TITLES AND names in Marvel often convey a lot about someone’s intentions or abilities. To wit: Invisible Woman—pretty straightforward! It’s about the same for the High Evolutionary, the main villain in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3., whose name indicates his whole deal from the jump.
Played by Chukwudi Iwuji, who reunites with director/writer James Gunn (the two worked on HBO Max’s Peacemaker together), the High Evolutionary of the MCU is a massive threat to the Guardians, giving them a decidedly personal mission after his schemes injure Rocket (Bradley Cooper). “The High Evolutionary is one of my favorite Marvel villains,” Gunn told Empire in an interview, comparing him to a space version of Doctor Moreau from the classic 1932 film Island Of Lost Souls. “He’s a detestable character, frankly.”
Ostensibly Marvel’s version of Doctor Frankenstein (although funny enough, the good doctor does exist in comic book canon), the High Evolutionary’s publication history dates back to the 1960s, when he first appeared in an issue of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Thor. Like all Marvel characters, his history is extensive, complex, and well-suited to explore.
With Vol 3. in theaters, here’s a look at the secret history of the High Evolutionary in case you want to know more.
The High Evolutionary is played by Chukwudi Iwuji in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
Those familiar with James Gunn’s work will likely recognize the man behind the High Evolutionary as actor Chukwudi Iwuji. The Nigerian actor notably worked with Gunn in the HBO Max Peacemaker series and is also a stalwart performer across the industry, with roles in Prime Video’s The Underground Railroad and Netflix’s Designated Survivor and When They See Us.
Gunn has high praise for Iwuji, recently telling Variety that the actor is “…along with Viola Davis and Margot Robbie and Benicio Del Toro and a few others, one of the best actors I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.”
In that same Variety piece, Iwuji throws around some lofty aspirational counterparts to the Vol 3 villain. “He’s Dr. Moreau meets Dr. Frankenstein meets James Bond villain meets Thanos. He’s very Shakespearean. That idea of the tragic flaw. He wants to make the perfect society with a completely blinkered, single-minded ruthlessness, even though he thinks it’s for the greater good.”
With the High Evolutionary, Iwuji is poised to make a big impression, so it’ll be curious to see where he ends up in the aftermath of his major MCU role.
Who is the High Evolutionary in the Marvel Comics?
The High Evolutionary first appeared in Thor #134 with an auspiciously villainous start: he kidnapped Jane Foster to have her help teach his genetically altered troops, but his dabbling in science started long before this. Herbert Wyndham grew up in England in the 1920s and eventually grew to appreciate the genetics research of Nathaniel Essex (aka Mr. Sinister, famed foe to the X-Men). He began experimenting on rats in his basement to hone his skills. Wyndham eventually attended a conference where he met the Inhuman Phaeder (albeit in disguise), who passed along information to help unlock the genetic code. This allowed Wyndham to create a serum for genetic alteration, but it was so controversial that he was expelled from Oxford University as a result.
His expulsion served to push him further, eventually creating a laboratory (and a high-tech suit of armor to defend himself from physical attacks) before his first major breakthrough: altering animals to the point where they gained sentience. These creatures were dubbed the New Men. Wyndham also experimented on Wanda and Pietro Maximoff as babies and was responsible for the two gaining their powers (at least, at first. Marvel has frequently re-conned their origins throughout the decades) and had an encounter with Gregor Russoff, aka Werewolf by Night. After moving his research lab to space, Wyndham used his technology to evolve himself into a god-like being. Eventually realizing he’d pushed himself too far, he reverted to his normal form and began a new project: Counter-Earth.
The alternate Earth came from Wyndham’s desire to create a world devoid of evil and was a veritable paradise. Eventually, one of the New Men, Man-Beast, found his way to Counter-Earth and unleashed a hibernating Adam Warlock. Warlock eventually took up the defense of Counter-Earth.
While the High Evolutionary was initially sort of a morally gray character, the “Evolutionary War” story in the 1980s saw the character shift into an outright enemy role. Wyndham wanted to evolve humans past their prime bast, the Beyonders (a group of beings who exist outside the Multiverse and are supremely powerful). To accomplish this, however, the Evolutionary needed to clear the board of any threats to his plans, which placed him in direct conflict with the Avengers. The ensuing battles firmly moved him into a place where his motivations were more sinister in nature.
The High Evolutionary flirts in and out of stories throughout Marvel’s history, including when Mr. Sinister tricked him into depowering the X-Men and working alongside Adam Warlock in the cosmic Annihilation: Conquest crossover event back in 2007.
Lately, the High Evolutionary was a fixture in the Avengers & Moon Girl series, where the titular Moon Girl teamed up with the Avengers to find her beloved Devil Dinosaur on Counter-Earth. Turns out the High Evolutionary was experimenting on the T-Rex and Wolverine in an attempt to create—and this is not a joke—an army of dinosaur clones. Comics rule, y’all.
With the character taking such a key role in Vol 3., it’s only a matter of time before he makes another appearance in the comics. Hell, there’s even a new Guardians series that started a few weeks ago, so maybe he’ll pop up there. But for now, Iwuji’s compellingly layered performance will leave audiences with plenty to remember.
William Goodman is a freelancer writer, focused on all things pop culture, tech, gadgets, and style. He’s based in Washington, DC and his work can also be found at Robb Report, Complex, and GQ. He’s yet to meet a jacket or cardigan he didn’t love. In his free time, he’s probably on Twitter (@goodmanw) or at the movies.