After hinting around at the plot months, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 finally stopped playing coy with the latest trailer. The villainous Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) wants to rid the galaxy of strife and pain in the most supervillain way possible: by destroying (or possibly converting) everything. As she says, “It is our duty to cleanse the universe of this weakness.” But who is Ayesha and what is her place in the greater Marvel lore? Turns out, that’s a tricky question to ask as — as far as I can tell — the comic book version of Ayesha bears little resemblance to her Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Using characters virtually unknown to the general moviegoing audience has given director James Gunn a lot of slack to remake them. Star-Lord has a new father, Drax doesn’t appear to be an altered Earth human, Ego the Living Planet has a human form, the way Yondu’s arrow works is different, and so on. Sometimes elements have to be streamlined to fit within both a single movie narrative and the overall direction the MCU is going. So it makes sense Ayesha would need an overhaul as her comic book counterpart has the kind of convoluted history normally reserved for daytime soap operas. But there are enough similarities to make an educated guess about how Gunn stitched together the existing lore with something that will work with a space opera that has little in the way of Cold War Earth scientists.
But first, a bare bones explainer of how Ayesha came to be. Strap in, because this is gonna get weird. The character currently known as Ayesha was created by a group of mad Earth scientists, known as the Enclave, who wished to create a race of genetically superior humans that would be completely under their control. These enhanced-humans would then be utilized by the Enclave to control the rest of the Earth’s population. As these schemes tend to do, it didn’t work out. The Enclave’s first “success” was known as Him and, later, Adam Warlock. Him didn’t take kindly to enslavement and escaped. Undeterred, the Enclave tried again. This time they created Her. Again, their creation broke the bonds of slavery and escaped. Her would then take on the name Kismet and become a Marvel hero, only to later be recaptured by a member of the Enclave, brainwashed, and renamed Ayesha. Ayesha literally translates to “She must who be obeyed.” There’s a lot more to it than that, but we’d be here all day.
So how does this translate to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2? Whether or not Ayesha is the result of mad science or not, she is definitely of the belief she should rule over the lesser beings (or purge them from existence). But her convoluted origin could suggest that Ayesha is not in control of herself. As Rocket proves, Earth is not the only place with mad scientists bent on playing god. One comic arc featuring Ayesha had her genetic material injected into other sentient species in order to create watered-down version of her that could be controlled by the Enclave. From the trailer, Ayesha is clearly not the only one of her kind. It could be the James Gunn has simply cut through the knot and created a new species for Ayesha to belong to. But it’s also possible she is somehow infecting others in to create the world in her image.
During the 2016 San Diego Comic-Con, Gunn revealed at the Marvel panel that Ayesha is the High Priestess of the Sovereign people, who are “genetically perfect.” To me, this lends credence to the theory that Ayesha is not part of a species, but a genetic experiment by an unknown player. Perhaps whomever Sylvester Stallone is playing? However it shakes out, I’ll be interested to see if Gunn’s version of Ayesha fades into the distance as another one-shot villain or if she’ll be freed to become Kismet by the time the credits roll.