Jul 9, 2011

I felt like writing about Swarm today.

Some villains have to work for greatness.  You might think that a guy with the unlikely name of "Dr. Doom" whose primary motivation is resentment towards his college roommate might be a lame villain, no?  Well, if you would, you'd be a Communist, because Dr. Doom rules.  But some villains just have a great concept - and even if their subsequent adventures don't turn out to be world-shattering epics, they're still cool.  One such villain is Swarm - because he is a Nazi made of bees.

Don't ask how the bees support that cape.  Or, uh, how he has eyes.
Created by Bill Mantlo, John Byrne, and Mike Esposito in 1976's Champions #14, Swarm tapped into the '70s pop culture zeitgeist.  Now, Nazis have always been ideal comics villains.  They have instantly recognizable scary iconography (swastikas, skulls, eagles), they tried to carry out evil plans so crazy they could have been thought up by Stan Lee, and they're so evil that you can't help but cheer for the hero as he punches them in the face.  Superman, Captain Marvel, and basically every other '40s hero spent half the decade fighting Ratzis - and even now, like half of Captain America's rogues gallery is composed of Nazis, the children of Nazis, and/or the clones of Nazis.  Today, of course, any survivng Nazis are nonagenarians, necessitating various anti-aging serums or brain transplants or what have you to explain why Nazi villains are still in their prime, instead of watching Matlock in some kind of evil nursing home.  But in the '70s, World War II had only ended 30 years ago, and there were still plenty of Nazis hiding out in South America - something that had been brought to the attention of the general public in 1960, with the capture of Adolf Eichmann in Argentina. The popular culture of the '70s reflected this, with novels (which later became movies) like The Boys From Brazil, where Nazi doctor Josef Mengele (who really was hiding out in South America) cloned an army of boy Hitlers, and the somewhat more subdued Marathon Man, where a Nazi dentist does unspeakable things to people's molars.  The traditional menace of Nazis, combined with the exotic South American jungles, made them ideal pulp villains.

That's a hell of a resume.
So yeah.  Nazis are scary.  You know what else is scary?  Killer bees.  In the '70s, Africanized honeybees (which aren't bigger or more venomous than the average bee, just meaner) were the natural threat du jour.  TV shows like In Search Of told the American public that the bees were marching inexorably north, and by 1980, they would be up to their ass in deadly, deadly bees.  This hysteria reached its zenith in 1978, with the release of The Swarm, an amazingly terrible disaster movie in which killer bees menace Michael Caine and Katharine Ross and, hilariously, destroy a nuclear reactor.  But I digress.

So you've got Nazis, and you've got bees.  Put 'em together, you've got Swarm!   Nazi beekeeper Fritz von Meyer fled to the jungles of South America after the war, where he studied killer bees - until he found a very unusual hive in an area that had been bombarded with radioactive meteorites.  A hive built by mutant super-intelligent killer bees!  He studies the bees, and builds a bee-controlling raygun to make the bees into his "insect army with which to rule the world!" because, you know, Nazi.  He shoots them with it, but it only makes them mad...and then they eat him.  But he survives!  Thanks to the bee-ray, the bees absorb his consciousness, and he becomes Swarm, a man-shaped swarm of bees (which turns out to conceal von Meyer's skeleton), accessorized with a purple cloak and white gloves.  And, uh, giant robot bees, for some reason.  Initially lured to LA by an Interpol agent who'd stolen his queen bee, he fought the Champions, a haphazard super-group composed of characters leftover from cancelled books that weren't being used anywhere else - kind of like Spam, really, but with Ghost Rider and Hercules instead of brains and spinal cords.

SCIENCE FACT: bees do not actually eat people.  Not even Nazis.
The Champions disbanded a couple issues later, but Swarm was too awesome a concept to lay fallow for long.  He went on to fight the Avengers, the Secret Defenders, the Runaways, and the Thunderbolts, but his most consistent opponent has been Spider-Man, because if you're an animal-themed Marvel villain, you have to fight Spider-Man.  He's also been popular enough that he's made it into an episode of Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends, Toy Biz' '90s action figure line, and even ill-starred Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. Interestingly, the whole Nazi angle was pretty much dropped after his first appearance, in favour of a "kill humanity so insects can rule" motivation - Dan Slott did a nice job of combing the two during his Mighty Avengers run, however.

Springtime for Hitler, and apiary.
(Mighty Avengers #24, written by Dan Slott, art by Rafa Sandoval and Roger Bonet Martinez)
In conclusion: Swarm is awesome.  That is all.


  1. I love learning a bit about the context in which things are created. The killer bees, the Nazis in South America... nice one Rob.

    --Andrew S.


    U.S. Agent is awesome.