Peter Parker met a tragic end in Avengers: Infinity War, but we can all rest easy knowing he’s already bouncing back from his Thanos-related injuries and filming the follow up to his MCU solo debut Spider-Man: Homecoming, the playfully titled Spider-Man: Far From Home. While details about the specifics of the plot have remained unsurprisingly vague, the rumors of Jake Gyllenhaal joining the cast to play villain Mysterio were confirmed by on-set photos of Gyllenhaal in costume. That begs the question: Just who the hell is Mysterio, and what does his entrance into the MCU actually mean for Spidey?
The name Mysterio actually refers to four different Marvel villains dating all the way back to 1964, and while there has been no official confirmation of which version Gyllenhaal is actually playing, the safest bet is the first and most prolific of the lot, Quentin Beck, who premiered in The Amazing Spider-Man #13 in 1964.
Beck’s vintage origin story is your typical ’60s superhero fare. He was a struggling special effects artist and wannabe actor who eventually realized that his skills as an artist could be used to turn a real profit if he used them to build a villainous alter ego. Of course, after carefully constructing his costume (complete with his iconic fishbowl-style mirrored helmet) and making his debut, Beck was stopped and humiliated by Spider-Man–which, unsurprisingly, led to a life long vendetta. He joined the original incarnation of the Sinister Six, a team that also included Vulture, Dr. Octopus, Kraven the Hunter, Electro, and Sandman.
Over the years, Mysterio became a perpetual thorn in Peter’s side. Beck has no real superpowers, but his exhaustive knowledge of special effects trickery and illusions make him formidable in his own way–typically he’d set up elaborate gags involving smoke machines, stage magic, and even robotics to pull of his plots. Occassionally, his smoke based illusions are actually laced with hallucinogenic drugs, making him more similar to someone like Batman’s Scarecrow than a hoaky magician. He trained in hypnotism, inventing a second alter-ego he called Dr. Ludwig Reinhart, and generally did his best to try and force his victims to lose their minds with elaborate gimmicks and cons designed to make them believe all sorts of wild lies.
Sometimes the lies were pretty goofy. Other times, they were considerably less so. he tried to force Peter into believing he’d been shrunk down to action figure size. He later tried to con Aunt May out of house and home using a revolving door of disguises and assumed identities designed to gaslight and confuse her. Eventually, and with the help of Kingpin, he set his sights on Daredevil, trying to manipulate him into insanity using mood altering drugs and by targeting and manipulating his friends. At one point he actually tried to convince Matt that a baby was the biblical antichrist. True story.
That particular plan didn’t work out all that well and ended with Beck apparently committing suicide after Daredevil unmasked and beat him within an inch of his life. Of course, in typical comic book fashion, the death didn’t stick. And although Beck’s resurrection was never completely explained in any concrete way, the simplest answer was that he had staged his own death and gone into temporary hiding–though some stories insinuate that he really did die, and in fact spent some time in Hell before being magically revived.
Beck resumed his antics, rejoining with the Sinister Six as the need arose. He briefly retired (and built himself a robot daughter–don’t ask) in Las Vegas, but was prompted to pick up the Mysterio mantle yet again after getting wrapped up in some complicated, demonic dealings with Ben Reilly, the Scarlet Spider.
All told, Mysterio’s place in the Marvel universe is malleable. He’s a bit less prolific and recognizable than someone like Green Goblin or Doctor Octopus, and that slightly-less-than-top-tier notoriety, coupled with his expansive repertoire of skills, means he can fit into stories in any number of ways. He’s been the campy comic relief, the dangerous mastermind, the bumbling gloryhound, and the vicious sociopath, depending on the needs of the moment.
Thematically speaking, it seems more likely that we’re going to be seeing Gyllenhaal as one of Beck’s softer sides in Far From Home, especially considering the multilayered approach Homecoming took to his Sinister Six teammate Vulture. It’s certainly not impossible that we’re going to see a Mysterio on the big screen who is furious at Spider-Man for ruining his shot at fame and stardom, but it’s maybe a bit improbable.
There’s also the potential for Gyllenhaal’s character to borrow from the other incarnations of Mysterio: Daniel Berkhart, a con who temporarily replaced Beck at both Beck’s behest and after being hired to impersonate him by J. Jonah Jameson; Francis Klum, a mutant with teleportation powers who briefly took over the mantle while Beck was dead; and Mysterion, a mysterious new incarnation who was brainwashed and forced to join a team called the Superior Six lead by Otto Octavius. While none of the other Mysterio mantle wearers have quite the history Beck does, the MCU’s willingness to play fast and loose with classic characters means they probably shouldn’t be ignored.