Daily Archives: October 31, 2015

Making the Grade: Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition, Vol. 7


Face front, true believers! It’s time to take another look at the publishing phenomenon of the ’80s known as The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Deluxe Edition. This week: Volume Seven, from Khoryphos (huh?) to Magneto (HELLS YEAH!). 

Keeping with the belief that any of this four-colored folderol ultimately matters, editor Mark Gruenwald pens a deeply serious column in this issue titled “Omission: Impossible,” answering the many letter writers who wrote in demanding why this character or that wasn’t included in the official line-up. No surprise, the answer for most of them boils down to either “not important enough” or “not enough room in that issue,” with a few “we had our reasons related to current storylines” tossed in.

“Some of you may be puzzled by my assertion in a few cases that we didn’t have room,” Gruenwald wrote. “What happens is that an entry we have planned for one page we find after writing it needs two pages, and a minor one-page character has to be deleted.” 

And on paper that sounds like it makes sense, but on the other hand… geez, guys, that’s what editing is for. In this issue alone, there are two whole pages given to lesser luminaries like Krang, Kro and Kurse, while three entire pages are given over to Klaw, putting him status-wise on the same level as Kingpin and Magneto (whose own  entries could also easily be shrunk down to two pages apiece with some judicious snipping). It’s a bit much to say that space considerations didn’t permit adding more characters after you’ve spent half a page on detailed schematics for Klaw’s hand-blaster.  

Not that I want to keep beating the “DC’s Who’s Who was better” drum, but this is another example of why I felt Marvel lagged behind its Distinguished Competition in the pre-Internet character index department. Sometimes less is more, even in a typically over-the-top medium like superhero comics –especially if that “less” results in more characters getting a chance to share the spotlight.  


He’s an Eternal, so we get the usual blah-dee-blah about his powers: virtually immortal, cosmic energy, can only die if enough of his molecules are dispersed, etc. What’s this, the ninth Eternal we’ve seen so far? It doesn’t get any more riveting every time you repeat the same stuff, guys. His particular passion is music; he’s the master of all known musical instruments and he’s been working on the same “monumental musical composition” for the past 2,000  years. And you thought you had to wait a long time between Guns N’ Roses albums. I wonder how pissed he was when that “Friday” song topped the charts. C-

Killer Shrike
Professional mercenary? Check. Mysterious modifications to give him powers? Check. No explanation for the fancy costuming or bird-based codename? Check. Exotic weaponry provided by corporate benefactors that would have been better off mass-marketing those puppies to law enforcement and ninja wannabes? Check. History that highlights his status as a designated punching bag for whichever hero is looking for a dance partner that month? Check. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Most Generic Marvel Character Ever. It’s like being the Most Interesting Man in the World from the beer ads, only opposite. D+

King, Hannibal
A private eye who was turned into a vampire and, horrified by what he had become, found ways to slake his thirst that didn’t involve preying on living beings. He was instrumental in events that led to the destruction of all vampires in the Marvel universe, and he alone among the vampyr was allowed to revert to his human status because he never gave in to his bloodlust. I’m no expert on vampire psychology, but man, it must have taken a lot of willpower for him not to sink his fangs into any one of the ambulatory Happy Meals walking around our finer metropolises. Kudos to him for that. “As a vampire, he could be destroyed by silver or wood thrust through his heart.” As a human, though? Bring it on, mofos.

Art by David Mazzuchelli, who at the time was working on the now-classic Daredevil: Born Again storyline with Frank Miller. And that is as it should be; while Kingpin started out as a caricature of a mob boss for Spider-Man to butt heads with, he never really came into his own as a living, breathing character until Miller re-interpreted him during his legendary Daredevil run. And thank God for that; blustering crime bosses are a dime a dozen in the comics, but Miller’s Kingpin was that rarest of beasts, a thoroughly corrupt antagonist who dared to have a sympathetic side (I mean, all he wants is order, right? Who doesn’t like order?). It’s hard to imagine a more perfect adversary for a Chaotic Good hero like Daredevil than someone who so perfectly embodies The System that grinds good men under its metaphorical heel. That said — man, am I glad D’Onofrio never once donned an ascot during his performance. A pity the comic-book Vanessa could never talk her own sweetie into a spiffy bow tie, or the occasional cravat. A+

Now, if this were the DC universe, Ulysses Klaw would have been some crazy scientist who invents a pair of weaponized gloves and terrorizes Central City as Doctor Klaw, or Captain Claw if the Inspector Gadget folks were feeling litigious. Because DC loved its name-as-destiny shtick, is why. Here, the guy with the villainous-appendage moniker is a scientist who kills Black Panther’s dad and later becomes a being of living sound. Go figure. He started out trading blows with the Fantastic Four and Avengers, then later got his sonic ass handed to him by Dazzler. In the business, that’s known as “trading down.” Warning: contains the phrase “undertook an elaborate scheme to manipulate a youth gang into restoring him to full power.” D+

Knight, Misty
Proof the 1970s really did happen. Think Cleopatra Jones with a soupçon of the Bionic Woman and you get the idea. Wait, why were you youngsters staring blankly when I said those words? Sigh. (Boom-shaka-waka-waka…) B-

What? Marvel honored former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan with his own superhero character? Er, not quite. This is the cousin of the horse-faced alien that endowed the Power Pack siblings with his super-powers as he lay dying, Abin Sur-style, at their feet. This is a tough one. On the one hand, I don’t want to be the cranky nerd who says aliens can only look a certain way and there’s no place for whimsy in a book featuring kindergarten-aged superheroes, but on the other hand… come on, people, he’s a talking white horse with a spit curl. It’s as if one of the ponies from My Little Pony started walking on two feet and joined a boy band. C-

On second thought, maybe I was being too harsh on Kofi. Sweet Neptune’s beard, what fresh hell is this? Krang was an Atlantean warlord and occasional usurper of the Sub-Mariner’s throne, which does nothing to explain the hideousness of his costume. Red cape, yellow tunic, green leggings, blue belt/sash thingie, black boots, seashell belt buckle, inverted goldfish bowl for a helmet, red sun chest insignia — picture a color-blind Ming the Merciless in Sea World’s stage production of Flash Gordon and you get the picture. Used to pal around with a Dr. Dorcas, but I think we all know who the real dork is here. D

Kraven the Hunter
Like many other fans, my first exposure to Spider-Man was his 1960s cartoon show, followed by Marvel Tales reprints of the classic Lee/Ditko stories. And man, was I pissed when I realized the cartoon served up that lame Aussie goober instead of Sergei Kravinoff in all his glory. Maybe the censors thought kids couldn’t handle the lion’s-head vest. Or maybe they vetoed the cheetah-print leggings that Kraven clearly bought where the really cheap hookers shop. Actually, now that I think about it his costume was kind of messed up. But lest you think Kraven is only about the flair, there’s a cutaway diagram showing the inner workings of his vest. Interestingly, the “eyes” in the painted-on lion’s head that double as narcotic dust sprayers are located roughly where Kraven’s nipples would be located. I have no joke for this, I just wanted to let that thought sit there for a while. B

One of the major space-faring races in the Marvel Universe, the Kree are shaping up to be major power players in the Marvel Cinema Universe as well. And no wonder: with mutation off-limits as a source of powers (at least for now; clock’s ticking, Fox), “zapped by alien artifacts” is a handy substitute. Not a whole lot here that’s really original; you’ve got your militaristic society, commentary on racial issues here on Earth (with the blue-skinned Kree holding power disproportionate to their numbers over the — oh, hey, irony! — pink-skinned folks), dissidents rebelling against a dictatorial regime… really, there isn’t anything here you wouldn’t see in your average Star Trek episode. We also learn the computer hive-mind known as the Supreme Intelligence is “conservative and relatively unimaginative” as a ruler. Wait, conservative and unimaginative? Well, now I’ve heard everything. B

You know what, I think I like this guy. I’ve never read one story he’s in, and I know I’m probably supposed to be all “Ew, he’s a Deviant! Ew, he’s a warlord!” here, but I say nuts to that. Why? One: he’s a long-lived member of his race and he tries to keep that hidden lest the other Deviants tear him apart for the secret of his immortality. That’s some good pathos right there. Two: he has a Romeo-and-Juliet thing going with Thena the Eternal, in that both their races are bitter enemies but they defy those ancient prejudices with their love. Three: when the Deviant ruling class is wiped out and he shows up to run the place, the priests led by the not-terribly-cuddly Ghaur plot against him. Anyone who causes tsuris for a guy like Ghaur is someone we should be putting in the “good” column. And yet, there’s nothing in this text that says Kro is unequivocally a good guy. Ambiguity: catch the fever. B+

The Dark Elf formerly known as Algrim the Strong was enthralled by Malekith the Accursed and transformed into Kurse (“Occupation: Seeker of Vengeance”) to battle Thor, who prevailed by donning his Belt of Strength. No, it only sounds like something from one of your more spirited Dungeons & Dragons gatherings in college; it was a storyline from Walt Simonson’s excellent Thor run in the early ’80s. “Kurse can also somehow sense the presence of his foes, even from a continent away.” I believe this is also one of Gwyneth Paltrow’s lesser-known powers. B

Lava Men
Christ, talk about something a five-year-old could have come up with. “Yeah, they’re people who live underground and they’re made of rocks and they can melt stuff with their bodies! I call ’em… Lava Men!” No surprise, the first Lava Men showed up in early Thor and Avengers stories and… yeah, some toys are better left in the toybox, gang. D

Man, it must have sucked being the Leader. The same gamma radiation that made the Hulk super-strong made the Leader super-intelligent, but every one of his brilliant schemes was foiled by a pronoun-challenged simpleton who barely knew where he was most days. To add insult to injury, the Hulk — employing that adorably childlike patois that endeared him to millions of fans in the ’70s — kept calling him “Big Head.” Big Head! Ha! To be fair, though, that is one big fucking melon. B

So named because he’s a mutant with three distinct personalities living inside his head, each with its own mutant power. There’s a lot of backstory here that makes me think the writers were trying to make a point about prejudice against the mentally ill or the corrosive effects of terrorism on those who practice it, but I can’t focus on any of that because this kid is Charles Xavier’s long-lost son. Before he gathered young mutants at his fancy estate, we’re told Xavier roamed the world and snogged a comely Israeli diplomat during his travels. She never told him about their son, but still: Charlie, you dog. Kind of makes you wonder how likely it is for any guy to have a child out there without him knowing about it, doesn’t it? Um… excuse me a second. C

Atlantis is the continent that sank into the Atlantic; Lemuria is the place that sank into the Pacific. There’s more about Celestials and Deviants and mer-people and slave armies and serpent crowns and a place called “City of Toads,” but it’s not like there’s a quiz on this stuff next week. C

I mentioned this guy when I talked about Marvel villains who need a marketing consultant, so allow me to repeat myself: “A professor and vice-chancellor at Empire State University, Edward Lansky decided the best way to prevent government budget cuts targeting his school was (a) invent a special suit that manipulates light energy, allowing him to fly, cast force-beams, blind opponents and create light-based objects out of thin air; (b) hire a team of super-villains to… wait a second. Inventing the flying, all-powerful suit that manipulates one of the universe’s elemental forces was the FIRST part of his plan?” D

Another member of Power Pack. You want more? Your funeral. Julie Power was given the power of flight while leaving “a rainbow-like trail of light” behind her. Festive! When flying, she is able to carry loads of up to 50 lbs.; “hence, Lightspeed often carries her younger sister, Katie, who weighs 41 pounds, aloft.” Try not to think about the valuable information in your mind that has to die so that you can retain vitally important facts like this. C-


Or, if you prefer official titles, “Princess-Majestrix Lilandra Neramani.” She’s the queen of an extra-terrestrial race of bird-people called the Shi’ar, who show up in all kinds of X-Men stories because God knows stories with guys who shoot lasers from their eyes and sprout knife blades from their knuckles need a bit of Star Wars-esque space opera to keep the kiddies entertained. She hooked up with Charles Xavier for a while, and between this entry and a certain Hebrew hottie mentioned earlier I’m starting to get a very different impression of the professor. Hold on, let me check something… damn, dawg, you tapped Moira MacTaggart, too? More like “Professor XXX,” amirite? (No, don’t tell me that’s already a porn parody. I don’t want to know.) C+

Living Laser
Another scientist with mental issues who thought he could take on the Avengers with a fancy laser doohickey he invented, Arthur Parks was first motivated to become the Living Laser because he was upset about his girlfriend breaking up with him. So he puts on a green-and-orange costume, calls himself the Living Laser, and kidnaps the Wasp while aiding guerrillas in a South American country. That’s… rational. This is why we don’t get super-villains in the real world; most guys who get dumped just drink more. C-

Living Tribunal
A “vastly powerful” cosmic entity, the Living Tribunal represents balance; his sole purpose, we are told, is to “safeguard the multiverse from an imbalance of mystical forces.” And he’s not above laying the cosmic smackdown on any planet or plane of existence that threatens to upset the balance. No surprise, he showed up a lot in Doctor Strange stories, and also in big “event” storylines when we were supposed to see his appearance as a sign of the really, really big stakes involved. It usually didn’t work, because he’s basically God with a Gene Roddenberry finish, and you can only trot out God so many times before audiences start demanding floods and smiting and all that OG Old Testament stuff. For audacity mostly, C+

Don’t go by his regrettable outing in the Amazing Spider-Man film; this was one of Spidey’s better early villains, even if he was another variation on the whole Jekyll-and-Hyde “innocent man trapped inside monstrous body” cliché. No surprise, the Lizard had a lot in common with the Hulk: they were both green and the result of brilliant scientists transformed by their own hand into uncontrollable beasts. Then of course there’s the purple pants thing. Like the Hulk, Lizzie is decked out in tattered purple pants, strongly suggesting his scientist alter ego — much like Dr. Banner — wore purple pants before turning into a monster. Was this a thing in the scientific community in the ’60s? Were purple pants the only kinds of pants that science grads could afford while working on their PhDs, and they just kept wearing purple after they graduated because that was their thing? B+

“Occupation: Former empress of Lemuria, now professional subversive.” I get the feeling that line of work comes with a lousy benefits package. She’s basically the Bizarro version of the Sub-Mariner: female instead of male, born to a human mother and Atlantean father instead of vice versa; batshit insane instead of merely slightly arrogant. She ruled Lemuria for a while, then kidnapped Namor’s fiancée and pretended to be her to trick Namor into marriage right before suffocating her to death. Then as an encore, she was party to the beating death of Namor’s human father. Altogether a thoroughly unpleasant denizen of the deep who proves it’s not always better down where it’s wetter. Let’s move on. C-

“The exact extent of his intelligence remains unknown, and it is unclear whether he truly has comprehends [sic] any language.” I suggest we don’t send out a Marvel copy editor to settle the matter. #GrammarNerdsUnite C+


Man, how much cooler would that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. show have been if the Inhumans’ sanctuary used Lockjaw as their resident teleporter instead of that eyeless dude? Wait, did I say cooler? I meant even more awesomely insane. The text explains that Lockjaw is not really a dog but an Inhuman whose exposure to the Terrigen mists turned him into a canine-like being with normal human intelligence, and who also just happens to be a teleporter. That… kinda sucks. Not only does this mean he’s a humanoid mind stuck inside a dog’s body, but he’s also the Inhumans’ designated lift to everywhere. Imagine being the only person among all your IKEA-loving friends with a driver’s license and a pickup truck, and then times that by a million. That’s what Lockjaw has to look forward to very day. The chance to chomp the Thing’s hand just isn’t worth it. Out of pity, B

Okay, I give up. Why is Loki considered hot in some circles? Is it the bad boy image? Is it his tragic abandoned-as-an-infant backstory that makes him sympathetic? Is it how people can relate to him always placing second behind his golden-locked step-brother? Is it the fact that Tom Hiddleston is not an unattractive specimen and gives every line reading the kind of biting sarcasm that once sent the hearts of Han Solo fans a-fluttering lo those many years ago? Who knows. What I do know is this: considering he’s got “lead the forces of evil against Asgard at the end of time” plugged into his Outlook reminders, I’m not sure if “God of Mischief” really cuts it on his business cards. A-

“On a world in another dimension, a race of sentient semi-humanoid beings lacking spines evolved. The race’s inability to stand upright prevented their civilization from advancing beyond a relatively primitive level. Finally, the scientist Arize designed an artificial exoskeletal frame that would enable a member of his race to stand erect… However, some of Arize’s race refused to use the exoskeletons, and for unknown reasons, these so-called Spineless Ones somehow became the race’s rulers.” And of course they demanded warrior-slaves to fight for their televised amusement. Subtlety, thy name ain’t Claremont. D

Lord Chaos
“Lord Chaos embodies the principle of disorder, randomness and formlessness.” You might recognize him from some of his biggest hits: the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the 1962 New York Mets, NBC’s current line-up, and Marvel Comics Inc. from about 1993 to 2005. C

Basically a back-up Enchantress, she’s the younger, flightier, less goal-oriented sibling of Asgard’s chief seductress. “Lorelei, who was strongly physically attracted to Thor, needed no persuasion to agree to Loki’s scheme.” I’ll just bet she didn’t, the saucy little minx. B

Machine Man

Another Steve Ditko production, which means more pure insanity. Actually, not that much: between the “robot who longs to be human” and the “scientist who dies so that his biggest success can’t be replicated” tropes, we’re not exactly treading a lot of new ground here. He worked as an insurance investigator for a while, though. That’s different. I guess. C

Nice jumpsuit, bud. I didn’t realize April O’Neil had a garage sale. This robot-maker started out building robots for underworld clients, then had a bad fall that resulted in his mind being uploaded into a robotic body, allowing him to “jump” from body to body as needed. And despite having the ability to make incredibly lifelike duplicates of just about anyone in the world, up to and including any male movie star who could have any woman (and most men) he wanted, he Xeroxed his bald, most-wanted-list-residing ass over and over to go trade punches with Captain America. Sigh… D

Madame Masque
Her Q rating is about to go way up thanks to her announced role in the upcoming season of Agent Carter, though I’m guessing the script will make a lot of changes to her backstory. Madame Masque (alias Giulietta Nefaria, alias Whitney Frost) was the sexy daughter of a big-time organized crime leader who took over the family business when he died. Less into racketeering and narcotics and more into corporate espionage/world domination, she has a love/hate thing with Tony Stark that led her to pose as Stark’s secretary that one time, and later transfer her mind into the body of one of Stark’s former flings as part of her murder plans. Living proof that “crazy-hot” isn’t always the same as “hot-hot.” B-

Think a less sadistic Joker with Wolverine’s rapid healing abilities and you get the picture. He was a devout Christian who lost his entire family in a bus crash that killed everyone on board. But because the bus crashed into a truck carrying an unknown chemical that his body lay in until help arrived, he came out of the ordeal completely invincible. He also gained the power to make other people act insane just by looking at them — which proved convenient when his survivor’s guilt drove him insane and he decided “there is no purpose in anything.” I dunno, I feel like this character has some potential despite his extremely convenient set of powers, but I can’t recall Marvel doing much with him. Definitely someone who’s due for a reboot in these topsy-turvy times — minus the hideous outfit, of course. C+


This guy, on the other hand….no. Just…no. Meet the only guy in the world who submits to body-altering mutagenic treatments and turns himself into a super-villain because he decided his ex-wife was a bitch. Yes, that’s right — when his wife left him and later became the superhero known as Hellcat, Robert “Buzz” Baxter signed up for super-strength and super-sharp teeth and called himself “Mad-Dog.” And just imagine how that decision came to pass. “Oh, yeah? Yeah? Well, you call yourself Hellcat all you want, babe, ’cause this dawg’s gonna clip your claws. Aww, yeah. Because dogs chase cats, get it?” “Douchenozzle” doesn’t even begin. “[His] teeth emit a foaming chemical, to which his body is immune, which causes paralysis and possibly death in whoever he bites.” Oh, and he’s a biter, too. Wonderful. F

That’s Madrox the Multiple Man, thank you very much. He saw better days (and better wardrobes) in the years that followed this issue’s publication, but back then he was just another mutant in one ass-ugly bodysuit. Not that it wasn’t a functional fashion choice; as we learn here, his unusual power to split into duplicates when struck by an outside force was kept in check by his special suit, which his scientist parents forced him to wear all the time when he was growing up (without ever telling him why he needed it). Then we’re told his parents were killed in a tornado when he was fifteen, and he continued working their farm and wearing his bodysuit until its “malfunctioning control elements” forced him to seek help from the Fantastic Four. A fantastic tale, indeed, starting with how we’re apparently supposed to believe the teenage Madrox kept wearing the suit for years after his parents died. Does that sound like something a typical teenager would do? I have an almost-teenager in my life, and I have to encourage him to jump off bridges daily just to make sure he doesn’t go leap off one when I’m not looking. Anyway, it’s hard to hate on someone who literally brings the party with him wherever he goes. B-

Mad Thinker
I love this guy. Not because I’m a fan of criminal geniuses or guys in formless green jumpsuits, but because of the name. He prefers to call himself the Thinker, but because he chooses to do things like create robot armies and try to turn Manhattan into his own sovereign nation, the press and the superheroes all call him the Mad Thinker, “much to his continued exasperation.” And what can he do about it? He could have made serious coin as a government consultant or head of some IT start-up, but, well, see “robot armies” above. What’s he going to do, sue The Daily Bugle for defamation? Heh, expecting J. Jonah Jameson to settle out of court, now that’s some serious mad thinking right there. B+

Mad Thinker’s Awesome Android
ANDY!!! My man! Don’t even bother reading this entry, just skip ahead to the issues of She-Hulk where he works as an office drone in Jen’s law firm. Awesome, indeed. A


Uch. You know how there’s always that one guy in every group who tries just a little too hard to top everyone else? Maelstrom is that guy. He has a backstory that combines mad science, Inhumans, Deviants, Eternals, Magneto, Nazi scientists — and what the hell, let’s throw in some clones and body-swapping while we’re at it. He has no real goals in life other than shitting on the two races that gave birth to him, he has the same “your punches only make me stronger” powers shared by a dozen or so other characters, plus he has serious daddy issues to boot. I can’t think of a better example of a character that turns out so boring by trying to be everything all at once. D

Maelstrom’s Minions
Annnnnd then there are his backup singers. So Maelstrom created a couple of stooges to do his grunt work, and every time one of them fails him, he kills the minion and replaces it with a clone, with each clone “given the memories of its predecessors including the memories of its death.” I don’t think it’s hard to see the flaws in this approach to HR management. Nothing too shocking or interesting here, though I raise an eyebrow at Gronk’s super-power to secrete a sticky substance. I can do that, too, but you don’t see me out on the street corner bragging about it. Not since those public indecency charges, anyway. D-

It’s the Marvel version of the Mafia, gang. No, I don’t know why Marvel chose to give a different name to the Mafia that only made it even more obvious which organization they were specifically trying to avoid naming. I mean, were there copyright issues? Was Stan Lee genuinely worried that John Gotti would pick up a copy of Marvel Team-Up and send someone out to break his thumbs for besmirching the Mafia’s good name? Weird. C

She’s the ruler of Limbo, but not the same Limbo dimension that Immortus rules over. Got it? Doesn’t matter. All these years, I thought her ability to teleport between dimensions was part of her grab bag of sorcerous tricks, but nope — it turns out that was her own natural mutant ability all along. So she’s the sister of a mutant (Colossus) who’s a mutant herself and she also just happens to be a powerful sorceress thanks to her years of imprisonment in another dimension. Sure, why the hell not. C

Her latent mutant power to control earthquakes and fire magma blasts kicked in when she fell into a volcano. Kids, do not try this at home. “Magma’s costume and clothing are made of unstable molecules so that they will not be harmed by the tremendous heat she generates.” Damn you, Reed Richards. The horny comic nerds of the world ask for so little, and yet you deny us so much. C+


Magneto is one of the best villains Marvel has put out, so I’m not going to bust his chops here. Yeah, the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants was a bit silly and perhaps there were a few logistical issues with that “Asteroid M” business — and don’t get me started on the whole “de-aged into a baby” period in his life — but we all do crazy things when we’re starting out in our careers. No, I look at the man he is today: cool, confident, charismatic, and not an evil man, simply one who is determined to protect his own kind in a world that’s demonstrably unkind to them. And can I just say for all the whining that some fans generate about the costuming choices in movies based on their favorite characters, thank Odin someone had the good sense to put Sir Ian in basic black instead of Magneto’s original red-and-purple combo or — as seen in this entry — the Liberace loungewear look he sported for about five minutes when this issue came out. I’m looking at this picture and I can’t decide if I should cower in fear of Homo superior or request an encore of “Stardust.” A