Making the Grade: Elders of the Universe


All right, return your Enterprise captain’s chair to the upright position, because things are about to get geeky real fast. The Elders of the Universe is a collection of powerful cosmic beings occasionally brought into Marvel stories as a way to stir up the shite without worrying too much about things like “plot” or “motivation.” Their shtick was that each Elder was the last survivor of a long-extinct alien race, and each discovered the secret to long life is engaging in the fanatical pursuit of a personal obsession. Given the fact they were dreamed up by comic writers writing stories for comic readers, it should come as no surprise to anyone that the first Elder to make an appearance was the Collector, an alien who criss-crossed the galaxy to… well, collect things, basically. Apparently, the message “spending a lifetime in pursuit of collecting objects for your personal amusement may lead to everlasting life” tested extremely well with focus groups. B


According to his bio, the Grandmaster — who coincidentally (or not) resembles Bob Barker doing a guest-star gig on Babylon 5 — “has mastered most civilizations’ games of skill and chance.” Somehow I thought gaining immortality and godlike powers would involve something cooler than spending eons coming up with winning strategies for Operation, Candyland and Hungry Hungry Hippos, but I guess that’s why he’s the immortal one and I’m still shuffling on mortal coils. He was always coming to Earth and pitting heroes against villains in staged battles for his amusement because shut up we’re on a deadline and we already used Galactus twice this month, that’s why. He’s also the mover and shaker behind Contest of Champions, Marvel’s first big crossover event, so feel free to give him a hug/knee to the groin if you ever get to meet him in person. B-


Not to be confused with the Collector, who was obsessed with obtaining physical objects of unique value, the Possessor was driven to gather and record all knowledge in the universe. Why? Who knows? But if anyone does, chances are it’s him. He probably wins the prize for the weirdest career story: once a humble librarian on a distant planet, he came across an alien artifact called the Runestaff, powered it up and accidentally dispatched the life forces of hundreds of thousands of students and faculty at his university into a limbo dimension, an act that drove him insane (and probably put a huge damper on that weekend’s homecoming game, too). Then, millions of years later, Hercules and Thor’s lady friend borrowed the staff to save someone’s life and left it forgotten in a hospital broom closet for months before the Possessor reclaimed it and used its power to restore his sanity and his people. Two questions: (1) Where are these hospitals in which alien artifacts of immense power can lie unnoticed amid their janitorial supplies for months at a time, and how can I avoid not getting sick near them? (2) So he possesses all the knowledge in the universe but somehow can’t access the Tim Gunn portion to know the “shredded Glad bag” fashion statement is a bad choice? Okay, then. C-


Since we’re talking about nigh-omnipotent beings who toy with the lives of mere mortals as if we’re all ants under a cosmic magnifying glass, I half-expected “Gardener” to be a cute euphemism for a godlike being that likes to play God by breeding and nurturing superior races, with the unworthy ones thrown into Galactus’s slop bucket. But no, this is a bona fide case of truth in labeling: the Gardener gardens, and nothin’ but. He wants nothing to do with amassing power, knowledge or collectibles, preferring to spend his eons traveling across the universe and terraforming planets into paradises wherever he goes. Which is no doubt appreciated by the locals, I’m sure, but you have to wonder how Marvel’s writers in the ’70s ever thought this cosmic Johnny Appleseed would ever make a decent sparring opponent for the Hulk. Sometimes it feels like Marvel’s writers don’t think much of the big guy. C

Uch, talk about predictable. “He fights, he fights, he fights, he fights, he fights, fight fight FIGHT, fight fight FIGHT, the Itchy and Champion Shooooow!” When you have a character whose very essence is to show up and start fighting because it’s a Marvel comic and someone has to start the punching, you’ve pretty much scraped the bottom of the inspiration barrel. This lummox, who devoted countless millennia to perfecting his physical form and mastering every type of combat in the universe, first appeared in an old Marvel Two-in-One annual where the entire 40 pages was literally just the Thing and every other tough guy in the Marvel universe getting their hats handed to them by the Champion — but he was moved enough by the Thing’s fighting spirit to end the fight and leave Earth to go punch the lights of some other species. If I really wanted to watch the adventures of some overgrown steroid case out to show just to show how much bigger and stronger he is than everyone else, I’d time-travel back to my sixth-grade schoolyard. The fact I have no desire to do so should tell you something, Marvel. D-

He runs. And… well, that’s it, really. Although when you really think about it, “running” would seem to imply some sort of contact between one’s feet and a surface; the Runner seems to be more into “flying through space really fast while wiggling his legs back and forth in a scissor-like motion,” but I’ll let the Olympic judges rule on that one. Hard to hate him, though, since his only reason for existing is to run around and see every corner of the universe, unlike certain other Elders who think eternity is best spent cleaning blood off their knuckles or scanning eBay for Hummel figurines. Then there was that classic story from the early ’90s in which the Runner gathers all the speedsters in the Marvel universe for a race, but everyone loses to a blond-haired and scruffy fellow named “Buried Alien” who doesn’t remember where he came from, but we find out it was an alternate universe (hint, hint). That was fun. B

Okay, so, it’s like this. It’s late, I’m out of jokes, so let’s just do what every high school student with a book report due does and crib straight from Wikipedia: “Tath Ki first appeared in modern times under the alias Mister Buda… He can achieve a meditative state that enables him to become one with the universe, granting him cosmic awareness… Quasar gave the Contemplator an energy bubble, which would allow him to be tracked if need be. The Contemplator put it in his belly button.” So, we’re dealing with a vastly powerful Buddha-like being who spends eternity pondering life’s mysteries while also using his belly button as a fanny pack. Yeah, I think we’re done here. D

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