Understanding the Sinister Six, the Spider-Man Villain Supergroup

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Excerpt from The Amazing Spider-Man No. 337. Art by Erik Larsen, Terry Austin, and Bob Sharen. Photo: Marvel Entertainment

When we last delved into the high-flying history of ornithological Spider-Man antagonist the Vulture, we talked about a villainous super-team known as the Sinister Six. In his half-century of comic-book existence, Spider-Man’s most-feathered foe has often been portrayed as a member of that band of evildoers, and there were once plans to have the team star in their own feature film. It did not come to be, but the Vulture lived on — he’ll appear as the primary bad guy in this year’s Spidey re-reboot Spider-Man: Homecoming. If we’re to understand the madman’s long history, we can’t ignore his cohort. Let’s crunch the Six’s numbers.

What’s their basic deal?
They’re a group of Spider-Man villains who put aside their differing agendas to focus on fighting the web-slinger.

That’s it? They don’t have some specific gimmick? Shouldn’t they be obsessed with the number six and throw grenades shaped like six-sided dice or meet in a secret headquarters they call the Hexagon?
Nope. They’re just people who hate Spider-Man and work together.

That’s a little disappointing. Who are the members?
The original Sinister Six consisted of Doctor Octopus (a guy with mechanical murder tentacles), Electro (a dude who uses electricity as a weapon), Kraven the Hunter (a big-game hunter who tracks down the most dangerous game), Mysterio (master of illusions), Sandman (a man made of sand), and the Vulture. Subsequent iterations have included a dizzying array of enemies, including top-tier folks like Venom, Rhino, Shocker, and Lizard, but also jabronis like Boomerang, Hydro-Man, Speed Demon, and Living Brain.

Wait, that’s way more than six people.
Correct. The lineup is ever-changing, which makes sense, given the whole “their only gimmick is that they hate Spider-Man” thing. In fact, there have been variations with even more members: the Sinister Seven, the Sinister Twelve, the Sinister Sixteen, and even the Sinister Sixty-Six.

Eesh! Are there members who appear in a plurality of the incarnations, at least?
Mainly the Vulture and Doctor Octopus. They haven’t been in every Sinister [Insert Number Here] team, but they’re in more of them than anyone else.

How long have they been around?
A good long while! The first Sinister Six appeared in 1963’s Amazing Spider-Man Annual No. 1, penciled by Steve Ditko and co-written by Ditko and Stan Lee, the two men who’d invented Spidey just a few months before. That initial story is delightfully lighthearted, in its way: Doc Ock is sick of being humiliated by Spider-Man, so he sends out messages to all of his fellow villains, and only five of them respond, then they draw lots to figure out the order in which they’ll fight the hero. There was a massive time gap between that tale and the next iteration of the team, which popped up in 1990. But after that, various versions of the team have appeared more than a dozen times in various stories, both in comics and in animated series and video games.

Excerpt from The Amazing Spider-Man Annual No. 1. Art by Steve Ditko. Photo: Marvel Entertainment

So they must be pretty important for the Spider-Mythos, huh?
Yeah! It’s an easy concept to make work, and there’s maximalist fun to be found in any team up between existing characters of any moral stripe.

What was the deal with their movie? Will it ever actually happen?
It conceivably could. The original — and very public — plan was for them to appear in a Drew Goddard–helmed sequel to 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and Sony even went so far as to include a little end-credits teaser for it. But the financial underperformance of that Andrew Garfield–led flick, as well as a lucrative offer from Marvel Studios to bring Spidey into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, led to the scuttling of those plans. The Garfield-verse was unceremoniously killed and has been replaced by one starring Tom Holland.

That said, Sony is, oddly enough, allegedly mulling the launch of yet another Spider-verse, though it’d be one without the actual Spider-Man. The studio still owns the film rights to all Spidey-adjacent characters and wants to exploit that fact without having to constantly play ball with Marvel Studios, so a Venom movie might be on the way. Given that, it’s not inconceivable that some form of the Sinister Six could follow, although the presence of Vulture in the MCU would probably mean he’d be left out of this other cosmology, just so as not to confuse people.

Are they the best team of Spider-Man villains?
Absolutely not. That title goes to the Superior Foes of Spider-Man, who recently debuted in a titular comics series, written by Nick Spencer and penciled by Steve Lieber. They were much goofier and spent a significant amount of time trying to steal a severed head. Plus, there were only five of them, which means there was way more villainy per capita.