There are a variety of underrated characters in comics and many of them are villains who are used as cannon fodder against superheroes. They might be small time crooks or second rate super villains who have cliché backstories. But some small time villains can be the most human characters of all, and there’s an argument to be made that The Absorbing Man is one of the most underappreciated villains in the history of comics. Carl ‘Crusher’ Creel has the power to duplicate the properties of anything he touches, which puts him on the same level as heavy hitters like Thor and The Hulk.
The Absorbing Man was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and first appeared in Journey into Mystery #114 in 1965. A hardened convict, Creel was given a magical potion by Loki that helped him absorb anything he wanted. He took on Thor and was able to get the better of the God of Thunder, which proved he was a villain worth taking seriously.
Creel’s backstory involved him growing up in the Bronx with an abusive father and it inspired him to get into boxing to defend himself. After boxing for a while, Creel’s size and power impressed some local gangs and he started working as muscle for hire. Creel went to prison and Loki chose him to fight Thor. Creel became a force to be reckoned with and he eventually fell in love with a super villain called Titania. The two of them eventually got married.
The Absorbing Man’s relationship with Titania is one of the few good examples of a criminal couple who are portrayed realistically. They might be supervillains, but they’ve been shown to want the same things as any other couple. They wanted a family and were unsuccessful in having a child. Titania and Creel tried to leave the supervillain life behind and live a normal life. But, they were dragged back into it because of their reputations and there’s a sense of them being resigned to what other people perceived them to be. Creel genuinely loved his wife and viewed being a criminal as a way to put food on the table and do what he had to do to provide for his loved ones. It’s a relatable, human choice, even if it’s not something everyone agrees with.
Creel has also shown remorse for his crimes, with his backstory being explored in the recent Black Bolt Vol 1: Hard Time graphic novel. Creel admitted to Black Bolt that he thought about stopping plenty of times and his biggest regret was punching an old woman in the face on one of his small time heists. At the end of the graphic novel, Creel sacrificed himself so Black Bolt and other prisoners could escape. It demonstrated that Creel is more than a one-note villain and is far more complex than you might think.
The Absorbing Man’s powers are interesting because they make him a versatile character. He’s absorbed various substances, including liquids, energy sources and gases. When Creel takes on the properties of something he can become more powerful or weaker, depending on what it is. There aren’t any limits to what he can absorb and he’s taken on the properties of titanium, Thor’s hammer, diamond, water, rock, Black Bolt’s voice and even cocaine. One of the few examples of Creel being overpowered was when he tried to absorb the Sentry’s power and it was too much for him.
The Absorbing Man was a far deeper character that I expected him to be and I discovered that by reading the Black Bolt graphic novel. Doing your own research can make you appreciate a character and the Absorbing Man is definitely one of the most underrated villains out there.