Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3: Who is the High Evolutionary?

The High Evolutionary in Marvel Comics
(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

As the main villain of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, Chukwudi Iwuji's High Evolutionary has been praised as one of Marvel's best movie villains in recent memory.

And from the moment Iwuji dramatically appeared in costume at Comic-Con International: San Diego to help reveal his role, fans have been eagerly awaiting more of the sinister super-scientist.

Now, with Guardians 3 officially in theaters, the High Evolutionary and his creations Adam Warlock and Counter-Earth take center stage in the plot, which takes inspiration directly from the High Evolutionary's comic book history.

That said, the MCU High Evolutionary isn't quite the same as his comic counterpart. So as we break down the character's Marvel Comics history, we'll also give some insight into how he fits into the world of the film.

Who is the High Evolutionary?

The High Evolutionary in Marvel Comics

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

The comic book origins of the mysterious High Evolutionary are complex to say the least, involving the Inhumans, the X-Men villain Mister Sinister, and even Mount Wundagore, the birthplace of Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver and the home of the Darkhold as seen in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

To boil it down, he started life in the '30s as human geneticist Herbert Wyndham, a scientist looking to continue the work of 1800's geneticist Nathaniel Essex, a secret mutant who went on to become the villainous Mister Sinister (and yes, the pair have worked together and also quarreled over the years).

When Wyndham was reaching a dire roadblock in his genetic research, an Inhuman scientist named Phaeder visited him in secret, providing him the key to unlocking the hidden mysteries of the human genome. Phaeder would continue to influence Wyndham and provide him with secret knowledge for years to come. 

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

However, when Wyndham's experiments resulted in him evolving his pet dalmatian into a humanoid dog, he was fired from his university job. This led him to join up with fellow geneticist Jonathan Drew (whose own genetic experiments would later lead to his daughter Jessica Drew gaining her Spider-Woman powers) and set up shop on Mount Wundagore, the magical mountain haunted by the demon Chthon.

If the name Wundagore rings a bell, that's because it's the mystical mountain that was home to the spells of the Darkhold in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness - and is the place where the Scarlet Witch seemingly died after bringing down the walls of the evil temple there.

Soon, Wyndham was alone in his research on Wundagore, surrounding himself only with his animal/human hybrid creations he called the 'New Men,' and wearing a suit of advanced armor to protect him from the magical horrors of the mountain. 

There, his secret experimentation on the population of the surrounding villages led to the birth of Pietro and Wanda Maximoff, whose inborn powers were believed to be the product of a mutant X-gene from their real Marvel Comics debut in 1963 till the High Evolutionary revealed the secret in 2015's Uncanny Avengers title.

After leaving Wundagore, the High Evolutionary took to space to continue his experiments unhindered, first taking over an existing planet he called 'Wundagore II,' before eventually creating his own planet known as 'Counter-Earth' which shares Earth's orbit, but on the opposite side of the sun.

The High Evolutionary in the Marvel Universe

The High Evolutionary in Marvel Comics

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

To say the High Evolutionary's years in the Marvel Universe have been eventful is an understatement - but there are some specific stories that connect the dots to his involvement in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.

High Evolutionary's own super-evolution resulted from an experiment he actually planned to conduct on the Hulk, who he captured with the intent of evolving him to a perfect lifeform one million years more advanced than modern humans (or, ya know, Hulks).

The villain's own New-Men henchman betrayed him, forcing him to use the machine he built to evolve the Hulk on himself, becoming a being far beyond the intelligence and physical capabilities of baseline humans. 

Though the newly super-evolved High Evolutionary first willed his own existence to end to join the infinite reaches of the cosmos, he did eventually return to humanoid form, and what he did next changed the destiny of the Marvel Universe.

After returning to his humanoid form following his ascent to becoming super-evolved, the High Evolutionary found the being known as 'Him' floating in space after a battle with Thor.

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

The High Evolutionary dubbed him Adam Warlock (as in Will Poulter's long-awaited Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 character), and granted Adam Warlock the fabled Soul Stone of the Infinity Stones, enlisting him as the protector of Counter-Earth.

It's in this era that the High Evolutionary first encountered Galactus, who wished to devour Counter-Earth, and in turn in which he first met the Fantastic Four. He also ran afoul of the Beyonders, the beings responsible for creating the Multiverse and for destroying it in 2015's Secret Wars (which is of course about to be an Avengers movie).

Adam Warlock finally turned fully against the High Evolutionary in the story The Evolutionary War, in which the High Evolutionary attempts to destroy all life on Earth and replace it with beings of his own creations.

And this is where the High Evolutionary's actions wound up having a massive, unforeseen toll on the Marvel Universe, as his former protégé Adam Warlock and his Soul Stone, given to him by the High Evolutionary, became central figures in the comic book event Infinity Gauntlet, in which Thanos performed the comic version of his fateful 'snap'.

The High Evolutionary himself later appeared again in the limited series Annihilation: Conquest, in which High Evolutionary implants Ultron's consciousness into Adam Warlock's body.

Warlock's return at the end of the story led in part to the founding of the comic incarnation of the Guardians of the Galaxy that were later adapted to film, including Rocket, Groot, Drax, Gamora, and Star-Lord.

The High Evolutionary in the MCU

High Evolutionary in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

As we stated, in the MCU, the High Evolutionary has some different origins than the comic book version. In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, the High Evolutionary is not a human from Earth at all, but an alien being using the trappings of Earth for his experiments in creating the perfect lifeform.

Though we won't spoil everything about how that works, the MCU High Evolutionary's experiments on Counter-Earth are much like the ones he performs in comic books, involving genetic engineering, forced evolution, and culling of the specimens he deems too weak.

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

This includes creating a race of anthropomorphic animals much like Rocket, as well as the creation of the Sovereign as one of his experiments with creating a race of perfect beings.

That of course leads to the creation of Adam Warlock, and even Phyla-Vell as seen in the film's post-credits scene.

What other mysteries does the High Evolutionary hold in the MCU? And how does his involvement affect the Guardians? You'll have to watch Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 for the full scoop.

Will Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 elevate the High Evolutionary to the status of one of the best Marvel supervillains ever?

George Marston

I've been Newsarama's resident Marvel Comics expert and general comic book historian since 2011. I've also been the on-site reporter at most major comic conventions such as Comic-Con International: San Diego, New York Comic Con, and C2E2. Outside of comic journalism, I am the artist of many weird pictures, and the guitarist of many heavy riffs. (They/Them)