While movies based on comics borrow material from their literary counterparts, changes are always made on the way to the silver screen (Where was my goddamned calamari, Watchmen?!). While I’m certain that much of the story in Captain America: Civil War will be faithful to the comics, it is apparent that certain details are different. Since the movie has only just been released and I’m still a few days away from seeing it, the incident leading to events that will cause Captain America and Bucky to lay the smack-down on Iron Man are still unknown to me. But since the Civil War storyline within the comics took place over a decade ago, I thought that I’d share the D-Lister that played an enormous role in triggering the super-human conflict.
Robert Hunter first appeared over four decades ago and has rarely been written as more than a punching bag for super heroes, with a few high-scale and deadly exceptions. Hunter has the ability to charge his body with energy, release a massive explosion, exist in a gaseous state, and then reform himself at will. A maniac who is prone to violence, it’s time for Nitro to explode onto the D-List.
Nitro, created by Jim Starlin and Steve Englehart, first appeared in Captain Marvel #34 in 1974. An older man, Hunter was angry that he was forced into retirement by the company he worked for, which made him the perfect kind of unstable person to undergo genetic alteration. A group of aliens calling themselves the “Lunatic Legion” abducted Hunter and used their technology to grant him the power to explode and then reform. In return for granting him power, the Legion tasked Hunter with stealing a deadly nerve gas from a military base for them.
Though Nitro succeeded in stealing the canister of gas, Captain Marvel arrived and tried to subdue the villain by tying him up with some metal (mmm, kinky). Hunter broke free from confinement by exploding and then fled. Captain Marvel chased the villain, but Nitro exploded again, accidentally creating a hole in the canister and causing the deadly gas to leak (Always happens to me after a huge dinner…amirite fellas?). The hero managed to defeat Hunter, hand him over to law enforcement, and fix the leak in the canister, but unfortunately, Captain Marvel had inhaled some of the gas. Sadly, it caused him to develop cancer which he succumbed to some years later. So in Nitro’s first appearance, he was responsible for the events that killed a major hero in the Marvel Universe.
While I highly doubt it was the intention of Nitro’s creative team to kill Captain Marvel, Hunter was the type of sick individual that eventually relished in killing a high-profile hero. As a man approaching his senior years, Nitro must have endured a lifetime of being bullied by others because he was extremely happy to abuse his newfound power. It allowed him to exact some sort of misplaced vengeance on the world that he believed had wronged him.
It was later revealed that Nitro had an adult daughter named Virginia. Concerned for her father’s plight, she brought an attorney to the Department of Energy facility where Nitro was being imprisoned and demanded that the villain be released because he had yet to stand trial. As soon as he was allowed out of confinement, however, Nitro exploded, knocking all of the guards unconscious. He then used his daughter as a hostage during a bank robbery until Spider-Man arrived. The hero lured Nitro to a nearby chemical plant, hoping that when the villain next exploded, he would absorb some of the noxious chemicals while reforming (I don’t care what Spider-Man says, experimenting with chemicals is not cool, kids). The plan worked and Nitro was severely sickened, then transferred to a local hospital before being remanded into custody.
The moment that Nitro was allowed out of confinement, he was ready to cause more mayhem, and the entire incident with his daughter showed Nitro as a man so cold that he was willing to put his own family in harm’s way. When he was freed from the Department of Energy building, he could have taken a few moments to assess his situation or plan a more covert escape, but instead, he immediately tried to harm others. This behavior speaks volumes about the kind of unstable man that Hunter was.
As the years passed, Nitro had plenty of opportunities to work alongside other villains, but they were quickly squandered. When Vulture and Tinkerer broke him out of imprisonment, hoping for a senior-citizen-villain team-up, he not only refused, but threatened the villains. He briefly worked with a team calling themselves The Untouchables (because good looking, they were not), but frequently squabbled with his teammates due to his cranky temperament. Though powerful, his lack of training and angry, lone-wolf attitude kept him from ever becoming much more than a henchman. However, Nitro still proved himself to be quite a dangerous man, because he committed one of the most notoriously terrible acts ever committed in Marvel Comics.
The team of super heroes, the New Warriors, had become the stars of a reality television show that featured the heroes battling villains for prime-time entertainment. The team located Nitro and three other villains who had recently escaped from Ryker’s Island to a safe-house in Stamford, Connecticut. The New Warriors wanted to catch the villains off guard, but the team was spotted by the villain, Coldheart, who alerted the other criminals of the Warriors’ presence. A battle ensued and three of the four villains were swiftly defeated. However, Nitro managed to slip past the Warriors and attempted to flee. The Atlantean hero, Namorita, flew after Hunter and punched him into the side of a school bus. Sadly, on a sunny afternoon right outside of a public school, Nitro exploded, decimating the area and killing over 600 people, dozens of whom were children.
I suppose it was only a matter of time before a school day ended in extreme violence within comic books, though that certainly didn’t make the tragedy any less shocking. It also didn’t soften the blow to discover that Hunter had escaped while in his gaseous form, knowing that many heroes and authorities were going to be searching for him. Though this act incited a quick chain of events leading to Civil War, which was the primary focus of many Marvel comics for months, I appreciated that the writers didn’t forget that the man responsible for the loss of so many lives was still on the loose.
Nitro slipped into the back of a truck that was heading to California and he decided to hide out in a cabin in the woods. Wolverine, along with some S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, tracked Nitro to the cabin, but Hunter had no plans of being taken into custody again. Nitro exploded, killing all of the agents and burning Wolverine right down to his skeleton. Logan healed, of course, and beat the shit out of Nitro, eventually chopping off his right hand. However, Wolverine was not the only person that wanted Nitro to suffer for the incident in Stamford.
King Namor of Atlantis took custody of Nitro from Wolverine because the villain had murdered his cousin, Namorita. When the Atlanteans decided to abandon their kingdom, Namor made a pact with Latveria’s ruler, Dr. Doom, to use his country as a safe-haven, so Nitro was transferred to a Latverian prison. Robbie Baldwin, formerly known as Speedball and the lone survivor of the New Warriors after the destruction of Stamford, wanted to take vengeance on Nitro for killing his teammates and hundreds of innocent people. Baldwin went to great lengths to track Nitro to Latveria, and eventually faced Doom in combat. After a brief battle, however, Von Doom acquiesced to Baldwin’s wishes and allowed him access to the prisoner.
Robbie had built a metal outfit with 612 spikes covering both the inside and outside – one for each of the Stamford victims. Though Robbie had worn the suit in battle, calling himself Penance during that time, he revealed to Nitro that the suit was created specifically for the villain. Baldwin beat Nitro unconscious, and when the villain awoke, he was strapped to a chair inside of a plane that Robbie had stolen, wearing the Penance suit. Robbie proceeded to beat Nitro into a bloody pulp during the plane ride from Latveria to the United States, where Nitro was returned to custody.
Though it was actually Nitro that murdered over 600 people in Connecticut, Speedball was the one who the public blamed for the incident. While I do agree that it was incredibly stupid (but probably incredibly lucrative) to turn crime-fighting into reality-television, Nitro was the kind of villain who was capable of such heartless destruction whether it was filmed or not. Robert Hunter had become not only a mass murderer, but a child-killer, and it was extremely, though morbidly, satisfying to watch Wolverine, Namor and Speedball each take a turn at making Nitro’s life a living hell.
Nitro most recently appeared in Pleasant Hill, a holographic prison for super villains where, unbeknownst to them, they were implanted with fake identities and memories. Of course, some of those villains began to regain their memories, realizing Pleasant Hill was a ruse (This is my surprised face). Many criminals secretly began conspiring in order to stage a revolt. Steve Rogers and S.H.I.E.L.D. Director, Maria Hill, found out the hard way that the villains were regaining their memories when Nitro entered the town hall and exploded. Though Nitro’s current whereabouts are unknown, it can be assumed that he escaped from Pleasant Hill.
Outside of Marvel Comics, Nitro has appeared in the video game, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2, a bust statue, and in an episode of the short-lived “Wolverine and the X-men” cartoon. In the cartoon, instead of his comic origin, Nitro was a young mutant trying to turn himself into the authorities. Hunter had no control over his explosive abilities and didn’t want to endanger innocent people. The antagonists of the show, the Brotherhood, captured Nitro and tried to use him for their own nefarious purposes. Wolverine and the X-Men saved the wayward mutant, but agreed that he was too dangerous to live outside of containment. He was voluntarily placed in an underground bunker in isolation.
Nitro has essentially been a simple, sociopathic curmudgeon, but the fact that he’s been such a cold human being is part of what has made him so interesting. A man who was capable of putting his daughter in danger and who showed no signs of remorse after killing dozens of children, effectively destroying the lives of many families, means that Nitro’s destruction has known no boundaries. That kind of unpredictability has made Nitro a true threat to the Marvel Universe.
Though he hasn’t made too many appearances over the last four decades, I am nonetheless happy that Nitro is still being utilized within Marvel comics. There’s enormous potential for Nitro to be the focal point of many more stories and much destruction. Robert Hunter has proven just how deadly he can be and I’m certain that it’s only a matter of time before Nitro drops yet another bomb on the Marvel Universe.