Smoke and Mirrors
Spider-Man: “I know it’s an act.”
Mysterio: “Ah, but it’s such a good act. And Latin adds the right mysterioso touch. For example: In toto ento est! [ A snared Spider-Man flies towards a spinning industrial fan] You’re in for a whirl-ed of hurt.” – Spectacular Spider-Man, “Blueprints” (Season 2, Episode 1)
A high-class party is underway. A booming laugh rings out as mist floods the room. The mist parts to reveal a green-suited man with a purple cape and an opaque fishbowl for a head. “I am Mysterio, Master of the Arcane Arts and reliever of your wealth!” the strange man declares. A tipsy guest laughs and goes to slap the man on the back. A swarm of bats emerge from his cape, biting and clawing the reveler.
A group of bodyguards rush him, but are halted when a firestorm appears. Mysterio doppelgangers appear from the mist and start grabbing everything valuable. The partygoers attack the doubles and start rioting when they hit each other instead. A gunshot echoes through the room. The party devolves into a chaotic cacophony as Mysterio laughs, bows, and disappears.
Mysterio is one of Marvel’s lesser known hit characters. His garish outfit belies a cunning mind and a terrifying skillset. So who is he? What are his powers? Is he truly magical? Let’s find out.
Industrial Lights and Magic: Mysterio’s Backstory
Mysterio: “It’s payback time.”
Spider-Man: “Payback? For what?! You did it all to yourself!”
Mysterio: [shaky] “Yes, that’s what my psychiatrist said. But you know what? His sessions never made me feel this good!” – Spider-Man, “The Menace of Mysterio” (Season 1, Episode 5)
Apologies to George Lucas’ studio, but the title fits too well. Mysterio debuted in The Amazing Spider-Man #13 in 1964 and was created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.
Quentin Beck was a special effects wizard waiting for his big break as an actor. He finally got an audition, but wasn’t attractive or skilled enough to be cast. A despondent Beck decided to put his special effects skills to use by becoming a criminal. He started by disguising himself as Spider-Man and robbing banks. This attracted Spider-Man’s attention and led to a battle with Beck, who was now calling himself Mysterio.
Like a certain coyote, Mysterio invented countless tools and tricks to defeat Spider-Man, but was never able to kill the wall crawler. Even teaming up with the Sinister Six wasn’t enough to crush the arachnid superhero although he got close when he nearly drove Spider-Man to a nervous breakdown by exposing Spidey to gas that made him see hallucinations of his enemies everywhere he went.
Mysterio eventually learned he had a malignant brain tumor and decided to go out with a bang. Originally targeting Spider-Man, he subconsciously realized Spidey was actually a clone. He shifted targets to Daredevil and launched a campaign to drive him insane.
Daredevil was unimpressed by Beck’s convoluted plan and furious that his antics had allowed Bullseye to kill his lover Karen Page. Daredevil beat him within an inch of his life while ranting about how pitiful and unoriginal he was. Realizing that Daredevil was right about him being a ripoff, he stole a page from Kraven The Hunter’s book and committed suicide.
Multiversal Menace: Mysterio’s History
Mysterio: “Mysterio Avatar activated.”
Ultimate Mysterio: [echoing] “Mysterio Avatar activated.”” – Spider-Men
With Quentin Beck dead, others took up the mantle of Mysterio. The first was his ex-cellmate Daniel Burkhart, who wanted to avenge his friend. The second was a teleporting mutant named Francis Klum. The two copycats battled, only to be stopped when a third Mysterio appeared. Quentin Beck had returned from the dead.
Mysterio claims he faked his death, but it’s unclear if he’s telling the truth. Versions 2 and 3 have since been reported dead. While working on new technology, Mysterio created a portal to Earth-1610 (Marvel’s Ultimate Comics Universe). Seeing a new world to plunder, Beck created a robot called Ultimate Mysterio to ravage the Ultimate Universe.
A fight between Mysterio and Spider-Man launched the do-gooder into the Ultimate Universe, where the local Peter Parker had died. Spider-Man quickly encountered Miles Morales, the Ultimate Spider-Man. After a brief tussle, the Spider-Men teamed up to bring down Mysterio. Realizing that he had learned Peter’s secret identity, they trapped him on Earth-1610.
Insidious Illusions: Mysterio’s Powers and Personality
Bullseye: [dying] “Logan, stop. Please. Why are you doing this? You’re supposed to be our friend…”
[Bullseye turns into Jubilee and Wolverine looks around, seeing his fellow X-Men slaughtered.]
Mysterio: [walking around a corner] Did you really think you could do this alone? Take down forty supervillains? Talk about delusions of grandeur. But your friends… people who would hesitate… that’s a different matter entirely. [beat] My name is Mysterio, the Master of Illusions. My thanks on behalf of the criminal community.” – Old Man Logan
Mysterio doesn’t have superpowers, but his special effects make up for it. His costume constantly releases a smokescreen that can be altered to include hallucinogens. His fishbowl helmet protects him from the smoke and allows him to track his targets through the haze. He also has a 3D projector, boots that help him scale walls, and cape clasps that shoot lasers.
Mysterio’s more than just a high-tech suit. Quentin Beck studied chemistry, engineering, stage magic, hypnotism, and robotics. He was building robotic duplicates even before Ultimate Mysterio. Beck also trained with stunt actors, giving him hand-to-hand combat experience.
Mysterio is a film buff who frequently banters about movies while fighting Spider-Man. He acts flashy to cover up his self-loathing. He has tried to quit the villain business, but always returns because he’s happiest when he’s giving an overwrought speech while terrorizing people.
The Actors who play Mysterio
Mysterio debuted in 1960’s Spider-Man, where he was voiced by the late Chris Wiggins. Character actor Gregg Berger voiced him in Spider-Man: The Animated Series. Xander Berkeley (Gregory in The Walking Dead) played ol’ fishbowl head in Spectacular Spider-Man. The League’s Paul Scheer took over the role in Ultimate Spider-Man. Finally, he appeared in Marvel’s Spider-Man with perennial voice actor Crispin Freeman in the role.
Mysterio was planned to be the main villain of Spider-Man 4, with B-movie legend Bruce Campbell in the role. Campbell even cameoed in every other movie to build up to it. Sadly, it never happened. All that foreshadowing–wasted.
Mysterio finally makes his film debut in Spider-Man: Far From Home with Brokeback Mountain star Jake Gyllenhaal in the role. He seemingly has magical powers and works with Spider-Man to fight a group of beings called The Elementals. But is he friend or foe?
Didya get all that?
A very mysterious villain.
Jared Bounacos has written for Movie Rewind since 2017.