the part. However, as talented as Jamie Foxx is, no one came out of Amazing Spider-Man 2 declaring that nobody else could play Electro.

So, what if these casting trends hint at something bigger? All the MCU movies are connected, after all, and there's an upcoming one titled Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. So if the idea of a multiverse is coming to the MCU (in fact, the concept came up in Spider-Man: Far From Home but only as a lie told by Mysterio), and we're seeing that certain characters in the MCU look just like they did in other Spider-Man movies ... is it possible this is all heading toward some kind of live-action Into the Spider-Verse situation? Time will tell.

In the meantime, it will be interesting to see Jamie Foxx put a fresh spin on Electro, and with Vulture, Scorpion, and Mysterio already established, can the Sinister Six be far behind?