Making the Grade: Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition, Vol. 11

marvelhandbook-vol11

Happy Boxing Day! Wait, do Americans celebrate Boxing Day like us goodly Commonwealth folk? Doesn’t matter, I’m wishing you guys a good one anyway. Time to take a break from the shopping and enjoy the greatest gift of all: The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Deluxe Edition. This time out: Volume Eleven, from Richard Rider to Sidewinder. 

I’ll be honest: between the holidays and the complete lack of anything outside of the character entries that’s even remotely interesting about this issue, I’m kind of stuck for something to talk about here. The inside back and front covers of this issue are given over to corrections sent in by eagle-eyed readers, so let’s salute their eagle-eyed prowess by listing my Top Five Favorite Handbook Errors Pointed Out by Marvel’s Meticulous Fans: 

Falcon: Under Occupation, we should have added “former narcotics dealer”… Jeff Strabone, Flushing, NY. [I dunno, does that qualify as an occupation? Can you list it on your CV?]

Fenris: In the entry, it states that Tyr’s right hand was bitten off by the wolf, whereas in Tyr’s section under “Asgardians,” it depicts his left hand as missing. The Fenris entry should have stated his left hand was missing… Shanon McGavock, no address on letter. [Marvel’s response: “Um…. wizard did it.”]

Flag-Smasher: The entry mentions his flame-throwing pistol but not his incendiary bullet gun depicted in CAPTAIN AMERICA #312… Derek Mootson, Chester, PA. [I’m going to be token dumb Canadian who doesn’t know his firearms and ask: what’s the difference between a pistol that throws flame and a gun that shoots incendiary bullets?]

Ghost Rider’s six-shooter appears to be a 185 Remington New Model Army .44 rather than a Navy Colt .44… Mrs. Daniel Habowski, Detroit, MI. [I bet Mrs. Daniel Habowski knows the answer to my question about fire guns and flame bullets.]

Lord Chaos: “Eventually, according to physics, the energy and matter in the universe will succumb to entropy, or maximum state of inert uniformity, meaning that Order will ultimately dominate.” This statement is true except for the last clause about Master Order. When the universe is in total entropy, matter and energy will be in its most disordered, chaotic, random state, meaning that Lord Chaos will dominate… Lewis Call, Las Cruces, NM and Kurt Miller, Phoenix, AZ. [P.S. So there!]

Excelsior!

handbook-richardrider
Rider, Richard

Right off the bat, I’m confused. The editors went out of their way to explain that only currently active characters would get entries in OHOTMU, with the dead and inactive ones slotted into separate issues (which we’ll get to in due time). But then they broke their own rules by including Jessica “Formerly Known as Spider-Woman” Drew and this guy in their main line-up. At least Drew was still fighting crime, sort of, as a private investigator. Rider was just a normal dude who once had the powers of a Nova Corpsman. He got his powers back for the New Warriors series in the 1990s, but at the time this issue came out… yeah, bit of a mystery why the editors put him here. Gotta meet the page count, I guess. C-

Rigellians
One of the umpteen empire-building alien races in the Marvel universe with vastly superior technology to us Earthlings and yet they’re still thwarted by our magic hammers and gamma-irradiated fists. Go figure. Lacking either the cool shape-shifting powers of the Skrulls or the militaristic jingoism of the Kree, these guys distinguished themselves with their love of bureaucracy, as evidenced by their preferred method of colonization (“To register your new planet, submit your TPS forms in triplicate to the Rigellian Division of Claims”). This helps explains why they haven’t appeared on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. yet and likely won’t any time soon. C-

Ringmaster
YesyesyesYES! There’s something so gloriously goofy about a circus full of criminals headed up by a hypnotizing ringmaster that I can’t imagine not loving it. And the best part? Ol’ Maynard here isn’t even the first circus ringmaster-slash-super-villain; that honor belongs to his Nazi-loving father, who used his traveling circus as a cover while assassinating American officials during the Second World War. It’s nice to see young people go into the family business. B

Rocket Raccoon
You know, I’ll admit that if you had told me back in the ’80s that Rocket Raccoon would someday co-star in a highly profitable film about wise-cracking intergalactic adventurers, I would have nodded politely and told your nurse to increase your dosage. Especially after that Howard the Duck movie demonstrated so well why films about anthropomorphic animals from space weren’t a good bet. So kudos, corporate America. It took about 30 years of waiting for comic fans to regain their sense of humor about their choice of reading material, but you did it. On a side note: does anyone know if any other Beatles songs inspired cult comic characters? Because that’s something I’d like to see: a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen-style comic with Rocket Raccoon, Eleanor Rigby, Lady Madonna, the Walrus and a sky-dwelling entity known only as “Lucy” teaming up for adventures while riding in a yellow submarine. B+

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Rogue
Um… yes, please. I came into X-Men comics around the time Rogue was sporting the look seen here, which is probably why I’m a big fan. Don’t get me wrong, Anna Paquin’s a fine actor, but the X-Men films didn’t do Rogue any favors by turning her character into a simpering pushover. No, my Rogue was awesomeness all over: kick-ass powers, a little bit of a bad girl (a holdover from her days as a reluctant super-villain), and someone who was dealt one of the crappiest hands in life but still found reasons to belt out Nazareth songs in the shower. B+

Rom
If Rom’s backstory sounds like a pitch for selling a bunch of knockoff Star Wars toys… well, that’s because it is. Unlike Marvel’s other toy-based series, though, Rom’s book was firmly entrenched in the Marvel universe, with guest stars galore to aid him in his battle against the Dire Wraiths, an on-the-nose name for an alien race if there ever was one. And the weirdest part was that the comic was way more successful than the short-lived toy, cruising along for seven years before Rom was shipped off to live happily ever after with his Earthling honey (you know what they say, “Once you go Terran, no need for space-farin'”). Let’s draw a line down the middle between the over-the-top derivative space opera stuff and the fine examples of Ditko art in this entry and give Rom a not-too-shabby B-

Ronan the Accuser
Oh, hey, here’s some information about how the politically advantaged blue-skinned Kree citizens act like dicks towards the pink-skinned “inferior” members of their race. That’s not at all analogous to any situation here on Earth. Geez, Stan and Jack, even that one Star Trek episode with Frank Gorshin in black-and-white face paint was more subtle than this. Anyway, Ronan is supposed to be a racist ass and he plays that role to perfection, so he gets points for that. He’s also been known to commit high treason against his ruler in the name of racial purity, which must make for awkward performance reviews. C+

Rose
A masked gang leader with a penchant for leather masks and tailored suits, the Rose was an enigma at the time this issue came out, though his identity was revealed in later Spider-Man stories. No spoilers here (to the extent that revealing a 30-year-old secret from a Spider-Man comic can be a spoiler), but I will say this: the Rose’s existence cast serious doubts on Kingpin’s business smarts. Bad enough a guy like the Rose was able to build his own criminal empire and ally himself with creeps like Hobgoblin right under Kingpin’s nose, but we learn here that Mama Fisk’s boy, while harboring suspicions, was “not certain of the Rose’s true identity.” Not certain of the identity of a guy you trust to handle your business? Does that sound like good HR management to you? C+

Roxxon Oil Company
There’s no way I’m going to detail all the stories in which this fictional conglomerate appeared, so I’ll just say this: if it’s a Marvel story about an evil corporation doing evil things and it’s not Oscorp, then chances are it’s Roxxon. Stories about ethically challenged energy companies pushing around African countries to secure resource rights, covering up deaths and sabotaging research into alternative fuel sources that threaten their bottom line — man, where do those comic writers get their crazy ideas? C

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Sabra

Probably the only superhero who shares a name with a type of pear, unless you count The Amazing Bartlett-Man. She’s the Captain America of her native Israel, complete with nationalist blue-and-white color scheme and a Star of David on her chest. And just as predictably, her appearance in Contest of Champions saw her trading icy looks with Arabian Knight. Then there’s a bit about her child being killed in an attack by Palestinian terrorists. It’s interesting how comic writers bend over backwards coming up with fictional countries to avoid dealing with real-life politically sensitive issues… most of the time. Also interesting is her use of a flight-enabling cape (“up to 320 miles per hour”) and wrist-mounted “neuronic-frequency stunners,” both of which you’d think her fellow Israeli soldiers might find useful in their line of work. C

Sabretooth
Another Marvel character without much personality until he was drafted into the X-books, I think over the years Sabretooth has been presented or posited as Wolverine’s brother, father, Project X co-enlistee, cousin, son, clone, nephew, romantic rival, and possibly fellow boy band member. Not a villain with a lot of range or originality (think Wolverine without a moral compass), but at least he enjoys his work. B-

Sandman
Ah, Flint Marko. Say, how did his kid’s locket remain intact when everything else Thomas Haden Church was wearing or holding turned into sand? Sandman’s origin involved the usual hokey comic-book science (“Science!”) and multiple questions about his physiology, including how a guy who “can become as hard as sandstone” was defeated by a masked teenager with a vacuum cleaner in his first outing. Then there was his unfortunate team-up phase when he wore that silly costume with the oil-squirting belt, because apparently being made of living sand wasn’t gimmicky enough. But it’s all good. He’s walked on both sides of the law, packs a great visual punch, and dresses like a normal being when he’s on the clock. Nothing wrong with that. B+

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Sasquatch

Alpha Flight’s token brick, Sasquatch was a pro football player turned brilliant scientist who dabbled in the same gamma ray research that turned Dr. Banner into the Hulk. And I’m not saying it’s impossible for a former Green Bay Packer to become “one of the world’s foremost experts on the effects of radiation on human physiology”… just statistically unlikely, is all. Also statistically unlikely: that the flap of fur covering his crotch would keep his presumably monster-sized wang hidden at all times. For real, are we supposed to just look the other way and pretend the furry giant beating up bad guys in downtown Winnipeg isn’t running around buck naked? Because even my fellow Canadians aren’t that polite. C+

Savage Land Mutates
Oh good grief, I’m bored just looking at the name. These guys appeared in issues of The X-Men before the “all-new, all-different” X-Men team debuted, so that’s Strike One. Strike Two is the dopey idea of a whole swath of Antarctica having a tropical environment teeming with prehistoric wildlife, as if the greedier nations of the world wouldn’t bulldoze the shit out of a place like that in half a second. Then the text takes the time to patiently explain the difference between a “mutate” and a “mutant,” as if anyone gives a crap. The crowning touch, though, has to be how most of the men are dressed like extras from the last Conan movie while the lone female member, Lorelei (“not to be confused with the Asgardian Lorelei”), wears a full-length white gown. Because that’s what you think when you hear “Savage Land”: someone dressed like one of Gaston’s groupies from Beauty and the Beast. D-

Scarecrow
DC has a super-villain named Scarecrow. Marvel has a super-villain named Scarecrow . Both are murderous psychopaths, both dress up in scarecrow costumes, and both are compelling characters that don’t at all seem like a ripoff of each other. How the hell is this even possible? B

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Scarlet Witch

Sorry to disappoint any Age of Ultron fans seeking clarity about the nature of her powers; this entry only offers pseudo-scientific babble about probability fields and pockets of “reality-disrupting quasi-psionic force.” Just go with what that nice Cobie gal said: “She’s weird.” Or if you prefer, “she can do magic-like stuff, except it’s a mutant power, so you figure out how that works, Skeezix.” I feel a little sad seeing this entry; imagine if the smiling, casually posed Wanda Maximoff of 1986 knew what the next 30 years had in store for her: her children erased from existence, her husband reprogrammed into an emotionless android, insanity, murdering her teammates, death, getting pawed by Rob Liefeld. Harsh. Out of sympathy, B

Scorpion
I’m going to go out on a limb and say any child given the name “Mac Gargan” isn’t going to grow up to become, say, a social worker. It just doesn’t seem in the cards. I don’t know, I can’t see anyone being a big fan of the Scorpion in the same way that, say, people dig the Joker or Kingpin. He’s so one-note. Escapes from jail, tries to get revenge on Jameson, gets ass kicked by Spider-Man, goes back to jail, rinse, repeat. Even when he shakes things up by going after Daredevil or Captain America, he’s still just hired muscle with a cybernetic tail. And ironically enough, I bet that doesn’t get him any. Tail, I mean. D+

Scourge
Don’t get me wrong, he served a valuable purpose acting as a one-man Crisis on Infinite Earths by blowing away dozens of D-list Marvel villains… but man, talk about generic. Western-themed all-white costume, death’s-head mask, no interesting powers or weapons, no apparent motivation, extremely unoriginal “Justice is served” catchphrase… meh. They gave him an origin a few years after this series came out that tied him to one of Marvel’s more forgotten Golden Age heroes. Didn’t help. On the other hand, you have to admire the utility with which Marvel used him to erase nobodies like Turner D. Century and Commander Kraken; there you were, enjoying an issue of Captain America or Fantastic Four, when the focus would shift from the main story to some random super-villain out doing his own thing before a disguised Scourge shoots him, spouts his catchphrase… and that was it until he popped up unannounced in another title to serve up more justice. That’s efficient storytelling. C-

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Secret Empire

I love the goofiness of “and then… the world!” groups like this, especially when they dress in matching outfits and come up with silly titles for each other. It’s so juvenile, like the only thing missing is a secret lair made out of blankets and couch cushions. These guys started out as a farm team for HYDRA, then branched out into implausible terrorism by using flying saucers and harnessing the psionic energy of mutants (bu-huh?) to try and take over the United States. I’m sure it all made perfect sense when everyone sitting around the conference table was high. Oh, and the masked “Number One” was actually Richard Nixon. They couldn’t come right out and say that at the time, but writer Steve Englehart later confirmed that’s who Cap was shocked to find under the mask. Personally, I think Richard Dawson would have been the bigger twist, but that’s probably why they don’t pay me the big comic bucks. C+

Sentinel
I know there are probably a lot of fans of these guys, but I don’t get it. They’re basically just weapons with faces, tools that are only ever as interesting as the villains using them to target mutants. And I loved how the inherent flaw in their design was highlighted by the X-Men cartoon in the ’90s, where we were supposed to believe a 30-foot-tall robot can skulk in the shadows and hide behind buildings while stalking Jubilee. All that was missing were tip-toe sound effects and a Sentinel going, “Be vewy, vewy quiet. I’m hunting mutants. Heh-heh-heh-heh.” Plus there’s the batshit insanity of finding out the first Sentinels were built by a paranoid anthropologist. When was the last time you heard of an anthropologist building an army of giant killer robots? I mean besides Margaret Mead. C-

Sentry
Basically glorified security guards mass-produced by the Kree to keep an eye on their remote outposts, they were essentially excuses for Kirby to draw fights involving giant robots. Let the record show I have no problem with that. I’m impressed these mechanical beings had such a long shelf life, and were able to re-activate themselves after lying dormant for thousands of years. I’m still waiting for an iPhone that doesn’t disintegrate upon direct contact with the floor. C+

Serpent Society
I already weighed in on these guys back when I took a look at teams that took the whole common theme thing way too seriously, so let’s be kind to the Earth and recycle: “The team’s leader, Sidewinder, treated the team like a trade union, offering camaraderie, access to technology and get-out-of-jail-free cards in exchange for a cut of their ill-gotten gains. Setting up shop in Serpent Citadel (which did not, alas, resemble Skeletor’s Snake Mountain), the group — whose members used such nom de guerres as Asp, Cottonmouth, Cobra and Diamondback — scored a couple of sizable wins in their first few outings, including the assassination of MODOK and turning the citizens of Washington, DC, into savage-minded snake-people. That’s called branding, people. As contrived as the whole ‘Serpent Society’ thing was, it was a damn sight better conceived than the original Serpent Squad, a three-man operation first thrown at Captain America in 1973 that included a villain named the Eel among its members. Bad taxonomy, Marvel!Bad!” B+

Serpent Society Headquarters
“The headquarters of the Serpent Society is in an abandoned state mental institution somewhere in upstate New York.” How apropos. Every time I see schematics for super-villain headquarters, I can’t help but wonder: who cleans the toilets? Luckily, these guys have a staff of security guards, maintenance workers and physicians who are aware of their employers’ criminal enterprise and are presumably paid well for their discretion. But who mops the floors in the Legion of Doom’s headquarters? Does Lex Luthor hire locals for janitorial support, or does he find that Grodd, Sinestro and the rest are cool with having a chore chart on the breakroom refrigerator? C

Sersi
Another of the long-lived Eternals, Sersi is a matter-manipulating hedonist whose “unusual and memorable parties” are so unusual and memorable the entry tells us twice how unusual and memorable they are. Edit, editors! Then there’s this bit: “Sersi now uses her powers openly, particularly at the parties she gives, although many people continue to believe she has no superhuman powers and somehow stages her incredible feats through special effects they do not understand.” I guess if I lived in the Marvel universe, with mutants and monsters and midtown Manhattan blowing up every fifth Wednesday, I wouldn’t be too eager to believe anyone who says they’re part of a hidden race of super-beings, either, if only for the sake of my sanity. C+

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Shadowcat
Or Sprite, or Ariel, or Star-Lady, or just pick a damn name, Pryde. I don’t want to get into a big thing here because most X-Men fans either love or hate Katherine “Kitty” Pryde, and an indifferent fella like me doesn’t want to get in the middle of that spitball fight. Instead, let me focus on this part of her character history, where we learn about her first adventure with the X-Men: “Storm gave Kitty the X-Men’s phone number and asked her to summon help.” Remember how that was a thing back before everyone and their sidekick had a cellphone? Spider-Man or Luke Cage would come across some super-villain tearing up the city, and they’d rush to a phone booth to call in the Defenders or Avengers or whoever (with even odds that Spidey would make a crack about using his last quarter to make the call). I miss those days. Anyway, Shadowcat: not my cup of chamomile and they really, really should not have put her in that gawdawful mini-series with Logan, but I can see how her phasing power could come in handy in a lot of awkward situations. B-

Shang-Chi
It would have been so easy for Marvel to crank out some shlocky kung-fu title to capitalize on the martial-arts craze of the early 1970s and then drop it when people moved on to that decade’s next inexplicable fad. But here’s the thing: Shang-Chi’s title was actually good. In fact, it was so good it lasted well into the ’80s, which ain’t bad for a guy who can’t spin webs or shoot lasers from his eyes. His backstory is your standard “good son fights evil father’s empire” stuff, with the added bonus of his father being Fu freakin’ Manchu. Add in a cast of well-rounded characters to support our hero, who also happened to be the first Asian to get top billing in a North American mainstream title and… trust me, go pick up a few issues of his first series and see for yourself. Then join me in the bushes behind Kevin Feige’s house to demand six seasons and a movie for this guy. A-

handbook-shanna
Shanna the She-Devil

Speaking of inexplicable things from the ’70s. Right around the time Ms. magazine was getting off the ground, Marvel decided to do the ladies a solid by putting out a bunch of titles starring strong female characters. The end results were… interesting, let’s put it that way. Shanna the She-Devil was one of the odder titles from that era, in that it was an attempt to take a genre (specifically the jungle queen genre) defined by its cheesecake and re-interpret it with a pro-woman, empowering message. “As long as she wears a leopard-print bikini, it’s all good,” Marvel’s hornier readers replied. For audacity mostly, C+

Shaper of Worlds
He can create entire universes with his near-infinite powers but he can’t fashion himself a decent set of legs? D

She-Hulk
High marks from me, and not for the sordid reasons you think. She’s a ridiculous character who embraces her ridiculousness, and that makes her awesome in my book. We all know the story: Marvel wanted to secure its copyright by preventing anyone else from coming out with a female version of the Hulk, and lo the She-Hulk was born. And anyone who stopped following her career after her first series would be justified in thinking her creation was wasn’t one of Marvel’s better ideas. But! Following John Byrne’s lead, writers have embraced She-Hulk’s inherent absurdity, churning out some of the best and funniest books Marvel has ever put out. The best part? Even when she’s played straight, Jen Walters has no hang-ups or issues about who she is: she’s big, she’s green and she lives life to the fullest. I’ll have what she’s having, please and thank you. A+

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Shi’ar

An alien race added to the X-Men book back during a time when a lot of comic writers were bringing intergalactic empires and conflicts into their stories for some strange reason.  They were positioned as the “good guys” as galactic empires go, certainly when compared to the shifty Skrulls and militaristic Kree. We also learn the average Shi’ar can bench-press 1 ton. Just once, I’d like to read a comic about an alien race whose members can’t wipe the floor with us Terrans; it’s like our cosmic destiny is to always be the short kid at the end of the bench. Sure, we got guys like the Hulk and the Thing on our team, but it would be nice if humans could compete in the interstellar Olympics without juicing up on gamma and/or cosmic rays first. B-

S.H.I.E.L.D.
Or Supreme Headquarters of International Espionage, Law Enforcement Division, as we were reminded every bloody time these guys showed up. Giving a grunt like Nick Fury a new job as a super-spy must have seemed like a no-brainer back in the spy-crazy days of James Bond and The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and the book really hit its stride when Steranko arrived to show everyone else how it’s done. But even a diehard fan has to admit there were sillier aspects to the franchise, starting with the Central Casting lineup. Lantern-jawed leader with manly name? Check. Second-in-command tough guy with funny name? Check. Blonde-and-brunette pair of top-billed women? Check. Glasses-wearing nerdy sidekick? Check. Older smart-guy professor type? Check. The black guy? Check. Also, a whole lot of dudes with blonde hair, one of whom is named “Barth Bukowski,” which always makes me think of the little one-eyed guy from Monsters, Inc. when I see it. B

S.H.I.E.L.D. Uniforms
For the record, I am definitely in favour of any excuse to put Adrianne Palicki in a form-fitting outfit. But I am also definitely glad the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. producers skipped the color-coded S.H.I.E.L.D. uniforms from the comics and opted for basic special-ops black. “Agents involved in covert field operations are expected to dress in plainclothes.” That would seem to go without saying, wouldn’t it? C

S.H.I.E.L.D. Flying Car
I don’t care if ABC blew half the show’s special-effects budget on that one shot of Coulson lifting off in Lola. I’ve waited most of my life to see a S.H.I.E.L.D. flying car in action and goshdamn it was worth it. “4 air-to-air radiation missiles” and “30 mm cannon” — I can think of a few situations where that would come in handy during my commute. A-

Shocker
The only shocker here is finding out a guy dressed like a memory-foam mattress managed to give Spider-Man more than five minutes of a light workout. Later had a second career as a running joke, which sounds about right. D

Shooting Star
Real name “Victoria Star,” because of course. Her father, a wealthy oil baron and amateur rodeo performer — because even the clichés are bigger in Texas — encouraged his daughter’s rodeo aspirations by hiring scientists to develop flying boots and six-shooters that shoot “star-shaped paralysis pellets” instead of bullets. She was later possessed by a demon as part of Master Pandemonium’s schemes, which sounds far-fetched but in the Marvel universe is an occupational hazard only slightly less likely than pissing off Wolverine. C-

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Shroud

Orphaned at the age of ten when his parents were gunned down in a hold-up, Bruce Wayne — sorry, no, I mean to say the child who would grow up to become the Shroud vowed vengeance on all criminals. Training his mind and body to peak perfection, young Bruce — er, the man who would become the Shroud traveled to the Far East in search of more training to aid him in his war on crime. Clothed in a dark mask and cape, the man now known as Batm– AUGH!!! D

Sidewinder
The pride of Kenosha, Wisconsin, Seth Voelker uses a high-tech teleporting cloak to run a successful business that provides referrals and logistical support to other snake-themed super-villains (see “Serpent Society” above). And they say the spirit of American innovation is dead. He started out as an non-tenured economics professor whose dismissal from his post led to a new career in costumed crime. Boy, if I had a nickel for every time one of my college-professor buddies went down that same route. But seriously, it’s kind of nice to see that not all the professors turned super-villains started out in the science or engineering department. Humanities, represent! C+

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One response to “Making the Grade: Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition, Vol. 11

  1. I find it interesting that three decades later that former mustache-twirling baddie Ronan the Accuser is, if not necessarily a good guy, at least now depicted as a semi-heroic protagonist. Plus he’s also married to Crystal of the Inhumans. Of course nearly anyone, even Ronan, is a step up after a jerk-@$$ like Quicksilver.

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