Making the Grade: Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition, Vol. 9


Gadzooks and forsooth! It’s time to dive right back in and marvel (get it?) at the multi-colored majesty known as The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Deluxe Edition. This week: Volume Nine, from Molecule Man to Owl. 

Not a whole lot happening in the front and back covers of this issue; the editors are taking up a lot of space acknowledging the many data corrections sent in by eagle-eyed readers.

For example, Armadillo’s wife’s name is actually Bonita, not Maria. The Gargoyle has been shown to lift in flight more than the 100-lb. limit listed in his entry. And then there’s the part in the Black King’s entry where it says he can build up energy levels by repeatedly striking a wall, when in fact (according to another reader) he can only gain energy when “it is expended by another source and transferred to him.” 

I have no jokes to share here — God knows I lived for this kind of trivia back in the day myself — so I’ll only say that it’s a good thing the Internet and Wikipedia came along when it did to allow for speedy correction of errors. Which is why you will NEVER find any erroneous information on the Internet. ;)  


Molecule Man

“Reece became a lowly laboratory technician working at a nuclear plant owned by the Acme Atomics Corporation.” I wonder if they’re owned by the same Acme people who kept shipping giant magnets and rocket skates to a certain cave in New Mexico. This guy was a nobody who was bombarded with radiation and basically became God. He can manipulate any form of matter or energy in any manner he chooses, up to and including ripping the Earth in half with a thought if he were so inclined. You might think giving someone this ludicrous level of power would make it impossible to keep him dramatically interesting… and you would be right about that. It didn’t help matters that he played a starring role in Secret Wars II as the guy who killed a baby to save the universe. No, really. D

If you’ve ever wondered (as I have) what happened to the actress who played the bald gal in Star Trek: the Motion Picture, then wonder no more. Actually, Moondragon was an early “bad girl” in the Marvel universe, joining hero teams while secretly plotting… something bad, I’m sure. The text says she was subconsciously influenced by the Dragon of the Moon, a malevolent cosmic entity she once met, which seems a little sexist to me (what, we can’t have a woman who’s evil of her own accord?). I’ll always remember her as the gal who once got a right proper spanking from the Thing that one time for being a bitch. Didn’t work. Former aliases include “Madame MacEvil,” which always makes me wonder if she ever teamed up with the Hamburglar to rob Mayor McCheese. D

Moon Knight
Everything wrong with Moon Knight (just imagine that Cinema Sins guy dinging a bell after each one):

1. Too many secret identities to keep track of. Dammit, Moon Knight, commit!

2. Discount Batman is discount.

3. The golden, Egyptian-themed belt and bracelets go against the whole “dark avenger of the night” look he was probably going for.

4. His arsenal is ethnically confusing, with Egyptian-themed ankhs and “scarab darts” sharing utility belt space with boomerangs and bolas.

5. His past careers include boxer, CIA agent, Marine commando and mercenary. Geez, Marc, you couldn’t squeeze alligator wrestler, rodeo cowboy, and motorcycle stuntman into your resumé, too? We get it, you’re the manliest man who ever manned.

6. He calls Jean-Paul DuChamp, his pilot and most trusted aide, “Frenchie.” Moon Knight is a dick to the French.

7. He later had a breakdown and convinced himself he was acting as Khonshu’s agent against evil on Earth. Mouldy old moon gods should mind their own business.

8. Wait a second, his strength level varies according to the phase of the moon? How the hell does that work? Is he part werewolf?

9. Okay, he brought Bill Sienkiewicz into the world of comics. One sin removed. (Ding!) C-

She didn’t really have much of a profile until the very excellent Thunderbolts series in the late ’90s; at the time this issue came out, she was an evil psychiatrist with a magic moon rock who thought battling the Hulk was a smart career move. She’s also, judging by this image, the first female super-villain to affix a tiny mirror to her costume at chest level, presumably to shame men who stared at her boobies during battles. Right back at you, male chauvinist gaze! C-

Morbius, Dr. Michael
A “living vampire,” Morbius had the pallor and bloodlust of true vampires but none of the supernatural powers or sparkles that would have made him irresistible to the Bellas of the world. So you might say it really sucked (rimshot) to be him. Weirdest part of his entry: “Shortly before he believed he would succumb to the disease, Morbius rented a small yacht so that he and Nikos could conduct their final attempts to discover a cure undisturbed.” I’m no scientist, but does that sound like a good idea? You want privacy, just lock the damn door; I don’t see how a boat that’s bobbing on waves is a good place to set up all your beakers and Bunsen burners and other scientific apparatuses. Apparati? Whichever. C

Morgan Le Fey

Here we have another public-domain character adapted for Marvel’s storytelling purposes, so you know what that means: tonnes of blabbedy-bloo cribbed straight from The Dummy’s Guide to Arthurian Legends, followed by a bunch of text explaining how she mucked about in the lives of Spider-Woman and Doctor Strange. To be fair to Marvel, they weren’t the only comic publisher to save a few bucks by pilfering the public domain; they were just the most… proactive about incorporating them into their universe. Here, for instance, we learn the faerie folk that Le Fey is descended from are closely related to the Dark Elves over in Thor’s books. Thanks, Marvel! I now look forward to your definitive history of dragons that places Smaug, Toothless, Puff, Fin Fang Foom and that one dragon with Sean Connery’s voice all within the same family tree. C+

Mutant outcasts who lived underground in New York City. The rent’s a bitch, but the CHUDs next door are always good for a cup of sugar. C-

Ms. Marvel
Nope, not the Ms. Marvel you’re thinking about. This Ms. Marvel is pro wrestler Sharon Ventura (no relation), a gal who hung out with the Thing and later joined the Fantastic Four during one of its less fantastic periods. “Ms. Marvel possesses enhanced strength, endurance, reaction time, speed and resistance to injury… and is highly proficient at unarmed combat.” That resistance to injury thing will come in handy when she breaks a heel. C

Mutant Force
Wow. Just… wow. Okay, that whole “feared by humanity” thing makes a lot more sense if these are the kinds of mutants we’re talking about. Obviously created by Kirby after one serious bender, these guys are a sad group of underlings who reported to Magneto during a time he called himself Mister One and clearly wanted to surround himself with Number Two. I’m not kidding; these are the kind of four-color feebs that Toad and Frog-Man would pretend not to see from across the room if they were out having drinks. If the names (Burner, Lifter, Peeper, Shocker, Slither) and identical body stockings don’t suggest zero effort went into them, then take a look at the images: two relatively normal guys, a snake man who was literally a guy with the head of a snake, a dude with crab claws for hands and feet (good luck figuring out how that makes him a threat to Captain America) and a shrimp with the most disturbing child-molesting eyes you’ve ever seen. And by “shrimp” I mean short person, though you’re forgiven if you thought I meant an actual shrimp with super powers after meeting the Krusty Krab’s mascot. F

Has there been a recent story in which a down-on-his-luck Mysterio uses his Hollywood connections to produce a reality TV show in which he battles superheroes who aren’t aware their battles are being filmed? Because there really should be a story like that. A special-effects genius who decides there’s more fame and fortune in messing with Spider-Man’s head, Mysterio had one of the all-time great super-villain looks, comprised one-sixth of the very excellent Sinister Six, and guest-starred in one of the best episodes of the 1960s Spider-Man cartoon, so you know he’s all right. I’m just going to chalk up that “nursing home fraud” stage in his career to bad advice from his agent. B+


One thing you’ll hear a lot whenever a new superhero movie comes out is moaning from fans about how the director didn’t capture the way a character “should” look. I don’t recall anyone complaining about how Bryan Singer treated Mystique, though. It’s not hard to see why; whether you subscribe to the classic Romijn-Stamos version or the newer Lawrence model, all signs point to a complex character who kicks ass while running around naked as a jaybird. Though I have to ask what kind of world the X-Men live in where a hot woman with blue skin and the power to change her appearance is seen as a dangerous freak. Do cosplay conventions not exist in the Marvel universe? Because I’ve just described one of the top five fantasies for about 90% of the male hetero geeks out there. Present company included. A-

Namor’s chipper blonde college-age cousin, who also just happened to be the product of a human-Atlantean pairing and just happened to get ankle-wings just like her older cousin. Uh-huh. Clark and Linda Lee would like to have a few words with the owner of the establishment. D+

“Base of operations: Known space.” Well, that narrows things down. Because when you really think about it, aren’t all of us based somewhere in known space? She’s a space pirate and planet-destroyer who claims Thanos as her grandfather, which makes sense. As the text says, “Over the hundreds of years of his existence, it is probable that Thanos took many mates and consorts.” Come now, Marvel, don’t be coy. If loser death-row prisoners here on Earth can get love letters from desperate women, how much groupie tail do you think the ultimate mack daddy of stone-cold evil in the Marvel universe is tapping? Now there’s a Marvel MAX concept we probably don’t want to see. C

Oy vey. From the text: “Nekra was the daughter of Gemma Sinclair, a black cleaning woman… A year before Nekra was born, her mother and Frederick Beecham, a Caucasian scientist, were exposed to a massive dose of radiation… Beecham’s wife gave birth to a son named Jerome at about the same time Nekra was born, and somehow the racial patterns displayed by the children were reversed: the girl born of black parents had chalk-white skin, and the boy born of white parents was a deep brown.” Uh, no, the boy born of white parents was a dude who turned into a talking mandrill with woman-hypnotizing powers. Marvel, you really don’t want to go down this “ain’t it wacky how their races got switched” route. Driven out of society by their freakish appearances, they were once attacked by townspeople “with pitchforks and guns.” Not sure how useful the pitchforks were in that particular situation, but I appreciate the nod to tradition. C-

New Mutants
Hey, I liked the New Mutants team, and I don’t have a problem saying that. Yes, they admitted a few hopelessly lame (coughDougRamsaycough) members. Yes, it got a bit grating sometimes listening to Sunspot’s machismo or Wolfsbane’s moralizing. But this was a clever resetting of the mutant franchise, taking us back to the original 1960s concept (young teenagers strive to master their strange powers while tackling the  trials and tribulations of growing up) but with an ’80s sensibility. Ain’t nothing wrong with that. B


I’ll just come out and say it: I don’t like Nightcrawler. I don’t like his cutesy “bamf.” I don’t like his wild mood swings between “tortured outcast” and “zany swashbuckler.” I don’t like his fur, fangs and prehensile tail, all seemingly put together by the executives marketing department to sell him as the “cute” X-Man. Even the X-Men movies, which mostly improved on the other team members, couldn’t think of anything better to do with him than give him tattoos and pile on the Catholic guilt. Plus — and I can’t emphasize this enough — he’s named after bait. Bait, I tells ya! C-

“Transportation: Nightmare rides a demonic horned steed.” Of course he does. Because he’s NightMARE, see? Not one of Lee and Ditko’s finer moments, but at least he seems to enjoy his work. C

Okay, who put the black chick in go-go boots and a leather bikini? Boy, I can’t wait to see HER on the Marvel parade float at Disney World. “By the time she was sixteen, Johnson had accumulated an extensive knowledge of genetics, cybernetics and physics, and using her knowledge she began a career of crime, believing that this would be her fastest and most lucrative way out of the ghetto.” No, don’t even think about getting scholarships or trying to impress Tony Stark’s HR department; if you’re black and from the ghetto, clearly there’s no other option for you but robot-assisted organized crime. I guess it could have been worse; at least they didn’t give her some blaxploitation-era name like Sheba Jones or Cleopatra Brown or Foxy Bootylicious. D

Okay, so he’s a super-sophisticated robot from the future that travels back in time to present-day New York City, where he takes on a humanoid appearance and uses his advanced technology to hunt down humans he’s programmed to kill. Why does it feel like I’ve heard this somewhere before…? Wait, when did that X-Men issue with his first appearance come out? Did I hear you say it was the tail end of 1984, the same year a certain movie about another time-traveling robot came out? Huh. Interesting. C-

He would later gain fame as the explosive fellow whose carelessness kicked-started Marvel’s Civil War, but back in the day he was just another working-stiff villain doing the four-color foxtrot with guys like Captain Marvel and Spider-Man. Here’s the part of his entry that I love: “Robert Hunter was an eccentric retired electrical engineer who operated a ham radio as a hobby. The Lunatic Legion, a band of renegade scientists of the extraterrestrial Kree, monitored Hunter’s broadcasts and chose him to become their agent.” Two things. One: I’m really curious to know what eccentric things he said in his broadcasts that caught the attention of renegade aliens. Two: Is this a common recruiting tool for alien scientists looking for human guinea pigs? And if so, are they still listening to our radio broadcasts or have they moved on to monitoring our other media, like Internet comment boards? Because I might not be in favor of that. C+

BWHA HA HA HA HA HAahem. Sorry, I think it’s the N-shaped belt buckle that cracks me up. Initial-shaped belt buckles are never a good sign. Questionable costuming aside, Nomad is… well, still pretty lame, to be honest. The biggest conceptual issue here is he didn’t have any real motive to fight crime beyond an obsession with Captain America. Well, that and the fact he wears two detachable steel discs “which can be used as offensive throwing weapons.” Which is swell if you’re fighting just Viper and the Red Skull, but if MODOK then enters the room? “Say, buddy, would you mind tossing them back so I can throw them some more? Thanks, pal.” D


“Beaubier was befriended by Raymonde Belmonde, who helped him overcome his fears about the ways in which Beaubier was different from the majority of people.” “After the Beaubier siblings had a particularly intense quarrel over Jean-Paul’s sexual attitudes, however, Northstar ceased to operate with the team on a regular basis.” Oh, yeah. The writers totally knew the score back then. They couldn’t come right out and say it in those days, but you could tell. B

This was Johnny Storm’s girlfriend who became Galactus’s herald to save Earth. And that’s really all you need to know because her back story contains more bizarre coincidences than a really bad M. Knight Shyamalan film (“but then, I repeat myself”). For instance, her stepfather was the guy who built the original Human Torch… and hey, look at that, she grows up and dates the Johnny Storm version of the Torch completely by coincidence! But that’s not all! She herself gained her flame powers one day when her stepfather asked her teen self to help him move some scientific equipment, and she just happened to gain the same powers as his android creation when a chemical splashed on her. But that’s not all! Consumed with guilt over what happened to her (he gave her awesome super-powers, the monster), her stepdad used his mastery of hypnotism — because what scientist worth his salt isn’t a master hypnotist? — to give her a very specific set of post-hypnotic suggestions to make her forget her powers and her relationship with him until a suitably dramatic moment took place. But wait! I didn’t tell you about the special invisible costume that he hypnotically commanded her to wear at all times without even her knowing she had it on! You see what I mean? Trust me, just stick to “Johnny Storm’s girlfriend who became Galactus’s herald” — you’ll be the happier for it. C-

He’s a guy whose mother ran into a malfunctioning nuclear power plant, resulting in him being born with phenomenal nuclear powers that later caused him to split into three duplicate versions of himself and run amok until his powers were contained. When last seen, he was living the sweet life as a gas station attendant in upstate New York. Nope, no jokes. That’s the entire punchline right there. Oh, and then there’s the part about how the Scarlet Witch believed for a while she was his sister. Wait… what? D


I’m not going to get too baroque here. Literally and figuratively, Odin is boss. He’s the king of the Norse gods, he has a sweet Viking longboat that travels through space, and he’s powerful enough to smack his son Thor upside the head when he gets out of line. Plus reading his history reminds me of the Surtur saga and all the other awesomely awesome stories from Simonson’s Thor run. A

Say it with me, you know you want to: “OLYMPIAAAAAAA!” This is the city-state home of the Eternals, located (natch) in a hidden location near Mount Olympus in Greece. Highlights of the package tour include the Hall of Eternal Judgment, Hall of Ascent, the Great Chamber in Assembly Hall — not particularly colorful names, I grant you, but a culture that produces names like Petco Park and FedExField is in no position to criticize. C

Olympian Gods
Say what you will about comic-book science and its fleeting acquaintance with actual science, but I think a lot of young comic nerds got a leg up in their scholastic careers by the inclusion of so many mythological characters in their comic books. Take the Olympian gods’ entry here, for example — aside from a few Marvel flourishes (like a mention of pocket dimensions, or a note about Hercules’s current activities on Earth), it hews very closely to the stories found in any book about mythology. I mean, they even made a point of mentioning Zeus was a dog that rogered anything on two (or more) legs. That’s the kind of juicy stuff you’re not going to learn in Miss Grundy’s homeroom. Sure, Marvel ripped pages from Bulfinch with impunity because public domain is public, but let’s give credit where it’s due. But not too much — the last thing we need is Disney thinking it can send us a bill for tuition. B

Home of the Olympian gods, of course. Not to be confused with Olympia, home of the Eternals, who were often confused with the Olympians by us mere mortals back in the day. “Wrongdoers are punished at the ‘Place of Pain.'” Not to be confused with the Place of Pan, with raunchy stand-up comedy and flute concerts most weeknights. Don’t forget to try the spanakopita! C

Omega Flight
Because they were supposed to represent the end of Alpha Flight, get it? This was the evil counterpart to Alpha Flight created by some businessman dipshit who made a mess of his life and blamed Alpha Flight’s leader for it. My fave part is where they explained the reason why Delphine Courtney, a super-sophisticated android who was part of the team, was given female form: “The robot was designed to have… an open-ended deductive capability that its creators likened to intuition. Because of this so-called ‘feminine’ trait, the scientists gave the robot a voice and build resembling those of a human woman.” Uh-huh. Sure. Why do I suddenly have this mental image of the two nerds from Weird Science wearing bras on their heads? As for the rest of Omega Flight: they’re okay. C+

“Occupation: Renegade, henchman.” But not a renegade henchman; if there’s one thing a criminal mastermind looks for in a resumé, it’s team spirit. He’s some Atlantean lug-nut who got picked to receive the awesome powers of a killer whale. Just not the proportionate speed and strength of a killer whale, mind you, because that’s just silly. I must be spending too much time reading these entries, because I’m passing by all the Serpent Crown and super-blubber stuff and obsessing on an avalanche. See, it says right here he was buried in an underwater landslide during a fight with Namor and dug out months later by someone else. I’m sorry, but even in a world with ankle-winged mermen and villains with fantastic killer-whale powers, it’s hard to believe a guy (even a super-strong guy like Orka here) could survive for months under tonnes of rocks with no food or bathroom breaks or so much as a Game Boy to pass the time. I’m seriously considering writing a letter about this lack of realism in my stories about whale-men. D+


I’m trying, I really am, but I’m not feeling the love. This guy is the surviving member of his race, a warlike people who avoided extinction by having their mental energies projected into him. Now armed with “the collective psionic power of one billion brains,” he looks for planets to conquer because… well, because that whole “launch wars against other planets with the power to beat the crap out of us” worked out so well for his people the last time, I guess. He later got beat by telepaths who ended up using his vacant mind as a time-share and guided him towards more positive activities. Good for them. C-

“Occupation: Former financier, now professional criminal.” Wait, you mean there was a time when those professions weren’t the same thing? I want to like this guy, and not just because esteemed character actor Bob Gunton played him to bitchy perfection in that Netflix series. Also because, when an IRS audit exposed his criminal connections, Leland Owlsley figured, fuck it, in for a penny… and the next thing you know, he’s off being a ganglord and flying around town with steel claws on his wrists. That’s kind of badass. Then again, when you can only glide about 15 feet off the ground for a maximum distance of 100 feet — and only because you drank a serum that paralyzes your legs and messes you up all kinds of ways — that doesn’t sound a great trade-off. You’d think a smart businessman like Owlsey would be better at doing a cost/benefit analysis. Ah well. C-