Forget the revelation of X-Haven’s location or hints at the final fate of Scott Summers or Colossus showing off his new grooming regimen; the thing that made me grin like an idiot while reading “Extraordinary X-Men” #2 today was a splash page featuring a creepy adult that’s still firmly in his goth phase. Mister Sinister is here and this X-Men fan is very, very pleased.
Prior to his appearance in “Extraordinary X-Men” today, an alternate version (but still oh so true) of Sinister appeared in Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic’s “Secret Wars” #2. I wrote about this moment before, how Sinister calling something as serious as the law “trashy” brings a big ol’ Grinch-y smile to my face. Now we’re about to get even more of him, and I can’t wait.
The X-Men have a large and impressive gallery of rogues, and every mutant lover has their go-to bad guy. I’m proud to announce that mine is Mister Sinister — and he always has been. He’s just a weirdo, man! Look at that big page from “Extraordinary” #2. He appears and, first thing, the guy gets creepily invasive about the Rasputin genetic code. He’s practically licking his black lips thinking about tinkering with their bloodline, and that’s how this guy says “hello.” That’s Sinister right there, and his unabashed pursuit of his icky icky interests makes me cackle with delight.
For those uninitiated into the way of the X, Mister Sinister was a Victorian-era mad scientist named Nathaniel Essex who was given a gothic glam rock makeover and an extended lifespan by Apocalypse. His hobbies include cloning psychopaths, rigging up overwhelmingly elaborate home entertainment systems, getting all up in everyone’s business (and by “business” I mean “genetic code”) and chilling at home while others do all the hard work. His interests include thigh high boots, tattered capes, goatees and Scott Summers and Jean Grey’s sex life.
I get that the X-Men have a lot of villains, and I get that Mister Sinister is a weird one to run with — but I honestly can’t think of anyone I take delight in more. The thing is, Magneto’s too tragic. That fact that makes his stretches of heroism, like in Cullen Bunn’s morally-gray “Magneto” ongoing, fascinating to me. And Apocalypse is too grandiose. The guy’s all business and all-powerful. Sure, the immortal Apocalypse also tinkers with genetics, but he sure doesn’t take any pleasure in it — not like Sinister. Sabretooth and Juggernaut are okay, I guess, but neither are ever treated as serious villains, in my opinion, and neither make compelling “heroes” as far as I’m concerned. I got a lot of love for Mystique, for sure, and how could I not love Sauron (you know, the jorts-wearing were-pteranodon)? But still, they’re second fiddle in my heart. None of them are… sinister… enough for me.
Okay, I also get that Sinister’s a weird character, one that’s a textbook example of “bark worse than bite.” If there was a storyline in the ’90s that creators wanted to add a little intrigue to, they’d add a dash Mister Sinister (just a sprinkle of the pasty, sharp-toothed creeper goes a long way). Put him in a coda, slap a red diamond on some passerby’s forehead, reveal that he’s watching the proceedings via hidden camera — that was a surefire way of making your X-Men storyline seem Very Important. This led to Sinister’s major criticism, one I recognize; the guy does nothing.
His biggest storylines (“Mutant Massacre” and “Inferno”) barely involve him. He’s operated on the periphery of a number of other storylines (he got tricked into trading Cyclops and Jean for a seemingly empty canister during “X-Cutioner’s Song!”), racking up as many actively menacing appearances as ones where he’s just chilling and smirking from the sidelines. The fact that he’s not a relentless heavy-hitter like the Jokers and Norman Osborns and Kingpins of the world causes some to think he’s a lame villain. I disagree. I think that’s what makes him great.
I like that Sinister’s main jam is doing his own thing. I like that he’s a villain that’s not wholly consumed by destroying the world — and specifically one group of heroes! Sinister’s just an armor-wearing shoulder-pad enthusiast that’s as content tinkering in his garage (on living subjects) as he is catching up on his favorite shows (a feed coming straight from a hidden camera in Scott and Jean’s quarters). When Nathaniel Essex shows up in a story in his sinister regalia, you really don’t know what you’re going to get. This is a guy with his own goals, and while all of his goals are definitely skeevy, they’re not all violent.
For example, one of my favorite Mister Sinister appearances happens in 1993’s “X-Men” #23, written by Fabian Nicieza with art by Andy Kubert, Mark Pennington and Joe Rosas. In the issue, the vampiric man with a flattop shows up on Cyclops’ grandparents’ property in Anchorage just to chat. Just to chat! I mean, yeah, Sinister references Scott’s “seed” within sixty seconds of conversation, but things are pretty civil. But remember that empty canister I mentioned earlier? Turns out the villain Stryfe out-schemed my favorite schemer in that trade, and Sinister’s head geneticist died from a virus unleashed when he opened that not-so-empty container. Essex was worried, and he just wanted to let Cyclops know!
He also — and this is downright delightful — had a major Freudian slip regarding what he knew about Cyke’s family tree. Sinister accidentally said “brothers” instead of “brother” when talking to Cyclops. When Scott questioned him on it, Sinister whispered out, “I’m sorry, did I?” Any villain that goes with the, “Uh, I’m pretty sure you misheard me” route after screwing up has my endorsement. Mister Sinister for official X-Men archenemy forever, please.
My love for Sinister most likely makes sense when you factor in that I got into X-Men with the debut of the Fox cartoon in October 1992. Sinister made his debut in the Season One finale via — of course — a hidden camera while spouting a pun on his own name. He was the major villain of Season Two and, along with his cryptic appearances in the comic and an awesome action figure that had light up eyes, he became a permanent fixture in my X-adoration.
Sinister also keeps fantastic company. He’s had two teams of henchmen over the years, the fantastically named Marauders and Nasty Boys. The Marauders are cutthroat, unapologetic bad asses whose actions speak louder than their words; when you see the Marauders tear through opposition with so little ease and banter, you kinda get why Sinister usually opts for a night of genetics and chill instead of getting his leather gloves dirty. The Marauders are just cool; they’re like if all the bounty hunters in “Empire Strikes Back” tripled their coolness by, you know, actually doing something in the movies.
The Nasty Boys are fart-filled frat bro weirdos with forgettable powers and gleefully ’90s designs who appeared more in the ’90s cartoon than in the comics — and I love them all dearly.
Are you on board for Mister Sinister yet? Have I done my job? He’s a polarizing character, for sure. I think you have to be the kind of X-Men fan that embraces the ridiculousness of the series to be as fully on board with him as I am. He is, after all, a garishly dressed continuity black hole puffed up with “importance” during an oft-maligned decade. Let’s not forget that he was originally intended by his co-creator Chris Claremont to be a child masquerading as a big bad adult. While that’s an interesting idea (and one that was maybe used for Gamesmaster in the ’90s… but… I don’t want to go down that continuity road right now), I don’t think it’s better than what we got. Instead of being a kid posing as an adult, Sinister is actually a 150-ish year-old man that acts and dresses that way — and that’s infinitely more fascinating and indicative of the unique, collaborative creation process that only happens in comics. The Sinister idea sparked in conversation between Claremont and artist Dave Cockrum, Marc Silvestri designed him, Nicieza explored his relationship with Cyclops, and Peter Milligan wrote his origin nine years after his debut. He’s the result of a number of contrasting ideas being spliced together and thriving against all laws of nature.
But really, what I love about Mister Sinister is describing him. He’s Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie infused with the creepiness of the pickup artist Mystery. He’s a genetic marauder blessed with Paul Lynde’s sassy tongue. He’s the campiest aspects of Halloween given sentience and a medical degree. He’s Paul F. Tompkins’ dastardly and diabolically evil twin — but the wardrobe’s about the same. He’s a hodgepodge of every actor that has every played Dracula, from Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee to Gary Oldman and Luke Evans. He’s all of those ingredients combined in a genetic soup and spiced up with something… sinister.
Brett White is a writer and comedian living in New York City. He made videos for the Upright Citizens Brigade as a member of UCB1 and writes for the podcast Left Handed Radio. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).
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