Making the Grade: Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition, Vol. 20

marvelhandbook-vol20

“Oh, this is the end
My only friend, the end…”

That’s it. It’s done. To paraphrase Peter Parker, I’m a maker of lame Handbook jokes no more. We finally, finally made it to the 20th issue of The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Book of the Dead Deluxe Edition (Stick to Zuras), and I couldn’t be happier to be here. To quote another band from the ’60s, what a long strange trip it’s been. 

Of course, this issue wasn’t the end of Marvel’s days as a dispenser of handbooks. The following year, they came out with its Update ’89 mini-series, and then the year after that came the “Master Edition” series, which boiled the characters down to just their vital stats, key issue appearances and a front-side-back full-body mugshot combo. It was… an interesting editorial decision. And of course all the various one-shots throughout the 2000s that looked more and more redundant as the digital age went on.

I won’t be doing this shtick with any of those issues because I’m tired. So very, very  tired. Maybe later, but not for a while. For now, enjoy. And thanks for all the encouragement as we raced towards this sweet and inevitable finish line. 

Excelsior!

handbook-stick

Stick
Stick performs the important role of explaining how a freshly mutated Hell’s Kitchen kid with the power of super-smelling turns into a badass street fighter when he grows up. And as viewers of the Netflix series know all too well, his first appearance coincides with the sudden abundance of ninjas in Matt Murdock’s life. He’s a solid example of the father figure/Obi-Wan type that one needs in these types of stories, but on the other hand… are we done with the ninjas now, Frank? Because I’d like to be done with the ninjas now. B

skullCause of death? Heroically saves others by sacrificing himself via the unusual method of absorbing more life forces than his body can contain. Better that than absorbing too much Taco Bell, I guess.

Stayed dead? Nope. He was resurrected by the Grandmaster to take part in one of them Contest of Champions, and ended up vaporized by the Punisher from 2099. Probably won’t see that on Netflix.

Storm, Franklin
Man, no one in the comics can have normal parents, can they? Peter Parker’s parents were secret agents, Hal Jordan’s dad is one of the world’s best fighter pilots until he blows up… I’m surprised we never saw the story of how Jonathan and Martha Kent first met while shooting their way through a Los Angeles skyscraper full of German mercenaries. Anyway, Franklin Storm — “one of the greatest surgeons in the United States” because of course — is the father of Sue and Johnny Storm, a man whose grief over his wife’s death led to a manslaughter conviction and prison escape, only to get caught when he came out of hiding to save his critically injured daughter. I thought the AMA frowned on doctors treating their family members? Doesn’t matter, he’s dead now. C+

skullCause of death? Takes the brunt of a booby-trap blast meant for the Fantastic Four. Which is noble and all but…  yeah, pretty sure your superhero kids had that under control, Dad.

Stayed dead? Yep, but Reed, Sue and Johnny got to see him again while visiting the afterlife in search of Ben’s soul. Aww. 


Swordsman
Uch. As noted previously in a list of inessential Avengers: “He’s basically a surplus Hawkeye except with a sword, and he ended his membership by sacrificing himself to protect a teammate from one of their enemy’s energy blasts — and let’s be honest, that’s really the best outcome a guy like him could have hoped for.” Also? We learn here that a young Hawkeye, after confronting a thieving Swordsman at a circus, “fled in panic onto the high wire, which the Swordsman then slashed by hurling a sword.” Let me repeat: he thought he could escape a guy out to kill him by climbing a circus high wire. I really hope Hawkeye got a lot of ribbing from the other Avengers about that. D

skullCause of death? Took a lethal bolt of energy meant for Mantis, who only realized she loved him after he died. “This one” knows the value of a dramatic reveal, no?

Stayed dead? Sort of? His corpse was resurrected and inhabited by an alien consciousness who then married Mantis, who was a little too fine with the whole “borrowing your lover’s corpse” thing.


Talbot, Major Glenn

We’ve got body-swapping, an “encephalo-helmet,” and Soviet bases in the Canadian Arctic, but you want to know the most unbelievable part of this entry? The part where members of Congress shut down a military base on the pretext it failed to complete its mission. Come on, people. I’m trying to enjoy these stories about a green giant smashing mountains with his fists; this kind of implausible nonsense about Congress cutting defence spending takes me out of the story. C

skullCause of death? A fatal case of fried brain when the “war wagon” he’s mentally controlling while battling the Hulk overloads. Your tax dollars at work, people.

Stayed dead? Later seen alive and well with no explanation why; it turns out that  version was just a lifelike robot programmed to believe it was the real Talbot. How come no one ever makes a robot of me?

handbook-tarantula

Tarantula
Jee-zus. I mean, sure, the text makes it clear this guy was a douchenozzle of the highest order, turning on his former revolutionary comrades when they told him they weren’t down with his unnecessary murdering. But man, what a shitty way to check out. Offered the chance by a shady corporation to gain super-powers, he’s injected with chemicals and takes an electrolyte dip when an attack on the facility cases random power surges, somehow turning him into a literal human spider. I’d like to think at some point one of the scientists turned to another scientist, smacked him on the head and said, “See? See? ‘Low probability of monsterism,’ my ass!” C+

skullCause of death? He leaps to his death from a tall building just as he’s fully morphing into a giant spider — and not, alas, from a giant rolled-up magazine.

Stayed dead? Wouldn’t you want to stay dead after turning into that? Have no fear, though, the same government that sponsored him gave his name and uniform to another ruthless killer.

Terrax
Not for nothing, but this guy really should have rethought his nickname — I see “Terrax the Tamer” and I’m thinking less “one who tames” and more “less exciting and unpredictable than the other options on the table.” At any rate, this petty tyrant got the cosmic-power nod from Galactus when everyone’s favorite giant purple planet-eater decided he needed a herald unencumbered by a conscience to do his bidding. It’s a process familiar to anyone who saw how Trump chose his campaign team. C+

skullCause of death? “Totally consumed by the power cosmic,” which gets my vote for the new euphemism for death by auto-erotic asphyxiation.

Stayed dead? Not on your life — after battling the Silver Surfer and the Fantastic Four, he returned several times to harass the New Warriors. This is known in the biz as “trading down.”

Thanos
“Real name: Thanos.” Yeah, I kind of figured it wasn’t an alias for a guy born Gregory Bartholomew Thanostein the Third. What’s not to love about Thanos? Everything he does, he does because he loves Death — not death in the abstract sense, but Marvel’s literal chick-in-a-purple-robe embodiment of death. See, everyone? He’s a romantic. And if our finer romantic comedies have taught us anything, it’s that all manners of felonies and criminal offences are completely forgivable as long as you commit them in the name of love. Yes, even attempts to wipe out all life in the universe. Come on, if Paul Rudd ever tried that in a rom-com you know you would be cheering him on. B

skullCause of death? Actually, at this point in time he didn’t die; he was turned into immobile stone and made just aware enough to know he would never embrace Death. Harsh.

Stayed dead? HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA sure let’s go with that.

Tom Thumb
This is the resident genius of the alternate-Earth Squadron Supreme. Whereas most of the team is modeled after Justice League members, he’s more of a vertically challenged Tony Stark, inventing all manners of gizmos to advance the plot. He was also a deeply lonely fellow who created an artificial intelligence which “he endowed with a female human-like personality.” And suddenly every guy hanging out in the Reddit MRA forums is saying, “Go on…” C

skullCause of death? Cancer. No punchline, people; please give generously.

Stayed dead? Yep, though an updated version of the character appeared in Supreme Power, a 2003 Marvel MAX take on the Squadron Supreme that I’m guessing had lots of swears in it.

handbook-thunderbird

Thunderbird
AKA “The Expendable One.” Considering his generic set of powers (strong, but not too strong; fast, but not too fast) and abrasive attitude that was redundant on a team with Wolverine standing right over there, it’s pretty obvious he was set up to die right from the get-go. And honest? We didn’t lose all that much. C-

skullCause of death? On paper, he died when an airplane he tried to force down with his bare hands exploded in mid-air; in reality, it was his own damned pride.

Stayed dead? Aside from brief “the dead are coming back to life” moments, yes. Good news is he had a brother with similar powers to take his place in the franchise.

Thunderbolt
“Shortly after returning home to Harlem, having served in the military overseas, William Carver was approached by members of a local violent street gang called the Thunderbolts. The gang members were eager to have Carver join their group as they believed his military training would be useful in their illegal activities.” Okay. One, they really need to rethink that street gang name. Two, I love the idea of street gangs poring over résumés looking for people with the right mix of skills to bring to their team. “No, none of that nepotism stuff here; we’re an equal- opportunity street gang.” The best part? He turns down their invitation and the very next day goes to work as an assistant district attorney. Maybe the gang should have told him about their 401(k) plan? C

skullCause of death? The same experimental treatment that gives him superhuman strength and speed also rapidly ages him, so he literally dies of old age.

Stayed dead? Far as I know.

 

Titania I
My favorite part of this entry? The part where Titania and three other professional female wrestlers are recruited by a crooked oil company stooge and confessed wrestling fan to carry out acts of industrial espionage on his employer’s behalf. Because nothing screams “covert operation” like four female pro wrestlers with names like “Poundcakes” and “Screaming Mimi.” B-

skullCause of death? Shot to death in the gym showers by a female Scourge, though there’s some question about whether the shooter was female. My only question: where did he/she hide the gun?

Stayed dead? Brought back by the Hood along with a bunch of other Scourge victims, though she changed her name to Lascivious because her old name was claimed by someone else. Works for me.

Toro
He’s a kid with the mutant ability to be fireproof whose parents die in a fiery train crash, and the first people on the scene are a husband-and-wife pair of circus fire-eaters who take him under his wing. Later, the kid finds out he has the exact same flying and fire-hurling powers as the Golden Age Human Torch, even though the latter is an android. Sure, why the hell not? I parked my sense of disbelief back near the Asbestos Lady anyway. C

skullCause of death? Blown up in a plane crash while the super-villain he’s pursuing teleports to safety. Huh, that’s the second time that’s happened in this issue.

Stayed dead? He was wished back to life by someone holding the Cosmic Cube, then learned his mutant powers were actually latent Inhuman powers. Because comics, is why.

Torpedo
“As he held the dead man in his arms, Jones decided he had no choice but to don the Torpedo armor and stop the traitorous Senaor Stivik.” Well… actually, no, Jones, you had a lot of choices. Burn the armor. Bury it. Hand it over to the Avengers or S.H.I.E.L.D. Don’t go thinking we’re dumb enough to fall for the “had no choice” excuse when we all know you really wanted to play superhero. Also, we find out the evil senator is an alien in disguise. I wonder if we’ve got any of those in the real world? Because it would explain a lot. C-

skullCause of death? Died in battle against the evil Dire Wraiths on the day he was set to announce his superhero retirement. And you thought that only happened to cops.

Stayed dead? Yep, and his suit makes its way to his cousin’s son, who goes by the name Turbo and also gets murdered by Dire Wraiths. Man, those guys know how to hold a grudge.

Two-Gun Kid
Is it just me, or does that name seem a little generic? Didn’t most gunslingers carry two six-shooters back then? Unlike most comic book cowboys inspired by a loved one’s murder to fight for justice, Matt Hawk’s reason for wearing a mask was cowardice: after training to be the fastest gun in the West, he adopted his “Two-Gun Kid” persona to avoid getting constantly drawn into showdowns with gunslingers looking to make their rep. He’s “rivaled only by such people as Kid Colt and the Rawhide Kid” in the gun fighting department, but we’ll never know because he tries to pass himself off as the Three-Gun Kid every time the subject comes up. C-

skullCause of death? “Being born in the 19th century” is my guess. But the text mentions his time travel adventures and leaves open the idea he met his end in some far-flung future.

Stayed dead? Well, he showed up in She-Hulk’s title as a time-displaced bounty hunter in the 21st century, so there’s a question of whether he ever died in the first place.

Union Jack I, II
Britain’s answer to Captain America. What, you need more? Fine. Jack the First: costumed agent during First World War who acted as a one-man commando unit against the damned Huns. Had a vampire brother working for the Germans, because why the hell not. Jack the Second: started out as the Destroyer but put on his dad’s Union Jack togs to fight those dirty Ratzis in Dubya-Dubya-Two. Later got into a tussle with Thor, who was tricked into briefly fighting on the German side before “learning that Hitler was evil.” Apparently the whole evil thing was something Hitler kept to himself back in the day. C+

skullCause of death? Jack I: a heart attack while trying to trap his vampire brother. Jack II: a car crash in 1953. Both options frankly suck.

Stayed dead? Yes to both father and son; however, a new Union Jack has since appeared, the working class son of a shipbuilder from Manchester. Don’t ask me how he voted on Brexit.

handbook-vamp

Vamp
Hey, where’s that list of hopeless Captain America foes I had lying around? Ah, here it is: “Not to get all Freudian here, but we’re talking about a woman who was a skilled martial-arts artist and had a handy ace-in-the-hole in the form of her Absorbo-Belt… but the only times in which she posed a real threat to Cap was when she unconsciously took on the form of a hairy, man-shaped brute. Plus her source of strength as Animus (the word for the Jungian concept of a woman’s inner masculine personality) was the long, rigid, club-like object that, when destroyed, took away her super-strength. I don’t think you need to be a student of Gloria Steinem to see the problem here.” D

skullCause of death? Victim of the “Bar with no name massacre” by the murderous vigilante known as Scourge.

Stayed dead? Kind of. Arnim Zola collected DNA samples of the massacre victims and created clones, which he then used to further his experiments. And I’m sure that’s all he did with them, too.

Van Helsing, Rachel
A descendant of Dracula’s famous adversary, Rachel was an Oxford anthropology professor and kick-ass vampire hunter (“but then, I repeat myself”) whom Dracula killed and made his vampire consort. She got her revenge on him, though, and then begged the X-Men to end her undead existence. That really… I was going to say “sucks” but then you’d think I’m making a cheap joke at her expense. No, let’s go with “bites” instead. “ B

skullCause of death? See above.


Stayed dead?
Far as I know.

 

Van Lunt, Cornelius 
“Cornelius Van Lunt was a New York City businessman who started his career in legitimate real estate dealings but who branched out into various criminal endeavors.” Nah, too easy. Though I will say the upcoming presidential debates would be a lot more entertaining if a certain someone showed up at the podium wearing a bull’s head instead of whatever the fuck that stitched-from-a-ferret’s-pubic-hair thing on his head is supposed to be. C

skullCause of death? Died when his plane went down after battling Moon Knight, who survived the crash. Nice to see it’s not just the good guys who check out this way.

Stayed dead? Yes indeed, but there have been a few Taurus types since then to showing people what happens when you mess with the bull.

Viper I
Not the sexy, slithering Viper 2.0, and therefore not worth our time. But if you insist: he’s a former ad executive who grew contemptuous of a public that willingly believed the lies he told on behalf of his clients, so he followed in his brother’s footsteps and became a costumed criminal employed by someone who called himself the Cowled Commander. Makes sense. Little known fact: the original script for the final episode of Mad Men had Don Draper follow the same career path, but it was nixed when test audiences objected to Jon Hamm covering up his handsome, handsome face. C-

skullCause of death? Killed by Madame Hydra who liked the sound of his super-villain name and wanted it for herself. Oh, the irony: an ad man killed in the name of brand management.

Stayed dead? No! He turned up alive as part of a newly restructured Serpent Society renamed Serpent Solutions. Which proves even super-villains get sucked in by corporate buzzwords.

Warlock, Adam
“Occupation: Avenger, savior of worlds.” That’s one way to impress the ladies, I guess. There’s a lot of kooky and far-out stuff history in this dude’s history, so all I’ll say is if you’re someone who criticizes Zack Snyder’s Superman films because they didn’t have enough overt Jesus symbolism, then boy have you come to the right place. B-

skullCause of death? Mortally wounded during combat with Thanos, but it’s cool because his soul got sucked into a soul-gem.

Stayed dead? (See also: “Jesus symbolism”)

 

Whitemane, Aelfyre
“And playing the part of Abin Sur in tonight’s performance will be…” there’s not a whole lot to say about this horse-faced alien with fantastical super-powers, because he only existed long enough to pass on his powers to the four conveniently named Power siblings. Speaking of convenient: his body dissipated upon dying, relieving the children of the need to dispose of a 6-ft, 329-lb. alien corpse without tipping off their parents and the feds. Damned kids these days, always having everything done for them. In my day, if we found a dead alien corpse, we had to spend a whole day digging a grave. C+

skullCause of death? Blaster fire from the Snarks while saving the lives of the Power Pack children.

Stayed dead? Yep.

 

handbook-whizzer

Whizzer
TWO THINGS YOU MUST NEVER, EVER DO IF YOU DECIDE TO CALL YOURSELF THE WHIZZER:
(1) Wear yellow from head to toe.
(2) See No. 1. D+

skullCause of death? Died in combat with his radiation-wielding archenemy, curing his son of excessive radiation levels in the process. There are worse ways to go.

Stayed dead? Yep. Though a “proto-husk” of him was created from his DNA to give Deadpool an excuse to kill him all over again.


Wraith
A New York cop is left paralyzed and comatose by a bad guy’s bullet, so his police commissioner father has him turned into a superpowered vigilante “who would battle crime without being restricted by the law.” Geez, Dad, project on your son much? And it gets worse; an accident links the mind of father and son, allowing the father to mentally control the comatose son’s body like a puppet, so he uses him to exact revenge on the crooked rich guys who caused the accident. Do you think the writer had something to say to his own father? Wait a minute. A bullet lodged in his spine took away his consciousness? How the hell does that work? D

skullCause of death? Shot dead by Scourge in another senseless vigilante-on-vigilante crime.

Stayed dead? Later resurrected by the Hood who used him to attack the Punisher; when the Punisher shot him in the chest with an arrow, Wraith thanked him for finally releasing him.

Zodiac I
If you haven’t seen it, it’s new to you. From a previous list about teams that were really into unifying themes: “There have been a few teams named Zodiac over the years; this one first appeared as opponents of the Avengers back in the early ’70s. As you correctly surmised, there were 12 members in the group, with each one displaying a super-power inspired by their astrological sign. Cancer had super-pincers, Sagittarius is a skilled archer, Pisces was an underwater combatant, you get the idea. Two problems I can see here. First, three of the team’s members — Aries the Ram, Capricorn the Goat, Taurus the Bull — wore elaborate costumes outfitted with horns for ramming and butting, and that’s just silly. Second, how practical is it to be this committed to the whole Zodiac theme? ‘Hey, Joe, it’s me. Remember last week, when Thor beat Pisces to a bloody pulp and we started talking about a replacement? Well, I found this guy who can shoot fire from his hands and…. No, I don’t know if he owns scuba gear… Yeah, I’m pretty sure he can’t throw fireballs underwater… I know, Pisces, fish, I got it… Yeah, I was listening at the last team meeting… Listen, this guy can melt the face off someone in ten seconds flat… right, we need a ‘fish guy.’ Sigh. Fine, I’ll keep looking.'” C+

handbook-zombie

Zombie
“Base of operations: New Orleans area.” Yeah, I guess placing him in downtown Dubuque would seem odd. Simon Garth was a factory owner who treated his workers like dirt until the day one of them stabbed him to death in the bayous and then dragged his carcass to a local voodoo queen, who turned him into a mindless zombie. That’s going to be tough to spin in the next employee newsletter. Unlike the for-God’s-sake-don’t-call-them-zombies shambling through a certain other comic, this guy has superhuman strength and magically regenerating body parts. He’s also not bound by biological limitations; he can’t be gassed or electrocuted and “he once walked the ocean floor without harm.” So much for my plan to survive the zombie apocalypse on my private island. B-

skullCause of death? The first time, a set of garden shears right through his chest. The second time, a voodoo ritual allowed him 24 hours of his former life before laying him to rest at last.

Stayed dead? From the Marvel wiki: “Death however, is always transitory for a creature like Simon Garth.” So… yeah, no. Shocking for a zombie, I know.

Zuras
“Zuras has often been mistaken for the Olympian god Zeus.” Can’t imagine why, really. I mean, just because they look alike and both lead communities of immortals and share the same zip code on Mount Olympus and one of them even agreed to act as the other’s rep on Earth until Zeus got pissy about everyone on Earth thinking Zuras was him. Actually, about that last one — for real, Zeus, what the hell were you thinking? I love this part: “When the civilization of ancient Greece began to rise, the Olympian god Zeus decided to make the presence of the Olympian gods known to the Greeks so that they would worship him and the other gods.” That was mighty big of him. C+

skullCause of death? Blasted by a force-bolt from the Fourth Host of the Celestials whilst he was linked to the Uni-Mind. Translated: “KirbyKirbyKirbyKirby.”

Stayed dead? Nope. He was revived by another Eternal who tricked him into making all Eternals human, then regained his powers and killed the other guy. Can’t blame him. Being human sucks.

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One response to “Making the Grade: Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition, Vol. 20

  1. “How come no one ever makes a robot of me?”

    Well, how do you know that you aren’t a robot?!? That *would* explain you ability to produce these blog posts with machine-like efficiency! 😛

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