Face front, true believers! Or sideways, I don’t really care. Time once again to another look at The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Update ’89. This time out: Volume 3, from Eon to Hulk.
As much as it hurts sometimes trying to find funny things to say about every one of these characters (“Oh, you were going for funny?” — everyone reading this), I really enjoy digging into these issues. Like I said earlier, the ’89 updates came out when my teenage self was at the height of his comic collecting mania, and it’s a treat to revisit characters that were once a huge part of my life but I haven’t seen or thought about in almost 30 years.
Speaking of years: another thing I like doing while writing these things is reflecting on how far some of these characters have come in the decades since they first appeared.
For instance, back when Louise Simonson dreamed up Apocalypse to guest-star in an issue of X-Factor — do you think she thought she would someday see him up on the big screen? I’ll have to ask her that if I ever have the pleasure of meeting her in person.
And who knows? Maybe someday in the future, we can look forward to seeing guys like Harpoon or Growing Man star in a big-budget Marvel movie. Hey, in a world where Ant-Man and Rocket Raccoon have gotten their close-ups, anything could happen.
“Eon is a sentient quasi-physical entity, roughly twenty feet in height, that resembles a tree with certain humanoid features and possesses great power and considerable knowledge of the cosmos.” This “considerable knowledge,” however, does not appear to include the number for the guy who does William Shatner’s hairpieces. Sorry, Eon, but we can totally tell. C
Their first series was one of the first books I started collecting from the first issue, so there’s a sentimental spot in my heart for this British-based team. Plus they had the unbeatable Brit combo of Alan Davis and Paul Neary on art chores for the first two years or so, and you know that’s all right. And who wouldn’t want to live in a lighthouse? No one I want to know, that’s for sure. My only beef is with how the team first formed; Kitty Pryde and Nightcrawler were in the UK recuperating from battle injuries when they saw their X-Men comrades “die” on live television — which of course was not the case, but the X-Men chose to let the world believe they were dead “so as to avoid the persecution from which mutants suffered.” Unaware their friends were still alive, Kurt and Kitty joined a new team to carry on in their memory. One: I’m not getting a big hero vibe from the X-Men’s decision to hide from the haters, given that confronting anti-mutant prejudice is the whole point of the franchise. Two: Did we ever find out why Kurt and Kitty didn’t warrant a simple “we’re alive but keep it quiet” message from their supposed friends? Because that sounds really rude. Three: “Kurt & Kitty” sounds like the title for an Odd Couple-ish sitcom starring the Disney Channel’s next teen sexpot, and I’m okay with that. B
Let me put this out there. Say you’re a C-level super-villain looking to bust out your best Fagin impression and recruit a few impressionable teenagers for fun and profit. Which of these decisions would suggest you probably don’t know what you’re doing?
1. Recruiting a young woman for her teleporting abilities, unaware she’s an actual alien with her own secret agenda for gathering superhumans.
2. Admitting members of an established goody-goody super-team who, despite whatever crossover appeal they might bring, may not be down with the whole stealing and thievery thing.
3. Thinking the kid with the cyborg lobsters might be useful in any way.
Now what if I told you the Vanisher did all three of these things? C-
I’d completely forgotten about this minor Fantastic Four villain, probably because he appeared during one of the most forgettable runs in the team’s first series. He’s an Arab sheik who gets accidentally turned into a living television image — because why the hell not — and yet he still can’t figure out a way not to get his ass kicked by the Thing. His bio is heavy on the ’80s references to Reagan’s “Star Wars” missile defence system and the Challenger shuttle disaster and… you know what? Let’s just flip the channel on this loser because… D
Fin Fang Foom
…we are about to come face to face with pure unadulterated awesomeness! So before Marvel found its superhero mojo, it turned out a lot books starring big and scary monsters, then gradually re-introduced a lot of those beasties in their superhero stories. “They Call Me Mr. Foom” started out as yet another rampaging monster outwitted by a guy who put his rampaging to good use, but he was brought back whenever a writer needed a talking, stomping dragon to add some zing to their book. The best thing about Fin Fang Foom, though? It’s gotta be the shorts. The colorist did his best to hide them in this image, but you can totally tell he’s wearing shorts. When he first appeared, he was probably the first-ever dragon to sport what looks like casual athletic attire. I want to invent time travel so I can go back and hear the conversation between the artist and whoever insisted the giant green monster needed to cover up his little green monster. Also? Check out Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen’s Nextwave if you can, where we first hear the immortal line “FIN FANG FOOM PUT YOU IN HIS PANTS.” Great stuff. A-
Proof that not every Marvel villain is a raving, genocidal nutjob, Clayton Wilson knocked out a scientist to steal his force-field projector and embarked on a sad plea for attention cut short by the Sub-Mariner. Later, while under the employ of a ruthless businessman, he realizes he’s in over his head and begs Iron Man for help, scoring himself a second chance and a new life under an assumed name. See? Tony does have a heart. Er, figuratively speaking. C+
“You’re as cold as ice/You’re willing to sacrifice our love…” Sorry, just feeling an ’80s groove right now. And speaking of the ’80s, let’s do a homage to classic David Letterman bits by making our own Top Ten List of Questions I Have Concerning Foreigner’s Bio:
1. “Occupation: Head of an organization of assassins.” First, R’as al-Ghul texted to say: “Ripoff says what?” Second, I never think of assassination as an activity that attracts corporate types. Are they unionized? Do they have medical and dental? Do they attend weekly status meetings and annual evaluations?
2. “Other aliases: Christopher ‘Kris’ Keaton.” Would you suspect anyone named “Christopher” of being a real-life assassin? I know I wouldn’t. Okay, Christopher Walken, sure.
3. “Group affiliation: Head of The 1400 Club.” The text says this group is so named to suggest it’s “twice as deadly as its closest competitor.” Wait, is this a sly dig aimed at the real-life 700 Club? Are Marvel’s writers saying Pat Robertson’s long-running evangelical TV show is actually a front for a cabal of ruthless killers? That’s… actually not far-fetched, now that I think about it.
4. “Place of birth: Unrevealed.” So what you’re saying is he might not really be a foreigner, huh? We only have his say-so he’s a mysterious traveler from another land? That for all we know he might be a poser from Des Moines using a fake accent to impress the ladies?
5. “The true name and origin of the Foreigner is unknown. In fact, thirty seven (sic) of the world’s leading law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, are ignorant of the Foreigner’s very existence.” Why so precise with that number? Doesn’t that wording imply there are other agencies outside that 37 who are aware of his existence?
6. He was once married to Silver Sable — which, nice — but that “ended acrimoniously in divorce” and they now constantly try to assassinate each other as part of a “game.” Anyone else find that romantic, or is it just me?
7. He was hired to kill the Kingpin, but upon discovering they shared the same birthday he instead killed the man who hired him and sent the corpse to Kingpin as a present, cementing their friendship. Question: Is this more dumb or less dumb than sparing someone’s life just because your mothers share the same first name?
8. At some point he killed the head of the NYPD SWAT team and assumed his identity. This raises questions. Assuming the guy had a life outside work (as most of us do), did the Foreigner pretend to be this guy in front of his family and friends, too? I mean, he would have to if he wanted to maintain his cover identity, right? And now I’m writing a comedy screenplay in my head about a master-of-disguise assassin who realizes he lost himself in his part as a family man because he’s stressing about dental appointments and parent-teacher meetings.
9. “The Foreigner’s ultimate goal was to manipulate Spider-Man into coming to work for him.” Um… why, exactly?
10. Regarding that image of him in his room full of false faces, I can’t help but notice some of his past disguises saw him posing as women. That’s something I’d like to hear a lot more about, if I’m honest. Do you think he sits through Mrs. Doubtfire and Tootsie shouting at the screen, the same way my ex-cop father-in-law points out all the mistakes made by actors in TV cop shows? C+
Not the alluring astrophysicist you might expect, this Jane Foster is a nurse who fell in love with her doctor employer back when that sort of thing didn’t raise eyebrows. She functioned mostly as The Girl for a long time, getting captured and kidnapped on a schedule that would exhaust Lois Lane before some Asgardian hocus-pocus transformed her into Sif, or a version of Sif, or… look, it’s complicated. She was Thor’s girl, then she wasn’t. Let’s leave it at that. B
Four Freedoms Plaza
Schematics for the skyscraper headquarters that replaced the Fantastic Four’s Baxter Building when it got blowed up good. Nothing of note to see here, except the fact the final sentence of the entry is repeated twice. Sigh. Edit, editors. Hey! They’ve got a situation room! I want a situation room! For, you know, all my situations and shit. C
Yes, there are more than four people listed here. No, I don’t know why the Wizard limited membership on his eeeee-vil super-villain team to four at a time. “The Frightful Four twice brought Medusa back into their ranks, but, since she was no longer a criminal, she betrayed them both times.” Tsk tsk, fellows. Fool me once… C-
Garokk the Petrified Man
For the record, it’s spelled “Garrokk” in the table of contents but “Garokk” throughout this entry. Yes, it matters. As for this guy: British sailor + Savage Land + magic drink = sun god dude with bouts of insanity who goes full-on Jesus for his people. That’s literally all you need to know. Also, he traded blows with the X-Men a couple of times, but try to find someone who hasn’t. C
He’s the Australian Aborigine who served as the team’s teleporter during their time in Australia. You might not remember those stories, but they happened around the time Australia enjoyed a brief moment in the American pop-culture spotlight. Crocodile Dundee, Yahoo Serious, that freaky steroid case in the battery commercials… trust me, it was a weird time. He never spoke or moved from the rock where he sat all the time, and it was never explained how he got his power, how he knew when the people he teleported wanted to return, or why he bothered to help the X-Men in the first place. But that’s cool. Too much chit-chat in these team books anyway. B-
One of Claremont’s more intriguing ideas post-“Days of Future Past,” Genosha is a technologically advanced island nation in the Indian Ocean that’s home to the descendants of European settlers and their mutant slaves, the latter living in contained areas and stripped of all human rights. Any resemblance to then-current regimes in the southern part of certain continents was (cough cough) purely coincidental. It was a great idea, but I couldn’t help thinking logistical thoughts when I first saw the concept. Thoughts like: if this nation has been doing the mutant slave thing for a while, then why didn’t the world’s most powerful mutant telepath/mutant rights activist say something sooner than Uncanny X-Men #235? If the country’s population ratio is 10 million normals to “several hundred” mutants, then why waste all that time and energy chasing and imprisoning mutants when it would be cheaper (and healthier for all concerned) to pay them generously for their services? Also, was this place obsessed with genetics called “Genosha” for all those centuries before science discovered genes? These are just nitpicky details, though; if a future X-Men movie decides to pit our heroes against malevolent Magistrates and bilious bureaucrats, I’m all for that. #mutantlivesmatter B+
“The Ghost is willing to destroy corporations without financial recompense, but often hires himself out to corporations that want to destroy rival companies.” Hey, do what you love and the money will follow, am I right? No surprise, this intangible instigator falls right in Tony Stark’s wheelhouse. A prime candidate for a “special guest villain” role in any future Iron Man films, especially with his “using technology to strike against those who create technology” M.O. Mmmmmm… that’s good irony. B
Giants of Jotenheim
As I mentioned in my list rating the nine realms of Norse mythology, Jotenheim is the place to be if you’re looking for giants. Ice Giants, Frost Giants, Storm Giants, Mountain Giants, Rime Giants, the San Francisco Giants, They Might Be Giants — you name it, they’ve got it. “Their most distinguishing feature is their height.” Yes, I dare say that’s the first thing most people tend to notice about giants. C
True story: the issues of Alpha Flight featuring Laura Dean and her sister were how my younger self first encountered the concept of autism. Not the most authoritative source about that condition, I know. At least Dustin Hoffman’s Rain Man was available on VHS for supplementary study. Everything I wrote for Laura Dean also applies to her misshapen twin sister here. “Recently, however, Laura left Beta Flight to try to lead a more normal life, and took Goblyn with her.” Good luck with that, Ms. Dean. C
As in the Japanese word for “garbage.” Sounds about right. Oh, I’m sorry — he has a cyborg lobster with the strength to “knock over a standing human being.” This changes everything. D
An alien who seeks the New Mutants’ help to save her family, she’s in the larval stage of her race’s life cycle, meaning this fetching beauty is “highly immature in behavior, characterized by vanity, destructiveness and greed.” Why do I get the feeling Louise Simonson had a teenager living in her house when she came up with this character? C-
Mystical monsters who came to Earth but were driven back to their barren home dimension by the gods of Northern Canada first, then later by the members of Alpha Flight. The souls of the billions of former inhabitants of their barren world are said to be trapped in a “pit of ultimate sadness.” Meh, my hometown could use the tourism. C
Grog the God-Slayer
From a past list I posted about Thor’s less memorable foes: “A loyal follower of Seth, the Egyptian god of death, Grog led his armies to kill Thor after the thunder god returned to Earth. This did not go quite as planned, and Grog tasted the first of many defeats at Thor’s hands. Some time later, as he witnessed a battle between Thor and Surtur (a massively big and powerful fire demon), he reveled in his enemy’s apparent defeat when Surtur, seeking something handy to throw at Thor, picked up the entire pyramid in which Grog and his armies were standing and hurled the edifice at Thor. And so it was that Grog the God Crusher was himself crushed. By a god. Oh, irony.” C
Really not sure why someone decided this guy merited an entry. To start with, he’s not a guy at all; he’s an android with only one trick up his sleeve (a shiny No-Prize to the first one who can guess what it is!). Sure, the Vision is an android, too, but he’s also capable of independent thought; for all we know from this entry, Growing Man sits in Kang’s pocket until he’s whipped out for hero-stomping action. Sorry, but “ability to swell in size” should not alone merit a picture and write-up in the Marvel Handbook. If it did, then we’d leave the door open to other entities known for swelling in size, and suddenly Marvel is in a whole different line of publishing. D
So let’s say you’ve got an idea for a super-villain team whose members have powers based on the four fundamental forces in the universe. For gravity, we can dust off Graviton, and Zzzax will do nicely for our electromagnetism member. That leaves strong nuclear force and weak nuclear force, and for the weak nuclear force let’s come up with… oh, I don’t know, a punk rock-looking chick from an alien planet in thigh boots and a shredded bikini. Shredded because of radioactive decay and shit. Uh-huh. Some Friends of Lulu folks would like to have a word with the proprietors of this establishment. C-
Sure, put the brain-damaged lummox obsessed with Al Capone in charge of your organized crime family! What could possibly go wrong? Best part of his entry is where we find out Hammerhead crashed the wedding between Doctor Octopus and Aunt May, a union that came about because Otto wanted the privately owned island and nuclear power plant that May had recently inherited. One: Eww. Two: How is it this lady is inheriting islands and nuclear power plants out of the blue and her nephew is still bitching about paying the rent? Three: during that whole Superior Spider-Man thing, does anyone know if Otto-in-Peter’s-body had a sudden realization he almost married his arch-enemy’s aunt? Anyway, Hammerhead. He dresses nice, give him that. C
He’s a mutant. Who targets other mutants. And… that’s it, really. Oh, and his power is charging inanimate objects with energy, because we have never seen that before in a Marvel mutant. Moving on. D+
What the fresh hell is this? He has the power to mentally enslave minds and alter perceptions and he’s running around the Adirondack Mountains getting his ass kicked by Tigra? D-
Now this is more like it. Criminal scientists banding together for fun and profit, each of them horribly disfigured by experiments they performed on themselves. One has a human head on the body of a gorilla, another looks like a rapidly deflating Thanksgiving parade balloon of Dilbert, a third — named Ruby Thursday, bless her — has a shiny red sphere where her head should be, and Chondu the Mystic is a “minor adept in the mystic arts” who leaps from body to body, at one point finding his brain inside a deer. Also, we find out Chondu’s real name is “Harvey Schlemerman.” Goddamn, I love comics. B+
The guy got an entry in the previous OHOTMU series when he went by Jack O’Lantern; in the time between the two Handbook series, he adopted the Hobgoblin name and costume after he had the original Hobgoblin killed. He also attempted to sell his soul to a demon in exchange for demonic power, resulting in the amused entity telling him to keep his soul and giving him a “grotesque, demon-like” face. Yeah, I don’t think you thought this deal through, Jason. C+
He’s a former lawyer and advertising executive? Then we’re definitely dealing with pure evil. I kid, I kid. This douchebag in an Armani suit was Warren “Angel” Worthington’s roommate and buddy in prep school, though he secretly hated Warren for his looks, wealth and (I presume) larger wang. So naturally he transferred his petty jealousy into a hatred of all mutants, betraying Warren’s trust to whip up anti-mutant sentiment, having Warren’s wings ripped off and basically destroying his life. Oh, and he also killed Warren’s girlfriend, that should be up on the board, too. You know what, I can’t even make a joke put of this guy. He’s an asshole, plain and simple. Let’s hope his inevitable end was long and excruciating. D
Horton, Phineas H.
“Ostracized by the worlds of science and academia, Horton was forced to become a simple repairman, using the alias Thomas Raye.” Only in the world of superhero comics is a guy who successfully created super-powered androids with artificial intelligence — twice — considered a loser who has to hide in shame. Put it this way: imagine if someone in the real world, in 1939, not only created an actual thinking android who can pass for human, but also accidentally gave him powers that make him a literal weapon of mass destruction. Does that sound like someone Uncle Sam is going to let roam free for long? That “H” in his name stands for “aw, hell no.” Anyway. He created the first Human Torch. Kudos. C+
Yep, that’s a Todd McFarlane original, to go with the work he did on Hobgoblin above. And don’t get me wrong, the guy definitely has talent but… man, did he have to make the Hulk look so, um, bulging? I mean, I have enough adequacy issues as it is, know what I’m saying? Anyway, this entry recaps all the highlights in the big guy’s life, up to and including one of my favorites: the time when he reverted to his old gray self and hid in Las Vegas by posing as an enforcer for a casino owner. It’s so out of left field for a character like the Hulk you’d swear Peter David wrote it on a dare. But if you think about it, it’s just too perfect because Vegas is literally the only place in the world a guy like the Hulk would not stick out like a very large sore thumb. A