Tilda Johnson, aka Deadly Nightshade, is the most versatile villain in comics. Her expertise includes biology, toxicology, robotics, and combat skills – all self-taught. She has turned heroes into werewolves, commandeered a SHIELD facility, and almost gender-swapped Captain America. Her allies range from Yellow Claw to Superia to MODOK. Her foes include Captain America, Falcon, Black Panther, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist. She went on to team up with Hawkeye and Red Wolf on the side of the good guys. Lately, she has taken on the role of Nighthawk (the cool one from the Supreme Universe, not the classic Defender one). It seems Marvel is determined to make Nightshade a fixture in the MCU no matter how many changes they have to make to her character.
Queen of the Werewolves
We first encountered Nightshade in Captain America and the Falcon #164. She lured the heroes to an old penitentiary. Here, under the supervision of the Yellow Claw, she had turned inmates into werewolves. A classic battle ensues between Cap and a werewolf Falcon. Rather than face capture, Nightshade and her creations leaped from a tower to their doom.
Master of Mind Control
In Captain America #189 we discover Nightshade survived. This time, instead of controlling werewolves, she uses pheromones to control SHIELD agents. However, her plan gets foiled when SHIELD agent La Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine discovers that the effects of the pheromones can be canceled by sunlight.
Luke Cage and Iron Fist encounter her next. Somehow she has created lifelike robots. One is the crime boss she pretends to follow. Other, less human ones, are a match for the heroes for hire. The heroes discover her deception and defeat her.
In one of the worst Captain America storylines ever written, Nightshade is a lieutenant for Superia and her Femizons. Aboard a cruise ship, they create a sterilization bomb. Captain America and the Paladin thwart the plan, barely escaping being gender-swapped during the adventure. Soon afterward she returns to her roots, transforming Cap into Cap Wolf.
She was one of MODOK’s 11. Nightshade stayed loyal to MODOK and accomplished the heist. She later battled Black Panther, who convinced her to turn her life around. Despite her incredible accomplishments, her lack of formal education made this a failed attempt and she returned to crime, again facing the Heroes for Hire.
At this point in her career, most villains begin to fade into obscurity. Instead, Nightshade switches sides. The hero, Nighthawk, saves her from certain death and takes her under his wing. She joins Hawkeye’s ragtag group in Occupy Avengers to fight Hydra’s attempt to take over the United States. When Hydra executes her mentor, she takes on the Nighthawk identity showing hand to hand combat skills we had not seen before.
Tilda Johnson joined the select few Marvel characters chosen to be highlighted on the small screen. She played a supporting character in Netflix’s Luke Cage. The show’s cancellation prevented her transition to the Nightshade character.
I can only guess that a number of comic creators were as enamored by Nightshade’s first appearance as I was. Why else evolve her from genetics expert to robotics expert, to superhero. It would have been much easier to simply create a new character for each of these roles. Her unique charisma has kept her around for almost 50 years, with each appearance making her a more popular character to both readers and creators. I believe that even bigger things are in the future for the Almost Infamous Nightshade.