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The Sinister Six: Learn the comic book history of Spider-Man's greatest foes before No Way Home

image of the Sinister Six
(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

The Sinister Six are a villainous collective of Spider-Man's greatest foes - and if the newly released trailer for Spider-Man: No Way Home is any indication, they're headed for an MCU debut with a line-up comprised of previous Spider-Man movie villains from across multiple franchises (or, to use MCU terms, worlds of the Multiverse).

The No Way Home trailer shows Spider-Man turning to Doctor Strange for help concealing his secret identity, revealed to the world by Mysterio at the end of the previous film, Spider-Man: Far From Home. But the spell Strange casts seems to be flawed, apparently resulting in the introduction of several villains from previous iterations of the Spider-Man movie franchise into the MCU.

Though only three villains have been confirmed for the film (and only two are openly shown or teased in the trailer), that's halfway to a Sinister Six - and you better believe that has fans' heads spinning considering which villains could round out the other half of the team, should they come together on screen.

still from Spider-Man: No Way Home trailer

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

In comic books, the Sinister Six represent one of the greatest threats Spider-Man has ever faced - and still faces, as they're a big part of the current Sinister War limited series and arc that's running through Amazing Spider-Man, along with several of their rival groups and spin-off teams (we'll get into it).

With a legacy all their own that goes far beyond menacing Spider-Man and into the wider Marvel Universe, the Sinister Six are some of the most iconic villains in Marvel Comics - and if they make it to the MCU, they'll represent the first substantial supervillain team-up from across multiple movies that Marvel Studios has assembled (with co-producers Sony/Columbia's help of course).

So who are the members of the Sinister Six in comic books, and how do they fit into the major themes of Spider-Man: No Way Home, including Peter's mentorship by Doctor Strange? We'll answer these questions right now.

Who are the Sinister Six?

image of the Sinister Six

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

The Sinister Six first appeared in 1964's Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1, in which Doctor Octopus, then considered Spider-Man's main arch-enemy, breaks out of prison and sends a distress call to everyone who had fought Spidey up until that point, with five villains - Electro, Sandman, Mysterio, Vulture, and Kraven - heeding the call. 

The six villains decide to take turns laying traps for Spider-Man, forming a gauntlet of threats they're sure will defeat the Wall-Crawler. But in true Spidey fashion, he takes them all down one by one.

Since that first fateful tale, the Sinister Six have come together numerous times over the years, usually under the leadership of Doctor Octopus, though there have been other iterations led by villains such as Hobgoblin, the Beetle, Swarm, and Miles Morales' uncle Aaron Davis when he was operating as Iron Spider. 

For a team of villains who have often butted heads, the Sinister Six maintained a remarkably solid line-up through their early days, making only one major change by inducting the Hobgoblin following the death of Kraven in the story Kraven's Last Hunt.

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

In the 'Big Time' era, during which Spider-Man was an active member of the Avengers, Doc Ock assembled a new Sinister Six consisting of a roster of Chameleon, Rhino, Electro, Sandman, and Mysterio. 

This team went on to pose one of the greatest threats the collective Sinister Six have ever put forth against the Marvel Universe in the story 'Ends of the Earth', in which Doc Ock threatens to superheat the Earth with special atmosphere altering devices, killing billions if his demands aren't met, elevating the Six to Avengers-level foes as Spidey enlists his own team to take them on.

The Sinister Six has also had its share of spin-off teams, usually consisting of rival collectives of Spider-Man villains, or even expanded versions of the classic team. There's the Sinister Seven, the Sinister Twelve, the ever-fluctuating Sinister Syndicate, the Superior Spider-Man led Superior Six, the interdimensional Sinister Sixty-Six, the animalistic Savage Six, and that's just scratching the surface.

In the current Sinister War limited series and Amazing Spider-Man arc, the villain known as Kindred has assembled six teams of six villains each - with the Sinister Six right up front - to take down Spider-Man with an unbeatable coalition of enemies.

Oddly enough, this is where Doctor Strange comes in.

The Sinister Six in the Marvel Universe

image of the Sinister Six

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

In Sinister War, Kindred's assembled villains go to war over Spider-Man, fighting each other as they compete to kill him. The original Sinister Six attempts to bring founding member Mysterio back into the fold, but he rebukes his old allies - and warns Peter Parker and his rekindled love interest Mary Jane Watson that he knows a secret about them that explains why they're suddenly under attack from all sides. 

It's implied Mysterio has direct knowledge of Mephisto's manipulation of their lives in the story 'One More Day' in which Mephisto traded the pair's marriage for Aunt May's life, rewriting history in the process. It's also implied the threat Kindred has amassed is part of the consequences of breaking their deal by romantically reuniting.

Mysterio's assertion is backed up by Sinister War's other plot, in which Doctor Strange engages Mephisto in a game of chance to get the demonic manipulator to undo his alterations to Peter's life. 'One More Day' led to Peter Parker's secret identity, which was revealed to the world in the story Civil War, being magically concealed by Doctor Strange in a ritual similar to the one seen in the trailer for Spider-Man: No Way Home.

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

This ties Doctor Strange and the current iteration of the Sinister Six directly to Mephisto in 'Sinister War,' the story that will lead into the upcoming 'Spider-Man: Beyond' era of Amazing Spider-Man in which Peter will be replaced in the role by his clone, Ben Reilly, after suffering grievous injuries or even death.

At the same time, 'Spider-Man Beyond' is putting Peter Parker on ice, Marvel is also kicking off the Death of Doctor Strange limited series, in which Strange himself will die and leave the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme open - with Ben Reilly even having to temporarily fill in as New York's magical protector.

Aside from the obvious timing of taking both Peter Parker and Doctor Strange off the table in high profile stories just ahead of their intertwined movie sequels Spider-Man: Far From Home and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (Wanda Maximoff, who just died in comics, completes a trio of MCU stars who Marvel Comics is killing off around their next movies), Mephisto and the Sinister Six form a connection between the two comic stories - and potentially to the outcome of Peter Parker's story in the MCU, if not Strange's himself.

The Sinister Six in the MCU

image of the Sinister Six

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

All of this - the major comic book story connection between Peter Parker, Doctor Strange, and even Mephisto - is coming together at the exact same time a similar crisis is popping up in the MCU, right down to the involvement of Mysterio as a key player in both stories.

As MCU fans know, Spider-Man: No Way Home centers around the fallout of Mysterio's reveal of Peter Parker's secret identity in Spider-Man: Far From Home. Just like in comic books, Peter turns to Doctor Strange for magical help to put the secret back in its hiding place - but in the MCU, the ritual seems to go wrong, instead seemingly summoning an assemblage of previous Spider-Man villains from the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films, and the subsequent Amazing Spider-Man reboot franchise. 

The trailer shows off Alfred Molina returning as Doctor Octopus and hints directly at the return of Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin. Additionally, it's publicly known that Jamie Foxx's Electro will return for the film. But that leaves three potential Sinister Six roster spots open. 

Fans have pored over the trailer with eagle eyes to spot clues for other possible returning villains, with some speculating that villains such as Thomas Hayden Church's Sandman, Rhys Ifans' Lizard, Paul Giamatti's Rhino, or Michael Keaton's Vulture could round out the Sinister Six.

Remember, the Vulture's return was hinted at in Homecoming and there's the matter of Michael Keaton's questions-raising appearance in prison garb in the Morbius trailer. 

But also keep in mind, when last we saw him Vulture seemingly considered himself in debt to Peter for saving his life. 

still from Spider-Man: No Way Home trailer

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

Interestingly enough, Sony had plans to create a Sinister Six film for years, even seeding some of the potential members with Easter eggs hidden in the ill-fated Amazing Spider-Man 2. But the continuity of those films being dropped seemed to indicate an unlikelihood that the studio would follow through on that concept, instead apparently pivoting toward its current slate of Spider-Man adjacent spin-off movies such as Venom and its sequel Let There Be Carnage, Morbius, and Kraven the Hunter.

Now it seems Marvel Studios is picking up the baton alongside Sony for the joint Spider-Man: No Way Home production, opening the door for an all-time, definitive movie version of the Sinister Six made up of fan-favorite villains from across multiple film franchises.

But that leaves the question of how Doctor Strange - and possibly Mephisto - wind up bringing those villains to the MCU.

If that's not actually Doctor Strange helping Spider-Man, as seemingly hinted by the trailer, could the person casting the spell which summons the Sinister Six actually be Mephisto, who has made a habit of meddling in Peter Parker's comic book affairs, or maybe even Agatha Harkness fresh off her similarly manipulative role in WandaVision?

Doctor Strange mischievously ignoring and lying to Wong with a wink seems very Agatha-like, but last seen she was under the Scarlet Witch's spell to live unwittingly as Agnes in Westview, NJ.

At this point, there are more questions than answers, including whether we'll get a full-on six villain team-up in Spider-Man: No Way Home. But the possibility of seeing the Sinister Six, as laid out by the trailer, has us excited to discover the film's secrets - especially considering how closely the movie's themes seem to line up with current Marvel Comics lore.

Two of the traditional members of the Sinister Six are among the 10 best Marvel supervillains of all time.

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)