Making the Grade: Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition, Vol. 15

marvelhandbook-vol15

That’s it? I’m at the end of the alphabet? I made it? I made it! I got through the entire Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition and I didn’t go insane! Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty I’m WHAT THE HELL DO YOU MEAN WE’VE GOT FIVE MORE BOOKS OF THE DEAD GOSHDAMMIT!

Well, it was a nice feeling while it lasted. This week: Volume 15, from Wonder Man to Zzzax. (“Zzzax! Zzzax! He’s a Lego maniac!”) 

First, let’s be clear: no way in hell am I going to do the Appendix to Alien Races. There isn’t enough bourbon in the world to make that happen. And really, the mini-entries for each alien race don’t offer much more to work with than profile shots, basic cultural details and stats about first appearances.

Plus the last thing I want to see, prior to my inevitable abduction and anal probing, is some Plodexian recognizing me and hauling out “Big Bertha” because I once made a joke about how members of his species resembles a pile of snot.  

Hey, you know what I just noticed? The cover for Volume 1 aligns perfectly with the cover for Volume 15. See? 

marvelhandbook-vol15marvel-handbook1

So instead of all the Marvel characters plodding forward into infinity with no real destination in sight, they just march around and around and around in a circle until the end of time. I feel like there’s a metaphor here, but danged if I can figure out what it is. 

Excelsior! 

handbook-wonderman
Wonder Man
“The Grim Reaper, learning that his brother was now conscious and no longer zombie-like, stole into the Avengers Mansion, subdued the Avengers, and held a mock trial to determine if this Wonder Man truly was his brother.” You know, it’s sentences like this that make the existence of a highly successful Avengers film franchise even more impressive. Inherits his father’s company at age 22, makes stupid decisions that bring the company to the brink of bankruptcy, and so — instead of calling himself “too big to fail” and scoring some of that sweet bailout cash — he agrees to become a Guinea pig for a mad scientist who gives him an “ionic ray” treatment that confers super-strength and durability. Oh, and also death, but only for a little while. How come stuff like this never happens every time I run a company into the ground? I don’t know, it seemed like we were supposed to be impressed over how he overcame his fears and owned up to his past mistakes, but welcome to life on Earth, Simon. The rest of us have messed up plenty and you don’t see us scoring super-powers or movie careers because of it. Oh, and this: “Despite Wonder Man’s statements that he is composed of ‘ionic energy,’ he is actually composed of organic matter that is permeated with this form of energy.” Someone actually felt it was important to make that distinction. C-

Woodgod
What the fresh hell…? Okay, follow this origin story if you can: once upon a time, the government hired a husband-and-wife scientist couple to make nerve gas — which they concocted on their New Mexico farm, instead of in a top-secret military facility where these things tend to be made. Hooray for a healthy work/life balance, I guess? Anyway, apparently for shits and giggles after a hard day of making nerve gas, they decided to combine human and animal genetic material to create a half-goat/half-man hybrid they dubbed Woodgod, a satyr-like creature who just happened to be immune to the very same nerve gas they were whipping up in the barn out back and displayed “sufficient strength to hold his own in battle with the Hulk.” But wouldn’t you know it, one of the townspeople gets an eyeful of Woodgod, loses his shit and gathers a mob to storm the farm, which leads to someone — whoops! — accidentally smashing open a canister of nerve gas, killing everyone except Woodgod. Later, when the military investigates, they discover Woodgod and blame him for what happened. Sigh. So typical of the military; the second something goes wrong, they blame the first half-goat/half-man they see. D+

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Wrecker
All together now: “Darrrr…” I kid, I kid. I frickin’ love the Wrecker, and not just because he’s the sole reason the phrase “enchanted crowbar” gets so many Google hits. It’s mainly because he’s the luckiest bastard in the world in terms of how he came to acquire his super-strength: “Seeking another victim to rob, the Wrecker happened across a hotel room occupied by Loki… While trying on Loki’s horned helmet, the Wrecker was mistaken for the god when Karnilla hastily materialized to grant Loki’s request [for more strength to subdue Thor]. Thus it was the Wrecker whom Karnilla endowed with magical power.” Three things: (1) Why would Loki have a hotel room? Is he collecting points towards discounts on future flights and car rentals? (2) How much of a rush was this Karnilla gal in, that she thought the Wrecker was Loki just because he was wearing Loki’s hat? Isn’t Loki somewhat famous among Asgardians, especially a “sometime ally” like her? (3) If Loki really is the “god of evil” as he’s described in the entry, then isn’t it fair to assume he might be a little pissed about some Midgard moron stealing the power-up he was hoping to score for himself? Did I miss the story in which he slowly and painfully reclaims his power from this guy? Never mind; the Wrecker is a simple guy whose name advertises what he does best. Nothin’ wrong with that. B

Wundagore
This, on the other hand… woof. “Wundagore is the name of a mountain in the Eastern European country of Transia, a citadel built there, and of a planet (properly known as Wundagore II) in the solar system of the star Sirius.” Hell, why stop there? Why not use the name to denote a new car, article of men’s apparel, Six Flags attraction and limited-edition Ben & Jerry’s flavor (“Wundagore Galore”) while you’re at it? Regardless of which Wundagore you’re talking about, it all leads down the same regrettable path: dipshit geneticist playing God to a bunch of forcibly evolved humanoid animals who run around playing at being knights, sucking Thor, Iron Man, Spider-Woman, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, Adam Warlock, Werewolf by Night, Black Knight and the Soviet Super-Soldiers into their suck-filled orbit. It’s like that “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” game, only instead of finding the shortest path between any given actor and Kevin Bacon you’re realizing with horror that every Marvel character is only a few acquaintances removed from someone who once traded blows with Island of Dr. Moreau rejects like “Sir Ossilot” (the ocelot-man) or “Sir Porga” (the pig-man) or “Sir Lepard” (take a wild guess). D

X-Factor
And finally we arrive at the 24th letter of the alphabet. I guess I should be grateful OHOTMU didn’t come out a few years later, because otherwise I’d be forced to come up with something to say about the X-Force, X-Babies, X-Cell, X-Corporation, X-Corps, X-People, X-Statix, X-Ternals, X-Patriots, X-Calibre, Generation X, X-Man (not to be confused with the X-Men), X-Force (the second team), X-Factor (the second team), the X-Treme Sanctions Executive (what, not “X-ecutive”…?) and the X-Humed, a team of dead mutants brought back to life by an evil voodoo cult leader. No, really. But before all that, there was X-Factor, who were the original mutant heroes returning to pose as mutant hunters. Confused? You’re not alone. The idea was they would capture mutants, teach them to use their powers safely, and then let them loose to resume their lives among normal humans. A scheme brilliant in its simplicity… unless you count the high risk of a mutant not being hip to their business plan and causing massive property damage while evading capture. Or one of the “reformed” mutants later deciding they don’t want to hide their powers. Or the team coming across mutants whose physical appearance made assimilation an unlikely option. Or anyone in a position of authority asking a few pointed questions about the mutants captured by them. Or an enemy finding out the mutant hunters were in fact masquerading mutants and spilling their big secret to the world, which — hey, now! What are the odds? — is exactly what happened. Granted, it was nice to see the old X-gang back together again, but overall this wasn’t one of Marvel’s better ideas. C-

X- Men
I did a list a while ago about some of my issues with the overall X-Men concept, so feel free to go and take a gander. I’m not sure what else there is to say that hasn’t been said a million times before by a million other comic nerds. My concerns notwithstanding, the team has been blessed with some of the best characters in superhero comics (and a few duds, too, but y’all can fight over who belongs in which camp), the Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne/Smith issues are among the best comics Marvel has ever published, and if Disney has its way we’ll all be drenched in cinematic mutant-fueled mayhem until the heat death of the universe. So I say to blazes with my reservations and/or pending child-endangerment charges; this is a franchise that has made some very astute career choices. A-

X-Men Jet
“Bob. Bob! Wake up!”
“Huh? Wuzzup?”
“Did you hear that?”
“Hear what?”
“It sounded like… like a jet taking off next door.”
“Oh, come on, not this again. Go back to sleep, Myrtle.”
“I’m serious, Bob! It sounded like a plane was taking off over at the Xavier place.”
“Right, Myrtle. The kindly professor running a school for gifted kids out of his family mansion has an airport in his backyard. Probably right next to the oil refinery and artillery range.”

And before we cut to the hilarious “nosy neighbor peeks over fence/sees strange shit/gets mind-wiped by Professor X” scene, do we know if the comics offered any other explanation for how the X-Men managed to keep their jet’s takeoffs and landings from being noticed by the locals? Don’t get me wrong, it’s a sweet-looking ride, I’m just saying you can’t wave “Shi’ar technology” in front of us and pretend this didn’t come up at least once in a while. C+

X-Men Mansion
First, the obvious: while there is a place called Salem Center in New York’s Westchester County, there is no such address as 1407 Graymalkin Lane (at least according to Google Maps, but who knows whether their servers have been hacked by Cerebro). So much for my next road trip destination. The entry talks a bit about the mansion’s original builder — a Dutch seafaring ancestor of Xavier’s, in case you’re wondering — then highlights the many renovations done to the place by mind-wiped contractors over the years, including “subterranean hangar buildings,” “high speed transport tunnels” and of course the Danger Room, which uses “sophisticated holographic projectors” adapted from Shi’ar technology. And think about that for a second. With all the scenes involving the X-Men punching/shredding/lightning-blasting the Danger Room to pieces, how often do you suppose they had to call the Shi’ar Empire for tech support? Huh, I never noticed that before, there’s a “library” and a “reading room” in the sub-basement level next to the Danger Room, in addition to a huge library on the main floor and a “book storage” area in the basement. How many books does a team that fights evil mutants and giant robots really need? Do you think anyone ever tried to stick Logan with library duty? B

Yellow Claw
(looks at name)
(looks at picture)
(looks up cover date of “first modern appearance” and realizes Marvel was publishing this stuff in 1973)

…Wow.

What the fuck, Marvel. F

handbook-yellowjacket
Yellowjacket
Not the seventeenth superhero identity of Hank Pym that you might be expecting, this Yellowjacket is Rita DeMara, a professional criminal with “a good degree of skill with technology” who steals Pym’s original Yellowjacket costume and modifies it for her own use. And thus we can add “really shitty at keeping an eye on dangerous stuff that should not fall into the wrong hands” to our list of reasons why Hank Pym is an asshole. But at least Pym never sported a costume with an arrow that pointed straight down to his crotch. For real, Rita. How do you not notice something like that when you look in the mirror? C-

Ymir
The “oldest and most powerful of the Frost Giants,” Ymir stands more than a thousand feet tall, which is why the entirety of Page 22 is given over to displaying his towering magnificence. Padding an issue that’s running short on characters and text? Pshaw. Perish the thought, true believers. Like Surtur, Ymir is a giant enemy of Asgard — only, you know, composed entirely of ice instead of fire. Look, it’s not like the Vikings had a lot of material to draw from when they made up this shit. You had ice, you had fire, you had pointy hat-related injuries – there weren’t a whole lot of different scary things in Scandinavia back then. “It is said that in time the warm air from Muspelheim caused these tons of ice over the Well to transform into the living, sentient Frost Giant Ymir. Another being appeared from the ice, the enchanted cow Audumla. Audumla fed off the ice itself, and Ymir subsisted on the milk Audumla produced.” I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to learn an enchanted cow plays a big role in ancient Norse myths. It’s so delightfully Larsen-esque. B-

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Zabu
Speaking of godlike animals. Ka-Zar’s pet, huh? Well, at least we’re spared details about a jungle cat’s occupation, marital status, aliases or known relatives. “It is said that Zabu did not age during the years he was exposed to the strange gases within the Place of Mists.” Except Ka-Zar clearly did age while living in the same place, because you just finished telling us he grew to manhood there while Zabu acted as his protector, so how come you’re telling us the tiger didn’t age because of the mists when his human buddy clearly did… oh, to hell with it. We’ve only got three more of these to go, I’m sure as hell not risking any brain cells trying to figure this one out. C

Zeus
Wow, that’s quite the… husky representation of the Greek god, isn’t it? Mount Olympus? I think he ate Olympus. All your favorite Bulfinch moments are here, plus a bunch of stuff about Zeus and Odin breaking bread and commiserating about how they both raised ungrateful knuckleheads for sons (I may be reading between the lines on that last point). Not a whole lot here about Zeus’s swan-humping days, and my guess is with Disney now in charge we’re not going to explore that in future Thor sequels. Just as well. C+

Zodiac
“Zodiac is the name of two criminal organizations, one composed of human beings and the other consisting of sentient androids.” And let’s not have any arguments over which is the better choice to recruit for your criminal enterprise. Sure, androids might not bitch about dental plans or ask to leave early to pick up their kids, but watch them pretend to be offline or try to pull a “What is… coffee?” routine when it’s their turn to make a Starbucks run. There’s a whole lot of nonsense here involving S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers and superstitious dimwits putting way too many unnecessary details into what should be a straightforward criminal network, but none of that annoys me as much as what’s going on with Virgo. All the other Zodiac members get thematically appropriate powers or weapons — Aquarius has water-based weapons, Pisces is a “skilled underwater combatant,” Gemini can mentally link with his twin brother, and so on — but Virgo, the sole woman in the cartel, gets zilch. What a rip. What would a virgin-themed super-power look like, anyway? Wait, I don’t want to know. C-

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Zzzax
And so we come to the final entry in OHOTMU, and likely the last character to appear in any index of comic-book characters unless DC decides to out-phonebook Marvel by publishing the adventures of Zzzzanzizubu the Mystic. We’re told this Hulk foe is an “electromagnetic intelligence” composed of “a psionically charged electromagnetic field… capable of crude human-level intelligence and superhuman strength,” but I don’t know who they’re trying to fool with all the pseudo-scientific jibber-jabber: it’s clearly the same glowing electric monster from the old Scooby Doo cartoons. Heh, a Scooby Doo/Hulk crossover, now that would be fun to watch. “NOW HULK FIND OUT WHO GHOST REALLY IS!” [rips entire head off Old Man McGroody while removing his costume] “UH-OH!” C

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One response to “Making the Grade: Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition, Vol. 15

  1. So instead of all the Marvel characters plodding forward into infinity with no real destination in sight, they just march around and around and around in a circle until the end of time.

    Okay, seriously, all these years and I have never noticed that before, either! That’s pretty darn cool. If you ever get bored, you could obtain duplicate copies of the first fifteen issues of OHOTMU, remove the covers, and tape them all together in a circle. Or, if you prefer, make it a Möbius strip.

    By the way, there’s a good drinking game I created for the next few volumes featuring all the dead characters: You take a drink every time you read an entry for a dead character who has subsequently come back to life since OHOTMU was published, and see if you can make it to the end of the series without succumbing to alcohol poisoning 😛

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