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Priapus

Contributed by Mike McDermott

In Greek mythology Priapus is the god of fertility and male virility, known for being ugly but extraordinarily endowed.

It is unrevealed what connection, if any, the modern day Priapus of the modern Marvel Universe has to the Priapus of myth. He could be the mythological god, or his offspring, or perhaps just some mutant or superhuman who has adopted the identity.

All we know for certain is that Priapus is an apparently immortal being who is at least centuries old, but who is also experienced with modern technology. Priapus possesses superhuman strength as well as the ability to release “succubi and incubi of the mind”, which appear as tiny ghost-like forms that enter the target’s body and cause extreme pleasure and the sense that one is living out fantasies. They can also be used to generate pain instead of pleasure. He rules a cult of hedonists who worship him and his sensual powers, and he appears to gain strength from the worship.

Priapus sought the Carnal Serpent, believed to be an ancient artifact of extreme erotic power that was blamed for all manner of sin and debauchery throughout the ages, all the way back to Adam and Eve. Secretly acting through other agents, he separately commissioned the mercenaries Silver Sable, Luke Cage, and Terror, to locate the fragments of a mystical item called Vatsayana’s Tryst, which served as a compass to find the Serpent. Once he received the reassembled Tryst, its power transformed him, enhancing his powers and remaking his body.

He overpowered his former agents, who had come to realize that he was manipulating them for a nefarious purpose, and then used the Tryst to lead him to the Carnal Serpent. The Serpent turned out to be a gigantic living snake creature, not an artifact, and Priapus allowed it to consume him. He was then reborn from within the serpent’s body, emerging with yet another new body and further enhanced powers. Cage, Silver Sable and Terror again attempted to oppose him, but Priapus used his new powers to enslave their minds and make them the first acolytes of his new religion, which he intended to spread across the globe, focused on the pleasures of the flesh.

The mercenary heroes managed to break free of Priapus’ control and tore the Tryst from his chest, which disrupted his powers and caused the Carnal Serpent to be reborn from within Priapus’ body, which it then consumed. The Carnal Serpent then reclaimed the Tryst and disappeared.

Although Priapus is never explicitly identified as bisexual or pansexual, it does stand to reason with what we know of his nature. There are also a number of moments in the story that support the idea. In one issue he refers to Luke Cage as “you studly thing”. Priapus also has some homoerotic imagery; Priapus visits one of his followers, Brother Randi, in the middle of the night and leans over top of the bed, straddling the apparently-nude Brother Randi. He then presses his finger to Randi’s lips. In another scene, Priapus is reclining nude in bed while another male follower is hand feeding him grapes.

Priapus unfortunately is poorly defined in many ways. Not only are his origins left very vague (my theory is he is the offspring of the Greek god Priapus–it would explain his immortality and lack of god-like power), but the same is true of his powers and even his appearance. This is not helped by the fact that over the span of this 6 issue storyline Priapus’ body is transformed twice–so we have three distinct looks and power sets for him in a single storyline. When enhanced by the Tryst, Priapus could manifest solid constructs of a victim’s fantasy lover and then attack them with that construct. When enhanced by the Carnal Serpent, Priapus had the ability to mind control multiple people at a time after establishing eye contact with them.

The writers also spent too much time in the crossover repeating the same beats of bickering and in-fighting amongst the heroes and not enough time developing Priapus’ character or the plot. However I think the character does have potential to be an interesting and unusual villain if he were to be brought back and revamped today. I can imagine Peter David, for example, having a lot of fun with him.

Although the storyline is very 90s in both its writing and its art, the “For Love Nor Money” six part crossover between Terror Inc, Silver Sable & The Wild Pack and Cage is worth a read, if only to marvel at how much the writers managed to get away with in this arc given that it was still in the Comics Code days!

Priapus first appeared in Terror Inc #10 by D.G. Chichester and Richard Pace. Art by Richard Pace.

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