Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3 has arrived, introducing MCU fans to Peacemaker’s Chukwudi Iwuji as the film’s main villain, the High Evolutionary. But just who is Marvel’s maddest scientist? What are the High Evolutionary’s powers? Get ready to get cosmic, as we’re here to answer all your burning High Evolutionary questions, from Marvel Comics to MCU.
Who Is the High Evolutionary in Marvel Comics?
1966’s Thor #133 marks the first reference to the High Evolutionary in Marvel Comics. He would make his debut on the page in the very next issue, which also included a cameo of the mutant twins who would become such a key part of the High Evolutionary’s comic book lore. With Galactus planning deep space destruction as always, Thor is looking for Jane Foster. It’s on his search that he comes across Mount Wundagore, the High Evolutionary, and his New Men. Marvel’s Pietro and Wanda are going to Mount Wundagore to seek answers about their waning mutant powers.
It wouldn’t be until years later that readers learned who the High Evolutionary truly was, thanks to backup stories in The Evolutionary War event. In the Marvel universe, the High Evolutionary’s human name was Herbert Edgar Wyndham, and he had once been a successful academic scientist. As a child, Herbert became obsessed with genetics and the possibility of “evolving” creatures. But it wasn’t until an encounter with a strange man—later revealed to be a rogue Inhuman—who enlightened him on how to “crack the genetic code” that Herbert made his dreams a reality. His experiments made him an outcast in the scientific field, and he moved to Mount Wundagore with his research partner, Jonathan Drew, father of Spider-Woman, Jessica Drew. There he built his futuristic home. The High Evolutionary began to evolve animals, creating a series of humanoid beasts known as the New Men.
The High Evolutionary’s Powers and Abilities
The High Evolutionary’s powers are always in a state of flux. When he exposed himself to his Evolutionary Accelerator machine and its unstable Isotope E, it caused him to switch from evolved super being to someone with caveman intelligence levels. But usually, the High Evolutionary has a certain baseline of abilities. These include an artificially evolved human brain, making him one of the smartest beings on Earth. The High Evolutionary also has the powers of superhuman strength, durability, and a healing factor similar to Wolverine’s. Additionally, he can communicate telepathically and shield his mind from other psychics.
Some other powers the High Evolutionary has demonstrated over the years include the ability to levitate, although not outright fly. Body mass manipulation allows him to change his physical size and density at will. Wyndham also has the ability to create force fields, and shoot deadly concussive blasts from his body. He can even evolve or devolve other beings through a form of forced artificial evolution. And thanks to all his evolutionary tampering, the High Evolutionary has effectively achieved immortality, perhaps his greatest power of all.
How Is the High Evolutionary Connected to the Scarlet Witch?
Herbert’s first appearance alluded to a connection to the Maximoffs. A flashback in 1974’s Giant-Size Avengers #1 teased a vital Mount Wundagore backstory around the twins’ birth. Finally, in 1979’s Avengers #185-187, Herbert’s full impact on the twins’ lives came to light. It was during this iconic arc that readers learned their “true history.” Their mother sought refuge on Mount Wundagore after their father gained powers and went mad, “raving with a desire to rule the world.” The High Evolutionary’s cow creature known as Bova delivered the twins, and soon their mother left the children with the bovine midwife. While Bova tried to give the twins to the hero known as the Whizzer, he chose to run away. Eventually, the Maximoffs came and adopted the twins.
What does all this have to do with Wanda’s powers? Chthon “marked” her at her birth. We learn this as Chthon possesses Wanda. Speaking through Wanda, Chthon tells the Avengers that Mount Wundagore was created to imprison him and the Darkhold. Inevitably, someone used the Darkhold, and Chthon was freed when this knowledge fell into the hands of the wrong person. Eventually, the demon is defeated. But at that moment, Chthon decides to imbue baby Wanda, who was just born thanks to the High Evolutionary’s creation, with his magic, thus arguably creating the most famous origin of the Scarlet Witch. Whether the MCU’s High Evolutionary and Scarlet Witch have any ties at all in the MCU, we must wait to find out.
How Is the High Evolutionary Connected to Adam Warlock?
In the comics, Adam Warlock and the High Evolutionary are deeply connected. Remember how we first met Adam Warlock in the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 stinger? Adam was in a giant cocoon, looked after by the High Priestess of the Sovereign, Ayesha. Ayesha calls her creation “Him” (as in Adam’s first appearance in the Fantastic Four) before deciding to name him Adam.
1972’s Marvel Premiere #1 brought the story of Adam Warlock to life, and the issue dug deep into his past. Created by scientists on Earth, the High Evolutionary later found Adam’s body floating in a cocoon in space. In the comics, Herbert adopts Adam, names him Warlock, and places an emerald upon his forehead. The comics would later reveal the emerald as the Soul Gem. In the MCU, Adam’s creators, the Sovereign, are creations of the High Evolutionary. It’s more of an indirect line, but still a line.
The MCU High Evolutionary in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, the MCU’s High Evolutionary does not seem to originate from Earth. He was only referred to ever as the High Evolutionary. The MCU made no reference to the High Evolutionary’s Marvel Comics human name of Herbert Wyndham. On Counter-Earth, he mentioned that he visited Earth once and admired it. The High Evolutionary based his new MCU world on his memories, further suggesting his origins are alien. Of course, he might have taken the name Herbert Wyndham while living on Earth, but it’s not mentioned in the film at all.
Additionally, Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3 portrays the High Evolutionary as one of the most sadistic villains the MCU has ever seen, torturing animals to further his own experiments in perfection. And he’s worshipped as a god among many alien species, suggesting Guardians of the Galaxy‘s High Evolutionary is far older than his Marvel Comics counterpart.
Although the High Evolutionary appeared to die at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, he actually lived. James Gunn confirmed as much on Twitter. Not only did Rocket save the High Evolutionary’s life at the climax of the film, he’s now actually imprisoned in Knowhere.
Gunn notes, “Yes! It’s the whole culmination of Rocket’s journey. His shift comes in that he doesn’t kill him – he goes from being the least empathetic to the most empathetic Guardian. It seems silly & hollow that he’d refuse to kill him [the High Evolutionary] & then leave him on an exploding ship. And, yes, there is a deleted scene. It’s really great actually, but it messed up the pacing of the end. But you’ll see it in the extras eventually.”
And, indeed, the deleted scene revealing the High Evolutionary’s fate is included in the home release of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. It is titled, “Knowhere After the Battle,”
So yes, it’s very possible we may see the High Evolutionary return again in the MCU and its multiverse. Now that Ms. Marvel established the mutant gene in the MCU, it feels very intentional to introduce a famed geneticist. As to whether the High Evolutionary ever visits Mount Wundagore or creates Bova… well, we can dream.
Originally published on July 27, 2022.
Original reporting by Rosie Knight. Additional reporting by Eric Diaz.