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Dmitri Smerdyakov
The Chameleon
Dmitri Smerdyakov / The Chameleon.
Textless cover to Giant-Size Amazing Spider-Man: Chameleon Conspiracy #1 (June 2021).
Art by Mark Bagley, Andrew Hennessy, and Brian Reber.
Publication information
PublisherMarvel Comics
First appearanceThe Amazing Spider-Man #1
(March 1963)[1][2]
Created byStan Lee (writer)
Steve Ditko (artist)
In-story information
Alter egoDmitri Nikolayevich "Anatoly" Smerdyakov
SpeciesHuman mutate
Team affiliationsSinister Six
Kravinoff Family
Sinister Twelve
Exterminators[3]
HYDRA
KGB
Abilities

The Chameleon (Dmitri Smerdyakov; Russian: Дмитрий Смердяков) is a supervillain appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics. Created by writer Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko, the character first appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man #1 (March 1963).[4] The Chameleon is the first ever antagonist of the superhero Peter Parker / Spider-Man.[5][6] He is a master of disguises who is known for his ability to impersonate virtually anybody.[7] The character is also the half-brother of Kraven the Hunter.[8][9] This relationship helped evolve him as a major villain compared to his original depiction of being just a solo villain in the original issue of The Amazing Spider-Man.[10][11] He has also been a member of the Sinister Six and the Sinister Twelve at various points in his history.[12]

Since his original introduction, the character has been featured in various other Marvel-licensed products, including feature films, television series, video games. The character made his live-action debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019), portrayed by Numan Acar. Fred Hechinger is set to appear as the character in the upcoming Sony's Spider-Man Universe (SSU) film Kraven the Hunter (2024).

Publication history

1960s

Dmitri Smerdyakov debuted in The Amazing Spider-Man #1 (March 1963), created by writer Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko.[13] The Chameleon is therefore the first member of Spider-Man's rogues' gallery based on issue publication date and excluding the burglar who murdered Ben Parker.[14] He appeared in the 1959 Tales to Astonish series.[15] He appeared in the 1959 Tales of Suspense series.[16] He appeared in the 1985 Web of Spider-Man series.[17]

2000s

Dmitri Smerdyakov appeared in the 2014 Original Sin: Secret Avengers Infinite Comic series.[18][19] He later appeared in the 2015 Spider-Man and the X-Men series.[20] He appeared in the 2018 Amazing Spider-Man series.[21][22] He appeared in the 2021 Giant-Size Amazing Spider-Man: Chameleon Conspiracy one-shot.[23][24]

Fictional character biography

Dmitri Smerdyakov was born in Soviet Russia. In his youth, he became a servant and half-brother to Sergei Kravinoff, and later a minor associate of Gustav Fiers. Although Dmitri and Sergei were friends, Sergei was often abusive to Smerdyakov, leading to a combination of admiration and resentment towards Kravinoff. Eventually, Smerdyakov emigrated to the United States of America. As he had made a talent for himself during his youth by impressing his brother by impersonating friends and neighbors, he assumed an even more impressive disguise: the identity of Chameleon. During his first known criminal outing, he impersonated Spider-Man, though he was soon exposed and arrested. Shortly afterward, Sergei (now known as "Kraven the Hunter") came to America, and the Chameleon set his old associate's sights on Spider-Man.[25] Both men became long-time enemies of Spider-Man, part of his primary rogues gallery.

The Chameleon inspired Kraven to begin hunting Spider-Man, inviting Kraven to dispose of the hero.[26] With Kraven, the Chameleon battled Iron Man,[27] and then confronted the Hulk.[28] At one point, the Chameleon disguised himself as Hank Pym, and robbed Pym's laboratory for documents to combat Virus Nine. While delivering the documents and a shrunken Hulk to HYDRA, he was encountered and defeated by Ant-Man.[29] The Chameleon also disguised himself as the Torpedo and battled Daredevil.[30]

When his half-brother committed suicide,[31] the Chameleon became obsessed with making Spider-Man suffer for his failure to prevent this. He ingested a serum which made his face permanently featureless and malleable. He attempted to kidnap America's leading expert on superconductors, but was thwarted by Spider-Man.[32] He then kidnapped J. Jonah Jameson. He approached the Maggia for support to be New York's new crime lord, and formed an alliance with Hammerhead.[33] Disguised as a scientist, the Chameleon temporarily removed Spider-Man's powers. He allied himself with the Femme Fatales, the Scorpion, and the Tarantula to eliminate Spider-Man and the Black Cat, but escaped when his plan failed.[34]

The Chameleon's most ambitious play against Spider-Man happened when he formed an alliance with Harry Osborn as the Green Goblin. Before Harry's death, the Chameleon was told Spider-Man's secret identity could be found through Peter Parker, leading him to construct androids of Peter's parents; the Chameleon later admitted that he went through with the plot to confirm once and for all that Peter was Spider-Man. The plan led to a psychotic breakdown for both Spider-Man and the Chameleon, with Spider-Man briefly renouncing the civilian identity while the Chameleon is sent to Ravencroft Institute.[35] When Doctor Ashley Kafka sneaks him into a basement to try to continue treating him, believing that he was close to a breakthrough when the court were preparing to put him on trial, the Chameleon escaped and attempted to convince Spider-Man that he was actually a hallucinating writer who had suffered a mental breakdown after his daughter's death in a car accident; Peter managed to break through this deception due to his own strength of will.[36] The Chameleon's confirmation of Spider-Man's secret identity led him to try to attack Spider-Man through family and friends, but this effort met with rather dismal results when Mary Jane Watson subdued him with a baseball bat.[37] Somewhere in between this and subsequent appearances, he appeared to have been destroyed by his nephew Alyosha Kravinoff; Alyosha later threw a Chameleon mask at Spider-Man's feet, referring to him as 'that weakling Dmitri', but he had apparently recovered, waking in a hospital.[38]

After tricking Spider-Man to the bridge where Gwen Stacy's death occurred on the pretext of having kidnapped Mary Jane, the Chameleon declared his own loneliness and love for Peter. When Peter laughed, he threw himself off the bridge.[39] He reappeared some time later in a mental institution, completely incapacitated and believing himself to be Sergei Kravinoff rather than his true self.[40] He later reappeared in his Chameleon identity as part of the Sinister Twelve villain team organized by Norman Osborn as the Green Goblin.[41]

After Spider-Man was unmasked, the Chameleon gathered a gang of villains called the Exterminators,[3] including Will o' the Wisp, Scarecrow, Swarm and Electro, and also blackmailed the Molten Man into his employ all in an effort to defeat Spider-Man and attack the web-slinger's family.[42]

However, the Chameleon was dealt a most humiliating defeat by May Parker's hands. When he attempted to trick May into believing he was Peter so he could murder her, May was not fooled and subdued the villain by tricking him into eating oatmeal-raisin cookies laced with Zolpidem. The Rhino was also employed as part of the team up and later defeated Spider-Man, only to be unable to collect payment since the Chameleon was already captured.[43]

After the "Civil War", the Chameleon showed up among the villains at Stilt-Man's funeral at the Bar with No Name where the Punisher poisoned the drinks and blew up the bar.[44]

The Chameleon next appeared in the newest incarnation of Super Villain Team-Up called MODOK's Eleven. In this limited series, it is revealed that he contacted A.I.M. the moment he was telepathically summoned by MODOK. He then allowed A.I.M. to send in their newest creation, the Ultra-Adaptoid, under the guise of the Chameleon.[45] Additionally, it was revealed in Super Villain Team-Up: MODOK's Eleven that his apparent insanity and demise years earlier were in fact well-crafted ruses designed so that he could fade into the background once more.[46]

The "One More Day" storyline ended with the removal of Peter and Mary Jane's timeline from all memories, as well as knowledge of Spider-Man's identity, including the Chameleon.[47]

The Chameleon then returns to New York, more sadistic and sociopathic than ever before. To complete his hired goal of bombing City Hall, he kidnaps Peter and takes his place working for Mayor J. Jonah Jameson. While posing as Parker, he tries to better his life, revealing that he always tries to rectify the problems in the lives of his "faces".[48] Using Peter's security clearance to get access to various materials, the Chameleon was poised to bomb City Hall before Peter escaped and thwarted his plans as Spider-Man. During the resulting confusion, the Chameleon escaped.[49]

Sometime later at an alley building during "The Gauntlet and Grim Hunt" storyline, the distraught Chameleon is met by Sasha Kravinoff and Ana Kravinoff who want his help in avenging Sergei's death.[50] Various follow-up issues during The Gauntlet storyline show the Chameleon helping the Kravinoff family create an alliance of Spider-Man's enemies as well as Diablo.[51] First, he and Sasha managed to spring Electro from prison;[52] Chameleon then approached Mysterio, stating that he has friends that are "dying" to meet him.[53] During Grim Hunt, he posed as Ezekiel Sims to get close to Spider-Man, intending to defeat him and bring him to the Kravinoffs to sacrifice as part of a ritual that will revive Sergei.[54] After Sergei is resurrected, the Chameleon states that the problem might stem from inward anger of being resurrected. He and the Kravinoffs discover Spider-Man's corpse, which turns out to be Kaine in Spider-Man's costume instead.[55] The real Spider-Man soon arrives and takes revenge on the Kravinoff family, pulling the Chameleon and Alyosha into a huge nest of spiders; Sasha realizes that the Kravinoff family wasn't hunting the spiders, but it was the spiders hunting them.[56]

During the "Origin of the Species" storyline, the Chameleon is invited by Doctor Octopus to join his supervillain team, where he is tasked with securing some specific items for Doctor Octopus. He poses as Harry Osborn to trick Spider-Man by telling him that Menace's infant has died, when in reality the Chameleon had kidnapped the infant while Spider-Man was away.[57]He delivers the child to Doctor Octopus, who claims that the baby is the first of a new species. Using a lead gained when he took down Shocker, Spider-Man arrives at the Kravinoff Mansion where he captures the Chameleon, who reveals that the baby is still alive and is in the Lizard's clutches.[58]

The Chameleon later becomes a member of Doctor Octopus's latest incarnation of the Sinister Six. He poses as Captain Steve Rogers to infiltrate an Air Force base.[59] The Chameleon then disguises himself as a tribal chief when he and Mysterio pull off a zombie pirate attack on some indigenous peoples, using robots of the other Sinister Six members.[60] Chameleon and Mysterio pulled off this scheme as a diversion so that Doctor Octopus and the other Sinister Six members could infiltrate the Baxter Building to look for specific technology plans, while the Future Foundation were investigating the more obvious threat.[61]

The Chameleon later poses as Klaw to infiltrate Intelligencia so that he can help the Sinister Six steal their Zero Cannon.[62]

During the "Ends of the Earth" storyline, the Chameleon was present with the Sinister Six when Doctor Octopus tells them about his master plan.[63] The Chameleon then appeared in the guise of Al Gore at Capitoline Hill, where a summit of the world's leaders and greatest minds was held to discuss Doctor Octopus's supposed offer to save the world. As Al Gore, the Chameleon stated that Doctor Octopus would save them, only to be unmasked when Spider-Man punches him and reveals his disguise, using a new costume that could detect the Chameleon based on his heartbeat. Both are interrupted by a transmission from Doctor Octopus, who activates the Octavian Lens blocking harmful UV rays from the sun in order to reinforce his offer. After letting the Chameleon go, Spider-Man secretly places a Spider-Tracer on the Chameleon so that the Avengers could follow him; they track the Chameleon to the Mediterranean Coasts, where the Sinister Six is waiting for him and successfully subdue the Avengers, leaving only Spider-Man standing.[64] After Spider-Man and the Black Widow escape with Silver Sable's help, the Chameleon suggests that since the Sinister Six's remaining members had each received their $2 billion and had their criminal records expunged, they should just leave Doctor Octopus and his scheme; the others elect to stay on board, rather than make an enemy of Otto. The Chameleon later gets involved with Mysterio in tricking Spider-Man's allies into thinking they were destroying Symkaria, in order to give Doctor Octopus more time to complete the 200 satellites. However, the Chameleon is captured and the Black Widow threatens to reveal the secret behind his real face.[65]

Following the "Dying Wish" storyline, the Chameleon later fights Superior Spider-Man (Otto Octavius's mind in Spider-Man's body) and the Secret Avengers on the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier.[66] The Chameleon ends up knocked unconscious, and the Superior Spider-Man transports him to his hidden underwater lab where he ends up imprisoned.[67] The Chameleon, Electro, Sandman, Mysterion, and the Vulture are later seen as part of the "Superior Six" team. The Superior Spider-Man has been temporarily controlling their minds to redeem them for their crimes, forcing them to risk their lives doing heroic deeds against their will, then bringing them back to their containment cells after.[68] They eventually break free of the Superior Spider-Man's control and attempt to exact revenge, nearly destroying New York to do so.[69] With Sun Girl's help, the Superior Spider-Man is barely able to stop the Superior Six.[70]

Following the true Spider-Man's return, the Chameleon attempts to drive Spider-Man insane as revenge for the Superior Spider-Man's earlier treatment of him. However, Deadpool switches costumes with Spider-Man, with the Chameleon unaware of this. He fails at driving Deadpool insane (as Deadpool is already insane), and ends up being shot in the leg by him. Both Spider-Man and Deadpool (in each other's costumes) then punch the Chameleon at the same time, knocking him out, and later deliver him to the authorities.[71]

At the conclusion of the "Hunted" storyline, the Chameleon is revealed to be one of the attendees at Sergei's funeral, pleased that Sergei spared him from the Great Hunt. As he walks away, the Chameleon bids the deceased Sergei a good rest: "You needn't worry. The world is no longer your burden. Besides, there won't be much of it left soon... Not by the time I've finished."[72]

During the "Chameleon Conspiracy" storyline, Chameleon was imprisoned in a Symkarian black site prison called the Hiding Place when Teresa Parker infiltrated it, planning to interrogate him about his connection with Harry Osborn and the use of the Life Model Decoys of her parents. Teresa dragged Chameleon to another cell where Finisher - her parents' killer, who is still alive after his apparent death at the hands of Spider-Man - is being held, leading Chameleon to claim that he has the answers she needs.[73] Teresa non-fatally shoots Finisher in order to ensure both men's compliance.[74] Chameleon and Finisher admitted to Teresa that Chameleon faked Finisher's death to fool Spider-Man; upon relocating them to another building, Finisher is shown to have a plethora of people resembling Chameleon, unsettling him. [75] As Spider-Man finds that some of the Jack O'Lanterns were unmasked to be Chameleon-like people, Finisher revealed to Teresa that Chameleon was adopted at a young age by Gustav Fiers. Then Chameleon revealed that they never left the Hiding Place: Finisher was using holographic technology to speak with Teresa, and Chameleon states that she can use the Clairvoyant to find the rest of the answers she needs, all the while claiming that she may be a Chameleon double agent herself. Upon meeting up with Spider-Man, Teresa rejects Chameleon's insinuations and breaks the Clairvoyant, believing that she is a Parker first and foremost, and makes plans to track down Finisher. Back in his cell, the Chameleon is approached by Kindred, who seeks to procure more serum, and Chameleon states that he is happy to do business with Osborn again.[76]

Powers and abilities

The Chameleon debuted with no superhuman abilities.[77] He simply used makeup and elaborate costuming to impersonate his targets. He implemented a device in a belt buckle that emitted a gas that helped him mold his features.[78] He later obtained a microcomputer from Spencer Smythe for his belt buckle that could be programmed with the facial features of hundreds of people.[79] The belt buckle also contains a video receiver that enables the computer to analyze the appearance of anyone the Chameleon encounters so that it can duplicate his/her features using electrical impulses. The computer utilizes holographic technology that allowed him to change his appearance at the push of a button. His electronic devices allowed him to appear as two different people to two separate observers simultaneously. The Chameleon's costume consists of "memory material" that can be altered by electrical impulses from his belt so as to resemble the clothing of the person he is impersonating.

The character's powers were later made innate.[80] His skin pigmentation have been surgically and mutagenically altered by a serum so that he can take on the appearance of any person at will.[81][82] He also wears fabric made of memory material that responds to nerve impulses and can appear to be whatever costume he wishes to be. The Chameleon had taken the same serums that Kraven had taken over the years.[83]

Additionally, the Chameleon is a master of disguise and a brilliant method actor.[84] He is also an expert impressionist and a master of creating lifelike masks and make-up. He is a quick-change artist who can assume a new disguise in less than a minute, although he no longer needs to use such skills. The character also speaks several languages fluently. Although the Chameleon is not a scientific genius, during his increased lifespan he has been exposed to a wide array of sophisticated experimental technology, much of which he can apply effectively in his nefarious schemes.

Reception

Bradley Prim of Screen Rant called Dmitri Smerdyakov one of Spider-Man’s "iconic villains."[85]Tom Bowen of Game Rant ranked Dmitri Smerdyakov 12th in their "28 Best Spider-Man Villains Of All Time" list.[86] Scoot Allan of Comic Book Resources ranked Dmitri Smerdyakov 5th in their "10 Most Iconic Spider-Man Villains" list, writing, "The Chameleon quickly became one of Spider-Man’s most personal and iconic villains after Kraven’s suicide turned Smerdyakov vengeful."[87] Jesse Schedeen of IGN ranked Dmitri Smerdyakov 14th in their "Top 25 Spider-Man Villains" list, stating, "The fact that he’s been such a mainstay of Spidey’s rogues gallery ever since is a testament to his enduring appeal."[88]

Other versions

Chameleon 2099

An alternate version of Dmitri Smerdyakov appears in Marvel 2099. A designer drug that causes its users to involuntarily shapeshift in response to whatever emotion they are feeling at the time is nicknamed "Chameleon". After fighting an addict (who turned into a bull-like monster when angered and a mouse-like creature when frightened) at Woodstock 2099, the era's Spider-Man tracks down the distributor of the Chameleon, a hippy known as Major Jones. While battling Jones and his minions, Spider-Man accidentally knocks the dealer into his supply of the drug, causing him to mutate into an amorphous blob and consequently the new Chameleon.[89]

Chameleon 2211

An alternate version of Dmitri Smerdyakov appears in Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man. He has the powers of physically changing into any shape or form after accessing their DNA. This usually involves sampling their blood after killing the subject, although less lethal methods are possible; he was able to change into Sandman after an accidental ingestion of some of his sand.[volume & issue needed]

Chameleon encounters an alternate Uncle Ben from another future who has been transferred into the 'main' timeline by Hobgoblin of 2211, attempting to influence Ben to kill Edwin Jarvis for his current involvement with this timeline's May Parker by arguing that, since the multiverse means every action possible is being committed, you might as well do what feels good. When Ben rejects the suggestion, Chameleon kills and replaces him. This fools Spider-Man 2211 whom he then kills when he arrives to try to return 'Ben' to his reality. After discovering the body, Sandman's father was framed for Ben's murder, and Sandman went to Spider-Man for help.[volume & issue needed]

The two encountered Chameleon at Peter's high school (Chameleon had murdered the principal and was posing as him), where Chameleon reveals that he wasn't human at all but a giant monster. Chameleon was finally defeated, however, after Spider-Man (of Earth 616) used Spider-Man 2211's helmet to literally "administer poetic justice", causing a last-minute body switch between Chameleon and Sandman's father into an electric chair.[90]

Counter-Earth

Spider-Man faces the Counter-Earth version of The Chameleon in Spider-Man Unlimited #5. This Chameleon, a reptilian Bestial, is a depraved serial killer who both Spider-Man and a bestial Wolverine team-up to defeat.[91]

Ultimate Marvel

The Ultimate version of Chameleon are two unnamed twin siblings with the ability to shape-shift. One poses first as J. Jonah Jameson,[92] and later Spider-Man, while the other (referred to as "Camellia") keeps the real Jameson and Peter Parker restrained.[92] The Chameleon twins are defeated by Johnny Storm and Bobby Drake, and imprisoned in the Triskelion.[93]

Marvel Action Hour: Iron Man

An alternate version of Dmitri Smerdyakov appears in Iron Man during The Marvel Action Hour. He is present in #4 of the cartoon based comic in service to Justin Hammer. He used his transformation abilities to obtain the Grim Reaper weapon from Stark Enterprises.

Marvel Noir

An alternate version of Dmitri Smerdyakov appears in Marvel Noir. This version has the ability to alter his features to imitate any individual, although this ability stems from his clay-like malleable features rather than his mainstream counterpart's technological advantages. He is a former Coney Island freak working for mob boss Norman Osborn (a.k.a. "The Goblin") by impersonating J. Jonah Jameson to eliminate Ben Urich and set a trap for Spider-Man. He is killed by Felicia Hardy, who witnesses him-as-Jameson killing Ben.[94]

In other media

Television

Film

Dmitri Smerdyakov / Chameleon will appear in Kraven the Hunter, portrayed by Fred Hechinger.[101][102]

Marvel Cinematic Universe

Characters based on Dmitri Smerdyakov / The Chameleon appear in media set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU):

Video games

Miscellaneous

References

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