Villain Name: Rasputin
Real Name: Nicholas King Gregory
First Appearance: Belch Dimension Comics #23, 2007 ("Family Ties").
Abilities: None, but possesses a knowledge of psychology and optics, using special light-refracting lenses to cause victims to see their worst fears
Rasputin is an embittered onetime associate professor of psychology at Fulkes University in Biloxi, Mississippi who planned to kill the members of the board of regents as revenge for their firing him and ruining his life. He developed special reflective lenses that allowed him to manipulate the fear center of the brain and induce terrible hallucinations in his victims, often quite literally scaring them to death.
He is one of only two supervillains to appear in both comic and novel formats, the other being Jiggawatt. Both villains were mentioned in "Beautiful Dreamer", a short story written by Belch Dimension artist and creator J.M. Sweet, published in 2002's Almasheol .
Fictional character biography
Dr. Nicholas Gregory was a deep lover of history, with a particular fondness for the 19th century Russian dynasty and the reign of Czar Nicholas (owing perhaps to his own first name). He grew up in Biloxi, Mississippi, where he attended Fulkes University. In addition to studies of human psychology, he worked at the physical plant, doing manual labor and janitorial work to pay for school. During his three years there he explored and mapped large sections of the expansive but now-disused Underground Railroad that ran under the campus. This independent research both earned him high marks on a paper for class about local history and would help him greatly in his later criminal life. Gregory recieved his doctorate and in a few years returned to teach at his alma mater. A former colleague, Dr. Leo Greer, described him as a "brilliant man possessed of a deep darkness--with some wildly unorthodox ideas". Gregory nevertheless was recognized with an associate professorship in the school's psych department. It was one of these wild ideas, however, that shortly brought him before a board of regents, which at the time was chaired by Greer.
Gregory conducted a bold experiment--a computer program that was essentially a modified version of John Ridley Stroop's work in human perception, particularly the Stroop test. (This suggests, at least in the fictional world Belch Dimension inhabits, Gregory's work may have been a predecessor to a similar software model called Brain Age!.) Students were asked to click a cursor on the name of the color of text oncreen, rather that what the text said. An incorrect answer was met with an image of a horrific shrieking zombie that popped up onscreen (similar to the ones in joke e-mails that frequently make the rounds each Halloween). However, a student named Mallory Shalp suffered from a (possibly undiagnosed) cardiac anomaly, present since birth, and had neglected to mention it on her release forms when she volunteered for Nicholas' test. When the zombie screamed, Shalp suffered a massive shock-induced infarction that killed her immediately. Shalp's parents threatened to sue the university for their daughter's death, but agreed to settle out of court if Gregory--whose experiment was unsanctioned by the university, thus making him an ideal goat--was terminated. Gregory was given a perfunctory hearing by the seven regents of the board, which included two of his friends--Leo Greer and a fellow associate professor from his department named Asa Tarch. After a week of "deliberation" Gregory was asked to step before the board again. The doctor benevolently said he only did what he did because he was "blinded by greed" and had no "malefic intent", adding that he humbly hoped the board would be guided by God in their decision. Greer then coldly told him he was fired. Gregory protested, then went mad with rage. He started screaming, whereupon he was escorted from the room; he then threatened the board, saying, "You will know fear." After this Gregory suffered a nervous breakdown. He spent several months in a mental institution, disappearing shortly after.
A decade passed and now saw Tarch as head of the psychology department--a post Gregory longed for--and Greer ensconsed as university president. Tarch retired from the university in the interim, entering private practice in Dallas, Texas. He was discovered, his bones broken and organs liquefied, at the bottom of a stairwell in the building where he worked. The autopsy showed his body was smashed as if from a great fall, though he took barely a ten-foot tumble. A few days later a second ex-regent, Clive Gerebidi, was found dead in his home in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, burned alive in a house fire.
It was revealed that Gregory--now calling himself "Rasputin"--was behind these deaths. Going about in long wizard robes, with pale skin (it's unclear if this is his natural complexion or simply makeup), long hair and beard, and dark circles below his eyes, Rasputin planned to systematically stalk and eliminate all the regents who did him wrong ten years before by using his special hypnotic lenses to make their worst fears come to life for them. Tarch had suffered from a crippling fear of heights, and Gerebidi was an ailirophobe. A third prospective victim, Catherine "Cat" Urich--who had a fear of cockroaches--survived Rasputin's mental assault by going into a disassociative blackout. This likely saved her life, but left her catatonic and unable to talk. However, she came back to herself briefly when Jimmo touched her hand and, before sinking back into her coma, manage to speak (with difficulty) the words "Rasputin" and "eyes" (the source of the "wizard"'s power). Jimmo's sister and Cat's best friend, Penyem Segal, traced the scattered clues back to a case Cat had sat on as a student regent--Nicholas Gregory. They realized Gregory was insane, longing for vengeance, and that he was hiding right under their noses.
Penyen deduced Rasputin was quartered in an abandoned building on campus, where he had once worked as a student. In case anyone unwelcome came snooping about, Rasputin had a contingency plan: small lenses mounted on the interior walls of the physical plant that could capture the light and turn the whole room into a chamber of horrors. He was using the underground railroad tunnels below the structure to get from the campus to his victims' homes and back. He planned over the next two weeks to kill the other four regents in the same way he had Tarch, Gerebidi, and Cat (he never did learn Cat was still alive).
When the young detectives entered the main room of the old physical plant, Penyem saw the ghosts of her parents. She believed them to be real, and have come to her in a vision. They berated her, called her worthless and stupid, and told her she deserved to die. Jimmo, however, could see nothing, because being fused with Barbaeus, his mind was half-alien, and thus immune to Rasputin's spell. Rasputin realized this and tried to kill Jimmo. Penyem snapped out of her trance, and Rasputin fled in terror. Penyem caught up with him in the tunnels and--despite another attempt by the madman to control her mind--incapacitated him with a solid punch to the jaw.
In "Strange Bedfellows", Rasputin was a member of The Terran Warlords, along with Duke Machina, Gorilla Man, Squawkbox, and the Turd Burglar. He attempted to probe Molina's mind for the location of a "key" desired by his boss, "Mastermind". However, her psyche proved too strong for him to control, forcing the wizard's power back upon himself. Upon witnessing his worst fear (which the reader never actually sees), Rasputin was so traumatized he curled up in a fetal position and wet himself. He was last seen buried in the collapse of the parking structure's ceiling along with his four cohorts.
Rasputin was also the (unseen) villain of "Beautiful Dreamer", the first commercial fiction by author and artist J.M. Sweet, and third story in the Almasheol collection. Rasputin appears only as a nonspeaking character in the courtroom during the murder trial of former ad executive Albert Watson, who is drawn to the man's eyes in the galley. He thinks how shiny and bizarre they are, "like a pair of glass marbles mounted in the eye sockets of a dead head", and wonders if they are contacts. Later, in prison, he receives a letter signed Dr. Nicholas Gregory, describing the horrific experiment that Watson has unwittingly been a part of. Watson was fed a plagiarized idea and fired from his job. Later, under a post-hypnotic suggestion planted in his head through radio static, he murders his boss and three top board members of the rival firm, who had produced the original ad he had supposedly stolen. The letter ends saying that Watson was the beta test and the cryptic promise "There will be others", When he tries to show the letter to a guard to clear his name, it turns out to be just a credit card application; the text with Gregory's confession had been another implanted suggestion.
Events of "Beautiful Dreamer" are set in 1991 and 1992; however, he alludes to "certain parties who act in a vigilante capacity", implying it takes place after his encounter with Jimmo and Penyem. Assuming Belch Dimension takes place in the present day, then--if we go back from the date of the issue's publication--the oldest Warriors would have only been two years old when Watson was tried for the homicides of Mary North, Leon Rogerstein, Ira Phillips, and Karen Cottmichel. However, owing to having been in preproduction for a number of years before its release, the series has a number of out-of-date jokes, chronological and continuity incongruities that are to be expected of any long-running series.
Character Inspiration and Design
Rasputin's main m.o.--his lenses--is drawn from the character of Influence, a minor Dick Tracy villain who used similar hypnotic eyewear to manipulate people (though it was more at forcing them to do things, not scaring them). Tracy defeated him by hitting him in the face and breaking the glass, similar to how Rasputin is taken out in an early draft (see Design.) Other influences include The Scarecrow, a Batman villain who uses fear-based attacks (although usually with gases and chemicals, not special eyewear), and Count Vertigo, whose special eyepiece can, depending on the medium, project waves to affect visual or auditory cues to make a victim very disoriented and ill. His use of illusions also may have been inspired by Spider-Man's enemy Mysterio.
The original character was conceived as a crooked carnival mentalist, in the vein of Superman foe Brainiac, and was supposed to face Jon. In the initial script, Jon endures a series of illusions by Rasputin, then evens up the odds by turning out a light--thus, making Rasputin not be able to see to attack--and then hitting him in the face in the dark, knocking him unconscious and blacking both eyes. In a later appearance he was to be revealed to have a brain tumor (similar to Milton "Brainiac" Fine, Vril Dox's host body) from years of exposure to the toxic plastic from his lenses, that was killing him slowly and causing his madness. He also possessed a neater appearance, including slicked-back hair and a neat beard. This was scrapped in favor of a look closer to his namesake, Rasputin, the "Mad Monk" of Russia, including long whiskers and wild hair. His personal history was altered to something closer to the author's own (including being fired from a university position, and the seven regents as stand-ins for the seven ASU Herald editors), and he was made a primary enemy of Jimmo rather than Jon.
Elements of the early-draft Rasputin appear in "Beautiful Dreamer", where Albert Watson keeps seeing an odd man in a topcoat with a neatly-trimmed beard in the galley of the courtroom. Watson is most drawn to his eyes, which are described as having a "baleful, dull light".
Rasputin has no superpowers, but he is a genius with a knowledge of both history and psychology. He devised a series of lenses coated with a chemical that capture and refract even low levels of light (similar to a cat's eyes). The light is turned into an unusual wave capable of tapping into the amygdala of the brain. This releases a "fight or flight" impulse which causes victims to become mad with fear, often to their own detriment. He does not have to wear them or even be present for them to have an effect; in #24 it is revealed that he mounted a number of them about his hideout as a precautionary measure. However, his lenses only work on humans; animals and non-human creatures--such as aliens and beastials--are immune, because of differences in their brain chemistry. Rasputin is actually quite weak, and can be physically defeated with ease.