Doctors are terrifying – they have sharp objects for sticking, prodding, and cutting you. It’s certainly no surprise that plenty of horror movies have featured insane doctors and surgical procedures. Get Out, The Human Centipede, and Frankenstein are just a few examples of disturbing surgeries within stories, so of course, Marvel utilized this trope.
Dr. Rot doesn’t appear to have superpowers other than perhaps an enhanced healing ability. However, Rot is far from a normal human. This doctor loves performing unnecessary surgery and seems to have quite an affinity for brains. Hang on to your hats (and scalps), as we welcome Dr. Rot to the D-List.
Created by Jason Aaron and Yanick Paquette, Dr. Rot first appeared in Wolverine: Weapon X vol. 1 #6 in 2009. Wolverine awoke in a padded room wearing a straightjacket. The hero was confined within Dunwich Sanatorium, had no memories, and was called Patient X (Ooooh…X. I get it. I get jokes). This facility housed the criminally insane, including Biter, who ate human flesh, and Charlie Chainsaws, who murdered people with chainsaws (probably had limited employment opportunities with a name like that).
Dunwich was a disgusting facility with stained walls, broken glass covering the floor, and one patient repeatedly slamming his bloody head into the wall. The “medication” that the patients received consisted of buttons, pencil erasers, and jelly beans (well I can’t think of a happier happy pill than a jelly bean). Furthermore, a drooling patient with a new scar on his head revealed that the lead doctor of Dunwich, Dr. Rottwell, practiced lobotomies. Further illustrating that something was terribly wrong with the sanatorium, Charlie was shown running through the halls, bleeding from the stumps of his freshly amputated arms as Rottwell chased after him with bloody meat cleavers. Aptly nicknamed Dr. Rot, the surgeon was able to lobotomize Charlie and attach chainsaws to his arms where his hands once were.
Dr. Rot’s entire introduction successfully built mystery and suspense around the disturbed man. He was not prominently featured throughout the first two issues in which he appeared; those comics served to set up Logan’s situation and the terrifying setting that Rottwell had created for his patients. This made his gruesome practices even more disturbing once they were properly revealed. Dr. Rot kept human brains in electrified vats, and somehow, this “god-brain machine,” as he called it, produced enough psychic feedback to keep Logan docile (what a rotten thing to do). A fellow patient explained to Logan who Dr. Rottwell really was, and although it wasn’t a thorough origin, it gave the villain some background.
Algernon J. Rottwell wasn’t really a doctor, but a former patient of Dunwich. The man organized his fellow patients and they successfully murdered nearly the entire staff. Rottwell then removed the employees’ brains and began his experiments. The patient who revealed this to Logan was Dr. Swinson, the man who ran the hospital before Rottwell took over. Rot amputated all of Swinson’s limbs and forced him to clean the floor with his tongue (I feel like there was probably an easier way to clean the floor). It was later revealed that a young Rottwell loved harming animals, but eventually graduated to killing people.
Rottwell as a homicidal child made perfect sense, but I found it very interesting that the man staged a successful mutiny at the sanatorium and continued Dunwich’s operation. The facility essentially became Dr. Rot’s horrific playground, and he was even able to continue his disturbing practices without drawing attention from law enforcement. Unfortunately for Dr. Rot, the X-Men were looking for their missing friend (they were totally losing their heads…and some brains…over it).
Psylocke followed Logan’s trail to Dunwich, fought the psychic feedback the god-brain machine produced, and once the machine was destroyed, Wolverine regained his faculties. Although the hero slashed Rottwell’s gut, the villain stuck Logan with a tranquilizer, and he, his assistant, Nurse Fester, and Charlie Chainsaws escaped. However, Dr. Rot had discovered multiple trigger phrases that Weapon X left within Wolverine’s brain. These phrases would cause the hero to become docile and completely open to suggestion. Dr. Rot would call Logan and use these phrases, so Logan would wake up covered in blood, but could not remember what had happened. In this way, Dr. Rot was able to use Wolverine to obtain more brains (because he couldn’t do it on his own very well…very ROT well, eh?!).
Sure, Wolverine’s memories had been skewed before, but Dr. Rot was able to transform Logan into either a drooling invalid or a mindless killer. A villain with the power to control such a formidable hero is terrifying. Dr. Rot coud have done a lot more with that power, but because Logan was growing tired of these bloody blackouts, the hero decided to track Rottwell and kill him.
After defeating enormous flesh-monsters within Dunwich, Wolverine found Rottwell’s patient files. The hero discovered that the villain’s name was not Algernon J. Rotwell, but Bentley Newton. Wolverine continued his search with the house in which Dr. Rot grew up. Rot’s father, Mr. Newton, believed that his son had inherited a “sickness” from his Rottwell heritage, which was his mother’s maiden name. Because of his son’s disturbing behavior, Mr. Newton had Bentley locked away. However, Newton knew where his son was currently hiding, and agreed to tell Logan in exchange for a quick death. Dr. Rot had cut open the back of his father’s head, removed some of his brain, and hooked the remainder up to a motor (lesson learned – don’t visit your son in the hospital, lose a chunk of your brain).
Every issue that featured this villain was, in some way, morbid and disturbing. Dr. Rot clearly had no medical training but was still able to create monsters and successfully perform disgusting surgery, including on family members. I only wish that Mr. Newton had revealed more details of his son’s early life, but perhaps the man hoped to completely forget about Bentley.
Wolverine found Dr. Rot’s secluded hideout, but was caught and captured by the villain’s henchmen. When Logan awoke, he was restrained and properly introduced to the Rottwell family. Dr. Rot’s mother happily assisted her son, and the villain’s great-great grandfather, with a brain hooked up to his chest, sat silently in a chair and watched. Rottwell tortured Logan as he revealed that the fleshy monsters Logan fought at Dunwich were made from bits of the hero’s own brain – Dr. Rot constantly removed portions of it because he knew it would grow back. Logan escaped his constraints, gutted then decapitated Dr. Rot., and burned the house down. However, Nurse Fester survived and healed Rottwell’s body in a new god-brain machine. Dr. Rot, interested in the experiments Weapon X conducted, vowed to find more information on the program. This was 6 years ago, and it was Dr. Rot’s last major appearance.
Dr. Rot is the epitome of an insane villain who employs his obsession with surgical experimentation to terrorize heroes, and I believe much more can be done with the character. Although it is certainly impressive that Rot was able to effectively terrorize Wolverine, why hasn’t he captured any other heroes? What did Dr. Rot ultimately plan to do with his god-brain machine? Unless another writer decides to take a stab at the character, we may never find out.
Dr. Rot has never appeared outside of the Marvel 616 Universe, and has only appeared in approximately 12 comic books. It’s a shame, because such a twisted villain with a penchant for the macabre is a terrifyingly welcome addition to the vast roster of villains with Marvel Comics. I hope we see more of Dr. Rot rotting the Marvel Universe again in the future (because he’ll rot if you leave him out).