We’re blasting off once again, as James Gunn reassembles Star-Lord, Gamora, Rocket, Groot, Drax and the rest for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. The long-awaited-threequel is pitched to round off this cosmic roster of rag-tag rogues, and Chukwudi Iwuji's High Evolutionary will be the big bad giving our heroes grief this time.
Iwuji has been reported to be a “deeply complex” and “extremely powerful” addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Following in the footsteps of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ Living Tribunal and Thor: Love and Thunder’s Eternity, this cosmic character from the MCU is a welcome addition. But just who is the High Evolutionary? Let's break down his history and the role he's playing in this upcoming Phase 5 film.
Who Is the High Evolutionary?
Back when Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 started casting, many thought the Vol. 2 post-credits tease of Adam Warlock meant the character was the villain of the movie. But now we know the High Evolutionary, who started off as an obscure Thor foe, will be stepping up as this movie’s de facto big bad.
Introduced in 1966’s The Mighty Thor #133 and #134, the High Evolutionary is also known as Herbert Edgar Wyndham. A scientist with a great interest in, you guessed it, evolution, Wyndham’s mission in life is to artificially accelerate mankind’s evolution.
The High Evolutionary: Powers
The High Evolutionary, who as noted is super into, you know, evolution, has evolved his intellect to the highest point possible for a human. He's a scientist with a mastery of everything from biology to physics to computers. (Yes, he's even an ace IT guy.) He can, among other abilities, evolve and de-evolve other beings, has superhuman strength and durability, can manipulate reality on a subatomic level, has mental powers like telepathy and telekinesis, and can even operate on a cosmic level. He also has an exoskeleton suit that provides protection and can help heal him if he's wounded.
What the Heck Is Counter-Earth?
The first Guardians Vol. 3 trailer opens with the team making another trip to Earth, following up on Drax and Mantis’ last field trip in the Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special. However, something is clearly wrong with this world, and it quickly becomes clear the Guardians aren’t on Earth at all, but Counter-Earth.
Counter-Earth is the High Evolutionary’s other signature creation. This artificial replica of Earth is meant to be a paradise where Wyndham can pursue his unholy experiments, free from the prying eyes and pesky morals of humanity. Counter-Earth is an almost exact mirror of the regular Earth. It even orbits on the exact opposite side of the Sun. The twist is that time moves very differently on Counter-Earth, allowing Wyndham to speed up his evolutionary experiments.
This is also where Will Poulter’s character Adam Warlock comes in. In the comics, the High Evolutionary uses the Soul Stone to help build his new world. After Counter-Earth becomes corrupted by the Man-Beast, one of Wyndham’s rogue experiments, the High Evolutionary bestows the Soul Stone onto Adam Warlock and tasks him with liberating Counter-Earth.
Guardians Vol. 2 teased the debut of Adam Warlock, and it’s probably safe to assume this cosmic messiah is closely tied to the High Evolutionary in the MCU. He may even have been created by Wyndham for Ayesha and the Sovereign. But again, we’ll see just how much of the source material makes the jump to the big screen. Don’t forget that the Soul Stone was already destroyed along with the rest of the Infinity Stones in Avengers: Endgame. Guardians Vol. 3 may have to do some serious tinkering where Adam Warlock is concerned.
An X-Men Connection
The comics tell us that the High Evolutionary took an interest in the works of Nathaniel Essex – better known as X-Men villain Mister Sinister – but he took things even further.
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Much like Essex, Wyndham wanted to perfect human genetics through experimentation, meaning he inadvertently created a race of talking animals called the New Men in his “citadel of science” that was placed in Wundagore. Tying back to the MCU, Mount Wundagore was a major point of interest in Multiverse of Madness, and where we last saw Wanda Maximoff before she may or may not have died (she’s totally not dead, come on). After being abandoned by partner Doctor Jonathan Drew (father of Jessica Drew/Spider-Woman), Wyndham gave himself a suit of silver armor to protect him from werewolves (comics!). This gave the character his signature supervillain look (which Iwuji showcased a variation of at SDCC). The High Evolutionary dubbed his experiments the Knights of Wundagore, and used them to ensure the demonic god Chthon was trapped there (that’s a Wanda Maximoff connection right there).
The High Evolutionary and the Scarlet Witch
The character does have a variety of ties to familiar characters in the MCU. Eventually, he was revealed to be the puppet master behind Pietro and Wanda Maximoff’s getting their powers in the comics. The movie franchise has established that Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch gained their abilities via the Mind Stone and experimentation done by Hydra, but this could still be retconned to include the High Evolutionary.
That said, it seems likely the High Evolutionary of Vol. 3 will connect to Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) and her people the Sovereign, who we first met on the big screen in Vol. 2. His evolutionary skills could connect to Ayesha’s creation of Adam Warlock (not to mention any possible revenge plot she might have against the Guardians). Speaking of…
The Adam Warlock Connection
Back in the comics, having had enough with our Earth, the High Evolutionary established Counter-Earth with the New Men, and then bestowed the Soul Stone to Adam Warlock. But with the Infinity Stones seemingly destroyed in the main canon of the MCU, we’ll have to wait and see whether Gunn has adapted this aspect of Warlock’s origin story.
Eventually, the enormously powerful cosmic beings the Beyonders eventually tricked Warlock into murdering the High Evolutionary. With Secret Wars announced as the current endgame of Phases 4, 5, and 6, this could be a significant fact to remember since the Beyonders were a key part of that comics storyline. Could the High Evolutionary stick around for several phases before buying it at the hands of Warlock in that sure-to-be epic?
Of course, in typical style, death was only temporary. Later issues saw the High Evolutionary try to take over Earth and catch the attention of the Avengers. A super-evolved Hercules was sent to stop him, which again could tie to the post-credits tease of Zeus’ son in Thor: Love and Thunder. Hercules and the High Evolutionary eventually evolved themselves out of existence and were imprisoned by the Celestials. More recently, he battled Ultron and Phalanx warriors who wanted to seize Warlock for themselves. Although it looked like Warlock perished, his consciousness lived on and the High Evolutionary knew he’d survive to lead the “new” Guardians of the Galaxy. Given that Gunn said this is “probably” the last time we’ll see the current team, this all sort of fits into place if we’re looking at a brand-new lineup for a potential fourth Guardians movie.
The Cosmic and the Rocket (Raccoon)
The character also has ties to the cosmic side of Marvel, like Galactus and the Silver Surfer, who of course are tightly connected to the Fantastic Four. An FF movie might seem a long way off, but if the High Evolutionary is sticking around for a little longer, we could see the comics story of him draining the Silver Surfer’s powers for himself.
As for where you might’ve seen the High Evolutionary before, he had a small arc in X-Men: The Animated Series, was in Spider-Man: Unlimited, and was then voiced by Nolan North in Disney XD’s Guardians of the Galaxy series.
In that latter story, he captured Rocket Raccoon. And there's plenty of back-story left to explore with Rocket in the MCU, with the first footage of Guardians 3 from SDCC revealing that we'll be seeing a young version of the character. It seems pretty clear that the High Evolutionary must’ve played a part in Rocket's origin (remember all those cybernetic implants on his body?).
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The High Evolutionary has also crossed paths with everyone from Spider-Man’s Dr. Miles Warren (the Jackal) to Hulk, trying to accelerate the latter forward by a million years in evolution. If anything, his abilities as a leading geneticist should at least raise a few eyebrows given a recent X-Men hint in the MCU. The franchise loves a “mad scientist” stereotype, and even if this character’s comic origin isn’t necessarily linked to the Guardians of the Galaxy, Gunn is set to put his own spin on the source material. Whether the High Evolutionary is a one-and-done villain remains to be seen, but either way, fans are ready to welcome Iwuji into the MCU.
What do you hope to see from the High Evolutionary and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3? Let’s discuss in the comments! And for more on MCU baddies, check out the 25 best Marvel villains in the MCU.
Note: this article was originally published in July 2022 and updated on May 2, 2023 with the latest info about Guardians Vol. 3.