Set, in his seven-headed form
|First appearance||In print: The Phoenix on the Sword, Weird Tales, (December, 1932); In comics: Marvel Feature Vol. 2 #6 (September, 1976)|
|Created by||Robert E. Howard; Roy Thomas|
|Abilities||Vast mystical powers|
Set is the chief deity, a serpent-god or "arch-demon", of the Stygian people in Robert E. Howard's stories of Conan the Barbarian in the Hyborian Age. Set is a fictional character appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics.
Set first appeared in Robert E. Howard's first Conan short story "The Phoenix on the Sword" (first published in Weird Tales, December 1932). Also, this story introduces Thoth-Amon, a follower of "the serpent god Set".
Symbols of Set
Symbols of Set:
- ...a scaled serpent coiled with its tail in its mouth..." 
- ...the print of a black hand, thumb and four fingers plainly distinct... 
Set is regularly offered human sacrifice by the Stygians:
... chained captives had knelt by the hundreds during festivals to have their heads hacked off by the priest-king in honor of Set, the Serpent-god of Stygia... 
In addition, giant snakes, kept within the temples, are regularly set loose in the streets of Stygian cities to kill and devour citizens. This action, too, is considered a sacrifice to Set. Stygians are expected to accept this fate with equanimity. Anyone daring to resist the snakes is likely to be lynched as a heretic (which nearly happened to Conan, when he defended himself and killed a snake).
The god was later extensively used in Marvel Comics' various Conan series starting in the 1970s. Of those series, the issue which contains the first mention of "Set" is Conan the Barbarian, Vol.1 #7 (July 1971).
The Conan stories printed by Marvel Comics were originally meant to be set in the Marvel Universe's prehistory, but his status as a property which is no longer licensed for use by the company means those stories' status as canon is unresolved.
However, this iteration of "Set" is still a definite part of Marvel continuity. He was first mentioned in an official "Marvel Universe" comic in Sub-Mariner #9 (January, 1969 - which predates the first Conan comics), in which the Sub-Mariner is controlled by the Serpent Crown, a device which Set can use to influence people's minds.
That story was written by Roy Thomas, who shortly afterwards brought Conan to Marvel and adapted many of Howard's stories. Thomas' "Set" was clearly inspired by Howard's use of the character, and Thomas would later be instrumental in integrating the character into the history of the Marvel Universe (along with the Conan stories and other elements of Howard's work). Set remains an important part of Marvel Universe canon today.
Fictional character biography
Though Set has rarely appeared in the comics, he is credited with playing a pivotal role in the development of life on Earth in the Marvel Universe.
The serpent god Set was created approximately 3 billion years ago, when a being known as the Demiurge spread his substance over the Cosmos and "birthed" the Elder Gods, of which Set was one. As he originated hundreds of millions of years before any life would evolve into reptiles, Set's appearance at this time didn't truly resemble a serpent or snake. However, visual accounts of the stories still depict him as one for convenience. Whatever his true appearance was, Set originally had only one head. Set "birthed" several lesser snake demons himself, such as Damballah and Sligguth. However, Set hungered for power and decided on obtaining it by devouring the weaker gods while absorbing their magical essence. The process worked, but it also devolved Set, turning him into a demon.
The other gods began imitating Set as well. Soon, all except Oshtur (of the Vishanti) and Gaea, goddess of the earth, had become demons. Fearing they would destroy Earth's evolving life-forms, Gaea mated with the Demiurge and conceive a son with the power to kill any god: Atum the Sun God. Atum began killing the demons and absorbed their essence, which caused him to take on a demon-like appearance himself, known as Demogorge the God-Eater. He continued his battle against the demons, until the few demons left alive survived Atum's onslaught by banishing themselves into various dimensions. In Set's case, he created his own "pocket dimension" located outside the universe. However, Set lacked the ability to escape from his dimension by himself. He would remain there for a billion years.
Eventually, about 65 million years ago, Set began feeding on the lifeforce of dinosaurs, possibly due to their reptilian nature. This gave him the power to manifest on Earth again. However, when Gaea decided to let dinosaurs die out and be replaced by mammals, Set took control of the dinosaurs and forced them to attack the mammals. Gaea responded by summoning Atum (who had been living in the Sun), and the deity reassumed his Demogorge form and battled Set. Demogorge ripped Set's head off, but the demon possessed the power to grow two replacements instantly. Still, Demogorge continued to rip off Set's heads.
Eventually, Set's power was exhausted and he returned to his dimension, imprisoning himself again (by this time, he had grew seven heads). Demogorge changed back into Atum, and returned to the sun. This titanic battle may have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs in the Marvel Universe. Set remained imprisoned for several million years once more.
At some point, Set somehow created a new race, the Serpent Men, to serve him on Earth. They tried to influence mankind's pre-human ancestors, but failed, and were rejected by the Celestials for their empowering experiments. Still, Set would try to influence humanity (and strike at them) through the millennia. However, most of the Serpent Men were killed off by the forces of King Kull of Atlantis.
Just before the continent of Lemuria was sunk by the Celestials during the "Great Cataclysm", the Serpent Men and some human alchemists created the Serpent Crown, an object which mystically accessed the powers of Set in his pocket dimension. The Crown could grant great powers to its wearers, but it also left them open to the serpent god's influence and even his control. The purpose of the Crown was to allow Set to control all humans on Earth.
After the cataclysm, the Crown was discovered by the Serpent Men, whose numbers rapidly decreased during the "Hyborian Age" which followed. Other worshipers of Set emerged however, including the sorcerer Thoth-Amon, an enemy of Conan the Barbarian who, at one point, wielded the Cobra Crown, a device similar to the Serpent Crown which also served as conduit for Set's influence on Earth, though it was quickly destroyed.
The Serpent Crown itself was eventually found by a tribe of Homo mermanus (a race of aquatic humanoids), who had made their home in the sunken Lemurian continent. The Serpent Crown was used for centuries by their leader, Naga, who converted his people to the worship of Set and whose appearance came to resemble that of a serpent through his extended use of the Crown. Eventually, the Crown was stolen from Naga by a group of Lemurian surivors who created their own society, which was later called the "Ancients" when it was discovered in the twentieth century. The Crown was kept hidden in Antarctica by these "Ancients" for centuries, until it was buried in the avalanche which destroyed their society. This event was ultimately engineered by Set, who used his influence through the Serpent Crown to manipulate the society's leader into causing the devastating avalanche.
The Crown (disguised as the "helmet of power") was later found by a psychic called Paul Destine ("Destiny"), who used it to attack the Homo mermanus of Atlantis, which led to Namor the Sub-Mariner suffering through a period of amnesia. Years later, in contemporary times (circa late 1960s Marvel Comics publications), the Serpent Crown finally re-emerged and once again Set's influence came to be manifested on Earth for a period.[volume & issue needed]
Though Set himself rarely appeared in the comics, his presence was regularly evoked through the use of the Serpent Crown. In various stories, either followers of Set (such as Ghaur), or individuals mind controlled by Set via the Crown (such as the Squadron Supreme), attempted to facilitate the serpent god's return to the Earth Dimension. These attempts were stopped through the intervention of various Marvel superheroes (see the Serpent Crown entry for the full details).[volume & issue needed]
One exception to this came during Marvel's Atlantis Attacks crossover in 1989 when Set was briefly returned to Earth (West Coast Avengers Annual #4, Thor Annual #14). In this storyline, the Deviant priest Ghaur and the Homo mermanus villainess Llyra managed to create a massive new Serpent Crown with which they intended to facilitate the return of Set. Their plan also involved kidnapping seven super-heroines whom they intended Set to mate with in order to spawn his offspring. The plan was stopped when Thor, taking control over Demogorge, ripped off Set's heads and sent each to a different dimension; this caused Set's dimension to implode, destroying his body and apparently eliminating the threat of the serpent god for several centuries.
Other Marvel Comics versions
In the Marvel Comics Universe all subsequent iterations of Set (such as the Egyptian Seth and Greek Learnean Hydra mentioned above) are said to be legends largely inspired by the original ancient serpent god Set.
There are two exceptions to this where characters have misrepresented themselves as Set. "Seth", Marvel's version of the god from the Egyptian pantheon and a more accurate version of the real Egyptian mythological Set (appearing in human form, being the brother of Osiris, etc.). In Marvel continuity this character adopted the name to make use of the "original" Set's fearsome reputation.
There was also En Sabah Nur ("Apocalypse"), a mutant who, when he first emerged in ancient Egypt, was mistaken for Set (or perhaps the above "Seth", though probably both as they are all parts of the same legend in the Marvel Universe). The character did not correct this error and instead used it to his advantage during his early activities in that era.
What If ...?
A sequel of sorts to that story came in What If... ? Vol.2 #25 (May, 1991) by Jim Valentino, ("What if Set had come to Earth?") which explored what might have happened had Set remained in the Earth dimension. He massacres or turns the Earth's heroes into mindless soldiers with Silver Surfer and Quasar as the only survivors. With the help of Thor (who is horribly burned and placed in stasis to keep him alive), they destroy two of Set's heads before Quasar, empowered by the Uni-Power, sacrifices his freedom to exile himself and Set inside Doctor Strange's Eye of Agamotto. Silver Surfer gives the Eye to Uatu the Watcher for safe keeping, as Set's children are born from the Brides of Set, which includes Marvel Girl, Invisible Woman, She-Hulk, Dagger, Andrometa, Storm, and Scarlet Witch. They then consume their brainwashed mothers and countless mindless Serpent Men and Women, before leaving to terrorize alternate universes in the name of their evil father.
In other media
- Set appears as the main antagonist of Conan the Adventurer voiced by Richard Newman. He is a giant cobra with mystical powers but he only has one head, unlike the usual representation from Marvel Comics. He planned to enslave the human race through his Serpent Men worshipers, deceived many into his cult. As punishment upon his defeat, he was locked away into the Abyss for that offense by the Elders. He gives orders to the Snake Cult's high priest to give him the Star Metal to build seven pyramids to release him. He returns in the finale to wreak havoc only to be banished once again thanks to the combined efforts of Conan and his friends with their star metal powers combined.
- Set at the Appendix to the Handbook of the Marvel Universe
- Serpent Crown at the Marvel Directory
- The Unofficial Chronology of the Marvel Universe 3rd Edition by Robert Wicks
- The Unofficial Handbook of Marvel Comics Creators
- Set at the Comic Book DB