Warning: The following article contains spoilers for Marvel Comics #1000, by Al Ewing and a host of other creators, on sale now.
Over the past 80 years, the Marvel Universe has grown to encompass thousands of heroes, villains and supporting players. While a lot of those characters don't have much in common, they're partially defined by their presence in Marvel's shared universe, where all of their stories are connected, at least on a tangential level.
Although many of those characters are world-famous icons like Spider-Man, Captain America and Wolverine, the overarching plot of Marvel Comics #1000 revolves around several lesser-known heroes. While the special issue is still largely a celebratory look back at Marvel history, told by a legion of fan-favorite creators, it also introduces the Eternity Mask, an ancient relic that gives its wearer theoretically unlimited power. After being used in several historical uprisings like the American Revolution, the dark mask has been worn by several surprising heroes with deep ties to Marvel's eight-decade history.
The Masked Raider
The Masked Raider is one of Marvel's oldest heroes in more ways than one. Created by Al Anders, this cowboy hero debuted alongside the original Human Torch in 1939's Marvel Comics #1. Wearing a mask that covered his head, Jim Gardley protected "the poor and the oppressed" in the Wild West from the 1840s until 1880. The charming, cunning gunfighter and his horse Lightning enjoyed only a handful of adventures before walking off into the sunset.
The death of this long-forgotten hero is revealed in Marvel Comics #1000, in which Dr. Matthew Masters tends to his wounds from a gunfight. With his dying breaths, the Masked Raider begins to describe the Eternity Mask's importance.
The Black Rider
Inspired by the Masked Rider, "Doc" Masters picks up the Eternity Mask to become the Black Rider. Introduced by Syd Shores in 1948's All Western Winners #2, the Black Rider was one of Marvel's most prominent cowboy heroes for a few years. After spending his youth as the outlaw Cactus Kid, he reformed, went to medical school and fought evil-doers using the masked Black Rider identity to hide his outlaw past.
After a life of adventures that included a team-up with the Ancient One, an 80-year-old Masters passed on his mask in 1930, as his health began to fail, as revealed in this issue. As he tells his successor, a thief named Dennis Piper, the Eternity Mask can make its wearer the equal of anyone he encounters on the battlefield.
The Operative/The Ferret
During the Great Depression, Dennis Piper was a Robin Hood-esque thief who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. By the time he debuted in 2011, in David Liss and Patrick Zircher's Mystery Men #1, he was already operating as the masked thief the Operative. Marvel Comics #1000 reveals that he became crime writer/private eye Leslie Lenrow, the Ferret.
Created by Stockbridge Winslow and Irwin Hasen in 1940's Marvel Mystery Comics #4, the Ferret earned his nickname thanks to his ability to "ferret" out criminals, and his pet ferret Nosey. He claims the Eternity Mask never worked for him, and gave it to the Three Xs, a power-hungry group of scientists. The Ferret was killed after he discovered the plot to assassinate Abraham Erksine, the creator of Captain America's super-soldier formula, in Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting's The Marvels Project.
As Marvel Comics #1000 reveals, the Three Xs eventually gave the Eternity Mask to the Thunderer, a World War II-era hero with a deafening sound-manipulating costume. Shortly after his debut in 1941's Daring Mystery Comics #7, by John Compton and Carl Burgos, Jerry Carstairs changed his codename to Black Avenger, or as this issue establishes, Dark Avenger.
In his most notable role, the Thunderer was an unlikely guest star in Spider-Man: The Animated Series alongside other forgotten World War II heroes in the 1990s. In the Marvel Universe, the Dark Avenger realized the dark intentions of what he called the Scientists Guild, and he was ultimately killed after they tracked him down and stole the Eternity Mask in this issue.
While they possessed the mask, the Scientists Guild evolved into the Enclave, which created the perfect artificial being, Adam Warlock. Jerome Hamilton, who debuted in Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's Fantastic Four #65, was an Enclave scientist who recruited Alicia Masters, the Thing's then-girlfriend, to help build Adam. After Adam caused a rockslide, Jerome seemingly died saving Alicia. However, Marvel Comics #1000 reveals he was merely blinded, and found the Eternity Mask in the rubble.
With the mask, Jerome became the minor vigilante Blind Justice. Introduced by Tom DeFalco and Mark Bright in 1988's Solo Avengers #8, this blind crime-fighter used an electric handgun. While he battles the Enclave and Alpha Flight's Guardian in this issue, Blind Justice's only previous appearance involved a tense encounter with Hawkeye. As Night Thrasher discovers in this issue, Jerome died under mysterious circumstances at some unknown point in the past when he didn't have the Eternity Mask.
The New Masked Raider
In the final pages of Marvel Comics #1000, a seemingly new character called the Masked Raider is introduced as the Eternity Mask's current owner. This hero also seems to have taken up the mission to stop the Enclave before they reshape the world in their own image. To prepare for the mission, this hero recorded and listened to several interviews and podcasts with other Marvel heroes, which were seen throughout the issue.
While the Masked Raider's identity is unknown, they have a cowboy hat, two revolvers and a domino mask that all seemingly reference Marvel's Western heroes. This mystery character also has pictures of Captain Marvel, Jessica Jones, Hawkeye and Wolverine pinned up, which suggests the Masked Raider isn't any of them.
With no other clues about the hero's identity, every other character in the Marvel Universe could be the Masked Raider, until the hero is unmasked next year.