The Marvel Cinematic Universe is about to introduce one of the House of Ideas’ most prominent mad scientists. As you’ve probably seen in various Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 trailers, everyone’s favorite group of emotionally damaged space heroes will face off against the mysterious force known as the High Evolutionary. Played by Peacemaker’s Chukwudi Iwuji in the James Gunn-helmed film, this character’s roots go back to 1966.
First appearing in Thor #134 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the man also known as Herbert Wyndham sought to explore the potential of genetic manipulation in a far-off locale away from prying eyes and judgment. Ahead of the May 5, 2023 release, we’re taking a look at the character’s comic book history and how it may or may not connect to the MCU.
Do The Evolution
In his first appearance, the High Evolutionary came into conflict with Thor, who had come to Wundagore Mountain in Transia while looking for his gal pal Jane Foster. He was surprised to find armored opponents flying around on sky sleds who also just so happened to be humanoid animals underneath! Herbert had been spending his time in the Citadel of Science developing his Evolution Ray which transmogrified animals into humanoid beings he dubbed New-Men. Some, a group known as the Knights of Wundagore,were trained to protect their home with high tech armor and weaponry, but in a system based on medieval warriors.
A significant portion of the trailers for GOTG Vol. 3 feature what looks like a standard American small town populated by humanlike animals. Given Herbert’s involvement in the film, it seems like a safe bet to assume those are some of his more domesticated creations. Odds are, if we are seeing the New-Men, the Knights won’t be far behind. Plus, we already know that Rocket’s origins will be explored in this film and Gunn has now confirmed that the High Evolutionary was the one responsible for the creation of both Rocket and other friends of his that we’ll meet in the movie.
At the end of his very first storyline, the High Evolutionary deemed his creations too dangerous for the Earth and he flew away in the Citadel of Science (which was also a giant spaceship, naturally). Eventually, he established Counter-Earth, which was directly opposite his home planet in the same orbit around the Sun. On the way there, he came across the cocoon containing Adam Warlock, a character who will also be in the third Guardians movie. The two have had an odd, quasi-familial relationship ever since.
High Evolutionary’s most dangerous creation, Man-Beast — the reason he left Earth in the first place — managed to follow him to his new world and began causing trouble. During the ensuing fight, Warlock emerged. After defeating the menace, he agreed to work with Herbert to look out for Counter-Earth. Considering both of these characters will be in the cosmic film, it appears possible that the comic roots will be replicated to some extent and its worth noting, James Gunn has now also confirmed Rocket’s origins in the MCU are on Counter-Earth – which is likely the location of that aforementioned town seen in the trailers.
However, Adam Warlock also has such a complicated history — one deserving of his own article — that you never quite know how it will be translated on the big screen.
Though he has spent his fair share of time in space, the High Evolutionary is most commonly associated with Mount Wundagore on Earth. If that sounds familiar to you as an MCU viewer, it’s because the grand finale of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness takes place there. In the MCU, this is a powerful magical place where the demon Chthon revealed the spells of the evil mystical tome, the Darkhold. Given how that film ends, it might not be ready for any new tenants, but then again, there’s nothing like a blank canvas to create something new on.
It might seem unlikely that the same place could be both a major mystical locale and a scientific stronghold, but that’s exactly how it is presented in the comics. It was initially established as the High Evolutionary’s stronghold and then later revealed to not only be the birthplace of Wanda and Pietro Maximoff, but also the longtime prison of Chthon. The twins even spent some time with Wyndham, though the details have changed over the years through various comic book retcons. It seems unlikely that those connections will carry through in the MCU, but it remains a possibility. Given the MCU’s new propensity for playing opposite genres off of each other — like tech versus magic in the upcoming Ironheart — it would be interesting to see if they ever pit the High Evolutionary against Chthon or his agents down the line.
It might seem like the connection between the High Evolutionary and the Guardians of the Galaxy is pretty tenuous at this point in the source material, but the two came together in the Annihilation: Conquest event, sort of. In that story, the techno-organic alien race known as the Phalanx was being manipulated by Ultron to take over the destabilized Kree Empire. Leading into the main story, Star-Lord took center stage in a mini series where he led a ragtag group of prisoners on an important mission. This group proved to be a kind of proto version of the now famous Guardians of the Galaxy team, as it did include Star-Lord, Rocket Raccoon, Groot and Mantis, joined by others like Bug, Captain Universe and Deathcry. Though this team was never called the Guardians, it clearly set the stage for them, leading into a new Guardians of the Galaxy series stemming from Annihilation: Conquest.
During this event, the High Evolutionary had been invited to Kree space by its leader, the Supreme Intelligence, to figure out how to kickstart their stagnant evolution. He was still there when Ultron’s forces attacked. Though the scientist did not directly face off against Peter Quill’s team, he did manage to imbue Adam Warlock’s body with Ultron’s consciousness, though the hero fought back and soon regained control of himself. Given that all of these elements are already in the Marvel cosmic wheelhouse, it seems like a possibility that at least a few elements of this tale will find their way into the film, Okay, perhaps Ultron is a longshot, but he’s been known to be incredibly hard to kill in the comics, even though he was seemingly dealt with in Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Spinning A Web
In addition to Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, the High Evolutionary has connections to another super hero making their way to the big screen this year: the original Spider-Woman. Though the details have changed over the years, the basic idea is that Herbert Wyndham bought Wundagore Mountain along with his partner Jonathan Drew who was married to a woman named Miriam. Their daughter, Jessica, came along as well. Thanks to some uranium found in the ground, they were able to sell it off and build the incredible Citadel of Science. However, the girl eventually fell ill and Wyndham said he had a way to heal her that would involve spider DNA, but it did not sit well with Miriam. She died shortly after and Jonathan left, deeply depressed. Jessica remained in stasis for years until Herbert finally figured out how to cure her. Imbued with arachnid abilities, she went on to join Hydra, S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers.
There has been talk of a Spider-Woman film coming out from Sony for a few years now, including unconfirmed reports saying the character could find herself wall-crawling through the MCU thanks to the agreement that allowed for the three Spider-Man movies to do the same. While Jessica Drew definitely falls under the Spidey umbrella, she is far more connected to the greater Marvel Universe considering her connections to all of those different groups. It will be very interesting to see how the character’s origins are handled when she first shows up in animated form this summer in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.
Regardless of how the High Evolutionary fits into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and which elements are pulled from the comics, his brilliance will certainly pose a threat to anyone who tries to get in the way of his quest for knowledge.