Hang in there, folks, we’re almost near the end. It’s time to cease whatever contribution you were making to society and take another look at the ALF-era publishing phenomenon known as The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Deluxe Edition. This week: Volume Fourteen, from Unicorn to Wolverine.
But first, an announcement from the home office: beginning this issue, readers were told, the series went from monthly to bi-monthly. Why, you ask? Oh, not because of sales, they said. No, apparently it’s because it took the guys in charge of this project 14 issues into a 20-issue project to realize that, hey, pumping out 66 densely written pages of text every 30 days is a lot more work than the average Marvel comic. Go figure.
On a completely unrelated note, the editor’s column also informs readers of the departure of some team members and the arrival of some others, plus we find out that issues 16 to 20 will feature all the “non-living, non-active denizens of the Marvel universe.” And have no fear, we’ll get to those issues full of yup-no-fooling-they’re-all-dead-and-staying-that-way-forever characters in due course.
As I’ve said before in a rundown of Iron Man’s less impressive villains: “Sometimes, it’s easy to figure out why certain characters went with the name they chose. Crusher, Mauler, Destroyer: these are names that make it clear you’re out to mess someone up. In the Unicorn’s case, it’s not so clear why he thought his was an acceptable super-villain name. Maybe there was some language or cultural misunderstanding involved. Maybe Milos was too low-ranking to have a say in the decision-making process, and he couldn’t really go against his Soviet superiors when they told him to call himself Unicorn. But you would hope that someone at some point in the process would have realized that allowing their costumed agent to be named after mythical creatures best known for adorning blacklight posters and the Trapper Keepers of teenage girls in the ’80s was probably not the best way to sow terror in the West.” D+
Basically a giant gestalt consciousness generated whenever the Eternals needed to Captain Planet their way out of a situation. You might think combining the minds and personalities of all the Eternals wouldn’t do much to make them interesting. You wouldn’t be wrong if you did. C-
Unlimited Class Wrestling Federation
What the WWE would look like if everyone wore ridiculous costumes, had over-the-top names, and used extra-legal methods to increase their physical strength, endurance and resistance to pain. Well, more so. C
His birth name was Angelo Unuscione, but he changed it to the decidedly German-sounding Gunther Bain when he emigrated to the U.S. Because why not? A mutant with the power to naturally generate his own impenetrable force field, he never really made it into the X-Men Rogues’ Gallery Big Leagues. Some may say this is because his power, which is passive in nature, doesn’t lend itself easily to the raw displays of power and action for which the X-Men franchise is famed. Me, I think it’s because his name sounds too close to “anus.” D+
His real name is Mikhail Ursus, he’s Russian, and his mutant power is turning into a bear. Because of course it is. Not a bear with super-strength or super-mind powers, mind you, just a normal brown bear with normal brown bear strength. Sure, let him guest-star in the Hulk’s book, makes perfect sense. C-
By amazing coincidence, Valkyrie lists “Chooser of the Slain” as both her occupation and favorite death-metal band. Another Asgardian prone to slumming it with us mortals, Valkyrie was the complete package: Nordic good looks, bad-ass powers, tough-as-nails attitude, flying horse, cast-iron brassiere. On the downside, like all Valkyries she can sense when someone near her is in imminent danger of dying, which must have led to a few awkward moments at the Defenders’ holiday gatherings. B
Like Ursa Major, Vanguard is a Soviet Russian superhero. He uses a hammer and sickle to focus his powers, and I’m guessing he didn’t break out those accessories often after 1991. A mother who died in childbirth, stolen from his father shortly after his birth, has a long-lost twin sister he was later reunited with, possesses powers that allow him to manipulate energy, hangs out with a giant hairy beast-man while rebelling against an “evil empire”… I’m not the only one seeing this, am I? C
“Former aliases: Telford Porter.” Oh, har-dee-har-har, Marvel writers. He’s a teleporter who never has to worry about re-appearing inside a brick wall or in front of an oncoming truck because mutant power something something. I suppose I could make fun of his all-black costume being a way for him to pick up extra cash moving sets at community theatres, but frankly anything is better than the ensemble he started out with, which looks like something Liberace would have worn while singing a duet of “It Isn’t Easy Being Green” with Kermit the Frog. C+
You have super-villains, you need a super-secure place to lock them up. This was the maximum-security prison for the baddest of the bad in the Marvel universe, a place specifically designed to neutralize powers and thus make it impossible for super-powered criminals to escape. “The Vault’s administrators have investigated the possibility of permanently neutralizing the superhuman powers of the criminals, but so far this has been ruled unconstitutional.” Thanks, Obama. B-
I think it’s fair to say anything created by a Nazi geneticist with a TV camera for a head isn’t going to win any best-in-show ribbons. A homeless-man-turned-rat-creature, Vermin was sicced on Captain America by two bad guys who had clearly run out of ideas. I mean, what did they think would happen, that Vermin would summon some rats and make Captain America scream like a 1950s housewife hopping up on a chair? And then they could post that video online and ruin Cap’s tough-guy reputation, and online comedians would create their own videos showing Cap stalked by Mickey and Minnie in movie trailer parodies? Actually, that would be pretty funny. C+
It’s a make-believe metal. It lets superheroes do their superhero stuff. Do you need to know anything else? Not really. C
“Hey, now that our leader is dead, who should wear his Discount Iron Man suit?” “I dunno, give it to his secretary wife, she ain’t doing anything.” I mean no disrespect to fans of Alpha Flight or administrative assistants, but this always bugged me. Sure, we have wives and husbands in the real world who step in when their politician spouses die in office, but I don’t recall a lot of, say, wives of daredevil motorcyclists strapping on a helmet when their husbands die on the job. And I would hope the training for becoming a superhero is at least on par with learning how to jump a canyon. Yes, yes, “heart of a hero” and all that, but let’s be serious here. C-
Yeah, baby! All right, maybe I’m being a little sexist, but I imagine HYDRA had a much easier time enlisting new recruits with this tasty terrorist splayed across their recruitment posters. And to be clear, she’s not just another pretty face — she’s also a feminist pioneer, being one of the first female agents to join the organization and the first to head up one of its factions after it fell apart. She’s also pure evil, which is nice considering how few comic-book women are allowed to be evil for evil’s sake. How evil is she? She’s so evil, Doom refers to himself in the first person when she’s around. She’s so evil, even MODOK is all Mental Organism Designed Only for Quietly Shutting His Yap when she shows up. A-
Okay, I know the standard beef about the Vision is how did he conceive children given that he’s an artificial being (and don’t give me that “magic did it” nonsense unless you seriously believe somebody once wrote a spell specifically designed to allow inorganic machines to spontaneously develop and pass on their genetic codes in case it ever came up). But Vision’s entry brings up so many other burning questions. Why would the Fantastic Four leave the original Human Torch’s android body abandoned in the desert like that? What kind of salary does an Avenger pull down before taxes? Do they offer a 401(k) plan? Was his marriage to the Scarlet Witch valid, considering Immortus probably isn’t registered as an officiant in New York? And why the hell would they buy a house in New Jersey to lead “some semblance of a normal life” and then make zero effort to conceal their superhero identities from their asshole neighbors? And you thought his Age of Ultron appearance was confusing. C+
She’s 6’5″, clearly a woman of ample size, and yet her weight is listed as 210 lbs. Sigh. Really, guys? A nice gal who wants nothing more than to live a simple life of friends and binge-watching, the only real knock against Volcana is her centre-stage role in Secret Wars II. It’s a big knock, but I’ll overlook it. B-
A classic Spider-Man foe, and rightly so. Not only does he fit in nicely with Spidey’s collection of animal-themed rogues, not only does he have a distinctly Ditkoesque look and demeanor, Adrian Toomes also has an actual, sympathetic backstory (i.e., electronics genius screwed over by his crooked business partner). He also functions as a handy metaphor for society’s attitudes towards the aged, often taking advantage of other peoples’ assumptions about his abilities just because he’s an old man. And I don’t mind admitting that, in my advancing years, I often find myself siding with Toomes during his occasional contretemps with Spider-Man. Mouthy little punk. Oh, my God. “Vulture.” “Toomes.” I LITERALLY JUST GOT THAT! A
You know, with all the stories about some white guy going into a jungle and becoming the protector of the people who live there (Tarzan, Phantom, etc.), it’s nice to know there’s a place in Africa where the folks who live there are doing just fine protecting their own. I’ve a few quibbles about the map — I’m pretty sure there aren’t any piranhas in Piranha Cove because, you know, not South America — plus I have it on good authority that most Africans live in sturdier structures than grass huts. But still. Progress. B
Conceived in that Star Wars/E.T./ALF era of lovable robots and space aliens, the distinctly non-magical Warlock was a “techno-organic” shape-shifting alien who dropped to Earth one night and became best buds with the New Mutants, learning valuable lessons on what it means to be human. It’s every bit as hokey as it sounds, but sometimes hokey can be a good thing, especially when it gives Bill Sienkiewicz an excuse to let loose with the crazy techno-visuals. Unfortunately, in a futile attempt to make the world care about Doug Ramsey, the two of them became extra-best buds, to the point where they would go into battle with their forms merged to create (God help me) “Douglock.” Uch. B-
“Hey, Thor, the comic relief you ordered is here!” Also known as Fandral (the blond guy), Volstagg (the fat guy), and Hogun (the grumpy Asian-looking guy), these guys were the Asgardian answer to the Three Stooges, only without the eye pokes. Unless you count the pokes performed with swords. At any rate. C+
More proof, as if proof were needed, that Hank Pym is an asshole: when Janet’s career as a fashion designer took off and her inheritance meant she was the main source of income in their marriage, Pym gave in to his insecurities about not being the breadwinner and started verbally and physically abusing her. Ladies, take note: a real man will happily let you bring home the bacon. Pym’s assholery notwithstanding, I’m inclined to look favorably upon Ms. Van Dyne, given the prominent place she holds in Avengers history, both as its sole female founding member and as one of the team’s longest-serving chairs. She’s also a character who has gotten much better over time, overcoming the flirtatious ditziness and acute case of sidekick-itis ascribed to her in early scripts to become a genuine leader and bad-ass in her own right, able to whip the likes of Thor and Hercules into fighting form. My only real complaint — and I suppose it’s more of a regret than a complaint — is that she didn’t react the way I wish she had reacted the first time Pym whipped off his lab coat, thrust out his chest and told her, “I am… the Ant-Man!” Ah well. A-
A “vastly power, ancient extraterrestrial race” of peeping Toms who are sworn to a strict code of non-interference and passive observation… except for all the times that one Watcher stationed on our moon has non-passively interfered with events here on Earth. All right, then. I guess these guys have never heard of the observer effect, which is not to be confused with the Heisenberg Principle, which posits that a television character’s level of bad-assery is directly proportional to the likelihood of him looking good in a porkpie hat. Uatu wearing a pork pie hat and growling “Say my name” to Galactus, now there’s a Fantastic Four story I would pay someone to write. C+
Where to begin. No, really, where do I start in listing the massive amounts of stupid on this page? The hoary-as-hell “lightning + experimental device = water-bending powers” origin? The designed-by-a-six-year-old orange-and-purple costume with trident chest symbol (because having a big drip on his chest would be too on the nose)? The fact this knob had no idea what to do with his new powers until a shifty associate suggested crime as an option? The fact that someone else looked at this guy and thought he would be the perfect choice to take out Ghost Rider? The fact that, already burned once (literally) by Ghost Rider, Water Wizard decided teaming up with a sorcerer named Moondark to go after him again was a smart career move? The fact he later discovers he can mentally control massive amounts of any liquid, including petroleum, and he STILL ends up working as someone else’s bitch until he’s begging for protection from a murderous vigilante’s rampage? Let’s move on. D
“The Wendigo is a human being who has been magically transformed into a massive, fur-covered beast in accordance with an ancient curse. This curse, the origin of which is as yet unrevealed, affects any person who consumes the flesh of another human being for any reason.” Boy, I can’t wait to see him on a float in the next Disney parade! Truth be told, the Wendigo legend first appeared in the ancient stories of the Algonquin people, and it was clearly made up to scare people off the idea of cannibalism back when the chances of people contemplating that sort of thing were a little higher than today. I suppose we should be thankful that Marvel’s writers weren’t around back then: “Yeah, and if you eat human flesh, you become a giant hairy monster with sharp claws who’s strong enough to fight the Hulk! And you never get old or sick, and you’re almost impossible to kill, and… wait, why are you guys all looking at me like that?” B-
“Real name: Jack Russell.” Try the veal, folks, and don’t forget to tip your waitress. When the Comics Code Authority revised its rules in the early ’70s and allowed supernatural creatures to appear in Code-approved comics, Marvel wasted zero time hurling vampires, zombies, mummies, and other spooky types at its readers. Representing Team Jacob in the ghoulish gold rush was Russell, a lugubrious lycanthrope whose origins (family curse), strengths (super-strong, good sniffer, pointy teeth) and weaknesses (silver, bestial rages during full moons) were standard werewolf tropes. He did the superhero thing for a while — because, you know, Marvel — and there was a time he was on the run from a Satanist cult that thought killing him would bring the world under Satan’s rule, or something. The book was okay, but definitely no Tomb of Dracula. Ah, if only the editors had let Marv Wolfman take a stab at writing it… C
He’s a mutant. He spins fast. He thought teaming up with the likes of Trapster, Porcupine and Batroc the Leaper on separate occasions were perfectly rational decisions. He wears what looks like Galactus’s gimp mask on his head. The first superhero who defeated him was Hank Pym in his Giant-Man days. At one point, his master plan of revenge involved getting a chauffeur’s licence and trapping Pym — you know, the guy who talks to ants and counts them as his allies — inside an ant colony. Need we go any further? No, we need not. D
Introduced in X-Men #132, Emma Frost — a.k.a. the White Queen in her earlier appearances as an X-Men antagonist — has become something of a big deal in the X-Men franchise in recent years. And really, there’s no need to rack your brain to figure out why, for the answer is as blindingly obvious as a pair of headlights. See, Marvel fans are deeply intellectual people, and as such they hold mutants with formidable mental powers in high regard. Sure, some might be impressed by how easily she busts heads in the corporate boardroom, taking her place among the world’s biggest movers and shakers. And there may be others who think highly of her because of how easily she opens gigantic cans of whup-ass with her fighting skills, or the storytelling bombshells she keeps throwing in the faces of our heroes. But I can say with all certainty that her enduring popularity among Marvel’s fans is entirely based on her massively impressive and intimidating set of mental powers — including her telekinesis, which has been known to move all sorts of everyday items, from melons and cannonballs to boulders and mountain peaks. Yep, deep respect for her mental powers — it’s the only explanation. A
Will O’ The Wisp
Born in Scranton, you say? Whoo! Dunder-Mifflin rules! Actually, that’s the only thing about him I can get excited about. That’s the funny thing about Spider-Man villains — when they’re one of the classic villains, they simply don’t get any better. But when they’re not a Doc Ock or a Sandman or a Kraven the Hunter, they’re… all over the place, frankly. This guy, for instance, was introduced as a scientist who got caught in an accident and left for dead by his asshole employer. Sucks, right? So he gains the power to alter the density of his body but he’s also slowly losing control over his own molecules, which leads to him begging for help from criminal scientist types, which in turn leads to him committing criminal acts on their behalf even though he’s not really a bad guy… or maybe he is, because he shows up years later in a team-up with guys like Chameleon and the Molten Man out to get revenge on Spider-Man. Yeah, how dare that wall-crawling weasel… try to save his life that one time? And how does a guy with molecular dispersion powers also pick up hypnosis as part of his grab bag of tricks? Whatever — it’s pretty clear no one cares about having this guy make sense, so I’m not sure why I should, either. D
Sweet mother of Goodman, a non-stereotypical woman with Asian ancestry who’s skilled in martial arts and the use of Asian weaponry and she’s not tarted up like a horny Tokyo businessman’s fever dream? And there are no dead parents to avenge or ancient clans of ninjas trying to kill her, she just happens to be someone who’s a tough fighter and an ally of Iron Fist who opened a private investigations firm with her equally bad-ass best friend? How the hell did that happen? More, please. B
Then there’s this guy. Okay, I’m confused. The Fantastic Four deal with all kinds of monsters, mad scientists, alien conquerors and inter-dimensional threats to Earth, and they thought a guy who’s a “fine horseman” and “skilled marksman” might be handy to keep around? “Stand down, Ben, Wyatt’s got this. Okay, Wingfoot, just like we practised, aim right between Galactus’s eyes.” I mean, he seems like a nice enough guy and I’m sure he could handle himself in any bar brawl that might break out, but… really? He gets a seat in the Fantasti-Car just because he was once roomies with Johnny Storm at college? It’s like finding out Tommy Lee Jones was allowed to do barrel rolls in Air Force Two when Al Gore was in office. C-
You know what, I’m just going to copy a section of this guy’s entry verbatim. See if you can find the part where the Wizard (“Real name: Unrevealed”) might have made a mistake in his life choices:
“The Wizard was one of the most prominent celebrities of his day, known throughout the world. He was acclaimed by his fellow scientists for his new theories. The Wizard became quite rich as a result of his great number of inventions… The Wizard also used his intellectual talents to become a world-famous chess player…. Because of his many such feats and intellectual achievements, he became known in the news as the ‘Wizard.’ The Wizard came to believe that there was only one intellectual challenge left for him, and that was to defeat the Human Torch.”
Did you miss it? Here, let me rewind: “The Wizard came to believe that there was only one intellectual challenge left for him, and that was to defeat the Human Torch.” Going mano a mano on a mental level with someone like Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, Hank Pym, Victor von Doom, or Reed Richards? Pfft, nah, nuck that foise. No, only by defeating some random hot rod-riding college dropout can he truly secure his title as the smartest in the land. To be fair, the entry goes on to explain how the Wizard was worried that the arrival of flashy new media stars like the Fantastic Four would lead to people losing interest in his intellectual feats and he chose the Torch to challenge because he was “the most visually spectacular of them all.” But come on. You go to prison and team up with the likes of Paste-Pot Pete because you were afraid of people not paying attention to you anymore? That’s just pathetic. D-
I like her. And I can’t think of a single reason why you shouldn’t, either. She was an orphan raised by an abusive priest who tried to beat God into her, and despite that serious opposite of a head start in life she turned out to be a decent human being. She also up-ends the whole werewolf transformation = masculine aggression trope by being, y’know, a chick. Plus she perfectly symbolizes the feelings most young girls tend to feel at the time they’re becoming young women, feelings about being simultaneously thrilled and terrified about the changes they’re discovering within themselves. Yes, fine, she dated Doug Ramsay — but good God, people, if we’re going to hold everyone accountable for the one or two unfortunate dating decisions they’ve made in their lives… B+
(1) I’d love to see him show up at Chris Claremont’s house with copies of Kitty Pryde and Wolverine, grab Mr. Claremont by the shirt collar, and say, “What… the fuck… is this?”
(2) Ditto whoever gave him an Aussie accent for that Pryde of the X-Men cartoon pilot.
(3) Then he would go around to all the artists who came up with their own grim-and-gritty pale imitators in the wake of his explosion in popularity and explain to them, in forceful terms, how thoroughly and completely they missed the point about why he was so popular in the first place.
(4) Now that I think of it, it might also be fun to watch him be set loose on a bunch of Wolverine cosplayers at any random comic convention. Not to hurt them, just to mess with their heads.
(5) Remember “the Rachel” haircut from the ’90s? Imagine “the Logan” taking the place of the mullet as the official haircut of work-hard-play-hard types across the land.
(6) He would blow everyone’s minds to smithereens by making a surprise appearance at the Tony Awards and performing a song-and-tap-dance duet with host Hugh Jackman.
(7) Canadians will finally find out whether he prefers Molson or Labatt and we can put this bloody, decades-long civil war behind us once and for all.
(8) But seriously, folks, after a decade of giving the rest of the world Rob Ford, Nickelback and Justin Bieber, our country needs a “win” in our column right now. And reminding everyone that the comics’ coolest cat is a Canuck would do the trick quite nicely. A+