Among the many esteemed guests to visit SDCC last weekend, one of the most notable, yet underlooked, arrived during the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 presentation. As director James Gunn and members of the cast stood on the stage, a haughty man draped in purple made his way from the back of Hall H. His arms outstretched, a look of contempt and pity on his face, the purple man moved to the crowd and unceremoniously grabbed the mic from Gunn. “Call me sire,” he demanded.
Of course, the man in question is actually Peacemaker star Chukwudi Iwuji, who will be playing baddie the High Evolutionary in Guardians Vol. 3. The High Evolutionary may not be the most famous of Marvel’s bad guys, but his introduction comes at a pivotal moment in the MCU, giving him the potential to forever change the face of the franchise.
High Evolutionary’s Role in Guardians Vol. 3
First introduced in 1966’s Thor #133, written by Stan Lee and drawn by Jack Kirby, the High Evolutionary is Herbert Edgar Wyndham, a scientist devoted to improving the species of the world. His various experiments lead to the creation of New Men, animal-human hybrids (think H.G. Wells’s The Island of Doctor Moreau) who do his bidding.
Disgusted by the limitations of our world and the heroes who thwart him, the High Evolutionary eventually creates a planet on the opposite side of Earth’s orbit. Dubbed Counter-Earth, this world acts as an Eden from which the High Evolutionary can redo creation in his own image. To protect Counter-Earth, High Evolutionary chooses a perfect golden man created by another group of scientists, a man who initially was given the name “Him,” but soon chose his own title: Adam Warlock.
Early reports of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 indicate that Gunn and company will be following the outline of these stories. The end of Guardians Vol. 2 teased the coming of Adam Warlock (played by Will Poulter), and set photos show what appears to be New Men. Furthermore, Gunn has said that this third movie will deal with the origin of Rocket Raccoon, leading many to believe that Rocket is a New Man from Counter-Earth.
The High Evolutionary and the X-Men
There’s certainly the chance that High Evolutionary will be a one-off villain, a big weirdo who fights the Guardians and then goes back to creating new pseudo-Earths with his animal pals. But given the placement of Guardians Vol. 3 in the Phase 5 timeline, the High Evolutionary may signal so much more.
High Evolutionary was at the center of one of Marvel Comics’ bigger crossovers from the 1980s, The Evolutionary War. Stretching across all of Marvel’s 1988 annuals, The Evolutionary War saw the High Evolutionary return to our Earth, bent on improving the genetic materials that he saw there. Driven mad after his death at the hands of the Hulk and his eventual resurrection, the High Evolutionary creates the “Evolution Bomb,” a weapon with the ability to force citizens of Earth to further evolve. He’s thwarted by not only the Avengers (especially the newest MCU recruit Hercules) but also the Fantastic Four and the X-Men.
In fact, later stories further explained the High Evolutionary’s backstory, tightening his connection to the X-Men. Before becoming a mad scientist, Wyndham studied the writings of Victorian-era geneticist Nathaniel Essex, aka X-Men villain Mr. Sinister. In addition to being one of the most fabulous bad guys in the Marvel Universe, Mr. Sinister is the Earth’s foremost expert on mutant genetics, a master planner who orchestrates events in the lives of Scott Summers aka Cyclops to create the perfect specimen.
It was Essex’s work that inspired Wyndham to begin experimenting with genetics. After being chased out of Oxford in the 1930s, Wyndham conducted his experiments on Wundagore Mountain, where his first batch of New Men called themselves the Knights of Wundagore. There, they not only did battle with the wielder of the Darkhold but helped two young twins named Pietro and Wanda Maximoff – Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch.
Even if you’ve never cracked open a Marvel comic book, you likely recognize some of those names. Wundagore and the Darkhold both played a big part in WandaVision, a TV series focused on Wanda Maximoff, and in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
But the more interesting connection relates to the timing of the High Evolutionary’s arrival in the MCU. Guardians Vol. 3 comes at the start of Phase Five, which builds toward the coming of the Fantastic Four at the start of Phase Six in 2024. In an interview with Phase Zero, Iwuji was asked if the High Evolutionary would be involved in Rocket’s origin. “It’s so interesting that people have been narrowing it down just to Rocket because he is the big bad of the movie,” Iwuji said with a wry smile. “So he plays a big part in a lot of people’s stories, and I think there are going to be a few surprises with that.”
In other words, the High Evolutionary, a character obsessed with genetically evolving others, a character inspired by mutant researcher Nathaniel Essex, is entering the MCU right around the time that the word “mutation” gets dropped in Ms. Marvel and Professor Charles Xavier appears in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Could the “big part” the High Evolutionary plays in other stories be the creation, or at least proliferation, of mutants in the MCU?
Ever since Disney purchased 20th Century Fox for the rights of the X-Men and the Fantastic Four, there has been the question of how mutants would be introduced into the MCU. Some rumors suggest that something will happen to increase the amount of MCU mutants, leading to a movie not called X-Men, but The Mutants. More than any other character we know of, the High Evolutionary is the perfect vehicle for mutants to enter the MCU, especially if Guardians Vol. 3 involves the Evolution Bomb.
We’ll know for sure when Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3 releases on May 5 2023.