What is a superhero without a supervillain? Not much. Some supervillains, however, are worth a lot more than others. I have, therefore, decided to spotlight some lesser-known villains. Are they underrated gems or irredeemable losers who deserve to be forgotten? You decide!
Today’s subject: Turner D. Century!
I first heard about this charming fellow via Mara Franzen’s article on obscure supervillains and immediately needed to know more about him. Debuting in Spider-Woman #33, his real name is Clifford Michaels, and his father was the chauffeur of a conservative Californian politician, Morgan MacNeil Hardy. Hardy raised — or should I say indoctrinated — Clifford after his father’s death.
Beneath his crumbling mansion, Hardy created a fake town that reminded him of San Francisco in the “good old days” of his youth in the 1910s. These lessons became warped in Clifford’s mind, prompting him to head out to San Francisco and, armed with a fire-spewing umbrella, “cleanse” the city of all undesirable elements, particularly people of color and immodest women.
(They don’t mention the LGBT+ community, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the story took place in San Francisco two years after the assassination of Harvey Milk or that one of Century’s first targets was a disco.)
When Hardy finds out that Clifford has murdered dozens in his quest to bring back “decency” — and that Hardy’s own teachings prompted the massacres — Hardy elects to die with his fake town, which got set on fire during Century’s final battle with Spider-Woman. Century stays behind with him, saying he loves the old man too much to let him die alone. A nice sentiment, though it was not reciprocated, as we shall soon see.
There are some interesting parallels here: Spider-Woman had also spent years isolated from the real world, but when she returned, she chose to learn about and protect that world, not try to return it to some imagined idyll. Alas, these go unexplored, as the two never meet up again.
Just a year after this touching scene, we got the bizarre Captain America #264, in which we learn Hardy survived the fire, but Clifford apparently did not. Hardy had changed his mind about the whole dying thing and, unable to find his surrogate son, escaped by himself. Ouch.
Hardy’s latest scheme proves he’s really just as ruthless as Turner D. Century ever was: he finds some telepaths and vows to “drain their brains” if it will remake America in his own image. This results in Cap being shunted through a series of alternate Americas, drawn from what each of the telepaths views as the ideal version of the country.
Cap stops Hardy’s scheme in time, but Hardy and two of his more odious test subjects die, for real, this time.
Marvel Team-Up #120
Century himself returned in this issue, this time with a nifty new gadget called a Time Horn. This device was capable of killing all young people within range because, obviously, young people represent everything that is wrong with the world, always and forever.
Ironically, Century was defeated by Dominic Fortune, an elderly Golden Age hero who came out of retirement specifically to kick his butt.
Captain America #319
In the mid-1980s, a new menace stalked the villains of Marvel: the Scourge, an unknown serial killer who targeted anyone who’d ever tangled with a superhero. In an effort to protect his fellow miscreants, the former Firebrand invited a bunch of villains to a meeting to discuss their mutual protection. One of the few to show up was Turner D. Century.
This seems very out of character to me. Century views himself as the last bastion of morality in America, not a supervillain. And he certainly wouldn’t sit amiably next to a scantily clad woman when he could be insulting her costume and telling her to get back in the kitchen.
In any case, he was killed (again) when Scourge crashed the meeting and mowed everyone down with a machine gun. And then he was resurrected (again) in Punisher #6 as part of the “Dead End” storyline, which he subsequently played no role in.
Superior Spider-Man #9
In his most recent appearance, ol’ Turner and his Time Horn returned to his roots: terrorizing San Franciscans for their decadent, immoral, “avocado-toast-flavored” ways.
True to form, Century was immediately punched into defeat by a spider-person, in this case, Otto Octavius, the Superior Spider-Man. Otto also had the intelligence to point out just how hypocritical Century is for criticizing Americans’ alleged narcissism while insisting that he knows everything about how everyone should behave.
Nope. But Octavius didn’t kill him, so presumably, he’s sitting in a cell somewhere, griping about how prisons have really gone downhill lately.
Loser. But the broader concept has some merit.
Every generation has a group of pompous, controlling puritans who insist on dragging everyone back to some “better,” “purer” past that never really existed. So, the type of villainy represented by Turner D. Century is evergreen and could certainly work. I’m just not sure that a guy whose main mode of transportation is a flying bicycle built for two, complete with an explosive-filled dummy in the other seat, has the chops to pull this off.
It really seems like Marvel has gotten hung up on Century’s gimmicky appearance and gimmicky…gimmicks. This is evident in his body count: in Spider-Woman, he’s a mass murderer; in Superior Spider-Man, he’s a goof. So maybe we should start from scratch or at least give him a major revamp. Give us a character who, like Clifford Michaels, was raised to revere a wrong-headed, bigoted vision of the past and then sent out to remake the world according to the twisted version of morality inculcated in them since childhood.
Heck, there’s even room for a redemption arc. Have the character explore the real world, discover that everything they were taught was wrong, and decide to fight for a better future instead of a romanticized past.
Want to meet more overlooked villains? Check out my profiles on King Tut, the Matador, Peek-a-Boo, Man-Killer, Mad Mod, Big Wheel, KGBeast, the Living Monolith, Egg Fu, Mahkizmo, my One-Shot Special, Lord Manga Khan, Deadly Nightshade, and la Dama!