Membership: None identified (though the newspapers dubbed one of them the "Mutilation Killer");
   technically Nocturne (Angelica Cairn), Vermin (Edward Whelan) (see comments)

Purpose: To serve Baron Zemo (Helmut Zemo)

Affiliations: Captain America (Steve Rogers), Cyclone (Pierre Fresson), Dr. Ashley Kafka, Arnold Roth, S.H.I.E.L.D. (Abramowitz, Gail Runciter, Sanderson, others), Spider-Man (Peter Parker);
   formerly Baron Zemo (Helmut Zemo), Primus

Enemies: Baron Zemo (Helmut Zemo), Black Widow (Natasha Romanova), "Ogre" (Techno/Paul Norbert Ebersol robot duplicate), Primus, Thunderbolts (Charcoal/Charles Burlingame, Hawkeye/Clint Barton, Mach-2/Abner Jenkins, Songbird/Melissa Gold);
   formerly Captain America (Steve Rogers), Dr. Ashley Kafka, S.H.I.E.L.D., Spider-Man (Peter Parker)

Base of Operations: Castle Zemo in the Sierra Madre Oriental mountain range, Northern Mexico;
   formerly Dr. Ashley Kafka's offices in a New York City skyscraper;
   formerly New York University Medical Center in New York City, New York

First Appearance: Captain America I#276 (December, 1982)

Powers/Abilities: Besides the psychic link between the Protoids no other powers of the individual mutates, or if they have any, are known. Some of them probably had more powers (considering the "Mutilation Killer" was a shapeshifter), but we don't know for sure. They presumably possess increased strength and durability, but this is mostly a presumption considering they could go toe to toe (at least in large numbers) with the likes of Spider-Man and Captain America.

They were normal humans before their mutation.

(Thunderbolts I#43 (fb) - BTS) - Zemo experimented on locals near his castle.

(Captain America I#278 (fb) - BTS) - Baron Zemo and Primus mutated them into monstrous beings.

(Spectacular Spider-Man Annual I#13/1 (fb) - BTS) - Zemo's machine tapped into the unconscious minds of his victims and brought forth the shame they tried to hide away and used it was brought forth during their transformation.

(Captain America I#278 (fb) - BTS) - The mutates were linked in a group consciousness with the other creations of Zemo and Primus.

(Spectacular Spider-Man II#196 (fb) - BTS) - Zemo could control the mutates with a frequency from a well-hidden device that tapped into their connected brain-wave patterns.

(Captain America I#276) - Baron Zemo and Arnim Zola (actually Primus) were surrounded by some of their creations, including Vermin and a few mutates, when they confronted Captain America at Zemo's castle.

(Captain America I#277) - "Zola" sent the mutates around him against Captain America, who defended himself against the mutates until Baron Zemo ordered the mutates to stop fighting. Captain America only stopped when Zemo threatened the life of Arnold Roth. Some mutates followed their masters and Captain America around through the castle while Zemo explained his reasons for trying to destroy Captain America's life. They witnessed Primus reveal himself to have been posing as Arnim Zola before he knocked out Captain America and was sent into the world by Zemo to destroy Steve Rogers' life by posing as him.

(Captain America I#277 - BTS) - The minds of Arnold Roth and Michael Bach were placed in two monstrous beings by Zemo.

(Captain America I#278 (fb) - BTS) - While inside the monster bodies they were linked to the group consciousness with the mutates.

   Later some mutates were standing around Baron Zemo on a balcony in the castle's dungeons when Captain America and Vermin woke up chained to a wall. They witnessed Zemo send two monsters that had the minds of Arnold and Michael placed inside them against Captain America and Vermin, who broke free from their chains to defend themselves. Vermin inadvertently killed Michael Bach by slaying the monster his mind inhabited. Arnold Roth's mind returned to his body and he woke up and was furious at Captain America for not preventing the death of his boyfriend.

(Captain America I#278) - Baron Zemo sent the mutates to kill Captain America, Arnold Roth and Vermin because he feared that Captain America could escape his castle. Vermin fled while Captain America fought the mutates until Roth remembered his link to the group consciousness and that the mutates were actually innocent humans that were mutated by Zemo and Primus. The mutates stopped fighting when Captain America lowered his shield and joined him to confront Zemo. They started destroying all the machinery in the castle after Arnold Roth knocked out Zemo. Gail Runciter arrived with a S.H.I.E.L.D. commando and they fired at the mutates because they believed them to be evil, but Captain America ordered her to stand down because the mutates were innocent. Zemo escaped during the chaos. Runciter ordered her men to stop the attack and soon S.H.I.E.L.D. agents took away the mutates, even the injured ones, with them.

(Spectacular Spider-Man II#195 (fb) - BTS) - Captain America promised the mutates that S.H.I.E.L.D. would cure them. They were taken to the United States, but the experiments performed by the scientists at S.H.I.E.L.D. failed to turn the mutates human again. Many of the mutates died and the rest fled because to them the S.H.I.E.L.D. scientists had proven to be as bad as Zemo. Some of the mutates stayed together while others drifted off alone, but it didn't go well for them. They were shunned, broken and living like starving, frightened dogs. Seeking a sense of belonging one of them eventually gathered most of them in New York City again to find their place in the world under a new leader that could teach them how to survive.

(Spectacular Spider-Man II#194) - Gathered in an abandoned building the mutates used their psychic connection to Vermin to bring him to them, but Vermin had been reverted to his human self at the N.Y.U. Medical Center, and though he was still struggling with his Vermin persona, he ultimately ignored the mutates' call with the help of Dr. Ashley Kafka.

   The mutates rushed to N.Y.U. and abducted Edward Whelan, who was afraid that Zemo had sent them. Kafka was alerted by Edward's screams and on short notice the mutates' leader decided to take her as well. The mutates violently beat up everyone standing in their way, including several guards and policemen.

(Spectacular Spider-Man II#195) - The mutates took Kafka and Whelan to their hideout. Whelan tried to fight his way through the mutates, but inadvertently transformed back into Vermin. The female mutate that had gathered them all explained to Vermin what the mutates had gone through the last couple of years and that they wanted Vermin to become their leader. Vermin agreed even though Kafka was against it.

   Led by Vermin the mutates plundered a supermarket. They were opposed by Spider-Man and the police. Spider-Man beat up Vermin to learn what had happened to Kafka. Vermin transformed back to his human form and revealed that Kafka was held captive by the mutates. The mutates then overpowered Spider-Man and Whelan and took them back to their hideout. When Spider-Man regained consciousness the female mutate suggested to take their revenge on all the masked men and scientists by killing Spider-Man and Kafka, but Whelan convinced them not to go through with it because Kafka and Spider-Man had both showed him compassion and helped him become human again. The female mutate felt that Whelan was telling the truth due to their psychic connection, but moments after shaking Whelan's hand she was shot dead by Baron Zemo. Spider-Man attacked Zemo, who immediately used his control over the mutates and Vermin to threaten the life of Kafka, to end Spider-Man's assault on him.

(Spectacular Spider-Man II#196) - Baron Zemo revealed to a surprised Spider-Man how he was able to control the mutates and Vermin with a frequency from a hidden device. He asked Spider-Man to allow him to take the mutates with him so he could continue experimenting on them, but Spider-Man was not going to let that happen. Zemo didn't care because he was in control of the situation and mid-way changed his mind to actually take Kafka with him as well and mutate her to see what was lurking inside her. Kafka panicked and Spider-Man had to save her from Vermin and the mutates. Zemo ordered the mutates to unmask Spider-Man, which they did because they outnumbered him so much. A mutate handed over the mask to Zemo, who put it on, but Vermin, who was finally able to resist Zemo's control due to his months of therapy, took it off of him again. Vermin attacked Zemo, who asked the mutates for help, but their psychic connection with Vermin had severed Zemo's control over them as well. They smiled as Vermin threatened to kill Zemo, but Spider-Man tried to stop him. Vermin knocked Spider-Man into a wall and the mutates held down the hero while Vermin got a hold of Zemo. Kafka convinced not to go through with the murder and Vermin became Edward Whelan again. After Zemo was defeated by Spider-Man the mutates were taken in by Kafka at the N.Y.U. Medical Center.

(Spectacular Spider-Man Annual I#13/1 (fb) - BTS) - One of the mutates decided against going with Kafka because she liked what she was. She liked it some much that she became a serial killer dubbed the "Mutilation Killer" by the press.

(Spectacular Spider-Man II#196 - BTS) - Kafka and Whelan made progress with the mutates and came closer to a final cure every day. They requested equipment from S.H.I.E.L.D., which was delivered by Reed Richards.

(Spectacular Spider-Man Annual I#13/1 (fb) - BTS) - Reed Richards helped Kafka receive all the funding and space she needed to cure the mutates, but they didn't respond to her therapy as well as Edward Whelan, who still believed that they would eventually cure the mutates.

(Spectacular Spider-Man Annual I#13/1) - Detective Angela Cairn was lured into a trap and caught by the "Mutilation Killer" at Zemo's warehouse hideout. The "Mutilation Killer" used Zemo's machine on Cairn and it transformed her into Nocturne.

   Searching for answers about the "Mutilation Killer" Spider-Man visited the new offices of Dr. Ashley Kafka to see if maybe Vermin was the killer. The mutates celebrated Spider-Man, who were thankful that he saved them from Baron Zemo. It became clear to Spider-Man that Vermin was not the killer he was looking for.

   Spider-Man and Nocturne later defeated the "Mutilation Killer" at Zemo's warehouse hideout. She was apparently arrested by the police.

(Spectacular Spider-Man Annual I#13/1 - BTS) - Spider-Man planned to give the equipment found in Zemo's lab to Kafka in hope it would help her better understand what Zemo had done to the mutates and reverse it.

(Thunderbolts I#43) - Cyclone broke through a wall and led a group of mutates still (or maybe back) in Zemo's Mexican castle in an attack on the Thunderbolts to distract the heroes and secure his own escape with Dr. Karl Malus and another scientist. Hawkeye recognized the mutates as Protoids, humans mangled by Arnim Zola (see comments), and asked the others not to use lethal force. Techno, while posing as Ogre (Brian Dunlap), still killed one of them to save his own life. Techno then scanned how fragile the Protoids' genome mutation matrix was while Black Widow and the other Thunderbolts kept fighting against the Protoids. Techno then created a device that generated a biocelular resonance wave, which transformed the Protoids back to their human forms by destabilizing their original mutation template. While Hawkeye congratulated "Ogre" for his work, Black Widow and Mach-2 were a bit sceptical of how he was able to do it.

Comments: Created by J.M. DeMatteis, Mike Zeck & John Beatty.

Nocturne and Vermin seemingly both went through the same process that mutated the other Protoids, which would technically make them Protoids. In Nocturne's case though neither Zemo nor Primus had anything to do with her mutation and she was also never under Zemo's control or showed any psychic connection to the other mutates. Vermin on the other hand is clearly one of them IMHO.

Thunderbolts I#43 is the first time the mutates were called Protoids. Hawkeye probably read a file on them when he was with the Avengers (Spider-Man probably knew them from the same file), but I don't know who originally dubbed them the Protoids. S.H.I.E.L.D.? Captain America? Baron Zemo? Arnim Zola (who had nothing to do with their creation)?

Zemo's castle is in the mountains of Northern Mexico, which are known as the Sierra Madre Oriental! It was clearly stated as being in Mexico in Captain America I#276, Spectacular Spider-Man II#195 and Thunderbolts I#17. Central America is wrong, but some people consider Mexico part of it so it kind of works, but Middle America would be correct!

Did Kafka succeed in curing the mutates that hung around with her in Spectacular Spider-Man stories or did she fail? Did some of them return to Zemo's castle or where a few mutates left behind in the first place because they were stashed in a dungeon or suspended animation?

It wouldn't surprise me if Kafka took the mutates to Ravencroft, failed to cure them and the mutates fled from her "care" and ended up as members of the Unwanted by their own choice. Will we ever know? Probably not!

Profile by Markus Raymond.

The Protoids should not be confused with:

images: (wihout ads)
Spectacular Spider-Man Annual I#13, p12 (main)
Captain America I#276, p16 (behind "Arnim Zola" (Primus in disguise))
Captain America I#278, p8, pan1 (head shots)
Captain America I#278, p11, pan3 (angered)
Spectacular Spider-Man II#194, p19, pan5 (kidnapping Edward Whelan)
Spectacular Spider-Man II#195, p10, pan1 (choosing Vermin as leader)
Thunderbolts I#43, p19, pan2 (Protoids)
Thunderbolts I#43, p21, pan1-2 ("cured" by Techno)

Captain America I#276-278 (December, 1982 - February, 1983) - J.M. DeMatteis (writer), Mike Zeck (pencils), John Beatty (inks), Mark Gruenwald (editor)
Spectacular Spider-Man II#194-196 (November, 1992 - January, 1993) - J.M. DeMatteis (writer), Sal Buscema (artist), Rob Tokar (editor)
Spectacular Spider-Man Annual I#13/1 (1993) - J.M. DeMatteis (writer), Jerry Bingham (artist), Eric Fein (editor)
Thunderbolts I#43 (October, 2000) - Fabian Nicieza (writer), Mark Bagley (pencils), Greg Adams (inks), Tom Brevoort (editor)

First Posted: 04/01/2023
Last updated: 04/01/2023

Any Additions/Corrections? please let me know.

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