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The Chameleon: 5 Things To Know About The Spider-Man Villain Ahead Of The Kraven The Hunter Movie

Spider-Man villan Chameleon sitting in front of wall of masks
(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

When Aaron Taylor-Johnson enters a new continuity of the Marvel Multiverse in the title role of the upcoming Kraven the Hunter movie, he will not be the only classic Spider-Man foe to appear on the screen. Fred Hechinger - known for Hulu’s Pam & Tommy, HBO’s The White Lotus, and the Fear Street movies on Netflix - has been cast as the Chameleon in director J.C. Chandor’s solo villain movie.

For some audiences, particularly the ones who are less familiar with the lore of Marvel Comics, this will be their introduction to this very elusive and mysterious master criminal, who is one of several characters we had previously hoped would appear in the Kraven the Hunter movie, and for a very special reason, too. We will get into what that reason is very soon - but, first, let’s start with the basics regarding what there is to know about the Chameleon from the comics, such as just how long he has been going toe-to-toe with our friendly neighborhood webslinger.

Chameleon and Spider-Man from Marvel Comics

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

The Chameleon Is The First-Ever Spider-Man Supervillain 

Created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, the Chameleon made his Marvel Comics debut in the very first issue of The Amazing Spider-Man in December 1962. So, in other words, he has existed as long as the iconic, widely beloved superhero has had his own comic book series and, therefore, his first real nemesis.

The landmark issue sees Peter Parker, struggling to make a living off his arachnid-like abilities, attempt to join the Fantastic Four, only to discover that the superhero family does not receive any monetary compensation for their vigilanteism. Meanwhile, the Chameleon - a Russian native whose real name is Dmitri Nikolayevich Smerdyakov - manages to infiltrate a defense installation at New York City’s Lark Building and does so by posing as the webslinger. The story even ends, after Chameleon gets away by pretending to be a security guard, with the authorities mistaking Spidey for the criminal.

Chameleon from Marvel Comics

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

The Chameleon Is A Master Of Disguise

Spider-Man is not the only Marvel Comics character whom the Chameleon has assumed the identity of throughout his criminal career. As you probably could infer from his name, posing as other people is kind of his thing and he has only gotten better at it since his debut, when his primary method of disguise was altering his appearance with skilled makeup effects and very convincing masks to wear over his featureless, white “default” mask.

Dmitri Nikolayevich Smerdyakov would later develop a belt buckle that projects the holographic image of whatever person he chooses around so he can quickly switch between different disguises. Later, he would surgically and mutagenically modify his skin to be able physically alter his appearance at will and wore clothing made of memory fabric that could change along with it. Some later stories have also interpreted the Chameleon’s penchant for disguise as a way to cope with his own insecurities, which are likely rooted in his faulty family history.

Chameleon and Kraven the Hunter from Marvel Comics

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

The Chameleon Is Kraven The Hunter’s Half-Brother

One of the most interesting facts about Kraven the Hunter (who is also a Russian native whose real name is Sergei Nikolaevich Kravinoff) is that he and the Chameleon share the same father: the wealthy Nikolai Kravinoff.  In fact, the half-siblings were even both featured in 1964’s Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1 #15, which saw Kraven make his own Marvel Comics debut. In the issue, Dmitri Smerdyakov enlists the help of Sergei to help him defeat Spider-Man, which would end up becoming the catalyst of the violent big game hunter’s ongoing obsession with making Peter Parker’s alter ego his ultimate trophy. 

The story also provides some further insight into the brothers’ childhood, which was not the most favorable upbringing, to say the least. Young Sergei would actually take out his own frustrations over his alcoholic, abusive father on his older brother, Dmitri. However, the man who would become the Chameleon, and Kraven’s occasional partner-in-crime, would manage to keep some peace between by entertaining his younger brother with his impressive talent for mimicry.

Chameleon and the Sinister Six from Marvel Comics

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

The Chameleon Has Been Part Of The Sinister Six

While the Chameleon and Kraven the Hunter have been known to team-up (and also face off against each other) from time to time, the villain has also collaborated with plenty of other master criminals in his ongoing effort to catch Spider-Man. In fact, he once became a member of the ultimate alliance of Spider-Man villains: the Sinister Six. In a 2012 arc of Amazing Spider-Man issues by writer Dan Slott and artists Stefano Caselli and Frank Martin Jr., Dmitri Smerdyakov joined the latest iteration of the supervillain collective at that time to help their founder and leader, Dr. Otto Octavius (otherwise known as Doctor Octopus) for his “eight arms." 

The objective was to steal technology from the Fantastic Four’s headquarters in the Baxter Building and from another criminal organization known as Intelligencia. Later on, Doc Ock had a plan to make himself appear more heroic by stopping Greenhouse Gases from heating up the world, but only after speeding up the process himself with a special, giant antennae. To help influence the world’s leaders about how to fix this issue, the Chameleon disguised himself as one of the most famously outspoken figures on the topic of climate change: former Vice President Al Gore.

Fred Hechinger in HBO's White Lotus

(Image credit: HBO)

Kraven The Hunter Will Be The Chameleon’s Live Action Debut

Considering his familial ties to Kraven the Hunter (which we certainly hope is a major topic explored in the movie), it makes perfect sense that the Chameleon will be appearing in the predatory villain's upcoming solo movie. The film - which is currently set to come out in theaters in January 2023 - will actually mark the live-action, feature-length debut of the character. Of course, considering the previously established fact that he was the very first real supervillain that Spider-Man ever faced, it is pretty surprising to learn that it has taken this long to get him on the big screen.

However, to be clear, Kraven the Hunter is not the character’s first time as a featured character in any comic book adaptation. The Chameleon previously appeared in several animated series - including the popular Spider-Man from the ‘90s. He also popped up in two video games - namely the Super Nintendo Spider-Man game and the video game adaptation of the The Amazing Spider-Man 2, starring Andrew Garfield, from 2014.

You know, speaking of Andrew Garfield, I wonder if the Kraven the Hunter movie will play around with the Marvel Multiverse crossovers, like Spider-Man: No Way Home, and have the title character and the Chameleon come face-to-face with at least one of the previous, live-action Spider-Man actors. If not, at least we have West Side Story’s Ariana DeBose joining in on the fun as Calypso. All I can say for now is that Fred Hechinger is in good company. 

Jason has been writing since he was able to pick up a washable marker, with which he wrote his debut illustrated children's story, later transitioning to a short-lived comic book series and (very) amateur filmmaking before finally settling on pursuing a career in writing about movies in lieu of making them. Look for his name in just about any article related to Batman.