The man who would later become known as both Mr. Negative and Martin Li began as a snakehead, a cruel smuggler of Chinese into the United States. While conducting a human trafficking run aboard a ship named the Golden Dragon, he panicked and forced the the captain to run into dangerous waters, hitting a sandbar. He could not afford to be caught. He had criminal records in both the United States and China. So what he did was steal the papers from one of the "piglets" who died on pneumonia on the voyage. This dead man was one Martin Li. Because he was not one of the half-starved and beaten illegal immigrants being smuggled aboard the ship, he was the only one able to survive the frantic swim to shore.
Returning to his associates to find out why his calls for aid went unanswered, he found it was for good reasons. They were all dead, and he had just walked into the middle of a Maggia takeover of the operation. He was taken alive and used for human experimentation of a new drug. These experiments were the same as those that produced Cloak and Dagger. In fact, he escaped along with the two runaways but went his own way after the initial escape. Like them, he had developed powers of his own. Powers he intended to use to get vengeance upon the Maggia organization.
First, he needed resources and an empire of his own. He became both Mr. Negative and Martin Li, putting his life into a balance of darkness and light. As Mr. Negative, he took over the Chinatown gangs and forged his own criminal empire. As Martin Li, he became a billionaire philanthropist and founded the F.E.A.S.T. organization to help the homeless.
Mister Negative's first appearance was in the Free Comic Book Day 2007 Spider-Man comic from May 2007. He was created by Steve McNiven, Dan Slott and Phil Jimenez.
The character of Mr. Negative evolved from being a simple side character in a Spider-Man comic to a full blown villain in the Marvel Universe. Since then his popularity has risen and even had his own mini series.
Major Story Arcs
Brand New Day
Later, Mr. Negative acquired a special tablet that contained the formula for a powerful poison called the Devil's Breath. He tricked and kidnapped Bruno Karnelli, a relative of both the Karnelli and Manfreids Maggia families. Spider-Man arrived at Mr. Negative's hideout as he was draining Bruno of his blood. Mr. Negative escaped with the poison and attempted to kill the other Maggia families with it. Spider-Man tried to stop him, but was unable to save the Maggia bosses. Spider-Man wasn't affected by the poison because it was DNA specific. A surviving Maggia member told him that their wives and children went to a circus and Spider-Man went there to stop Mister Negative. He was able to stop him from killing the women and children, but Spider-Man was forced to give Mr. Negative a sample of his blood in exchange for a little girl held hostage. Negative threw the girl in the ocean so Spider-Man would save her, allowing him to escape.
New ways to Die
Mr. Negative came across the former Venom, Eddie Brock. After learning the man's history, Martin Li offers Brock a job at a soup kitchen. Strangely, a single touch cured Eddie of his cancer, but this had the side effect of mutating the remnants of the Venom symbiote in his body. These mutating remnants bonded with Brock's white blood cell, transforming him into a new creature called Anti-Venom. Brock became a committed employee of Li's F.E.A.S.T. organization, taking the most of the second chance Li had given him. However, Brock would also discover the truth about Li and Mr. Negative.
Martin Li endorsed Bill Hollister, the father of Lily Hollister, for mayor of New York City in the upcoming election. This endorsement put him against the new Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Bugle, Dexter Bennett, who had thrown his endorsement behind Hollister's rival, Randall Crowne. This resulted in a smear campaign being launched against Hollister, as well as Bennett wanting to find dirt on Martin Li. Meanwhile, Mr. Negative recruited Hammerhead into his organization with offers of an adamantium cybernetic body. Apparently, Hammerhead quickly became one of Mr. Negative's most loyal lieutenants.
When Norman Osborn came to power, this created trouble for Mr. Negative. A new power structure was forming that did not suit his interests. The intent was to fold his criminal enterprises into the Hood's growing organization, and Mr. Negative would not allow it. A gang war broke out between his Inner Demons and the Hood's Syndicate. Meanwhile, Betty Brant was working at Dexter Bennett's behest to dig up dirt on Martin Li, and she managed to track down Martin Li's wife. This was the wife of the real Martin Li, who Mr. Negative had made arrangements with to keep the truth quiet. He corrupted Spider-Man and sent him after Betty, hoping that would solve the problem.
The gang war quickly came down to being between Mr. Negative and the Hood personally. The two fought, and Mr. Negative found that the Hood was already too corrupted for his touch to affect. When it looked like Mr. Negative was at the Hood's mercy, Osborn called everything off. A gamble of Mr. Negative's had paid off, and he had evidence of some of Osborn's dealings to use as leverage. This was thanks to the Spot, who was secretly loyal to Mr. Negative.
He attempts to get rid of Mr. Negative so he will not ruin his plains and lures him to an opera house holding their funds. Spider-man discovered the plain before Negative and arrived to battle Mysterio. Mr. Negative attempted to use his Devil's Breath keyed to Spider-man's DNA to finish him off but he was able to escape the poisoned cloud. Mysterio caused a robotic duplicate of Silvermane to explode hoping to kill Mr. Negative but he and his men survived. Unable to handle the fact that Negative could kill him with his Devil's Breath Spider-man called up Black Cat to help him steal the vial of blood that he needs to make it work on him. They are successful and replace his blood with pigs blood.
During the events of Shadowland, in which Daredevil took control of hell's kitchen and unleashed the Hand on it's inhabitants, Mr. Negative took advantage of the madness to expand his empire. He and his inner demons faced off against a group of Hand ninjas until Spider-Man & martial artist Shang-Chi intervene. The Inner Demons take advantage of Mr. Negative's temporary distraction and flee. A furious battle ensues, ending with Mr. Negatice using his powers to convert Shang-Chi to his cause. But then, something unexpected happens. Though converted, Shang-Chi still possesses his own will, as well as a portion of Negative's power & control over his Inner Demons. Unable to defeat him and confused about what happened, Mr. Negative escapes the powered up Shang-Chi and Spider-Man manages to free him from Negative's power. It is then revealed that Mr. Negative cannot change from Martin Li and himself at will, and it either happens at random or at a certain time.
Powers and Abilities
Mister Negative can control some type of black electrical energy resembling a photographic negative. He uses this energy to change from Martin Li into Mister Negative, and can charge his dagger with it. Recently, it was revealed he has no control over when the change occurs. He also has some undefined level of super strength but he has been shown to lift chunks of debris and send Spider-man flying through a few small buildings. He also has powers that can manipulate the biology of a living creature, evidence by the healing of Eddie Brock's cancer and changing the remaining symbiote to combine with Brock's white blood cells, turning him into Anti-Venom.
In Other Media
Mister Negative appears in the episode "Return to the Spider-Verse: Part 3," voiced by Keone Young. His powers are altered so that he turns his victims into stone instead of creating photo-negatives.
This version of Martin Li exists in the Marvel Noir universe, and is one of Hammerhead's henchmen. He steals the Siege Perilous shard Hammerhead is using in the gang war against Joe Fixit's crew, and becomes Mister Negative as a result. He quickly uses his powers to take control of both Hammerhead and Joe Fixit's gangs, but is defeated by Fixit, Spider-Man and Spider-Man Noir.