Villain Spotlight is a twice-monthly column that seeks to highlight and explore many of Spider-Man’s villains as they have been portrayed over the years.
Our story starts with Mark Raxton. If you don’t recognize his name you probably know him by his other identity… the Molten Man. Raxton is Liz Allan’s stepbrother (a fact we don’t find out until Amazing Spider-Man #133 ). He first appeared in the pages on Amazing Spider-Man #28 as the partner of Spencer Smythe. You remember Spencer Smythe right? Creator of the original series of Spider Slayers and father of Alistair Smythe who recently graced (or disgraced) the pages of Superior Spider-Man (see issues #11-#13).
Anyway, where were we? Right… Mark Raxton. Raxton and Smythe worked together to create a new liquid metal alloy, one that according to Raxton was going to be “worth a fortune”. So, being the cooperative partner that he is, what does he do? He attempts to steal it of course. Not only that, but in doing so he manages to fumble with the glass jar it’s contained in and spills it… all over himself. And by all over himself I do mean all over himself. From head to foot. The alloy is absorbed by his skin and into his bloodstream. So Raxton does what anyone else would do after spilling an untested molten alloy all over one’s self, he panics.
Raxton quickly discovers that the alloy has done more than simply provide him with a shiny, golden second skin, it has also enhanced his strength. So what does he do with his newfound strength? You guessed it. He turns to crime, or as he puts it, “I’ve got to dream up a really big crime… One that’s worth all my power.” Unfortunately, Raxton’s first appearance as the Molten Man ends as quickly as it started and Spider-Man steps in to stop his crime spree before it begins.
So what does the judicial system do? It releases him because, basically, it feels sorry for him. Attributing his criminal disposition to an unfortunate accident, coupled with the fact that he offers to pay for any damages he has caused, the state grants him a suspended sentence (see Amazing Spider-Man #35). The state soon learns the error of its ways and Raxton yet again tries to kick-off an ill-fated criminal spree. Why ill-fated? Because Raxton’s luck is as bad as Peter Parker’s is at times and his second attempt at becoming a criminal master-mind is halted by our friendly wall-crawler. Raxton once again finds himself behind bars and fuming (literally). We won’t see him again until the pages of Amazing Spider-Man #132, a full eight years later (in real-world time).
1974 was the time of Gerry Conway, Ross Andru, and Johnny Romita’s run with Amazing Spider-Man. When Raxton once again reappears it is immediately after Spider-Man put the brakes on his Aunt’s marriage to Doctor Octopus and escapes the explosion that sends Hammerhead into the after-life.
In Amazing Spider-Man #132 we find that he has changed. Or better put, evolved. The alloy coating has combined with his very skin and his body’s thermal temperature has risen, at times achieving a heat of around three hundred degrees. It is in these pages, and that of Amazing Spider-Man #133, that we learn Raxton is slowly dissolving and that Liz Allan is actually his step-sister. His ‘dissolution’ is a direct result of his condition and we also learn that he is attempting to cure himself by recreating the alloy both he and Smythe first put together using organic meteors. Consumed by his own heat, and with his body dissolving around him he takes the only way out he can see when faced with yet another defeat at the hands of Spider-Man, suicide by diving into a polluted river.
Did I say suicide? Unfortunately for Raxton he is not even able to pull that one off. The pollutants in the river managed to slow the metabolic process that was killing him and he again takes the stage in Amazing Spider-Man #172-#173. He is still searching for a cure and still terrorizing his step-sister. An apparent explosion ends his return but not for long, for good old Molty again pops up in the pages of Spectacular Spider-Man #63. It turns out that every time a tragedy appears to end his life the chemicals involved combine with his skin to keep him alive. At the end of this encounter Raxton’s skin stabilizes and reverts back to the golden alloy sheen that marked his first transformation.
It would be another eight years, in 1990 to be exact, before he pops up again. This time he’s burning up the pages of Web of Spider-Man #61-62 & 66-67. Raxton has once again been released from prison and this time it seems that the rehabilitation has worked. Raxton wants to go straight and he turns to his step-sister Liz and her husband Harry (Osborn in case you didn’t know) for help. Of course he manages to tangle with Spider-Man (what good would an issue with Molten Man be without the obligatory fisticuffs for old times sake) and, in the end, Harry offers him a job at the Osborn chemical plant. By the end of issue #67 he’s working alongside Spider-man and ‘I-Wanna-Be-a-Super-Hero’ Harry in his Green Goblin duds as they do battle with Tombstone. This isn’t your father’s Molten Man. He even sticks around for a couple of appearances two years later in 1992’s saga ‘The Osborne Legacy’ in the pages of Spectacular Spider-Man #189 (SSM #184, 189-190). Here again, Harry dons the purple and green and the Molten Man is there to assist Spidey in putting his brother-in-law into the funny farm and under the care of Dr. Kafka.
Did I ever mention that the Molten Man was responsible for getting me into Spider-Man in the first place? As a boy it was the cover of issue #133 that caught my eye. From that moment on I was hooked. That was in 1973.
In 1996 this is what he looked like while running Osborn Industries as acting CEO in the pages of Spectacular Spider-Man #234.
Like I said – not your father’s Molten Man. And what’s with the hair?
If there were any doubts that the ‘mean’ had been drained from Raxton, those doubts were erased with Sensational Spider-Man #5 (I know, how many titles were running at one time??? ) and Amazing Spider-Man #412. Here we find Raxton gaining control of his molten properties while he tries to uncover some dirty business dealings between Osborn Industries and another company knows as Multivex.
For awhile there it seemed that Raxton’s days of rampaging and burning up the scenery were over. That was until Norman Osborn got his dirty little hands on him and planted a controller in his head. Osborn essentially created a puppet of Raxton for a couple of issues (see ASM #440-441). He overcame that and disappeared for yet another eight years, turning up in the pages of the Sensational Spider-Man in 2006 when he is blackmailed by the Chameleon into joining a new group of super-villains bent on exterminating Peter Parker (who was recently unmasked on live TV during the Civil War saga – see Civil War #2 for all of the sensational details).
Raxton is in full molten glory in these issues (SSM #29-31), but not as much as he is in the pages of of ASM #581-582. In this arc, his last appearance to date, Raxton’s condition has worsened. In fact, it’s worse than ever. It’s consuming him. A classic battle between he and Spider-Man graces the panels until Harry shows up with a cure… which succeeds. Raxton is cured and it appears that he might have a chance at a normal life after all.
That was five years ago and, if things progress as they have over the last 50 years of Spider-Man, don’t be surprised if the Molten man rears his fiery little head in the near future.