“Who the hell is Wonder Man?”
Unless you’re a long-time Avengers fan, there’s a solid chance you’re putting on your best Bart Simpson voice right now to express some level of confusion over the latest Marvel Comics character to get a Disney Plus MCU streaming series courtesy of Shang-Chi director Daniel Destin and Brooklyn 99 writer Andrew Guest.
But rest assured, Simon Williams, AKA Wonder Man, has a Marvel Comics history and provenance that go all the way back to the earliest days of the Avengers, as well as a complex superhero family tree that ties in directly to some of the biggest concepts currently going in the MCU.
So, who the hell IS Wonder Man, what are his powers, and why is his Marvel Comics history both so significant and so bizarre? We’ll fill you in on all the details right now.
Who is Wonder Man?
Debuting all the way back in 1964’s Avengers #9 (opens in new tab) from Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Don Heck (that’s right, Wonder Man is as OG as it gets in Marvel Comics), Simon Williams was a young businessman in charge of a family company that was failing under his leadership. When Simon was ousted from the company after embezzling millions of dollars, his story came to the attention of Baron Zemo and his Masters of Evil.
Appealing to Williams’ hatred of Tony Stark, whose firm Starktech had eclipsed Williams Innovations, Zemo offered Williams a way to get revenge on Stark (whose identity as Iron Man was still secret at this time) and his associates the Avengers, by empowering him with so-called ‘Ionic Rays’ that turned him into a super-strong, nigh-invulnerable powerhouse of ‘Ionic Energy’.
However, to keep Williams in line as his henchman, Zemo also put a deadly failsafe in his experiments which meant that Williams regularly needed special treatments from Zemo’s technology to stop the energy in his body from killing him.
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Taking on the outwardly heroic identity of Wonder Man, Williams enacted Zemo’s scheme to infiltrate the Avengers, winning a place among the team after a staged battle with the Masters of Evil.
Once among the Avengers, Williams told the team of his deadly condition, though not of his secret allegiance to Zemo. Though their efforts ultimately fail, the Avengers try everything they can think of, down to Thor’s magic and Iron Man and Hank Pym’s super-science to save him, but the deterioration caused by Zemo’s ‘Ionic Ray’ treatments can’t be reversed without Zemo’s own tech.
When the time comes to pull the trigger on Zemo’s scheme and take down the Avengers, Wonder Man can’t bring himself to betray the heroes who tried so hard to help him and instead turns on Zemo to help the Avengers defeat him.
Sadly, in the end, Williams’ betrayal of Zemo meant that his condition couldn’t be reversed, and he died among the Avengers as a celebrated hero.
But this being comics – and this being Wonder Man, especially – death was only the beginning of Simon Williams’ story.
Wonder Man in the Marvel Universe
The key to Simon Williams’ resurrection lies in his extended family tree, starting with his brother. Well, with his two brothers – one by birth, and one with a slightly more complicated connection to the Williams family. And before we explain exactly how Wonder Man came back (and came back… and came back…), we’ve got to briefly introduce you to his brothers, who you may already know.
First, there’s Simon’s older brother Eric. Seeking revenge on the Avengers, who he blamed for Simon’s death, replacing his arm with an energy-channeling scythe (and later actually becoming literally undead himself), Eric became the villainous Grim Reaper. As the Grim Reaper, whose distinctive helmet was seen as an Easter egg in WandaVision (with good reason), Eric formed a team known as the Lethal Legion to destroy the Avengers.
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However, Grim Reaper’s plan to kill the Avengers came to a halt unfulfilled when he discovered that the synthezoid Avenger known as the Vision had actually been created in part through the use of Simon Williams’ ‘Engram,’ a record of his memories and personality, which was used to provide Vision’s human qualities by his creator Ultron.
Unable to kill the last remnant of his brother’s consciousness, Grim Reaper retreats, and in doing so, recognizes Vision himself as a third Williams brother of a kind, the second brother we mentioned at the top.
This is where Simon’s return comes in.
As it turns out, Simon wasn’t actually dead. Due to his unique ‘Ionized’ physiology, he had actually entered a coma-like state of suspended animation – and his inert body was now in the possession of the Grim Reaper. Approaching Vision in secret, Grim Reaper offered Vision a deal. He’d make Vision fully human by putting his synthezoid mind into Simon’s comatose body in exchange for Vision betraying the Avengers (a running theme in this twisted tale).
Vision declines, leading to Grim Reaper’s defeat and Simon’s eventual revival as a being of pure ‘Ionic Energy’.
Wonder Man and the Avengers
Once he fully regained his strength and powers, Simon Williams rejoined the Avengers as Wonder Man, embarking on a decades-long career as a mainstay of the team, where he sparked up a long-lasting friendship with Beast of the X-Men, who served as an Avenger for a time back in the ’70s.
In the ’80s, Simon moved across the country with several other Avengers to form a new Los Angeles-based team known as the West Coast Avengers (opens in new tab).
While there, Williams took up a new career in his personal life as an actor and stuntman in Hollywood movies (this became the basis of a new codename taken up by an alt-future version of Simon Williams who adventured alongside the 31st-century Guardians of the Galaxy under the name ‘Hollywood’).
Following the disbanding of the West Coast Avengers, several members of the team reunited under the name Force Works (opens in new tab), with Iron Man as their leader. During this time, Wonder Man began to form a mutual attraction with Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch – who was also the ex-wife of Simon’s ‘brother,’ Vision.
However, before anything could come of their budding romance, Wonder Man sacrificed his life once again to save the team from a doomsday weapon. And once again, this was not the end for Wonder Man.
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A few years later, while the Avengers were captured by the villain Morgan Le Fay, who stole Wanda Maximoff’s reality-warping powers to remake the world in her own medieval image, Wanda reached out with her magic in an attempt to escape Le Fay’s captivity – with the result being the reemergence of Wonder Man as a pure energy being, with no physical form.
After helping Wanda escape and rescuing the rest of the team, Wonder Man stayed on as an Avenger, with Wanda’s magical abilities eventually growing to the point where she was able to fully resurrect Simon’s physical form, giving him the power to change into his energy form at will.
Sadly, Wonder Man eventually turned against his fellow Avengers, growing resentful of the damage he perceived the team as having done to the world around them. Declaring himself an enemy of the Avengers once again, he formed a team of other minor heroes who felt they had been burned by the Avengers, known as the Revengers.
However, after several small-scale conflicts, Simon eventually returned to the Avengers fold – albeit with an even more complicated relationship with the team than ever – first as part of the Uncanny Avengers ‘Unity Squad’ (half Avengers-half X-Men), and most recently during the Empyre event when a call went out for as many Avengers to assemble as possible.
And that’s where we last left Simon in comics.
Wonder Man in the MCU
Wonder Man hasn’t appeared in the MCU yet, but that’s not for lack of trying. Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn once filmed a cameo for actor Nathan Fillian to play Simon Williams as an actor existing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and also included several fake MCU-oriented movie posters featuring Fillian-as-Williams in roles he was meant to have played in MCU continuity.
However, both cameos were cut, leaving Wonder Man fair game for his own MCU series, which is likely to start from scratch with its own version of the character.
That said, Wonder Man is a solid choice for the MCU, as obscure as he may be. There’s solid potential in the meta concept of a superhero-turned-actor as a TV show, and as we’ve laid out, Simon Williams has plenty of connections to existing MCU concepts to draw on.
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For one thing, he’s one of the last Avengers characters from the ’60s not to make it to the MCU yet, with Hercules being the last full team member from the ’60s remaining to be adapted. And of course, there’s his family tree of his brothers Grim Reaper and Vision, and his sister-in-law/ex-romantic partner Wanda Maximoff.
And that’s not even mentioning the perhaps unlikely but still enticing prospect of a version of Beast as one of Wonder Man’s supporting characters on the show, now that mutants are fair game for the MCU.
So there you have it. Wonder Man may seem like one of the more oddball choices to be tapped for MCU adaptation in recent memory, but he’s got more than his share of connections to major Marvel concepts and his own long history with the Avengers to draw from.
Wonder Man has appeared in many of the best Avengers stories of all time.