Making the Grade: Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition, Vol. 3

handbook3

Oh, my stars and garters! As a Marvel Bullpen Bulletin headline might put it, it’s time for More Magnificent Marvel Madness, in the form of another look back at The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Deluxe Edition. This week: Volume Three, from Cloak to Doctor Octopus. 

You might have noticed I haven’t had much to say so far about the covers for these OHOTMU issues, mostly because there’s really not much you can say about them. The covers for DC’s Who Who had characters interact with each other in various ways: chatting, flirting with each other, facing each other in battle, and so on. By contrast, the OHOTMU covers feature characters walking, flying or leaping in a never-ending conga line from left to right.

The gimmick was that you could take all the covers from the series and line them up end to end to see one giant picture showing the oddest parade that ever marched down the street. Which… I guess is interesting? The problem with that approach is that it resulted in very static-looking covers, with the only thing you can say about them is (as an example) Doctor Doom and Daredevil were apparently bigger stars at Marvel than the floating Buddha dude in the top corner of the back page.

DC’s characters were playing with possibilities and just having fun; Marvel’s characters were literally receiving their marching orders. I was never one of those comic nerds who took sides in the Marvel vs. DC debate — both companies obviously have their stars and dogs — but this was one instance in which DC simply got it. 

Excelsior!

handbook-cloak
Cloak

AKA “Rick Leonardi gets an early start on his weekend by spilling blank ink on the page and drawing an outline of a cape around it.” Though to be fair to Rick, this is pretty much how Cloak always looked. He got his powers from injections of illegal narcotics, which makes you wonder how powerful Keith Richards must be. Later, someone realized how moronic that origin sounded and decided the stress of the drugs in his system triggered his latent mutant power to appear as a shadow and suck people into a dark dimension. Of course! And it’s totally believable that the white chick standing next to him in the unwilling drug-trial participant line-up was also a mutant whose light-based powers were triggered by the exact same adverse drug reaction! We believed anything they told us back then, and we didn’t care. B-

Cloud
Oh, sweet Jesus in the garden. There is nothing I can say that can possibly convey the nigh-unspeakable insanity of this character. Forget eggs and frying pans; this is your brain on drugs. My fave part of this entry is where a sentient nebula asked a sentient “cosmic cube” for advice on how to tackle the problem of disappearing stars in its distant galaxy, and the cube says (probably in a thick Yiddish accent, because why not), “Hey, you know who you should call? That Captain America mensch on Earth. He’s got a shield and everything!” Second fave part: the way he/she/it fought crime buck naked except for cloud wisps covering his/her/its naughty bits. Utterly deranged, and not in the good way. D-

Cobra
We’ve already met a few members of the Serpent Society; meet one of the few who actually didn’t suck. The pride of Rotterdam, Klaus Voorhees was totally old school. After receiving his powers from irradiated cobra venom, he could wriggle himself into tight spaces and squeeze the life out of victims via his “cobra grip.” He took his Oscar-and-Felix routine with Mr. Hyde on the road for a while before he discovered the benefits of hanging with other snake-themed villains who frankly weren’t as cool as him. A-

Collector
I did a list about the Elders of the Universe a while back in which I said it’s easy to believe comic readers would dig the concept of a dude attaining immortality via collecting things. The entry goes out of its way to confirm his obsession with collecting meant he didn’t focus his energies on developing his body or mind, and I’m sure we all know someone who fits that description. There’s also a drawing of the “temporal assimilator” the Collector uses as a weapon that doesn’t contain any extraneous technobabble like every other depiction of a weapon or vehicle in this series. Way to drop the ball, Eliot R. Brown! C

Colossus
“Rah rah Rasputin, Russia’s greatest love machine…” It’s hard for me to have any feelings one way or the other about this guy; he was just sort of there. He was Chekhov’ed into the X-Men book to give it some international flavor, but aside from the occasional “Bozhe moi!” his Russian-ness was never a big deal. His power is kind of cool, if I’m being honest — who wouldn’t find it handy to turn their body parts into an “organic steel-like substance” on command? I mean, hailing taxis alone… The only weird thing I don’t understand in his bio is the part where it says “his endurance and speed are somewhat greater in armored form.” I would very much like to know how adding several hundred pounds of armor to your physical form makes you run faster. C+

Constrictor
Here’s all you really need to know about the Constrictor: his name is Frank Schlichting and he was born in Racine, Wisconsin. The only place in the world that you would ever run into a guy named Frank Schlichting would be Wisconsin. Or possibly Chicago. Also, his marital status is listed as “Divorced.” And now all I can think about is whether his penchant for wearing snake costumes and wrapping the Hulk in adamantium cables had anything to do with the former Mrs. Schlichting packing her bags. C-

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Contemplator

Uch. I wrote about this guy when I graded the Elders of the Universe and my opinions haven’t changed: “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

Controller
Another classic example of Marvel overkill. This Iron Man foe is a hideously scarred scientist who discovered how to mentally control people via “control disks” that somehow also transferred his victims’ “cerebral energies” to him, and he used this discovery for revenge and personal enrichment. So far, so good. But because every bloody Marvel story has to feature a knock-’em-down, all-out slugfest, he also gets a “permanently affixed exoskeleton” to help him go toe to toe with Iron Man or Captain Marvel. Restraint, people. It’s sometimes a good thing. You don’t see the Penguin going full-out mecha whilst terrorizing Gotham, do you? No, because he doesn’t have to. C-

Corruptor
Another baddie with the power to subvert wills, his abilities came to him via the awesomeness of Big Pharma. After an accidental chemical dousing in a factory changed the color of his skin and hair and unhinged his mind, he decided to use his insanity-causing powers to become a crime boss and… all right, who’s the wise guy who thought I wouldn’t notice a Joker origin rip-off when I saw it? Bad Marvel editors! Bad! D-

Corsair
The father of Scott “Cyclops” Summers and Alex “Havok” Summers, Major Christopher Summers was a U.S. Air Force pilot who became a space pirate and rebel leader against an evil empire after alien spaceships shot at his plane. Three guesses which movie came out around the time he showed up. I have no opinion whatsoever about him or the rest of his Starjammers crew, basically because their appearance in an X-Men story was generally my cue to wander over and see what was happening in Spider-Man’s books. C-

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Cottonmouth
Not a whole lot of background info on this yet another member of the Serpent Society, probably so we could get a closer look at his frankly disturbing jaw-opening abilities. “He has a jaw that is specially hinged like that of a real snake, enabling his mouth to open larger than the size of a human head.” Sure, but which human’s head? A baby’s head? Tony Stark’s? Donald Trump’s? Specifics, people, specifics! C

Crimson Dynamo
AKA “Communist Iron Man.” That’s literally all you need to know. Iron Man debuted at the height of the Cold War, so it’s only natural the Russkies would respond in kind when an American capitalist running dog invented a walking WMD. The reason why Crimson Dynamo never made it into the Iron Man film trilogy (besides obviously outdated geopolitics) is the fact there were, as of this issue’s writing, five different men inside the suit, all of them more boring than the last. C-

Crossfire
This is a guy who joined the CIA for the specific purpose of learning how not to get caught by the CIA when embarking on his international criminal career, so right away you know this is a guy who takes the long view in life. Figuring that superhumans posed a threat to his business interests, he decided to use ultrasonic technology to brainwash superheroes into battling each other. It’s actually a neat idea for a character, one that’s only ruined by the decision to dress him in a skintight costume that makes him look like a blood clot with a Swiss flag fetish. So close, and yet not. D+

Crusader
This is one of Thor’s dumber villains that I mentioned a while back; he’s an ex-seminary student who received a Crusader’s weapons and raiments after having a freaky religious experience and used them to wage war against “godless” pagans and blasphemers. First item on his smite list: the mighty Thor. And now you can see why there wasn’t a second check box. D

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Crystal

Okay, I gotta ask: did we ever find out what the black stripey thing on her head really was? Was it part of her natural hair color, or some freaky Inhuman hair accessory? Inquiring minds want to know. Also, in a society with first names like Quelin, Karnak, Agon and Rynda, how did she end up with a hot-Southern-chick name like Crystal? Ah well. All that really matters is she was the ultimate Last Airbender long before air-bending was cool, mastering the elements of earth, wind, water and fire like nobody’s business. All that and she was va-va-voomilicious in her snazzy yellow jumper. That Terrigen Mist did her a solid. B

Cybele
She’s an Eternal who “evinced no interest in participating in the great events of Eternals history,” had no interest in acting as queen when she held that title, never gave much effort to honing her natural cosmic energy-fueled powers, and spends her days living in a forest while using her mental powers to hide from human eyes. She couldn’t have been less of an interesting protagonist if they had drawn her sitting on her couch and eating Cheetos while watching daytime talk shows. But hey, she rocks the sexy swimsuit she’s wearing so let’s give her a full page. Immortality is wasted on some people. D

Cyclops
Every team needs a dick. Not a bad guy, per se, just someone whose devotion to the rules, humorless demeanor and self-pitying mewling makes him less than lovable in comparison to the other, more fun-loving teammates. Cyclops ably fills this role in the X-Men, and then some. Even having the extreme good fortune to bang Jean Grey and Emma Frost didn’t loosen him up or make him any less of a self-pitying loser. Yeah, yeah, you lost your parents in a plane crash and you were left alone in the world, but the same thing happened to Peter Parker and you don’t see him constantly moaning about how much his life sucks, do you? All right, bad example. C

Cypher
Man, there was a lot of hate for this guy back in the day. And really, it’s not hard to figure out why: he’s not just super-talented at deciphering languages, he has the mutant power to decipher languages! And they can throw all the “psionic” and “intuitive” techno-babble they want; nobody picking up a Marvel comic ever dreams of becoming the human equivalent of Google Translate. I remember how, a few years after this entry was written, someone tried to expand his power set to include “interpreting” the body movements of other people, making him an ace at anticipating and countering the aggressive actions of his opponents. Here’s a .50-caliber bullet aimed at your head, Doug — interpret that. F

Dagger
Hmmm, tough one. She’s not yet of legal age, so any crass comments about her looks makes me a dirty old man. Her how-I-got-my-powers story makes no sense whatsoever (see Cloak above), but the duo’s origin story was always secondary to their role as metaphors for 1980s-era child exploitation and drug-war hysteria. The science behind her “light knives” makes no sense at all, with the writer(s) bending over backwards to avoid any overtly religious explanations, and there’s not much to her personality-wise other than she failed to leave her life of on-the-run vigilantism because she was “convinced that only Cloak truly loves her.” So let’s talk about the elephant sitting on the table: given the inherently parasitical relationship between her and Cloak (i.e., he needs her “light” to avoid being consumed by his own powers), doesn’t this whole set-up feel a tiny bit… well, racist? You know what, never mind, forget I ever brought it up. Hey, let’s talk about the cool circle around her eye! C

Daily Bugle
“There are loading docks in the rear of the building, reached by a back alley.” Do you get the feeling the OHOTMU writers didn’t spend a lot of time worrying about whether their readers gave a shit about vital details like this? C

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Daredevil

We just ain’t gonna make fun of Mama Murdock’s boy, a’ight? Okay, maybe just a little: “‘Battling Murdock’ was very successful under the Fixer’s management, but did not realize all of his fights had been ‘fixed’ by Sweeney.” Despite the fact the dude’s name was, y’know, the Fixer. This is the means by which we establish Matt’s law-school smarts clearly came from his mother’s side. Also? If you haven’t already, go watch that Netflix series because my God they just nailed it. A

Darkstar
I’m struggling to find anything remotely interesting to say about her. Kidnapped at birth to serve the Soviet state? Been there. A mutant whose powers came from irradiated parents? Done that. The power to manipulate dark matter and travel through the “darkforce dimension”? Cloak, Nightshade, Shroud and Blackout all bought that T-shirt. Um… she looks hot? That’s something, I guess. C-

Dazzler
Dazzler’s existence is a testament to the spirit of never letting a designed-by-committee corporate creation die. She started out as a naked cash grab, a way for Marvel to capitalize on the disco craze of the ’70s, but it didn’t quite work out as planned. Despite guest spots in the X-Men’s book and hosting her own series (which lasted a lot longer than anyone had any right to expect), she never really set the world on fire. It’s probably just as well — converting sound into light is kind of a dumb power, even more so when you use it mainly to create dazzling light shows during concerts. Oh, and she also “occasionally wears a woman’s size eight pair of roller skates,” in case you were looking for gift ideas. C-

Death
This is one of those times where Marvel really fell down on the job compared to DC. DC’s Death is a perky, highly marketable Goth chick with a penchant for ankhs and bare midriffs; Marvel’s Death is a purple-robed skeleton that plays chess with cosmic old farts. This is not how we move the merchandise down at the Android’s Dungeon, people. D

Deathbird
Hmmm, oldest daughter of an alien emperor who’s denied her birthright in favour of a younger sibling and so she leads an army to take by force what she feels is rightfully hers… I wonder who came first, this gal or Blackfire from the Teen Titans? Either way, she’s from “a race of mammal-like humanoids descended from bird-like creatures,” which explains the wings, talons, sizable gazongas and sturdy, child-bearing hips. James Audubon would approve. B-

handbook-deathlok
Deathlok

Long before he kicked ass and chewed gum on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Deathlok was already pretty fly; a soldier from an alternate-reality Earth, he was mortally injured and given new life as a cyborg, which meant he was constantly fighting others for the right to exert his free will. It was a decent set-up and he enjoyed a few reality-hopping adventures, but we don’t have room to get into all that because we’ve got: technical specifications! Whoo! Fun fact the first: IBM and BASF are listed among the major contractors for Project: Deathlok. Fun fact the second: the computer in his skull houses a “central processing unit” and “stereo imaging digitizer” but no evident Bluetooth or USB ports. Fun fact the third: his filtration system “requires servicing every 2-3 years of normal respiration.” But don’t let them talk you into touching up the undercoating when you go in; that’s just a scam. B

Death-Throws
Super-villain jugglers. Need I say any more? No, I need not. D-

Deathurge
“He may or may not be a supernatural being such as a demon or ghost. He may or may not be an abstract entity like Master Order or the In-Betweener. He may or may not be a physical being granted new life in a quasi-physical form such as the Eternal Chronos or Drax the Destroyer.” I may or may not be wondering why the hell I’m reading this. C-

Demons
Things I learned while reading this entry:

1. Demons are supernatural entities predisposed to evil. You don’t say!

2. There are three basic types: elder Earth demons, fallen gods, or dwellers of other, less pleasant dimensions. And God help you if you ever get them mixed up at a cocktail party.

3. There are also a whole bunch of extra-dimensional evil mothers whose true origins are a mystery, so sucks to be you if you really care about whether Dormammu should be classified as a demon.

4. On the whole, most Marvel artists didn’t really give a shit when it came to giving these poozers a distinctively scary look. Pointy ears! Fireball noggins! Snake tongues! Um…. eek? I guess? C

Destiny
This being a book that came out in 1985, we don’t get the details about Destiny’s personal life other than she’s a “longtime friend of Mystique.” It’s not a big deal now, but trust me when I say the revelation regarding her relationship with Mystique caused quite the hubbub back in the day. “Lesbian superheroes? Goodness gracious, what’s next? Lesbian golfers?” If you were somehow worried the writers wouldn’t find a way to stretch “she can see the future” into an impenetrable block of 350-word text, then I’ve got great news for you. C

Deviants
Like the Inhumans, this was an offshoot of humanity created by aliens mucking with the DNA of prehistoric humans, only instead of super-powers the aliens bestowed them with freakishly grotesque appearances and greatly reduced sex drives. I’m guessing interns were in the lab that day. Once a race of millions, the remaining few thousand Deviants live hidden from human eyes, though some have ventured out into the world: “Even today some Deviants have infiltrated human society; a number have even become professional wrestlers.” That… explains a lot, actually. C

Diablo
Diablo is a good example of the kind of super-villain that frankly drives me crazy. He’s a ninth-century Spanish noble who unlocked the secrets of alchemy and then, after a spat with his superstitious neighbors, got himself trapped inside a crypt until the 20th century, when he busted out and proceeded to butt horns with the Fantastic Four. We’re told he “has plagued humanity on several occasions,” but there’s nothing in this entry explaining what he wants or why he thinks tussling with the Human Torch will advance his goals. I mean… he’s got an elixir for “prolonged life and vitality,” for Christ’s sake. He can open his cocktail manual and mix up potions to change his appearance, place others under his hypnotic control, animate inanimate matter, or create non-living beings formed from water, wind, earth or fire. Oh yeah, and there’s also the whole TRANSMUTE ELEMENTS INTO ANYTHING HE WANTS thing. I’m sure even in medieval Spain they had a basic understanding of supply and demand; how in the seven hells did he not end up with all the money when he woke up from his nap? Lex Luthor would drop-kick this bitch into the next county for being so stupid, and rightly so. D

Diamondback
Yet another member of the Serpent Society, with the added twist of having no super-powers at all. Wait, what? Yes, you heard right: at some point in her life, young Rachel Leighton looked at all her career options and decided throwing fake diamonds at MODOK was the life for her. Frankly, there was little that wasn’t ridiculous about her, from her magenta hair to her stiletto heels to her decision to carry razor-sharp weapons inside her boots and gloves. But her later romance with Captain America proved one thing: even Cap isn’t above tapping crazy. C-

handbook-docsamson
Doc Samson

Wow, Doc Samson is kind of a dick. Let’s look at the record: he uses some fancy doohickey to cure Bruce Banner of the psychological instability that caused him to transform into the Hulk — freeing the world of the Hulk’s threat forever — but then turns the doohickey on himself just to see what would happen. Result: formerly meek psychiatrist gains massive muscles, super-strength and flowing locks of green hair, with no unwanted side effects. It’s like winning the lottery twice in one week, right? So this guy who can do anything he wants and have anyone he wants, what does he do next? Why, he locks lips with Betty Ross, of course — sending an emotionally broken Banner right back into raging Hulk mode. Even the douchebags from that Entourage show are saying, “Whoa, dude, not cool.” D+

Doctor Demonicus
He’s a criminal geneticist who (i) appeared in a Godzilla comic (ii) used giant mutated animals to “plunder and pillage” and (iii) exposed himself to radiation in a bid to acquire superhuman powers, only giving himself a heaping dose of skin cancer instead. Also? His legal name is Douglas. I think we’re done here. D

Doctor Doom
“Former aliases: Vincent Vaughn.” Wait, that was him in Wedding Crashers? I loved that movie! “Invitation? Doom requires no invitation! These peasants should beg to have their nuptials invaded by Doom!” Not much point in saying a lot about Doom: everyone knows his story and know why he makes a great villain, except perhaps the Hollywood writers who keep fucking him up (“Hey, what if this time we make him an angry blogger?”). One thing I don’t like about this entry is how it states, in no unequivocal terms, Doom’s face has the merest “thin scar along one side of his face,” and that it’s his massive vanity that makes him hide behind an iron mask. I’m so not down with that. Not only does it render nonsensical the past reactions of others who have seen Doom’s face (see below), but settling the argument over what’s under his mask subtracts from the mystique that helps make Doom such a fascinating character. It would be like… oh, I don’t know, explaining Darth Vader’s evilness by telling us he missed his mommy and oh he has magic cells in his blood. Some things are better left unknown, y’know? A+

DoomThor-reaction

Doctor Doom’s Castle
Wow, this is a letdown. After getting blueprints and schematics showing the location of every broom closet in the West Coast Avengers’ guest cottages, you’d think the entry for Doom’s castle would be a wonderland of cross-sectional delights. But no… instead we get an overhead aerial shot of the place with arrows pointing to “guard post,” “servants’ quarters” and “dining hall.” Yes, I feel a bit like a hypocrite after complaining about the level of nerdery that went into some of the Handbook’s technical drawings, but dammit — I wanna see where the Doombots get made! C-

Doctor Druid
Basically the same as Doctor Strange’s back story, only without the themes of enlightenment, self-sacrifice and realization of the inherent nobility in protecting others. You know, the heroic stuff. He’s also listed as 6’5″ and 310 lbs., which means the BMI people are calling bullshit on the “engages in intensive physical exercise” line. Dead the last time I checked, not that anyone cares. C-

Doctor Octopus
You’ve got to give the man credit for making it on the Marvel Super-Villain A-list. Because when you think about it, he’s basically a fat nerd in a bowl cut and Coke-bottle glasses whose only ace-in-the-hole is his mechanical arms. Sometimes he’s crazy, sometimes he’s an asshole out to nuke the city, and it’s only very recently (certainly long after this OHOTMU issue was published) that Marvel’s writers have really explored what makes him tick. So it’s anyone’s guess why he gets special guest villain billing in the best Spider-Man film to date. My theory? His arms pitted against Spidey’s webs packs one hell of a visual punch, plus his science-y, tinged-with-tragedy origin is like a dark-mirror version of Peter Parker’s origin (a theme picked up in the aforementioned best Spidey film and the recent Superior Spider-Man title). That’s good parallelism, y’all. Anyway, the technical specs inform us his chest harness is lined with “lamb’s wool padding,” and you know that’s got to be pretty sweet. Hey, chafing is the real super-villain, am I right? A-

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