Making the Grade: Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition, Vol. 6

handbook-vol6

Hey, where’s everyone marching off to all at once? This party is just getting started! Look, I’ve got my Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Deluxe Edition and I’m ready to boogie like it’s May 1986. This week: Volume Six, from Human Torch to Ka-Zar. 

Speaking of everyone’s favorite Tarzan wannabe… here’s where I’ve got a bone to pick with the people who put this series together. Ka-Zar’s first appearance is listed as X-Men #10, cover date March 1965 — and technically that’s true if we’re talking about the Silver Age version of Ka-Zar. But there was a much earlier version of Ka-Zar, a fellow who first appeared in a set of pulp-fiction novels published by Marvel Comics founder Martin Goodman, and then made his comics debut in Marvel Mystery Comics #1, the 1939 comic that’s considered the first publication of Marvel Comics’ predecessor, Timely Comics.   

A few years ago, I compared the merits of the Who’s Who and Marvel Handbook series and I had this to say about how Marvel’s Handbook treated its characters that appeared before the “Marvel Age” began in 1961: 

By pegging the beginning of the Marvel Age at 1961, Handbook gave short shrift to Marvel’s Golden Age characters who didn’t make the transition to the Silver Age, such as the Blonde Phantom or the Golden Age versions of Angel or the Vision, a slight disservice to the budding comic historians out there. Again, it wasn’t necessarily a wrong decision on Marvel’s part… but if your goal is to impress readers with the scope of your imaginary universe, then why insist its Big Bang took place in 1961?

So… yeah, what my younger self said. To its credit, Marvel would rectify this oversight in 2009, putting out a Handbook-style guide to its Golden Age characters as part of its 70th anniversary celebration — a guide that happened to include an entry for the original Ka-Zar right next to such luminaries as Deadline Dawson, Zombie Master, Taxi Taylor, the Phantom Reporter and Magar the Mystic. (All right, so they weren’t all candidates for the All-Winners Squad.) 

Excelsior!

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Human Torch
What? They made my Johnny Storm, star of this summer’s Fantastic Four film adventure, some skinny-ass white boy? I… am… so… outraged! Or not. Honestly, I’m entirely indifferent about the character, no matter who plays him. I mean, obviously there wouldn’t be a Fantastic Four without him, and he helps cement the book’s theme of family, not just through his direct relationship to Reed and Sue but also through his sibling-like antics with Ben (though Johnny could be an asshat at times with his pranks). On the other hand… he’s just kind of there, you know? He’s the team’s designated hothead and/or ladies’ man, and he doesn’t get much more characterization than that. But that’s to be expected, since the other three offer up way more potential for dramatic angst than Johnny, an all-American good-looking dude who lucked into a handy power with no debilitating side effects. There isn’t even that much silliness in this entry beyond the usual science-science bafflegab about why he doesn’t become the Human Pile of Ashes every time he flames on. Though I did think it was amusing to find out he got a “hot rod” from his dad for his 16th birthday. Does anyone still say that? B-

HYDRA
“Cut off one limb and two more shall take its place!” As seen in your better Marvel movies and on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., HYDRA fills an important niche in the Marvel universe by being an all-purpose generic terrorist organization. Think G.I. Joe’s Cobra with matching green PJs and you get the gist. With their never-quite-articulated goals for world domination, their only real purpose for a long time was to give Nick Fury and Captain America boatloads of expendable bodies to shoot and punch with zero moral qualms. They started out as off-brand Nazis, branched out into scientific terrorism, then gave the organized crime thing a try before devolving into numerous competing factions of criminals and gibbering maniacs (insert preferred Republican Party joke here). And with the line-up of losers accompanying this entry, it’s easy to see why they never — hold on a second, they offer high salaries and medical benefits to new recruits? Um… anyone know if they’re hiring? Asking for a friend. B

Hydro-Base
Former mad scientist’s artificial island that served as the Avengers’ airstrip at the time this issue came out. “Mountain (hollow): houses nuclear power generating plant.” Okay, two things: (1) I’m pretty sure there’s a good reason why nuclear plants aren’t generally built on floating ocean platforms. (2) Why place it inside a fake mountain? For aesthetic reasons? Did the guy’s realtor tell him it would enhance the island’s curb appeal? “And if you motor the island base up north, it doubles as a ski hill!” C

Hydro-Man
Never one of Spider-Man’s A-list villains, and with good reason. After all, the role of “low-level thug with elemental-based shape-shifting powers” was already ably filled by Flint “The Sandman” Marko long before The Wet Wonder here first showed up. Even worse, the writers lampshaded Hydro-Man’s redundancy by giving him an instant rivalry with Sandman, to the point where they once rammed into each other so hard during a fight they formed a mindless mud monster, which the Sandman’s girlfriend then put on exhibition, King Kong-style, to make some quick cash. Meh, it’s still not as stupid as Spider-Man 3. D

Iceman
Kind of a boring character despite his status as one of the original X-Men, so let’s focus on the story of his mutant “coming out.” After using his power to thwart a bully, young Bobby Drake is almost lynched by an anti-mutant mob, and then placed in a jail cell for his own protection. Professor X sends Cyclops out to fetch him, and it turns into a huge fight that ends with both young men almost getting hanged by another mob. At this point, Professor X wheels into town, gives the foaming crowd the ol’ psychic power squibbedy-doo, and erases their memories of all knowledge of Drake’s abilities… which makes me wonder why he didn’t just go do that in the first place. I dunno, maybe the professor sent Cyclops in first because he felt Scott needed an ass-whupping? Can’t blame him, really. C

Ikaris
One of the Eternals whom we are told was the inspiration for the ancient Greek story of Icarus. Apparently picked up his boots and gloves at Tony Stark’s last yard sale. Anything else you need to know? Not really. C-

Illusion
Go here and re-read the entry on Glamor, if you haven’t seen it already; there’s no point in repeating myself the same way the writers did here. Seriously, look at the copy in the “History” section of both entries; they’re almost identical. It’s like the writer was daring the readers to call him out for how little a shit he gave about this assignment. D

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Immortus
He’s ruler of Limbo, not ruler of the Limbo, so let’s not be making any “Jack go underneath the stick” jokes, people. We’re better than that, people. However, since Limbo is a place existing outside reality “where time has no meaning,” this establishment will allow jokes referencing the DMV. I’m less interested in this guy’s insane life story as 11 dozen different people than I am in his wardrobe choices. Clearly, the guy was designed by Kirby or someone working in the style of the master, but either way they should have stopped when they were ahead. Green loungewear and purple cape? Hand your heads in shame, people. Also: what the hell is that thing on his head? He lives alone with robots in a castle outside the flow of time; who’s he trying to impress with that cranial condo tower atop his noggin? C-

Imperial Guard
“Sir? It’s Paul Levitz on Line 1. Something about suing our asses back to the Stone Age.” For real, Claremont and Cockrum churned out almost exact 1:1 knockoffs of the Legion of Super-Heroes for their X-Men to fight, going so far as to make the shape-shifting “Hobgoblin” nothing more than a palette-swapped version of Chameleon Boy. Then there’s this bit about the guardsman known as Impulse: “He may be a being of pure energy rather than having a physical body beneath his costume.” Of course he’s a being of pure energy. We know this BECAUSE HE USED TO BE CALLED WILDFIRE! D

Impossible Man/Impossible Woman
I swear, I’m not someone who demands grim and gritty in my comics. I like silliness, as one should when one opts to read stories about dudes in tights who fire laser beams from their eyes. But these two… uch. Let me put it this way: imagine it’s 1994 and you’re dating a young Jim Carrey. You want to talk about your relationship, politics, books you’ve read, humanity’s place in the cosmos, all that stuff… and all he does in response is make fart jokes and pretend to yodel with his butt. That’s pretty much what Impossible Man brings to the party: at least when Mr. Mxyzptlk shows up to harass Superman, there’s a point to whatever wackiness ensues. Every time Impossible Man shows up to act like a shape-changing idiot, it’s because he’s bored. Finding new ways to entertain himself, even at the expense of others, is his sole reason for existing. You know what we call someone like that on Earth? An asshole. And the less said about his daughter/wife/sister/whatever, the better. F

In-Betweener
“The In-Betweener is a cosmic entity who exists as a synthesis of the major concepts in the universe: life and death, reality and illusion, good and evil, logic and emotion, existence and nothingness, god and man.” He’s also really tired of everyone trying to get him to commit to either girls or guys because we’re all just people, you know? C+

Inhumans
With mutants ruled out as a source of super-powered antagonists in Marvel’s cinematic universe, Disney combed through Marvel’s catalogue and found the Inhumans, a separate race of beings who diverged from humanity about 25,000 years ago when the Kree came a-knockin’. A few genetic experiments later, boom, you get goat-men, centaurs and other freaky types with trees growing out of their noggins. For some reason, though, the Inhumans who appear on TV tend to have normal appearances and powers that are easily replicated by shaking the camera. Go figure. If you plan on huffing some Terrigen Mist and joining this island of misfits, you should know they already have plenty of scientists and flying guardsmen, but they might have an opening for a “semi-intangible malcontent.” I wonder if you need board certification for that. B-

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Interloper
What does he do? Why, he… uh, interlopes, of course. Fine, I’ll read the bloody entry… yeah, enough of that. All you need to know is he looks like the older biker-gang brother of Hagrid from the Harry Potter books, if biker gang members wore Amish farming hats. He showed up, helped the Defenders fight some giant dragon, then went interloping somewhere else. Good for him. C-

Invisible Woman
Things that make you go “ew,” Part 47: learning that Susan Storm first met her future husband when she was 12 and he was a grad student living in her aunt’s boarding house. I mean, I’m positive he never thought of her in that way until everything was nice and legal, but still… ew. I’ll give credit where it’s due and commend Marvel for showing Ms. Richards the respect she’s earned as the heart of the Fantastic Four. While she started out as a piece of fretting eye candy who literally was just along for the ride, she has in recent years (give or take a Jessica Alba) grown into one of the most formidable figures in the Marvel universe, with no less an authority on the subject than Doctor Doom regarding her as such. And only a fool would disagree with Doom. A

Iron Man I
This issue came out at a time when Tony Stark was sporting his “new and improved” suit following his big tussle with Obadiah Stane, which is a shame because my God is it an ugly outfit. I can’t decide if it’s the Dragon Ball Z shoulder pads or the red-and-white color scheme. Always go for the gold, Tony! There’s not much in his history that fans of Robert Downey Jr.’s oeuvre don’t already know, except for the bouts of alcoholism and his brief run as head of high-tech start-up Circuits Maximus, which I bet has been claimed as the name for more than one team of battle-bot challengers. Let’s face it, Stark is the man: he’s got the brains, the babes, the hardware and the cash — the latter of which is somewhat integral to the Marvel universe, since it means the Avengers don’t have to hold their weekly meetings down at that shawarma place they like. Though I would pay cold, hard currency to see a story with that scene in it. A+

Iron Man II
Okay, I let this slide for Black Panther because he only got the one page, but James “Rhodey” Rhodes gets three whole pages of text and action shots — and yet somehow there’s still not enough room to show his unmasked face. Just like Black Panther. I’m not suggesting any shenanigans… just find it interesting, is all. Everything else here checks out, though I’m still wondering what kind of parents would name their kids “Morley” and “Clytemnestra” (which for some reason my spellchecker wants to correct to “defenestrate”). And yes, breathe a sigh of relief for the fact that Rhodey’s briefcase (sorry, “matched-grain leather case”) comes with a weather seal, because you do not want to get those armor pieces wet. I mean, the damage to the vacuum tubes alone… A

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Jack of Hearts
No, I don’t care about his life story or how he ended up with half his face looking like a film negative. Why is he wearing a loincloth with an arrow pointing at his crotch? Why, Poppa? WHY? D-

Jack o’Lantern
So, Mr. Macendale — sorry, what is it you want to call yourself?
I’m Jack o’Lantern.
Yes, of course. And you say you want me to… er, set your head on fire?
Yeah, I’ve decided to give this costumed criminal thing a try — nothing says “trained mercenary for hire” like putting on a pumpkin head and flying around Manhattan on a hover-disc, right? Anyway, I’m looking for a way to make the helmet look like it’s on fire.
But…why, exactly?
Because it would look bitchin’ cool, that’s why! You see a mofo coming at you with his head on fire, you know some serious shit is about to go down. So… any ideas?
Well, I’ve got an old scuba diving helmet in the back that I can customize — paint it, make it bulletproof, install a three-hour air supply and telescopic infra-red image-intensifiers for seeing in the dark, no problem with any of that stuff. I’ll even stick a fake stem on it, we can put a police scanner in there. The fire thing, though… tell me, how married are you to the idea? You know it’s not the actual pumpkin that people set on fire during Halloween, right?
Hey, listen, I came here because people said you were the best in the business, but if you don’t want to–
Hold on now, young feller, it’s not that. I just need to make sure you understand what you’re asking for. I’ve set plenty of heads on fire in my day, believe me. But in almost every case, the client realized he was walking into gunfights with a few liters of flammable liquid sloshing around his cranium, and that never ends well for anyone. And if you want this and the customized electro-wrist blasters–
Yeah, I do. And I also want three dozen concussion grenades colored orange to go with the theme.
Oh, that’s no problem. I’ve got a whole box of pumpkin-bombs that Green Goblin guy never came in to pick up, so you can have those at a discount. But I gotta warn ya: this other stuff you’re asking or, that kind of customization doesn’t come cheap.
Doesn’t matter. After I kill that wall-crawling weasel, all the big names will be lining up to hire me.
Sure they will, kid. Sure they will. C

Jameson, J. Jonah
Speaking of wall-crawling weasels and the people who hate them. Aside from Spidey himself, there’s a very good case to be made for Jameson being the most important Spider-Man cast member in the Marvel universe. Prior to his first appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #1, the villains that challenged the heroes of the early Marvel Age were mostly monsters, aliens and mad scientist types who were all unequivocally bad. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but Marvel hit the big time when teenagers and college students in the ’60s started identifying with the misfits and mutants in their stories — and that happened in large part because Lee & Co. provided in Jameson the perfect representative of The Man in their comics. Think about it. There’s Spidey, the young, earnest, conflicted hero who wants to do the right thing but is continually branded as a menace by people who fear his powers… and then there’s Jameson, the cigar-chomping face of the establishment (white, male, wealthy, controls the media) who brands Spidey a public menace while simultaneously making money off the public’s fascination with him. And the best part is he’s not the out-and-out villain that you might expect. So a tip of the hat to Mssrs. Lee and Ditko. And not just for giving J.K. Simmons a chance to steal a certain movie trilogy with his special brand of awesome sauce. A+

Jameson, John
Okay, so he’s an astronaut who picks up a virus on a trip to space that gives him temporary super-strength. On another trip to the moon, he picks up a gemstone that turns him into a werewolf. Then, on a third trip into space, he finds a portal to the dimension where the stone came from, a place where he’s hailed as Stargod the Man-Wolf. “For a time he was in a sanatorium due to the strains of what he had suffered in his life.” I should hope so. D+

Jeffries, Madison
“Madison Jeffries and his younger brother Lionel were Canadians with psionic transmutative powers.” God, I am so sick of the stereotypes we Canadians have to constantly put up with. “You all say ‘aboot.'” “You all live in igloos.” “You all possess psionic transmutative powers.” Anyway, this Alpha Flight member who can’t even be bothered to come up with a cool codename is a mutant who can levitate and restructure anything made of metal, glass or plastic, and he puts this talent to use creating and repairing mechanical things. That seems a little too convenient, having power over that particular grouping of non-related materials most often used in machinery. Why not have someone who can, say, psionically control anything made of molybdenum, butterscotch pudding and that green foam stuff that florists use in floral arrangements? It would be a totally useless power, yes. But it would make just as much sense as someone with power over certain elements, crystallized sand and petroleum-based products. C-

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Jester
Okay, forget studio deals to get Spidey in Captain America: Civil War. I want a Marvel-DC truce that allows Batman and Daredevil to exist in the same movie. Why? Because then we can eagerly look forward to the scene where Joker joy-buzzers this loser wannabe’s ass out of existence. Nothing about this character works. Not the ridiculous costume, not the pathetic failed-actor backstory, not the derivative toy-based weaponry — weaponry! That’s it! We’ll write him into the next season of Daredevil as a frustrated actor who turns to costumed crime right around the time the Punisher shows up in Hell’s Kitchen. You’re welcome, America. D-

Jones, Rick
Let me clear: it’s not that I don’t understand the Sidekick Theory, I just don’t understand why people subscribe to it. I don’t read comics because I want to be best pals with the teenager who hangs out with Captain America; I read them because I want to be Captain America. And I don’t know what Marvel was thinking, making Rick a sidekick to the Hulk, then Captain America, then Captain Marvel, then the Hulk again, then Rom the Spaceknight. Was Marvel that determined to make him the next teen sensation? Were there no other expendable orphans available when these heroes held auditions? Oh, and about that orphan thing: we learn Jones was orphaned in his adolescent years and sent to a state institution. Presumably, this was because he had no other family to take him in… except for an Aunt Polly who’s listed under his Known Relatives. But hey, let’s not bring that unexplained bit up. On second thought: let’s. D+

Juggernaut
“Nothing can stop the Juggernaut!” Damn skippy. I’m not going to get too baroque here: he’s an unstoppable guy with a great look who guest-starred in one of the best Spider-Man stories ever written. And sure, Lee and/or Kirby (likely Kirby, because Kirby) got a little cutesy calling Charles Xavier’s villainous step-brother “Cain Marko,” but dammit I don’t care. Guys who find mystical rubies in secret temples that turn them into unstoppable forces of nature are what comics should be about. A-

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Kale, Jennifer
Young lady, I don’t care how many demons you can summon from the nether-realms. You are still a minor, and as long as you live in my dimensional plane of reality, you will abide by my rules. So take off that aluminum bikini and put on something decent. Good heavens, what would the neighbours think? C

Kang
He’s a major-league Avengers baddie who hails from the 41st century and uses his futuristic technology to try and conquer the 20th century. You’d think that would be enough to establish his badass credentials, but then he goes and ruins everything by insisting on purple pinstriped hip waders. Pity. C+

Karkas
A giant whose monstrous exterior hides a philosophical soul within? A gentle being marked for death and sent to the gladiatorial arena to fight but refuses to give the crowds the show they demand? Not exactly blazing new trails here, are we? Ah well, even Kirby is allowed his off days. C-

Karma
A young Vietnamese woman with the power to possess and control other people’s bodies, Karma was actually a neat idea for a character, so much so it’s almost a shame she was sent to Westchester to hang out with the New Mutants. After a few adventures with them, her body was taken over by a malevolent mutant who only existed on the astral plane, and he used her physical form to sate his gluttonous appetite. This led to her expanding to elephantine proportions, but a few months wandering through an Asgardian desert was all it took to return to her former svelte self, because apparently weight loss is just that easy. Huh. I didn’t even realize Asgard had a desert. B+

Karnak
Okay, I’m not the only one who looks at him and thinks “Kung Fu Frenchman,” am I? This member of the Inhumans royal family has the ability to sense the stress points or weaknesses in anything and use them to chop or shatter anything that’s in his way. A handy talent, that. His listed occupation is priest/philosopher, and I probably would have spent a lot more time in church if my local priest punctuated his sermons by karate-chopping cinderblocks. B

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Karnilla

Fun fact: every time I hear her name I think “carnal” and “vanilla” at the same time. I’m not sure what you should do with that information. She’s queen of the Norns in Asgard, and a saucy sorceress to boot. “After years of resisting Karnilla’a advances, Balder has finally become Karnilla’s lover. Some of Balder’s Asgardian friends disapprove of the relationship, regarding Karnilla as a figure of evil.” Yeah, but she’s hot evil. Big difference. And I’m sure Balder would agree. B

Ka-Zar
“And his faithful sidekicks, Jayne and Tee-Chah the Chimp!” Other strikes against the Lord of the Hidden Jungle:

1. His given name is Kevin and his brother’s is Parnival. Who the hell names their two sons “Kevin” and “Parnival”?

2. His last name is Plunder, which turned out to be quite convenient when his younger brother decided to go into the plundering trade.

3. He lists “hunter, trapper, fisherman” under “Occupation,” but I would categorize those more as “ways not to starve” if he’s not schlepping his catch to the local trading post.

4. His first appearance is listed as X-Men #10, when those of us in the know can tell you he first appeared way earlier than that. Boo to Marvel for denying its Golden Age roots! Boo, I say! C-

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