Daily Archives: August 22, 2015

Making the Grade: Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition, Vol. 2


By the hoary hosts of Hoggoth! Is it time for another dip into The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Deluxe Edition? Why, yes — yes, it is. This time out: Volume Two, from Beast to Clea. 

Stop the presses; I’ve made a decision. I keep referring to the title of the series as The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Deluxe Edition and I’ve decided that’s a bit of a mouthful to type out all the time. On the other hand, calling it just “Handbook” doesn’t quite have the right zing.

So I’m going to go with OHOTMU, which is a handy abbreviation for the book’s title while also sounding like a cool name that Doctor Strange would invoke in one of his incantations: “By the olfactory orifices of Ohotmu!”  

Thank you for your time. We now return to our regularly scheduled shenanigans.



In most of these OHOTMU entries, you get a main image in which the character is just standing there and additional, smaller pieces of art that show that character in pulse-pounding action. Here, this charter member of the X-Men and longtime Avenger gets… a shot of him playing ping-pong. With his feet. By himself. Huh. I suppose I could go on a rant about how Hirsute-Americans are the real victims of oppression, but let’s be honest — when your catchphrase is “Oh my stars and garters!” you pretty much deserve to be mocked. Landing Kelsey Grammar was the best this guy could hope for. C-

“Abner Jenkins was a master mechanic at an aircraft parts factory who became dissatisfied with his boring, low-paying job,” so he used his “considerable mechanical knowledge” to build — by himself, mind you– a flying, strength-enhancing armored suit, complete with finger blasters, suction-cup gloves and a constantly replenishing power supply. And does he sell this miracle of modern engineering to the military, or Tony Stark, or someone else with the means to make him obscenely rich? Heck, no! Instead, Jenkins opts for a life of costumed criminality by tangling with the Thing and the Human Torch. After getting his ass handed to him by them and by Spider-Man, he “decided to forego petty revenge and concentrate on the acquisition of wealth.” Which he did by… battling the Avengers. Sigh. Do they just not have career counselors in the Marvel universe? D+

Aside from having a name that always reminds me of Bosco, he’s yet another boring sorcerer who lusts after the entirely predictable goals of power and immortality, and he predictably tries to sell out Earth’s dimension to a bunch of elder demons but instead ends up trapped in a limbo-like dimension. Two noteworthy things: (1) he’s evil enough to kidnap a seven-year-old girl to be his apprentice and stupid enough to get his ass kicked by her when she turns 14 and (2) his main hench-demon, “S’ym,” bears a striking resemblance to a certain fictional aardvark. I never saw a story in which S’ym delivers a rambling anti-feminist screed to his readers, but I’m going to assume it happened. C-

Beta Ray Bill
Hell, yeah! Beta Ray Bill’s introduction has the honor of being the first story in Walt Simonson’s legendary Thor run, and that alone makes him awesome. Upping the awesomeness: he was (if memory serves) the first non-Thor character considered worthy of hefting Thor’s hammer, many years before that Vision punk hit theatres with his party trick. Also, his space ship is named “Skuttlebutt.” No, for real. Yes, his name makes him sound like a guy from the Deep South who’s really into retro VCR technology, but I don’t care. Aliens named Bill who fly around in ships named Skuttlebutt is what comics is about, dammit. A

AKA the Artist Formerly Known as Ms. Marvel. There’s no point in remembering her time as Binary — Lord knows the current editors at Marvel have long forgotten it, assuming they were even born back then — so I won’t waste time poking fun at the pseudo-science gibberish OHOTMU uses to explain how her Binary form drew energy from white holes in space. Instead, I’ll offer this observation: if you’re a comic company trying to make a big show of how female-empowering your new superhero is, then you might want to skip the part where she switches jobs from super-spy/NASA security chief to women’s magazine editor. That “seventh sense” intuition stuff (did I miss the sixth one in biology class?) is kind of iffy, too. B-

Black Bolt
“Real name: Blackagar Boltagon.” No, for real. They just came up with a cool superhero name and added nonsense syllables to the back end to construct his legal name. Imagine if every superhero followed this pattern. Doctorius Strangellium would team up with Spiderificous Mantorion and the Humanicious Torchangelus to save the world from Doctoropolois Doomanagar and Ultroncalifragilisticexpialidocious. I can’t imagine the letterers being too happy with that development. B

Black Cat
I never liked Black Cat. Peter Parker had enough women in his life, Spider-Man had enough batshit crazy in his life, and adding a batshit crazy woman to the cast seemed redundant. Plus, the writers could never land on a personality for her: in one issue she’s a loving crime-fighting partner, the next she’s hooking up with Kingpin and getting back to her cat-burgling days, and the next she’s trying to make Parker jealous by smacking lips with Flash Thompson. We learn here she “undertook a rigorous physical training program,” including black belts in karate and judo, so she could follow in her father’s cat-burglar footsteps. Maybe I don’t get the whole cat burglar thing, but isn’t not confronting people the whole point of being a cat burglar in the first place? C+


Black Crow
Another Native American superhero, and just like American Eagle he is a member of the Navajo nation. Maybe we should keep a tally to see if Marvel was aware of any other Native American options. Oh, and like pretty much every other Native American superhuman, his powers are mystical in nature and tied to his Native American heritage. You know, in the same way that Steve Rogers fights for justice as The Fightin’ Irish, or Ben Grimm as Mordecai the Super- Golem (fun fact: my spell check wants to correct that to “Camcorder the Super-Google”). Not a terrible concept, but the execution needed work; when your main purpose is to occasionally swoop in and give pep talks to Captain America, you’re veering dangerously close to Magical Negro territory. C+

Black King
Right, so, the Hellfire Club. Interesting fact: there really were a number of Hellfire Clubs back in the old days, but their members were more into wanton hedonism than ruling the world. Or maybe they tried ruling the world via wanton hedonism. Either way, the hedonism was the selling point. At any rate, I’m almost positive their ranks weren’t infiltrated by mutants with designs on global domination like self-made billionaire Sebastian Shaw, here looking distinctly non-Kevin Bacon-like in his profile. His power is the ability to absorb kinetic energy and convert it into superhuman strength and speed. And when X-Men members aren’t boosting his power levels by punching or stabbing him, he will (as the copy tells us) “punch walls repeatedly in order to build up his reserves of absorbed energy.” I bet that gets really annoying for everyone else in the office. C

Black Knight
Three goddamn pages for an Avenger who doesn’t have a hope in hell of appearing in any future Marvel movie. Why? Allow me to quote a distinguished expert on the matter: “He’s the master of an antiquated form of combat, just like Hawkeye. He’s a brilliant tactician and skilled fighter, just like Captain America. His magic sword and connection to Arthurian legends gives him a solid footing in the world of fantasy, just like Thor. He’s a brilliant scientist, just like Tony Stark and Bruce Banner. In the dictionary under ‘redundant,’ it says: ‘See redundant.'” D+

For the life of me, I will never understand how this tool made it into the upper ranks of Iron Man’s villains. He’s a guy with a whip. A fancy techno-whip, to be sure, but still: it’s a whip. Just figure out how long it extends, add a foot, then fly to that position and blast the moron with repulsor rays. Simple. Odd thing about his entry: the writers decided to give a shout-out to Blacklash’s school, the real-life Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute of Troy, NY. I would love to know how many engineering majors read that and thought, “Hey, that dude went to my school! Red Hawk pride!” D

Black Mamba
A former call girl turned deadly snake-themed assassin. I’m pretty sure I once saw a Lifetime movie with this exact same set-up. She joined the Serpent Society because she “savored the prospect of regular income,” but I thought the higher-class prostitutes already made decent scratch. It’s not like people go into that line of work for the kick-ass dental plan. Her preferred method of assassination leaves her victims “overwhelmed by ecstasy” as they die, but alas, it’s not by the method you’re thinking of right now. C


There’s nothing interesting about this Nova villain, so let me just ask this: why the costume? He’s a lab assistant who got sucked into a dark dimension and came back with the power to manipulate dark matter, a power that’s unstable and making him a little insane. Okay, fine, I get that. So he goes straight from the lab to committing robberies with his new powers because… reasons. Again, a bit hackneyed, but not entirely unbelievable. But at some point between the lab accident and his first heist, he either stops by a tailor’s shop or sews himself a set of duds that include big lightning bolts flying off his boots and mask. Which is odd, considering how his powers have nothing to do with lightning or electricity. Also odd? The name Blackout, which suggests darkness-hurling powers when instead he creates solid objects out of his “darkforce,” kind of like a reverse Green Lantern. Huh? D

Black Panther
Just so you know the score: Black Cat, aka “Selina Kyle’s lawyer is on Line 1,” gets two pages. Blackout, a nobody whose own creators probably forgot existed until someone revived him for that one episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., gets two pages. Black Knight, the most profoundly redundant Avenger ever put to paper, gets three. So how many pages does this guy — a fellow who leads an entire nation and has played a big role in several major storylines, to say nothing about his unique place in comic-book history — get? One. One stinkin’ page. It’s because he’s a king, isn’t it? Good grief, when will  you Americans get over your anti-monarchy attitudes? We get it, you don’t like taxation without representation! Stop living in the colonial past! Give a modern-day monarch his due! A

Black Queen
She’s another conniving Hellfire Club member who dresses like a dominatrix; her power is literally sucking the life out of other people. I’m betting big lunch money her face bears an uncanny resemblance to the ex-wife of a then-recently divorced Marvel staffer. C


Black Talon
The first Black Talon was a millionaire who secretly led a cult that BWHA HA HA HA HA ARE YOU FREAKIN’ KIDDIN’ ME HE’S DRESSED LIKE A GIANT ROOSTER! Ahem. What I meant to say is, while this may have been a fearsome choice of costume in whatever voodoo circles this zombie-raising zero moves in, it’s hard to take a super-villain seriously when his look reminds you of a certain colonel’s 11 herbs and spices. Base of operations is listed as “the New Orleans area” because downtown Boise would have been too obvious. “Voodoo is a religion that originated in Haiti.” WOW THANKS FOR THAT, MARVEL HANDBOOK! D-

Black Widow
Now, I am not made of stone, and I can appreciate Ms. Johansson’s considerable attributes as much as the next red-blooded Avengers fan. But for me, there is only one Black Widow, the Frank Miller-era version shown here: short-cropped hair, all-grey bodysuit, spider logo strategically placed on her chest as if daring you to stare at it too long. Plus her lousy taste in men (tool of the state Red Guardian, easily-toyed-with Hawkeye, certifiable headcase Daredevil) means that theoretically I would have a shot with her if she weren’t, you know, fictional. Only thing that bugs me is summed up in the schematics for her “Widow’s Bite” and “Widow’s Line” wrist doohickeys. Those sound like pretty handy tools for someone in the espionage business, to the point where you wonder why they aren’t mass-produced and made standard issue for every S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. What, did the engineer who invented them also die from a Nazi’s bullet? Because we’re only going to let that convenient shit slide so many times before we call you on it, Marvel. A

Indestructible lummox with nuclear-blast fingertips who shows up once in a while to give the Fantastic Four a workout. You don’t always need a complicated character to have a good time. “He remains a deadly threat to Earth as well.” Damn straight, Skippy. B


Blaze, Johnny
What what what??? A horizontal piece of art for an OHOTMU entry instead of a vertical one? Oh, the fistfights that must have broken out in the bullpen over that editorial decision. Anyone who watched Ghost Rider the movie and lived to tell the tale knows how this goes down: young motorcycle stunt rider eager to save disease-ridden father figure agrees to sell his soul to the devil in exchange for a cure… only to watch his mentor die in a fiery crash instead. Whoops. Where the comic and the movie part ways is the involvement of Blaze’s girlfriend; while Movie Roxanne grows up to become a TV reporter so bad at her job April O’Neil would have smacked her upside the head, Comic Book Roxanne is the one who saves Blaze’s soul with a well-timed incantation, causing the devil-entity to spitefully graft the Ghost Rider demon onto Blaze’s soul before taking his leave. The first series wasn’t actually that terrible a book near the end, providing a contained narrative arc that wrapped up nicely and gave the couple a well-deserved happily-ever-after. For a while, anyway. This is Marvel, after all,  and Marvel don’t do happy. B

He’s a mutant and he’s really fat, so his powers are based on his fatness. A bit predictable, but you have to admire the way he makes it work for him. His two super-powers are his fat can repel anything that’s thrown at it and no force on Earth can move him once he’s anchored himself, the latter making him remarkably similar to a lot of people I knew in college. The text goes out of its way to tell us “the Blob does not truly possess superhuman strength,” but then right underneath that line there’s a bit of art showing the Blob knocking Colossus on his ass by lifting up a concrete floor with his bare hands. So… yeah, ace continuity there, guys. B-

I don’t want to talk about his boomerangs or why he went with the boring name “Boomerang” or why his costume is literally just a unitard with boomerangs stuck all over it (say what you will about the costuming choices of other boomerang-based villains, at least they showed some panache). Instead, let’s talk about boot jets. We get a lot of detail here about how Boomerang controls them (mentally, through cybernetic circuitry in his cowl), how fast he can fly, how long he can stay aloft, etc. Everything, that is, except where he got this presumably expensive mode of transport on a freelance assassin’s salary… or how the hell he maneuvers in midair without looking like an idiot… or why boot jets are even a desirable asset in a world where most of the good guys can fly and chase after you. I’m guessing a fast-talking boot jet salesman leaning heavily on the impotence imagery came into the story somewhere. C-

You know you’re not dealing with the most thrilling of characters when a good two-thirds of his entry talks about the revenge schemes and resurrection wishes of other people. Here’s all you need to know: legless engineer make big robot go boom. Also? At one point in his career, Roger Bochs (yes, really) “returned to his ordinary life in Saskatchewan.” As if any other kind of life is possible in Saskatchewan.” (I kid, I kid. Go, Rough Riders!) C

Brothers Grimm
“Occupations: Realtors.” Huh, you don’t ever expect realtors to commit  costumed acts of villainy. Actually, there’s a really convoluted backstory (as if there’s any other kind in a Marvel book) involving an ancient demon, a magic mountain and one of Iron Man’s lame-ass villains getting his “life essence” trapped in two mannequins with magical powers. As one would. “Eventually Dolly desired to possess a real human body rather than exceedingly lifelike mannequins.” Having seen a few undressed store mannequins in my day, I completely understand. C


Brother Voodoo
People either hate this guy or complain that he’s not in that Doctor Strange movie that’s coming out next year — there doesn’t seem to be any middle ground. All I’ll say is this: (1) If he really is “Haiti’s houngan supreme and champion of the land,” then I sure as hell hope the Haiti in the Marvel universe is faring a lot better than the Haiti in ours. (2) He looks pretty buff for someone who “engages in moderate regular exercise.” (3) He has the ability to command living things through a mystic form of hypnotism, with his control dependent on the living thing’s level of intelligence; we’re told “even plants will obey his mystic coercion, although their immobility tends to limit their usefulness.” Pfft, plants. Fucking useless, amirite? B-

This contender in the Marvel Villain Whose Name Would Also Make a Great Porn Title sweepstakes is yet another member of the Serpent Society. He’s a quadriplegic who, through unknown methods, had bionic arms and a serpentine tail attached to his body, courtesy of the crappiest HMO ever. “While in battle with MODOK, Bushmaster had his artificial arms severed.” And that is why you do not mess with MODOK. D+

Caliban reminds me a lot of Elmo from Sesame Street: wide-eyed, simple-minded, and his debut happened right around the time the franchise started going to hell. Well, not really. But the period in X-Men history in which Caliban first appeared (Uncanny X-Men #148) is clearly when X-Men writer Chris Claremont started to lose it. One minute, it was all “Dark Phoenix Saga” this and “Days of Future Past” that, and the next it’s Morlocks and mutant wars and clones and goblin queens and Angel getting his wings torn off and it’s too painful to talk about. If there’s a way to blame Caliban for all that, I’m for it. D

Like I just said. The X-Men went from battling genocidal terrorists and omnipotent space entities to fighting a chick with an eyepatch whose mutant power was superhuman senses. Which really doesn’t sound like a blessing when you choose to live in a Manhattan sewer. C-

He’s one of the original New Mutants who, despite his lack of personality or interesting powers (he flies like a cannonball, natch), has carved himself a decent career over the years. What blows my mind is how he discovered his powers; the son of a Kentucky coal miner, he first manifested his powers when a mine cave-in trapped him and his co-workers underground. So… how old was he when he started working in the mines? Because the New Mutants were all teenagers when they showed up at Xavier’s school, and I’m assuming that cave-in didn’t happen on his first day on the job. So he was, what, 13 or 14 when he first put on the hardhat? I knew life was hard for people in the hills, but…. damn. C+

Captain America
Considering he was the franchise for many years (and still a major-league draw), it’s kind of surprising Cap only gets two pages. One-and-two-thirds, really, when you consider his shield gets space to relay vital information like the fact its straps are held on with standard stainless steel 0.635-inch inner diameter C-rings (none of that metric crap; the ‘A’ doesn’t stand for France, goddammit). Oh sure, there are two more pages to tell us about his motorcycle, his tricked-out van (not much room in there for entertaining, Steve… just sayin’) and the Captain America hotline (“If the Red Skull has enslaved your hometown, Press 1…”), but still. I guess it goes to show you don’t need a lot of fancy words when you’ve got a classic origin story. Plus, it could have been much worse; they could have printed this issue after Rob Liefeld had gotten his greasy mitts on Cap, so I am definitely not complaining. A


Captain Britain
I love the pose they gave this guy. “Oi! You lads over there! What’s all this, then?” Unlike Captain America, who owes his powers to the American military-industrial complex, Captain Britain was granted his powers by Merlin, because it’s Britain and Christ forbid it be anything but Merlin. There’s mention of the Crusades and Camelot and alternate dimensions and “mystical micro-circuitry” and yeah on the whole Excalibur was definitely a step up for this guy. C+

Captain Marvel
No, not that one, the other one. No, the other one. Sigh. Okay, it’s like this. The first Captain Marvel was the guy in the red suit who said “Shazam!” a lot; he got the legal smackdown from Superman’s lawyers. Marvel Comics, seeing the copyright ripe for the taking, nabbed the Captain Marvel name for one of its cosmic heroes in the ’60s; he died nobly in (spoiler alert!) The Death of Captain Marvel in 1982. That left the name back up for grabs, so Marvel held on to it by giving it to this spanking new hero, a black New Orleans police officer who acquires the ability (through the usual “Science!” hand-waving) to transform herself into any form of energy on the electromagnetic spectrum. Her other superhuman power is the ability to not bitch about having to give up her superhero name to a presumptuous white dude, which happened not once but twice. B-


Captain Ultra

Captain Universe
They got Ditko back for this? I mean, sure, there might be some storytelling potential in a random form of energy that flies around giving ordinary people super-powers in times of crisis… but why? Where did it come from? How does it choose who gets to wield it? How do the people who receive the power know how to use it? Is there a greater purpose behind the energy’s existence? DC did an interesting take on the whole “what it’s really like for ordinary people to receive powers” idea when they revived the Dial H for Hero concept a few years back; I can see that kind of thing working here, assuming it hasn’t already been tried. As it is, it sounds like something Ditko dreamed up after a night of too much tequila and Atlas Shrugged. D

Cassidy, Black Tom
First, mad props to anyone who resists the urge to come up with a cutesy codename and go with something that makes them sound like a pirate. Arrrr! Black Tom, cousin of White Sean, had a pretty generic mutant power (force and heat blasts) and, judging by the image here, a highly questionable sense of fashion. He also spirited away Sean’s infant child when her mother died in an explosion; he was able to get away with it because Sean was unaware he had fathered a child at the time, and his family and friends assumed the baby had also perished in the blast. Here’s the part I don’t get: “Those who knew Theresa had been born decided not to inform Sean Cassidy that Maeve [his wife] had had a daughter to spare him additional grief when he returned and learned of Maeve’s death.” One: I’ve known a few Irish folks in my time, and it’s hard to believe all of Sean’s people would have stayed silent about a juicy tragedy like that. Two: assuming the crib and other baby-related items didn’t also go up in the blast, you’d think something would have tipped off Sean, the ace Interpol agent, that he was a father. Ah, well. B-

Cassidy, Sean
“The Banshee could use his sonic powers to… place human beings temporarily into a hypnotic trance, or to cause human brings to fall temporarily unconscious.” You might know him better by his stage name, “Michael Bolton” (rimshot). Other fun facts: he listed his then-current occupation as “retired gentleman of leisure” (nice work if you can get it), and he was once forced to work for the head of a criminal organization called Mutant Master, a criminal who was later revealed to an extraterrestrial because of course he was. There’s also a weird piece of incidental art here with someone, presumably Cassidy wearing his Interpol togs, in a showdown with someone wearing Old West gear in what looks like an Old West film set. Is any of this explained? Nope. Was this a pivotal moment in Cassidy’s life? Maybe. All we really know for sure is this: “togs” is a funny word. B

Oh, man. You know if you see the phrase “possess untold cosmic power” in the first sentence then you’re in for a Kirby of a good time. These spacefaring giants decked out in Kirby-brand leisurewear are as powerful as they are mysterious, and they tend to show up at crucial points in a species’ evolution to determine if they are worthy of survival, probably using the same calendar that Axl Rose uses to schedule album release dates. We’re told Celestials have visited Earth in the past, the most recent just a few years ago when they judged humanity fit to survive. Thankfully, this happened long before TLC started promoting its reality show line-up. We also get a few images of some of the Celestials who have been identified by name. Hargen the Measurer probably didn’t have much fun convincing the other Celestials to convert to metric, but I bet Oneg the Prober really enjoyed his work. B

Chief Examiner
Anyone remember Questprobe? It was an early attempt at computer gaming that involved Marvel superheroes, and it never really got off the ground. Which is why it’s genuinely baffling to see an entry for the game’s Chief Examiner here. I mean, yes, there were a couple of tie-in comics, but there was never any indication (as far as I can recall) that the Questprobe adventures took place in the “official” Marvel universe, so… yeah, weird. Well, at least we’re about to get some answers, right? Let’s see… “Real name: Unknown.” “Identity: Secret.” “Weight: Unknown.” “Strength Level: Unknown.” “Legal status: Apparently a citizen of a distant planet whose name has not yet been revealed.” Okay, so now Gruenwald is just messing with us. D

chi-THON? CHITH-on? SHITH-in? DAY-ton, o-HI-o? It’s funny how DC’s Who’s Who assumed we needed help pronouncing complicated words like “Croc” but this elder demon’s moniker is apparently supposed to just roll off our tongues. He’s presented as something akin to the ultimate evil, a demon whose foul Darkhold book is powerful enough to shrivel the souls foolish enough to read it (original working title: Fifty Shades of Grey)… but honestly he comes off as a bit of a wanker. He high-tails it to a nether dimension the minute one of Gaea’s kids starts slaying demons, and his schemes to escape back into our realm involve possessing the Scarlet Witch. Uh-huh. He chose her because of something to do with where she was born, or so he says. Me, I’m thinking he just wanted to explore his feminine side, maybe go shopping at Bergdorf’s before the big showdown with Doctor Strange. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. C+

Circus of Crime
Yes, yes, yes a million times yes! I’ve mentioned these lovable yutzes before when discussing teams that were really committed to a central theme, but I’ll take any opportunity to mention them again. They’re circus performers who are super-villains! How awesome is that? I especially love this part: “The Circus of Crime performs under different names so that audiences will not suspect they are the Circus of Crime.” “Hey, Maude, there’s a circus comin’ to town, wanna go see?” “Which one?” “Says here ‘definitely not the Circus of Crime if that’s what you’re thinking.'” “Oh. All right, then.” There are also short entries for some of the performers; the fire-eater and acrobats I can see committing grand larceny, but I’m still trying to figure out how the human cannonball (“Place of birth: Burbank, California”) uses his particular skill set for crime. B+

Can I just say how much I enjoyed Paul Smith’s art back in the day? Is he still around? Hold on while I Google that. Now, then. Doctor Strange’s longtime disciple-with-benefits is a comely member of an other-dimensional race who (at the time of this writing) deposed her evil mother to become ruler of the oh-so-imaginatively named Dark Dimension. “As the daughter of Umar, a member of the extradimensional Faltine race, Clea has a body whose density is somewhat greater than that of an Earth human. As a result, she weighs more than an Earth woman of the same height and build would.” This of course explains her absolutely mammoth-like proportions of 5’8″ and 190 lbs. Sigh B