Nathan Fillion will play Simon Williams, a.k.a Wonder Man, in Hulu’s upcoming "M.O.D.O.K." series. It’s fitting that a villain who’s become a cult favorite over the years should have the epitome of a lower-tier hero with cult popularity as his main opponent. For a long time, Wonder Man seemed like the rare Marvel character who might actually stay dead. Dying in his first appearance as a villain-turned-hero, his name was mentioned and his return was teased many times until he was finally brought back. While most heroes tend to have a single trait that’s a personality flaw, Wonder Man has had a whole bunch of them that he’s worked through over the years.
When he did return, he wasn’t brash and confident like other heroes. Despite his enormous strength and durability, he was gun shy about combat and afraid of death. He was insecure around powerful women like Carol "Ms. Marvel" Danvers. He had to cope with an extremely weird family tree that grew larger when he was "dead," guilt over his past crimes, and come to terms with the changes to his mood that developed as a result of his ionic energy starting to get out of control.
Even when things went well for him, he was often overbearing, arrogant, and selfish. Despite all that, this hero who’s equal parts nerd and swaggering confidence keeps coming back, no matter how many times he’s been killed.
Wonder Man was introduced in "Avengers" #9 as an industrialist ruined by Tony Stark and out for revenge. The Enchantress charmed him into working with the Masters of Evil and infiltrating the Avengers, as Baron Zemo gave him powers but also gave him a poison that only he could cure. Wonder Man eventually double-crossed the Masters after he saw all the Avengers had tried to do with him and sacrificed himself to save them. Why kill off such a colorful new character? Stan Lee indicated that a character named Wonder Man had appeared in an issue of "Superman" prior to Simon Williams’ first appearance, and they were asked not to use it again.
After being teased as a member of Kang’s Legion of the Unliving, Wonder Man was resurrected by the Black Talon (at the urging of his boss, Ultron), in "Avengers" #151. According to Comic Book Resources, former Marvel editor Jim Shooter thought DC had told Marvel to cease and desist with regard to Wonder Man because of the similarity to the name Wonder Woman. Regardless, when DC introduced Power Girl after Luke Cage had taken on the Power Man moniker, Marvel decided it was time to bring back Wonder Man.
After a short stint with the main roster, Wonder Man became a founding member of the West Coast Avengers. After that team broke up, he joined Tony Stark’s new superhero organization, Force Works. In a surprise move, Wonder Man died saving the Avengers from the Kree.
Tangled family tree
The Williams family saga starts with patriarch and munitions inventor Sanford Williams and his wife Martha. They had two sons: athletic ne’er-do-well Eric and bookish Simon. Sanford wanted Eric to join him in the family business, but he refused. Simon jumped at the chance, but at just 22 years of age, he wasn’t ready.
Meanwhile, Eric Williams went crazy with guilt after his brother’s death and decided the Avengers were to blame. Getting tech for his power scythe from the Tinkerer, he became the Grim Reaper and nearly killed the Avengers. When he returned, he stopped short of killing the Vision when he realized he had his brother’s brain patterns.
Simon was instantly attracted to the Scarlet Witch when he returned. The Vision was jealous of Simon’s presence and got in a fight with him. They eventually came to terms with each other and Martha as being something like twin brothers. After the Vision was disassembled and brought back as a machine, Simon refused to give the Vision his brain patterns again, because he was in love with Wanda. When Simon returned from the dead and started dating Wanda, he and the Vision came to blows again – this time, because Vision felt like a hollow copy. Simon told his "twin" that they may have similarities, but Vision didn’t have to deal with the shame and guilt of his life. He was jealous of Vision because he got to lead a better version of his own life.
One of the most well-developed alternate Earths is Earth-691. This is the world where the future Guardians of the Galaxy helped free the Earth from the dominion of the Badoon. Many years prior to that, the Earth had been invaded by aliens who first made their camp on Mars. This was a bloody battle that killed millions and broke the spirit of many of Earth’s defenders. However, Simon Williams rallied the troops and was ready to lead them until the Vision, now on Neptune, teleported him away. Though the Vision assured him that he was saving his brother’s life and that he couldn’t have won, Simon still resented him for years while also taking the blame for humanity’s crushing loss.
Simon, being an immortal being made out of energy, stayed on Earth. Killraven and his crew eventually led a rebellion that drove off the Martians, but Simon kept a low profile until he joined a group of humans called the Commandeers a thousand years after that loss. He helped save Vance Astro’s life with an energy transfusion and reunited with the war hero Shamrock. After he eventually confronted his brother, Simon joined Martinex to form the Galactic Guardians, a group that proactively sought to protect the galaxy from its deadliest threats. He helped liberate Earth from a new threat: a mind-control plot by Dr. Doom, whose brain was still alive. He also flirted a bit with Rita DeMara, the Yellowjacket of the late 20th century.
Simon Williams: criminal
When a young Simon Williams was struggling to save his father’s company, his big brother Eric was like the devil on his shoulder. He encouraged Simon to embezzle from his company and pour that money into his shady Maggia contacts. Eric also tried to threaten Simon’s clients into cooperating, but that kind of approach didn’t work. Simon was arrested for embezzlement, but Eric claimed responsibility after Simon’s death. The reality was that it was Simon all along, and he felt guilty about it for years. Finally, Simon admitted to it on "The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson," and his bravery for that admission gave his acting career the boost it needed. Of course, he never did go to prison for this.
In Wonder Man’s solo series, things got ugly for him. First, he was unable to prevent the Shi’ar’s Nega-Bomb from detonating and wiping out most of the Kree civilization. It didn’t help that he had to fight the Vision along the way, who at the time had been stripped of his humanity. Being hit by the Nega-Bomb destabilized Simon’s powers, not to mention his sanity. It was his ionic energy that leaked and gave enormous power to a being called Angkor. Wonder Man had to summon up a murderous rage to finally beat it. Later he apparently beat a gang member to death, although it was revealed that the gang member died of a heart attack. Simon was cleared of all charges.
Saving the day against Emperor Doom
It wasn’t often that Wonder Man legitimately saved the day, but that was certainly true in "Marvel Graphic Novel #28: Emperor Doom." Then a member of the West Coast Avengers, Simon Williams was talked by Tony Stark into staying in a sensory deprivation tank for a month in order to fully examine the nature of his ionic energy. Unbeknownst to them, Doctor Doom was embarking on his most ambitious scheme: he captured Killgrave the Purple Man, who secreted a mind-control hormone, and bent him to his own will. Doom was one of the few capable of resisting Killgrave, and it was a simple matter to subdue him.
He used Killgrave to power a prism that allowed him to control the world’s populace. He manipulated the Sub-Mariner into subduing mechanical beings like Ultron, the Vision, and Machine Man. It was an airtight plan…and it worked! Doom was named Emperor of the world. He went to work ending famine, disease, and war across the Earth. Everyone served him unconditionally.
Then Wonder Man woke up. Because he was a being of pure energy, he was immune to Doom’s control. After laying low for a while after the Avengers tried to kill him, he snapped the strong-willed Captain America out of Doom’s control. They attacked Doom’s control crystal, and Doom, disgruntled and bored that his conquest had been too easy, let it happen. If it hadn’t been for Wonder Man’s courage, it would still be Doom’s world.
Beast Friends Forever
One of the best things about the Avengers in the 1980s was the budding friendship between Hank "The Beast" McCoy and Simon Williams. As Avengers, they were both outsiders and unsure of themselves. The Beast was a former X-Man who broke out on his own, and while he had been a valued member, his jokey nature often clashed with the more serious members of the team. Wonder Man was trying to find his footing after his return from death, and he managed to overcome his fear of dying again when the Avengers fought the all-powerful Korvac.
The Beast sensed a kindred spirit and hung out with his new pal all the time, philosophizing about heroism after they saw "The Adventures Of Robin Hood" together in a theater. They played ping-pong and the Beast gave Simon grief about portraying a muscleman on a kids’ show. The Beast set Simon up on a blind double-date that went horribly wrong.
Years later, after Simon returned from the dead, the Beast made a special trip to see him and catch up, going out on the town with him and his new girlfriend, the Scarlet Witch. The Beast was also there for his friend when Simon forced himself to deal with his past out in California. Of course, they also had to deal with his old enemy Lotus and the giant animated stone statue It, the Living Colossus. What are friends for?
The tough life of an actor
Wonder Man got the acting bug not long after he was cut from the Avengers for the first time. Much to his humiliation, he landed a role on "The Uncle Elmer Show," where he wore a jungle get-up as Mr. Muscles. He later lost the job when he accidentally caused Uncle Elmer to lose his toupée on air. When Simon quit the Avengers for a long period, Hercules promised to introduce him to some agents.
Simon started successfully doing stunt work, thanks to his invulnerability to most things. He got his big break as an actor playing the villain in the Arnold Schwarzburger (a.k.a. Schwarzenegger) movie "Arkon IV," getting in a play fight with Arnold as part of the casting process. He even made his glowing ionic energy eyes part of the film. Years later, the actual Arkon captured the Avengers, and he wasn’t amused about the movies or the amusement park ride that featured him.
Simon’s agent hired Power Man to attack him as a publicity stunt, attached a starlet to him so the paparazzi would be interested, and even forced him to get a teen sidekick. He got offered the role of playing the original Human Torch, but the Enchantress managed to ruin that for him. He had been cast to do a film version of Macbeth, but that was canceled shortly before he was seemingly killed.
After going through "Civil War" and Wanda’s insanity, Simon told the Avengers that they were a bad idea and needed to disband. He then set out to do it by force, gathering a group of heroes he dubbed the Revengers to do it. It included Atlas, Captain Ultra, Devil-Slayer, D-Man, Goliath, Virtue, Century, and Anti-Venom. It was quite a motley crew, from losers like Captain Ultra to lost heroes like Century to guys who needed a break like Atlas. They attacked Avengers Mansion, as Simon took down his former girlfriend Carol Danvers while the rest of his team took everyone by surprise. They brought the Mansion down, then turned their attention to Avengers Tower.
That move was a feint, drawing the Avengers to the Tower while he gave a press conference pillorying his old team. He started to talk about the Avengers’ culpability in creating Ultron, in letting the Scarlet Witch roam the world unchecked, and how much of a waste the Civil War was. The Avengers were ready for him and captured him in a clever ionic energy trap, and then mopped up his teammates without much trouble. For Simon, it didn’t matter: he had spread his message, and doubt was going to creep in.
Simon Williams has been blackmailed, bamboozled, and manipulated more than most characters. Even in his origin story, the Enchantress bailed him out of jail and didn’t have to work very hard to convince him to go to South America and have a Nazi mad scientist give him freaky superpowers. He served Kang as part of his Legion of the Unliving. He was a pawn of the zombie master Black Talon when he was revived.
When Simon went to Hollywood, the Enchantress trapped his mind yet again, setting him against the Avengers (and also Johnny Carson). She made the mistake of sapping Thor’s strength to turn Simon into a god, because she had actually fallen for him, but he regained his senses and banished her to another dimension. When Simon was still trapped between life and death, the Grim Reaper controlled him and the souls of other dead Avengers in a new Legion of the Unliving, but the Scarlet Witch’s love for him brought him through into the real world.
During the Civil War, Simon was already on the pro-registration side and was even filming registration commercials for television. S.H.I.E.L.D blackmailed him into hunting down renegades by noting that there were irregularities in his Second Chance foundation non-profit, and they would nail him for embezzlement if he didn’t cooperate. Simon got caught in an explosion created by the Green Goblin for his troubles.