Making the Grade: Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition, Vol. 5


Time once again to submit to another review of  The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Deluxe Edition. This week: Volume Five, from Gardener (meh) to Hulkbusters (huh?). You’ll find life is a lot easier when you just accept the fact these biweekly reviews are going to be as relentless and as plodding as… oh, I don’t know, as a parade of every Marvel character slowly marching from left to right. 

Not a whole lot of household-name heroes in this issue, unless you count Hawkeye (which I don’t) and the Hulk (whose entry was so badly botched he probably doesn’t want us to count it). So let’s get right to it. 

First, though, we have to continue meeting the people behind the scenes of this grand project, because comic nerds live for this kind of stuff. Like the previous issue, this one starts out with super-geeky OHOTMU-style entries for inker Josef Rubenstein, colorist Andy Yanchus and assistant editor Howard Mackie.

How geeky are we getting? Rubinstein’s listed abilities include being able to pick up dimes with his toes, Yanchus is a proud member of the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Scale Model Kit Collecting, and Mackie’s former aliases include “The Mysterious Mr. H.”  I would make fun if I could, but let’s face it — if I were working on a project like this, listing one of my aliases as “The Mysterious Mr. M” is exactly the kind of stuff I would put down for my own profile. 


He’s a… aw, you guessed. One of the Elders of the Universe, the Gardener acts like a cosmic Johnny Appleseed, spreading vegetative goodness across the cosmos. It’s every bit as riveting as you can imagine. Wears a Soul Gem that promises to be quite the MacGuffin in future Marvel movies, though it’s hard to imagine this guy showing up in a Guardians of the Galaxy sequel because, you know, flowers and shit. Art on the page shows him glowering menacingly while the Hulk is being strangled by murderous-looking creeper vines, which kind of goes against the whole “eschews violence” vibe the text is giving us. So… yeah. Weird, that. C-

There’s a lot of backstory here involving Druids, demons, fairies and cathedrals built in places with great mystic power, but all you need to know is this: decrepit old mayor of a Virginia town “tottering on the brink of economic ruin” turns to occult forces to save his town, and winds up trapped inside the body of a hideous gargoyle for his efforts. Whoops. In retrospect, he’s probably kicking himself for not bringing in legalized gambling. C

Together with Golly, Shucks and Boy Howdy, Gee formed… the Mild Expletive Squad! No, not really. He was one of the kids from Power Pack, and living proof why kid superheroes should never be allowed to come up with their own superhero names. D+

He’s king of the trolls that live underground in Asgard, and occasionally leads his fellow trolls in battle against the Asgardians when the Frost Giants take five. It’s noted that he’s considered a genius among trolls, which is a bit like calling Zack the brains of the Saved by the Bell gang; since “trolls are not quite as intelligent as human beings, Geirrodur’s genius status makes his intellect only slightly higher than the human average.” Given this entry was written a few years before TLC got into the reality-show business, we may need to re-assess this benchmark for intelligence. C

He’s the head priest for the Deviant race. Hey, even freaks pray. I’m less fascinated by whatever scant details there are for this big-headed schemer than I am by the fact the Deviants even have a religion. Exactly what do you pray for when you’re a hideously mutated member of a genetically unstable race? Do they pray for things like symmetrical facial features, or is their society similar to that “Eye of the Beholder” episode from The Twilight Zone where beauty is ugliness and vice versa? Probably; I mean, their high priest is content to operate out of a place called “City of Toads.” That’s a bit of a tip-off right there. C-

Ghost Rider
Thank God we’re finally getting to a character that most people have already heard of… oh crap, it’s not that Ghost Rider. This Ghost Rider is some boring archaeologist who found the resting place of his ancestor, the Old West masked hero known as the Ghost Rider. The first Ghost Rider used glowing paint to make people believe he was a ghost, and the bio here says his actual ghost possesses his descendant from time to time to fight evil, always acting without his descendant’s permission to invade his body and direct his actions. This sounds uncomfortably closer to some of my own family dynamics than I’m willing to admit. Note: the artwork shows our hapless archaeologist wearing a fedora, which I believe became mandatory headgear for all archaeologists following the Spielberg Act of 1982. C

Gladiator was an outer-space rip-off of Superman, who in turn was an outer-space (yet far superior) rip-off of Philip Wylie’s Gladiator (go ahead, look it up), so someone was being cute when they put this guy in an X-Men comic. Adding to the cutesy factor was the decision to give this entry’s art chores to long-time Superman artist (and rare Marvel contributor) Curt Swan, who answers the question of what Superman would have looked like if he had purple skin and a brushtop Mohawk. I’m bumping this entry up half a grade just for the cheekiness of it all. B+

Ai yi yi… So, it’s like this. The Vision and the Scarlet Witch had a sitcom-y mini-series in the ’80s that saw them settle down in a New Jersey suburb, but their house was burned down by anti-mutant (and presumably anti-android) bigots living nearby. So they bought another house because, you know, civil rights and shit. A couple that was already living in the neighborhood had their own super-powers that they kept secret by working as stage magicians, and they decided to secretly help our heroes because they feared that they themselves “might become the bigots’ next target” if the Avengers were chased off. Where to begin. Let’s start with their motive for helping out. If they had successfully hidden their powers from their neighbors for the whole length of time they lived there, why would they leap to the conclusion that anyone would go after them next?And if they feared being outed as people with powers, then why bother with the stage magician act in the first place? Why not take up accounting, or some other less-flashy job where mobs wouldn’t be tempted to yell “WITCH!” if they were inclined to be overly paranoid about these things? It’s just beyond dumb. D

He travels via rainbows, he wears a mini-skirt toga, and he’s a glorified Minecraft player who tangled with the Hulk for some God-only-knows reason. At what point do you think the family of the writer who came up with stuff like this felt the need to stage an intervention? D-

An entry that’s basically a thick slab of Grade-A gobbledygook to explain away the many questions that arise from the act of positing a whole bunch of supernatural beings that humans totally made up as real characters in the Marvel universe. “Why, the reason most gods don’t involve themselves in human affairs today is… because of cosmic alignments! Yes, that’s the ticket.” Personally, I like the Pratchett/Gaiman take on gods, that they’re given form by human belief and see their strength and influence ebb and flow as human belief in their existence waxes and wanes. Painting all these pantheons as tribes of inter-dimensional busybodies who all decided to show up on Earth and muck around with human from specific geographical regions within a very narrow window of human history seems a bit far-fetched. C

According to his stats, Erik Josten was born in Milwaukee. Do you think the fact that OHOTMU’s editor was born in Wisconsin has something to do with the statistically unlikely number of Marvel characters born in the Badger State? Nahhhh. At any rate, Power Man/Smuggler/Goliath is a regular mook with a penchant for scoring power boosts from far more powerful figures who tend to use him in their schemes; his last deal resulted in him being able to go Godzilla through downtown Los Angeles. “Josten performed Nefaria’s errands and was subjected to a strength-enhancing treatment. However, the bargain was all a scheme by Nefaria to steal the power of Josten and his other henchmen for himself.” Hard to believe a guy named Nefaria would try to pull something like that. B-

Now, I don’t want to go and tell anyone their business, but I’m looking at this image of Gorgon lifting a Volkswagen Beetle over his head and I’m thinking, “So?” I mean, don’t get me wrong, I certainly couldn’t do it myself, but I’m also not sharing shelf space with gods, mutants, monsters, and steroid-enhanced freaks. I should think lifting a Beetle would be the minimal requirement for attaining superhuman status in the Marvel universe. Or maybe a Kia Bravo. Anyway, he’s a hot-headed member of the Inhumans royal family who’s prone to stomping his feet and setting off earthquakes though an intense pulse of kinetic energy blah blee science science bloo blah. “Unusual features: Gorgon has hooves instead of feet.” That’s unusual, all right. B-

Yep, another Elder of the Universe. Think of the old men at the park who do nothing but play chess all day, times a billion. He’s less a character than a convenient deus ex machina for writers who want a handy excuse for different teams of heroes to rumble. His shtick is playing games. That’s it. Blessed with immortality, he has spent his billions of years of existence mastering every civilization’s version of poker, parcheesi, pinochle and Hungry Hungry Hippos. (Don’t tell me the Skrulls don’t have a version of Hungry Hungry Hippos, because you know they do.) My fave part of his entry: finding out that one of the teams assembled by one of his competitors for a game was dubbed the Institute of Evil. Someone should totally start up a school with that name. Yes, I know DeVry already exists. B-

Ladies who wrestle? For money? Gracious, what will they think of next. The weirdest/possibly most offensive part about this entry for a league of super-powered female wrestlers is the stage names they gave each wrestler. The hot one is Vavavoom! The Asian one is Sushi! The butch-looking one is Magilla! The fat one is Butterball! Be honest now — if you could break a man’s neck like a stalk of celery using just your pinkie, would you let anyone call you “Butterball” in or out of the ring? C

He’s an Avengers baddie with your typical super-villain origin: lab accident, new powers, carnage and chaos ensues. Manipulating gravity is his shtick; he can “exert his gravitational control over a maximum distance of 2.36 miles from his body,” and pity the poor Marvel intern assigned to the task of ensuring none of the stories in which Graviton appeared saw him exceed that limit. “Recovering from the accident, Hall discovered he could mentally control gravity. A man of great ambition, he designed a costume, called himself Graviton, and took over the research facility.” It’s the costume part that I love, as if the whole mastering-one-of-the-elemental-forces-of-the-universe didn’t really feel real to him until he had the bitchin’ threads to go with it. I wonder how many would-be villains never graduate to super-villain status because they can’t find the right color scheme? B

He’s a hideously mutated child genius who battled the Hulk with robots and brainwashing machines because his Soviet masters lied to him about the Hulk’s involvement in his father’s death. But that’s not the creepy part. This is: “After his initial transformation, the Gargoyle fathered a son.” Now, I’m no biologist, but I’m pretty sure a mother was involved at some point, and I really hope they went in vitro on this one, because here’s an image of what his father looked like:


I don’t care how many women named Olga send me emails looking for “generous man who treat nice lady with compassions,” I refuse to believe any Russian woman is that hard up for a lay. C

Grey Gargoyle
A French chemist who gains the power to turn any type of matter to stone with just a touch of his right hand, he “decided to exploit his bizarre power for personal gain” and became a thief. How does going all Manny de la Medusa on people help him master the various skills associated with breaking and entering, you ask? Not important! We also learn he is “currently in police custody under heavy sedation to keep him from using his powers.” Yeah, about that. I don’t want to get the ACLU all up in my grill or anything, but it seems to me that if removing his hand is what it takes to neutralize his threat, then what exactly are we waiting for? C-

Guardians of the Galaxy
Prepare for a massive disappointment, you adorable Millennials, you. Back in my day, we didn’t get to have awesome talking raccoons and catchphrase-spouting trees in our teams of galactic guardians. No, we got planet-themed rejects from the Legion of Super-Heroes, like Charlie-27 of Jupiter and Nikki of Mercury and Martinex of… um, the planet that invented dry cleaning? At any rate, they were from the 31st century in an alternate future, and they occasionally came back to the present for various save-the-day reasons. “Vance Astro was an astronaut sent on a thousand-year interstellar voyage to Alpha Centauri. During his journey, he developed his latent psionic powers.” As one would. C-

A discount Iron Man-slash-security guard. No, literally. He’s an employee of Stark who was given a knock-off Iron Man suit on the off chance Stark ever needed someone to save his ass during one of his non-ferrous moments. “Putting on the armor before it was fully tested, O’Brien fell prey to a malfunction in the cybernetic circuitry controlling the armor which apparently stimulated the regions of the brain where rage and jealousy originate.” I’m sorry, but my disbelief doesn’t quite suspend that far. How in the hell is that kind of system bug even remotely possible? C+

Gypsy Moth

She’s a telekinetic groupie who moved in with a Hollywood film star and inherited his house and personal wealth when he died of a blood clot. “She used it all to start a hedonistic cult of drugs and decadence that worshipped her as their queen.” Works for me. B-

Gyrich, Henry Peter
Gyrich has no secret identity, nor does he need one; he’s a government agent who was assigned to bust the Avengers’ balls over security issues before getting re-assigned to a government project to deal with the growing number of mutants. The first X-Men movie killed him off as an afterthought, which sounds about right. “Bureaucratic hard-ass that impedes heroes by demanding adherence to arbitrary rules” is a well-worn trope, and he adds nothing new to it. Besides, goshdammit, sometimes having rules is a good thing. Why is it the people who insist on rules in our popular fiction are either ineffectual dweebs or pompous jack-holes high on their authority? New rule: rules can be fun! D+

Hammer, Justin
“Occupation: Criminal financier, industrialist.” But then, I repeat myself (rimshot). Just a little humor for Occupy crowd. One of Tony Stark’s business competitors, Hammer has financed and outfitted all kinds of not-nice people in exchange for a percentage of their profits — even though he’s already a billionaire making tons of money through legal (if ethically dodgy) endeavors. Everyone needs a hobby, I suppose. He’s also a thinly disguised take on real-life businessman Armand Hammer, who by all accounts was a law-abiding philanthropist. “Armand Hammer.” “Arm and Hammer.” I wonder if he heard a lot of jokes about baking soda. I bet he hated it when people did that. C+

I’m sure there are Havok fans out there. I am not one of them. I never saw the point of him.  His headpiece is stupid, his power is boring, those concentric circles look like a bitch to draw, and he was always competing against his douchebag big brother, Cyclops. Also? He went to Berkeley. ‘Nuff said. Decent Dave Gibbons art, though, who was working on Watchmen at the time and no doubt grateful for the chance to take a break from whatever Alan Moore was ranting about at the time. C-

Okay, first off: Marvel Studio’s decision to do away with Hawkeye’s mask in his film outings? Extremely excellent idea. Marvel’s resident archer with a chip on his shoulder never quite shook the “palette-swapped Green Arrow” vibe he kept giving off, right down to the tricked-out arrows and the ongoing relationship with the blonde martial arts chick who goes by a bird-inspired codename. It didn’t help that he was always taking off in a huff or threatening to quit, often following through on his threat before slinking back to the team and picking up where he left off. Around the time this issue was published, he had just been appointed leader of the brand-new West Coast Avengers team, which in retrospect looks less like a promotion and more like the original team trying to find the least troublesome way to keep him at arm’s length. And really, can you blame them? C-

Hawkeye’s Sky-Cycle
And here is where my bewilderment with the lack of marketing smarts among Marvel’s super-villain set extends to the good guys as well. We’re told that Hawkeye’s good buddy built him a customized flying motorcycle back when Hawkeye briefly worked security at a high-tech firm. This device can go up to 380 MPH to a ceiling of 12,000 ft. and comes complete with hands-free control for maximum archery enjoyment. Is there a story somewhere that explains how in the hell Hawkeye’s buddy didn’t end up with all the money by mass-producing these things? Dammit, 2015 is almost over and my Back-to-the-Future-watching ass hasn’t seen one single hoverboard. Promises were made, people! B+

Like most Thor characters, Hela was poorly handled until Walt Simonson came along, giving her the eerie patience and hint of malevolence befitting a goddess of the dead. Besides a lot of backstory about her, we also get some details on the realms of the dead that she rules over, including this tidbit that’s a contender for the most useless factoid in the entire series: “It takes nine days and nights riding by horseback, with stops for rest, to travel from the opening of Gnipa Cave to the bridge Gjallerbru over the river Gjoll, which serves as the entrance to Hel.” There were people who actually memorized this kind of stuff. B+

Ancient Egypt’s version of Asgard, this entry introduces the various Egyptian gods that have showed up in Marvel stories, mostly in issues of Thor. On the one hand, I want to give Marvel credit for giving its readers what was probably their first exposure to a culturally significant piece of ancient mythology, but on the other… seriously, why were Arab characters in 1980s comics always given this weird shade of gray for their skin? Was there some technical limitation that made them come off the printing presses looking like this? Was this a case of Jim Shooter having never actually seen a person of Arab descent? Was this part of a conspiracy to make Americans believe all people from Arabic countries were actually alien mole people? C+

Hellfire Club
This is how Marvel imagines the One Percent crowd: dressing up in 18th-century costumes while plotting world domination in between battles with mutants and massive orgies (or perhaps both at the same time). The club counts among its members only the most wealthy, powerful and well-connected people in the world. Most see it as a social club, but the inner elite uses the club’s resources to “dominate the world through the accumulation of economic power and political influence.” I never understood that. You bring together the world’s richest and most powerful people to… plot ways to get rich and powerful? Am I missing something here? You’ve won. Do whatever it is rich people do when they celebrate. Buy a solid-gold mansion. Rent Barbados for a pool party. Re-enact “The Most Dangerous Game” with unemployed philosophy majors. Why waste time wearing itchy wigs and sitting in boring world domination meetings when you’re already there? C+

If I were a teenager who just discovered my mutant powers and a bunch of people led by Emma Frost showed up at my door offering me free tuition at a prestigious school that’s also a secret training ground for mutants like me, then hell yeah I would be one happy puppy. But if they showed up wearing costumes like that? Yeah, no, I’m good, thanks for checking. I don’t care how close it gets me to the possibility of witnessing Ms. Frost experience a wardrobe malfunction, I’m not joining any group where that’s the team uniform. If the New Mutants were Jem and the Holograms, these guys were the Misfits: not really evil, just kids with bugs up their butts (“our songs are bitter”) about their rivals in that other school for mutants. Probably because those other guys got to choose their own costumes because, damn, how dorky can you get? C-

Hellstrom, Daimon
I’m going to go out on a limb and guess this guy first showed up around the time The Exorcist scared the bejeezus out of movie audiences. Hold on… yep, just as I thought. Born the son of a demon claiming to be Satan, Hellstrom was born with a pentagram-shaped birthmark on his chest and had a kid sister named Satana, so I’m not sure why his mother was so surprised when she found out who her husband really was. Blah blah blah offered chance to rule by dad’s side yadda yadda yadda chose to battle his father and his infernal minions on Earth instead. Heh, now there’s an idea for a movie: all those little yellow Minion dudes start working for the devil and turn Hell upside down with their adorable antics. Though I’m sure most parents who took their kids to see that Minions movie already know what a minion-filled Hell feels like. B-

Hellstrom, Patsy
If comic companies were like tenants in an apartment building, Marvel would be the crazy hoarder who never throws anything out, because you never know when all those old newspapers and rinsed-out juice cans might come in handy. Patsy Walker was the star of a teen humor title that Marvel put out way back in the old days to compete against the Riverdale mafia; they introduced her into the official Marvel universe in the ’70s as a superhero groupie who longed to be a superhero herself. And with nothing more than a positive attitude and another hero’s cast-off costume, she became one. I guess it was nice of the Avengers and Defenders to humor her and all, but… yeah, not one of Marvel’s better ideas. It’s like rebooting Betty Cooper as Harley Quinn’s crazier twin sister. Though come to think of it, I’ve never seen the two of them together in the same place… C

Go on, all you adorable Arrested Development fans, you know you want to say it. Her (“Her…?”) is an artificial being created by some bug-nuts scientists who were trying to create a perfect life form. Their first attempt (Him, natch) was more powerful than expected and took off, so they tried again with what they hoped would be a more docile being. That went about as well as you might expect, and she took off in search of Him because they were literally made for each other, but she was too late. “She returned Warlock’s body to its resting place, and set forth to search the universe for a suitable mate. She was recently seen heading back toward Earth.” So if a golden-skinned goddess in a one-piece swimsuit shows up at your door demanding your seed, consider yourself forewarned, you cosmically lucky bastard. B-

“Hercules! People are safe when near him! Hercules! Only the evil fear him!” Wait, that was another guy. I’ll admit, he’s able to pull off an initial-shaped belt buckle nicely; very few people can do that. His bio adheres closely to the classical tales told by ancient Greeks until we get to… hey, wait a minute. It appears a significant chunk of text is missing between the bottom of the first page and the top of the next. Bad editors! Bad! Anyway, Hercules is everything you’d expect: super-strong, fond of sandals, quick to anger if provoked but generally predisposed to a hail-fellow-well-met attitude. I’m almost tempted to write him off as a not-very-inspired take on the mythological character, but he did star in that ’80s mini-series with the android Recorder, one of the most funnily surreal things Marvel ever put out. Go look for it; you won’t be disappointed. B

High Evolutionary
I’ll always remember this dude as the big baddie behind “The Evolutionary War,” one of Marvel’s early attempts at a company-wide crossover and the first storyline I actively sought out with my pre-teen fistfuls of dollars and quarters. Each issue that was a part of that crossover contained a chapter of the story behind this guy’s origins and holy Christ on a cracker I had forgotten how insane it was. He started out as some British nerd who built a machine that could accelerate the genetic evolution of living beings, and ended up (just before this issue came out) as a god begging the Hulk to beat him to death. In between, there were talking cows, duplicate Earths, ghosts of sixth-century wizards, spaceships, advanced aliens, and extra-terrestrial contractors. Bizarre. C-

Man, did they hype this guy to the hilt when I was a kid. There was this big mystery around who he really was; all the readers knew was that he was some bad-guy type who came across the original Green Goblin’s lair (you know, back when Norman Osborn was dead) and used the costumes and weapons he found to further his own nefarious ends. Flash Thompson was arrested at one point on suspicion of being the Hobgoblin, then Daily Bugle reporter Ned Leeds was either outed as him or framed for being him, I can’t recall. I’m pretty sure if Peter Parker owned a cat, the writers would have thrown suspicion its way by having Pete find some pumpkin bombs in its litter box. It’s how Marvel rolled back then. “The Hobgoblin also uses a heavily armored battle van designed by Norman Osborn.” There’s something about the mental image of a guy in a goblin mask pounding his steering wheel and fuming while stuck in crosstown traffic that tickles me in a happy place. B-

Howard the Duck
“The general populace refuses to believe Howard is a real talking duck, thinking of him instead as a dwarf in a duck suit.” Yes, because a populace that has seen spider-men, gods and mind-reading mutants strutting about can’t possibly be expected to believe in such a thing as a talking, cigar-chomping duck. It’s kind of a shame Steve Gerber’s greatest creation is forever linked to one of the biggest bombs in movie history; at the top of his game, Howard was satirical brilliance. If you’re wondering why he’s wearing pants, you can thank the lawyers for a certain entertainment mogul’s frozen corpse; for some strange reason, the House of Mouse decided there wasn’t enough room in the world for two pants-less cartoon ducks. Up, up, down, down, A, B, B, down, insert mandatory “then how come Donald always tied a towel around his waist after taking a shower,” done. B+

I was as big a John Byrne fan as anyone else in the mid-’80s, but someone involved in this project should have put their foot down when Byrne turned in this image for the Hulk’s entry. It’s simply awful, there’s no other word for it. It looks like someone drew the Hulk, placed Silly Putty over the image, stretched the putty sideways, then took a picture of it. Dammit, I’m not even sure if it really is the Hulk; he’s just standing there with his mouth hanging open while not smashing things. It’s right there in the catchphrase, people! Why isn’t he smashing??? Also: purple briefs? I will either see the tattered purple pants of my wayward youth or I shall say good day to you, sir. Good. Day. A-  for the character and his deserved status as one of Marvel’s heavy hitters, D for this entry because damn, people.

“If there’s something green/Smashin’ through your town/Who ya gonna call?/Hulkbusters!” I don’t think there’s a single member of my generation who ever will hear the word “busters” in any context and not make a “who ya gonna call” reference. It’s literally in our DNA; our grandkids will be born knowing what to do if they’re seeing things running through their heads. Anyway. This was an idea from the brief period that John Byrne took over the title; he had Banner and the Hulk physically separated so that Banner could join a team of specialists brought together by the military to capture or kill the Hulk. The demolitions guy and the geophysicist I can understand, but the marine scientist? In New Mexico? Your Reagan-era tax dollars at work, folks. C