Daily Archives: July 30, 2016

Making the Grade: Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Update ’89, Vol. 2


Pull on your parachute pants, because it’s time to go back to the last decade that mattered (sorry, ’90s, but you know it’s true) with another look at The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Update ’89. This time out: Volume 2, from Champion of the Universe to Ecstasy. 

So, 1989. A pretty good year, all things considered. The fall of the Berlin Wall. F.W. de Klerk’s election in South Africa, which was the beginning of the end of apartheid. The first commercial internet service providers came into existence. Quantum Leap, The Simpsons, Baywatch and Seinfeld all debuted on that thing that everyone used to watch at the same time. Tim Burton’s Batman. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The Little Mermaid. Ghostbusters II. (Okay, so maybe everything wasn’t perfect.)

And I was 16 years old, flush with cash from my first non-paperboy job working the register at a local small-engine repair shop. Which if you knew anything about me is probably the funniest thing you’ve ever heard; I wouldn’t know a Yamaha from yo mama. But I knew how to order parts and work the register, and that was enough to keep me employed for the summer that I was there.

What I’m saying is, times were good. And with the latest in Marvel’s Handbook series feeding my nerdish need for input, they were getting better all the time. I might not have been the fastest kid in school, or the strongest, or the most popular — but by Godfrey, in my hometown there was no one, and I mean NO ONE, who knew more about the marital status and birthplace of the Crimson Commando. 


Champion of the Universe
You want to know what’s new since this guy’s previous appearance in the Deluxe Edition? He recently “joined the other Elders of the Universe in an unsuccessful attempt to kill Galactus.” That’s it. Well, what was certainly worth giving him a whole new page. C-

Chance I
“The man called Chance is a criminal who hires out his services to employers under an unusual arrangement: he wagers his fee against his success. Hence, Chance only receives payment if he succeeds in accomplishing his task.” Now, I haven’t hired a lot of professional assassins in my time, but isn’t that how it usually works? I’m in the market for a hit man, I’m not settling for an attempted murder; I’m writing a cheque when the job is done. But again, I’m not an expert in these matters. C-

Chance II
She’s a Korean teenager who runs with the Fallen Angels, a group of young mutants assembled by the Vanisher to steal for him. Her mutant power is “to enhance or inhibit the mutant superhuman powers of others.” I’m not even going to get into how that power works on a physiological level, I just want to talk about what a shitty power that would be to have. “So, what can you do?” “Um, I can stand next to other people and make them appear even more awesome.” “Thanks, we’ll be in touch.” Wait, so if she stood next to Leech, would her power enhance his power to cancel out other mutants’ powers, or would his power cancel out her power to inhibit other mutants’ powers? We’re all about the deep thoughts here, gang. C-

I talked about this guy when I looked at inventors in need of a marketing consultant, so let’s be kind to the environment and recycle: “Curtis Carr was a research chemist for a car company who, apparently for kicks, used company time to invent a gun capable of transmuting elements. When his boss said it was company property, Carr resisted; after his dismissal, he assumed the Chemistro persona to gain revenge on his former employer. So, let’s review: he’s smart enough to create something akin to the legendary Philosopher’s Stone, something that could easily turn rocks into solid gold, but he honestly expected his employer not to call dibs on it? And he thought dressing in a costume and committing criminal acts would help his case? And in his first outing as a super-villain, he accidentally shoots his foot and turns it into steel, only to later watch it turn into dust? Creators’ rights be damned — letting this guy go was probably the smartest thing his boss ever did.” D+

Cheney, Lila
An internationally famous rock star, Lila Cheney is also an interstellar teleporter known throughout the galaxy as a master thief. First off, I’d like to know how everyone knowing about your illegal activities makes it easier for you to do what you do. Second, she gets the “one of the most foremost thieves in the galaxy” tag stuck to her when Ticketmaster is sitting right over there? Also: this entry reveals her band consists of Conal Duran on guitar, Ben Locklin on bass, and Grey Havero on drums. Pay attention, there’s going to be a quiz later. C

Collins, Rusty
Let me put this out there. Say you’re a mutant with the power to generate and control heat and flames, and you hook up with a team like X-Factor. Do you then adopt a cool superhero name like “Fire Fist” or “Hotspot,” or do you insist that everyone keep calling you “Rusty”? Also: pants, young sir? I don’t care what kind of baggy trousers the youngsters are wearing these days, as long as you live under the roof of my superhero team you will wear your tights and like it. C+

Comet Man
Man, this was a weird one. Back in ’86, there was a lot of hoopla about the return of Halley’s Comet (shut up, we didn’t have Pokemon Go back then), and Marvel put out this oddball character co-created by the actor who played Will Robinson on Lost in Space. There’s a vengeful brother, an alien named Max, a re-arranging of body molecules that somehow bestows incredible powers, and a spaceship that gets vaporized by the “intense heat” of a comet tail (which is news to anyone who learned in school that comets are basically giant dirty snowballs). I’ll always remember this book for the brutal torture of a young boy in the name of science and for the way Comet Man unknowingly teleports to his dead wife’s position — while she’s lying inside a coffin ohmygodwhatweretheythinking. Ahem. Like I said, weird — and not in a good way. D

Also known as The Commission on Superhuman Activities, it’s the federal body that ordered Steve Rogers to stop with the freelance do-gooding and start staking orders directly from the federal government. To which Rogers, looking askance at the Iran-Contra Affair and other examples of Reagan-era shenanigans, politely told the Commission to piss up a rope. “Douglas Rockwell, chairman of the Commission, was secretly in league with the subversive Red Skull.” I love how the editors felt the need to stick that “subversive” in there, as if readers might get confused about the Red Skull’s motives unless it’s clearly spelled out that he’s not acting in the interest of national security. B-

Cooper, Valerie
As head of the Commission I just mentioned, it’s her job to keep tabs on superhuman activity in the United States and ensure the growing numbers of mutants and super-powered beings on U.S. soil don’t threaten national security. The text doesn’t make it clear if she’s one of the good guys or one of the bad guys, but considering she once hired an outfit called the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and didn’t even know one of them was her colleague in disguise, it doesn’t sound like she’s one of the smart guys. C

Crazy Gang
Delightful Alice in Wonderland-based zaniness that first appeared in — wait, no first appearance info? Bad, Marvel editors! Bad! Don’t make me sic the Red Queen after you (“Orf with their head!”). Recognizing their incompetence as criminals, they once placed an ad in a newspaper seeking a leader for their gang. I’d love to know how that ad would have read. “Wanted: Colorful gang of ambitious go-getters in the extra-legal acquisitions sector seeks mentor to take us to the next level. Must be proficient in small-caliber weapons, safe-cracking, money laundering, PowerPoint, flamingo golf. Young blonde girls who will ingest anything just because a label says ‘DRINK ME’ need not apply.” B+

Crichton, Jacqueline Falsworth
So when Roy Thomas dreamed up the WWII-era Invaders title in the ’70s, he must have realized he didn’t have a lot of good Golden Age Marvel characters to work with. That would explain the creation of wartime heroes like Union Jack and Spitfire, the superhero name under which Ms. Crichton operated during the war. She got her super-speed power from combination of a vampire’s bite and a blood transfusion involving blood from a fire-hurling android. You figure it out. Oh, wait, it says here those two acts “jointly activated latent mutations” within her. Of course they did. C+

Crimson Commando
Now, Frank, I don’t want to tell you how to go about your commando business, but… can we talk wardrobe for a second? You’re dressed head to toe in the same shade of bright alcoholic’s-nose red, and I get it — you’re all about the branding, and I respect that. But you’re a mutant vigilante whose main form of recreation is kidnapping criminals and stalking them in a forested part of upstate New York. I hope you can see the problem I’m alluding to here, because the British Army figured this shit out a long time ago. C

Damage Control
An idea so bloody simple and rife with potential, you have to wonder why it took so long for someone to come up with it. The brainchild of the much-missed Dwayne McDuffie, Damage Control is an engineering and construction outfit specializing in cleaning up the messes left behind after superhuman battles. And yeah, their Manhattan operation is pretty busy, thanks for asking. They’re the ones who cleaned up Avengers Mansion after the Masters of Evil trashed it, and they constructed Four Freedoms Plaza after the Baxter Building was shot up into space. It’s one of the better examples of how Marvel had a sense of humor about itself back in the day, taking their “imagine superheroes in the real world” shtick and running with it. Pick up any issue, you won’t regret it. A

“The Book of the Darkhold is a volume of parchments transcribed eons ago by the demonic Elder God Chthon containing all of the arcane knowledge that he had amassed through the millions of years he spent learning to control the dark mystic forces of the cosmos.” You might know it better from the title its American publishers insisted on, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. C

Dean, Laura
Hey, a leading member of an anti-mutant hate group finds out one of his unborn twins is a mutant! Irony! And so they try an experimental procedure to kill the mutant fetus, not realizing the “normal” one is also a mutant and unconsciously uses her power to save her sister by shunting her to another dimension. Which raises at least a dozen questions, not least of which is how in the holy hell the other fetus survived the inter-dimensional trip and who birthed it on the other side. Just mutter “comics” and move on. C-

Defenders / Dragon Circle
I always enjoyed the old Defenders book, mainly for the way it took the most oddball characters in the Marvel Universe and tossed them in a blender just to see what happened. And when a guy like Steve Gerber had his finger on the “purée” button, watch out. Not a lot of their patented weirdness in this write-up; there’s a bit near the end about fighting dragons and body possession by other-dimensional heroes, but for most residents in the Marvel universe that barely qualifies as newsworthy enough for a Facebook update. B

De La Fontaine, Contessa Valentina Allegra
A former member of the European jet set, she sought a “more serious role in life” and joined S.H.I.E.L.D. Way to skip a few crucial chapters in her biography, guys. She was once a member of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s elite “Femme Force,” and suddenly I have an image of a never-appearing Nick Fury barking orders through an intercom and sending his elite team on undercover assignments to beauty pageants and bikini fashion shoots. I can see why Nick was in a hurry to get her into (and out of) a form-fitting S.H.I.E.L.D. uniform, but that hair doesn’t exactly scream “covert ops” to me. B-

Demolition Man
As previously said in a post about hapless Avengers: “What does the D stand for? Desperate? Delusional? Deranged? So many possibilities. Actually, he’s Dennis Dunphy, the Demolition Man. He’s a professional wrestler who took an experimental steroid that increased his strength while damaging his heart and turning him into a drug addict (something that had never, ever been seen in the world of professional wrestling up to that point). After helping the Thing and Captain America on a few cases, he was briefly inducted into the Avengers at a time when Cap really wasn’t in a position to be picky. A plane crash, suspended animation, recurring episodes of mental instability, and lack of any respect soon followed.” Fittingly, D

It’s a suit. A magic suit, yes, and one made by Odin but somehow most often used by those eager to smack around Thor, but in the end: an empty shell. It’s like having an entire entry devoted to Doctor Strange’s levitating cloak, or NFL Superpro’s jockstrap. Oh hey, this is interesting: because it’s not technically alive, it’s not bound to the magic rule about how only those who are worthy can pick up Thor’s hammer. What a convenient loophole to add dramatic tension, Dad. C-

Devil Dinosaur
YESYESYESOHGODAMILLIONTIMESYES!!!! How is this guy not overtaking the stuffed doll bin down at the Disney Store? Why did someone at Pixar greenlight that Good Dinosaur piece of crap with ol’ Devilishly Handsome sitting right there waiting his close-up? Genius T. rexes! Hairy little moon boys! Genius T. rexes and hairy little moon boys secretly living in New York City! Goddamn, I love comics. A++++

Doctor Bong
Okay, so I’m not the only one who saw his name and thought his super power was something else, right? His path to villainy began when he decided to become a journalist “in order to wield power over others” with his writing. That sound you just heard was every journalist and ex-journalist in the realm laughing like an over-caffeinated hyena. B-

Doctor Doom II
AKA Kristoff, Doom’s heir and usurper for a time. His tragic story is how Doom established his rep as the most stone-cold mother(shut your mouth!) in the Marvel Universe. I mean, plot the destruction of your enemies or use chemical weapons to mentally enslave the world, that’s fine. Super-villains are expected to do stuff like that. But keep a kid around to be your personal Mini-Me, and have your servant robots programmed to carry out your plan to mind-wipe him into believing he’s you in the event you die, just so he can carry on in your name? That is beyond evil. Although I will admit there’s something undeniably adorable about a pint-sized Doctor Doom. “Broccoli? Doom cares not for your feeble attempts to proffer nutrition! Witness my unmatched tantrum and despair!” B-

Doctor Spectrum I
Or the guy filling the Green Lantern slot in Marvel’s homage to the JLA, the Squadron Supreme. Among his arch-foes is the super menace known as Quagmire. Come on, you know I have to say it. “Giggity Giggity!” C+

“Finally, when Dominus was ready, it would blanket the planet with rays that deadened the wills of the planet’s natives so that they could easily be enslaved by the Arcane.” Ha! As if Earthlings need any help from sentient alien super-computers to do that to ourselves (see also: all-staff meetings, deep-fried foods, duck-themed reality shows). Check and mate, Dominus. Check. Mate. C

Dominus’s Minions
Just before this OHOTMU series came out, Dominus came back to Earth with a new plan to conquer it, making Arizona his base of operations (apparently his new plan involved saying “but it’s a dry heat” a lot). It then bestowed sentience on a Gila monster, a cactus and a literal pile of rocks — to keep with the Southwestern theme, because of course — and sent them off to fight the West Coast Avengers. Which makes sense: you want to build your team’s confidence, you set them on an easy task first, like battling the West Coast Avengers. Then they can work their way up to bigger challenges: the East Coast Avengers, Defenders, X-Men, Power Pack, Aunt May’s bridge club, etc. (I kid, I kid. All you tens of WCA fans out there, don’t send email.) C

Dragon of the Moon
Oh goody, another demon. Let’s get out our checklist. Demonic entity? Check. Existed since the dawn of human history? Check. Fixated on conquering Earth? Check. Past involvement with established legendary figures, in this case King Arthur? Check. Seemingly destroyed but not really? Check. I’d really like to know what’s so special about us humans that these ancient demons keep trying to suck our souls. Have these guys read our online profiles lately? Trust me, we’re not the succulent morsels we used to be. C-

Drake, Frank
A descendant of Dracula himself, Drake joined Quincy Harker’s merry band of vampire hunters when Dracula turned his girlfriend into a vampire, whom Drake then had to stake in order to save someone else’s life. He later had a thing going with Rachel Van Helsing (yes, of those Van Helsings), but Drac came back and turned her over, as well. Understandably, this made Drake a mite angry, and he responded by assisting Doctor Strange in a spell that eradicated all vampires from the mortal plane. Take that, you cock-blocking son of a bitch. B

Dreaming Celestial
Also known as “the Great Renegade,” and how the hell did neither of those names get scooped up by a ’70s folk-rock band? He’s an alien giant guilty of a terrible crime “against life itself” and sentenced by his fellow Celestials to eternal sleep underneath California’s Diablo Mountains. Which, you know, huzzah for law and order and all that, but… geez, giant intergalactic buttinskis, would it kill you to take your trash home with you when you leave our planet? We’re doing a good enough job wrecking the place on our own, thanks. C

She’s all about instilling fear and terror in humans — how novel for a demon — but she’s going to be disappointed if she ever shows up at a comic convention looking like that. Fear and terror are not the emotions she’s going to arouse, let’s just say that. She went a few rounds with Alpha Flight using the tried-and-true “use their deepest fears against them” gambit. “The Dreamqueen spread her influence through the Canadian city of Edmonton, causing its inhabitants to live out their darkest fantasies.” Ha! The joke’s on her, because Canadians don’t have any dark fantasies. Although now that I think about it, the year she showed up was also the same year Gretzky got traded to the L.A. Kings… B-

Dugan, Dum Dum
Okay, not to body shame anyone, but… good God, man, leave the Spandex for the younger S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, huh? Timothy Aloysius Cadwallader Dugan — no, they don’t explain where the “Dum Dum” came from — was Nick Fury’s second in command during the war, and later followed him into S.H.I.E.L.D. He also had a few solo adventures, like the time he battled Godzilla for many months, only ending “when Godzilla swam off into the Atlantic Ocean.” I can just picture Dugan in his bowler hat and shaking a fist, “And don’t come back, ya overgrown iguana! (Pause) Yep, I sure showed him.” Bumping him up half a grade because Neal McDonough plays him in the MCU, and that’s pretty sweet. B+

Earth Force
Man, does that sound like a forgettable pro-environment super-team dreamed up by Ted Turner in the early ’90s. “For the honor of Gaia!” These three were once NYC hospital patients until they were given phenomenal powers by the Egyptian god Set, who told them he wanted a force “to preserve and protect the Earth” — when in fact he just wanted some patsies to go kill some Asgardians for him. They fought Thor, realized they were played for suckers and attacked Set, and in the end they were sent back in time to the moment when Set kidnapped them. Wait, Thor and his peeps can do that now? And I thought introducing the time-turner thingy in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban caused major problems with the plot. Seriously, Albus — turn that thing a few thousand times and go back to kill Voldemort as a child. Or mug yourself on the way to offering him a spot at Hogwarts. It’s not rocket science. C

“Apart from her scarf and jewelry, Ecstasy’s ‘costume’ consists of the unknown dark substance from the dimension of darkness, which she causes to cover certain area (sic) of her otherwise unclothed body.” There are gynecological textbooks listing those “certain area” that she covers up. Girl’s practically nekkid, is what I’m saying. Take that, Comics Code Authority! In case you were wondering, her occupation is “head of a criminal organization distributing addictive drugs.” They tried selling non-addictive drugs for a while, but for some reason it wasn’t as profitable as they hoped. C-