Making the Grade: Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition, Vol. 13

marvelhandbook-vol13

There were 13 British colonies, 13 guests at the Last Supper, and 13 ghosts of Scooby Doo. Coincidence? Yes! Also a coincidence? There’s a number 13 on the 13th issue (from Super-Adaptoid to Umar) of The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Deluxe Edition. 

There’s another long and incredibly fascinating helping of reader-submitted Data Corrections to start off this issue [“Under History, it should have read (see Appendix: Masters, Alicia) not (see Masters, Alicia)…”], so let’s skip that and dive into the fun stuff. 

Excelsior! 

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Super-Adaptoid

This is what happens when you peak too early. Having wowed their bosses with the Cosmic Cube and everyone’s favorite Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing, the R&D folks down at A.I.M. did their best to follow up with something just as snazzy. One of their early attempts, the Super-Adaptoid, was an Amazo knockoff programmed to duplicate the powers of superhumans it comes in contact with. The best part about this entry is how it was known as just a plain Adaptoid before someone in Marketing stuck a “Super” to its name. “Come on, guys! If it only comes in this boring off-white color, then we have to do something to set it apart from the rest of the Adaptoids on the market. We need a way to tell people it’s not just any old Adaptoid. It’s a quality Adaptoid! It’s an amazing Adaptoid! It’s… it’s a SUPER-Adaptoid!” C

Super-Skrull
You may recall the Skrulls are an alien race of shape-changers that like hanging around Earth and stirring up shit (no, literally stirring it up; it’s like haute cuisine where those guys are from, don’t ask me why). Having had their asses handed to them by four squabbling humans, they did some genetic jiggery-pokery on one of their most decorated warriors and gave him the combined powers of the Fantastic Four. Nice work if you can get it, but it didn’t really help him much and he eventually died of leukemia. I bet he did not see that coming. C+

Supreme Intelligence
Meanwhile, over on the Kree side of the fence, they weren’t having any of this “super” nonsense. No, their despotic leader was the SUPREME Intelligence, thank you very much. You might think an empire allowing itself to be governed by the mushed-together brains of dead politicians is completely batshit insane, but [INSERT TIMELESS JOKE ABOUT U.S. CONGRESS HERE]. Let’s just say I don’t see any galactic bodies taking governance lessons from us Earthlings any time soon. C

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Surtur

A massive fire demon so massive and powerful he gives even Thor and Odin the heebie-jeebies when he shows up. Not much in the personality department, but I don’t care: just hand me a dozen comics of him giving Simonson an excuse to break out the sound effects and I’m a happy guy. SHAKKA-KRA-THOOOOOOM!!!! B

Talisman
I’m not a huge fan of magic-users as a rule. Guys like Talisman is why. One, it’s a bit clichéd — if not stereotypical — to make the Native American member of Alpha Flight a super-shaman who’s in touch with the spirit world. Two, he doesn’t become a great magic-user because, like Stephen Strange, he worked his ass off to learn humility and such; nope, he was just the latest in a long line of mystically attuned medicine men in his family who passed down their knowledge from father to son. Midichlorians much? Three, his medicinal pouch is a literal “wizard did it” accessory, with infinite space inside (“because it’s magic!”) for him to haul out whatever magic stuff the plot demands. I’m bored just thinking about it. D+

Taskmaster
This was a pretty decent Avengers villain who rates highly on my list of villains they should tap for future Marvel movies. His shtick was that he had “photographic reflexes,” meaning he could copy any physical feat perfectly after seeing someone else do it. Only instead of landing a lucrative NFL contract or making top dollar as a high-demand Hollywood stuntman, he decides the big money is in running a school for aspiring henchmen. To be fair, though, look at tuition for non-henchmen colleges in the real world and tell me who the real crooks are. B

Tatterdemalion
“Due to Tatterdemalion’s lack of hygienic habits, he emits a harsh, offensive odor at all times.” Well, sure, I bet the Blob does, too, but I don’t see anyone getting all personal with him about it. My other favorite part: “Tatterdemalion is extremely agile and coordinated, having at one time been an expert tap dancer.” I hear a little soft-shoe was part of Steve Rogers’ super-soldier training regimen, right between his knife combat and synchronized swimming classes. D+

Tattletale
“Geez, he’s not going to attack children now, is he?” Yes. Yes, I am. Here’s the problem with Franklin Richards: he’s dull. There is nothing interesting about him that isn’t a hundred plot contrivances stitched together like Frankenstein’s homework. He’s a kid whose power is super-dreaming, and he only matters when some super-villain comes along to unlock his “vast psionic potential” that’s supposed to make him the most powerful being in the world when he grows up, but frankly sounds like a lot of headaches and paperwork for the rest of us. Plus we’re supposed to believe that his parents — two of the world’s smartest people and proprietors of one of the most secure edifices on Earth — had no idea their six-year-old son was sneaking out to join Power Pack on their adventures. How the fuck is that even remotely plausible? You want to see the only way to do Franklin right? Sumerak and Eliopoulos, Son of a Genius, next case. D- (A+ when Mark and Chris are on the job)

Terminus
An interplanetary scavenger who travels the galaxy in search of slaves and raw materials, leaving worlds uninhabitable in the process. Think Galactus’s unimpressive understudy and you get the idea. “It is not known how Terminus used his slaves and plunder, but it has been speculated that he sells them to unknown clients.” Two things: (1) Is it just me, or don’t you think a planet with a working biosphere would be a little more valuable than one that’s chopped up for parts? (2) Who handles the business side of his plundering? He doesn’t strike me as the type who does his own marketing or invoicing, so is there someone in an office somewhere taking care of those details? That’s something I’d like to see, a sitcom a la The Office about the white-collar employees behind a super-villain’s operation. C+

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Texas Twister

I’m not from Texas and I don’t know anyone from Texas, so let me ask any Texans out there: do you find this character offensive? I mean, do you roll your eyes when yokels who have never seen your fine state imagine guys dressed like this turkey when someone says “Texas”? The best part of his entry is where we find out early in his superhero career he mistakenly answered a newspaper ad placed by the Wizard to fill a vacancy in the Frightful Four. How exactly would that work? “EARN BIG MONEY! A winning team is looking for that right someone who enjoys action, adventure, shawarma. Must be adept in small-arms fire, hand-to-hand combat, PowerPoint. Pyrophobics need not apply. Contact W. Izard, Box 23.” And the paper would place the ad next to Doctor Doom’s “Eye on Real Estate” column. C-

Thena
Cripes, how many of these Eternals were there? And is Marvel going to force me to care about them by making an Eternals movie anytime soon? I love how all the Eternal entries note their identities and powers are known to the public, but no one believes they really are members of a superhuman race. “Cosmic rays? Super-serums? Radioactive spiders? Alien artifacts? Sure, that’s totally believable. Whoa now, you expect us to believe there’s some hidden city of genetically enhanced super-people with long lifespans? Poppycock, I say! Poppycock and balderdash. Away with your fanciful jests, sirrah.” As for Thena herself: meh. C

Thing
10 Reasons to love Benjamin J. Grimm:

  1. Even before that fateful flight, he was an Air Force test pilot and astronaut. These are not professions for people who are lacking in either smarts or guts.
  2. He deals with the kind of life-altering experience that I think would drive most of us to drink and/or self-pitying rampages, and he does it with his sense of humor intact.
  3. He keeps Reed Richards grounded, as both the voice of humanity in the team (irony: it’s what’s for dinner!) and by reminding Richards — not consciously, but still there — of his greatest failure (i.e. Reed’s failure to find a way to reverse Ben’s mutation).
  4. When one of other team members called him a “thing” after they landed back on Earth, his immediate response wasn’t something like, “Yeah, well, fuck you, too” — which is pretty much how I would have responded, if we’re being honest.
  5. The Hulk called him “Rock Face.” Rock Face! 
  6. The man runs, what, three or four regular poker games? I would love to sit at a table across from him. You think he has a tell?
  7. The books always made a big deal about Alicia’s blindness and how it allowed her to see his inner beauty and whatever, but how did they deal with the… uh, more tactile aspects of a relationship? No, my mind is not in the gutter, I’m genuinely curious if that ever came up.
  8. Speaking of Alicia: dick move, Johnny. I don’t care if Ben stayed behind on the Secret Wars planet and the two of you had no idea if he was ever coming home. It’s always bros before, man.
  9. That one issue of Marvel Two-In-One where the Thing and Sandman drink beers in a bar and commiserate about the shitty hands that life dealt them? Oscar-reel gold.
  10. He’s the best parts of Kirby rolled up into one irascible, cigar-chomping package. A

handbook-thor
Thor

So apparently at one point in Thor’s life the severed eye of Odin “grew to great size, achieved sentience and informed Thor that another Thor had existed before the current Thor’s birth.” But this account “may very well be entirely false” and the eye’s motives for telling such a tale aren’t known. Man, first there was that whole “humans came out of sweaty giant armpits” thing in Norse mythology, now we’ve got talking severed eyeballs floating around and yakking up a storm. Who wrote this stuff, David Cronenberg? Anyway, all you need to know about this future film heartthrob/astrophysicist boy toy is this: (1) His entry is drawn to perfection by Walt Simonson and (2) He went through like a half-dozen secret identities before he said, “Yo, screw this, I’m a freakin’ god.” (Note: may not be a direct translation.) A-

Thunderiders
And then you had the titles that show Marvel did not know where to stop with the insanity. They’re a team of ethnically diverse professional motorcyclists who travel across America performing stunt shows and solving crimes. Simple, right? But then the writers had to throw in stuff about how they’re all mutants with a special mental link, and all their parents just happened to be test subjects in the same HYDRA experiment, and a mysterious masked rider called the Marauder brought them together to face their destiny which led to HYDRA sending an assassin to try and kill them because reasons… yeah, even for ’80s-era Marvel, it was all a bit too much. FUN FACT: The team’s members were named Honcho, Cowboy, Wrench, Georgianna, R.U. Reddy and Wolf. Guess which one was the brooding loner! D

Thundra
She’s a warrior from an alternate future where women are the stronger and more dominant sex, and her greatest enemy is a male chauvinist from another dimension named Makhizmo. Subtlety, thy name ain’t Marvel. The men in her timeline are bred “only as servants, entertainers and breeding stock.” Good gravy, a future where men exist only to have sex and tell jokes with some light dusting on the side? Gosh, that’s… I want to say terrible? C+

Tiger Shark
So much wrong, so little space to list it all. He’s an Olympic swimmer who had plans to make millions as a professional swimmer in public exhibitions, because apparently that’s a thing. After an injury dried up that potential revenue stream, he journeyed to the secret undersea lab of Dr. Dorcas for a cure, not tipping to the fact that maybe he shouldn’t ask for help from a guy with a secret undersea lab. Also, his first name is Todd. Let’s be honest: Todd is a terrible first name for a super-villain. Victor, Lex, Oswald, Obadiah — these are names you can work with if you’re considering a career in evil. Todd? Not so much. D

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Tigra

So glad to see Marvel doing its part to reach out to confused teenagers sexually aroused by images of Garfield the cat, but are too ashamed to admit it. It gets better, gang. F

Tinkerer
AKA Marvel’s answer to how every steroid-addled lug-nut has the mechanical means to help their bank-robbing dreams take flight. He’s an elderly fellow who provides weaponry to his underworld clients whilst maintaining a cover identity as a humble fix-it shop proprietor. I’m less amazed by the many devices and gizmos he creates out of salvaged parts than I am by the fact he runs his shop in downtown Manhattan. Never mind operating right under the noses of 90% of Earth’s superheroes, he must fix a lot of toasters to cover his Midtown rent. B-

Titan
So an offshoot group of Eternals land on one of Saturn’s moons, hollows it out and builds a grand underground civilization. Then a civil war nearly wipes them all out. They rebuild under the leadership of Mentor, but then his son Thanos recruits a bunch of off-world mercenaries to wipe out all but a hundred survivors. The moral: having a super-intelligent computer named after the Love Boat bartender doesn’t mean shit if it can’t help you smack down assholes when it counts. C

Titania
I don’t care what her birthplace is or that her childhood nickname was “Skeeter.” All I care is that she once co-starred with She-Hulk in “Court Costs,” a 1989 Solo Avengers story that is still one of the funniest things Marvel has ever published (not counting letters praising Rob Liefeld’s art). Plus she and the Absorbing Man are like the Bonnie and Clyde of the Marvel super-villain scene: on the run and in love, an irresistible combination. B

Titanium Man
“Oh, so men made of iron impress you, eh? Boo-yah, comrade! Titanium! In your face!” This guy is the Russian answer to Iron Man who isn’t the Crimson Dynamo, and he’s totally different from the Crimson Dynamo because his armor is green instead of red. What can I say, creativity took a backseat to meeting deadlines back in the day. In a precursor to Rocky IV, Boris Bullski (no, really) challenged Iron Man in a battle of political ideologies; you can guess how that worked out for him. C-

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Toad

They wasted Ditko on this guy’s art? In direct contrast to Ray Park’s awesomeness, the comic-book Toad was a sniveling, misshapen abuse victim who was more likely to run screaming from a fight than bust out any cool Darth Maul moves. And while the abuse he suffered for the crime of being different might have earned him some sympathy points, he was a major-league stalker, obsessed with winning the Scarlet Witch’s love until he saw her eight months pregnant and “found her condition repulsive.” Charming.D

Tomorrow Man
You know, for someone who “engages in little regular exercise,” he looks pretty buff in that costume. Must be a future thing. That’s right, Artur Zarrko is a man who comes back in time from the 23rd century to steal some of our nuclear weapons so he can conquer his own peace-loving time. And he kept doing that: coming to our time and going back to the future to conquer it, I mean. Why not stay here and use his knowledge of the future to rule over us primitive binge-watchers? Yes, yes, “holographic sex chambers,” I get it — but it’s not like he can’t bring the technology for that back here to our time. Hell, I can think of two, three billion people who would elect him their president-for-life tomorrow if he brought that innovation to the market right now. C

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Tower

Funniest bit: “Apocalypse wished to establish mutants as the dominant force on Earth and recruited Tower, Fenzy, Stinger, Timeshadow and Michael Nowlan as the beginning of his army.” As the Sesame Street song goes, one of these things is not like the other. He can shrink and grow, if anyone cares. Also, according to his legs and forearms, his wi-fi reception is only so-so. C

Trapster
Ah, Pete Petruski. Here’s the thing about becoming a super-villain: it’s not like you can take graduate courses in it. Plus the good super-villains aren’t keen to take on apprentices — it’s an evil thing, you wouldn’t understand — so the best you can do if you want to break into the business is give it a shot, learn from your mistakes, and get back up when life (or the Hulk) beats you down. So let’s say you’re a research chemist who discovers a super-powerful adhesive and you decide there’s more money in using it to rob banks than getting a patent. We can forgive the lapse in moral judgment and lack of marketing sense. We can forgive him thinking that joining forces with the Wizard is a smart career move. Hell, we can even forgive the choice of purple and yellow for his costume color scheme. But how clueless do you have to be to think it’s okay to start your super-villain career as “Paste-Pot Pete”? Answer: pretty damn clueless. C-

Triton
He’s an Inhuman covered in scales who can swim fast and breathe underwater. I’m guessing no one asked for his opinion when they voted to move their city to the moon. C

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Tyrannus

Tyrannus is some dipshit ruler of an underground kingdom, but that’s not the part that bothers me. What bothers me is how his entry perfectly embodies the half-assed approach to character development that Marvel is guilty of way more often than its Distinguished Competition. What do I mean by that? I mean he was clearly meant to be a one-off villain thrown against the Hulk one of his earlier issues, someone who tried to conquer us top-siders but was sent packing by Banner’s angry half. Fair enough. But then he’s drawn into Fantastic Four stories and having turf wars with Mole Man. Then he’s fighting Nova while trying to restore his immortality. Then his consciousness is hurled into space (huh?) where he finds another atomized baddie (the Abomination)(huh?) and reconstructs that guy’s body with his mind in control of it. Then he goes and fights the Hulk again. Why? Why any of this? Doctor Doom, Red Skull, Kingpin, Magneto — these are villains with plausible motives and rich histories to draw from. Tyrannus… is just there. He dresses like an ancient Roman and just happens to stumble across the Fountain of Youth and an underground empire of forgotten scientific wonders only because the Hulk once needed someone to whale on for 11 pages. Has anyone done anything interesting with him lately? No, wait, I don’t care. D-

U-Foes
Ersatz Fantastic Four quartet who got their powers and altered genetic structure via the same cosmic-ray space magic. They’re boring, but nowhere near as boring as Tyrannus. C-

Ulik
Pronounced “OO-lick,” not “YOU-lick” as some might believe and/or use as the basis of a naughty joke. He’s a rock troll who trades blows with Thor from time to time. As one does. “Ulik possesses superhuman strength that enables him to lift (press) about 95 tons. In contrast, an average Rock Troll can lift (press) about 25 tons.” Two things: (1) Why are we talking about “superhuman strength” when discussing trolls and Asgardians? (2) Pffft,  25 tons? That’s all? Wimps. C+

ULTIMATUM
Or the Underground Liberated Totally Integrated Mobile Army To Unite Mankind, and a shiny farthing to the poor Marvel staffer tasked with coming up with that acronym. Though it does sound like the beginning of a catchy ’80s cartoon theme song (“They’re liberated!/Totally integrated!“). They’re an anti-nationalism terrorist group opposed to the concept of nation-states and national symbols, so of course they gun for Captain America. It’s not clear what their ultimate goals are, or what they intend to replace national governments with (endless rounds of Rock-Paper-Scissors?), but I think we can all agree this was a concept that probably sounded better inside Mark Gruenwald’s head. C-

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Ultron

“Occupation: Would-be conqueror, enslaver of men.” The ladies, on the other hand, flock to him willingly. Because once you go chrome, you never go home (wink wink). Unlike his movie origins, Ultron was created by Hank Pym, and he possessed an insane desire to kill his “father” while also wanting to mate with his “mother” (by way of programming a robotic mate with the Wasp’s memories). There’s a certain term for that kind of behaviour, it’s right on the tip of my tongue… oh right, EW! On the other hand, Spader sounded like he had fun in the recording booth, didn’t he? B-

Umar
“I know Umar, but what am I?” (crickets) Okay, how about my impression of David Letterman at the Oscars: “Umar, Uma. Uma, Umar.” (lone cough in the back) Whoa, tough crowd. This Doctor Strange nemesis “uses the erotic arts as a means of dealing with her allies,” and for some reason the phrase “erotic arts” makes me think of a little old lady on Etsy selling crocheted dildo sleeves and needlepoints depicting scenes from popular RedTube videos. Yes, I worry about me, too. C+

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One response to “Making the Grade: Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition, Vol. 13

  1. Too many LOL moments to mention! Once again, great work. I posted another link on Facebook in the Marvel Comics of the 1980s group.

    “That’s something I’d like to see, a sitcom a la The Office about the white-collar employees behind a super-villain’s operation.”

    You should totally create a comic book series like that! It would be brilliant!

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