Making the Grade: Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Update ’89, Vol. 8

marvel-handbook89-vol8

Wow. This is it. The final time we gather to take a fond look back at The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Update ’89. This time out: Volume 8, from U-Man to Zaladane (with a secret surprise corpse at the end). 

I feel like I should have a speech prepared, maybe take some time to thank everyone who made these reviews possible. On the other hand… nah. Let’s call this mad project for what it is, my attempt over the last two-and-half years to stave off the crushing boredom of my daily commute.

Now that I’ve gone through all the Who’s Who and OHOTMU issues I care to review, I’ll have to think of something else to do on the way to work. Hey, why not personal hygiene tasks? That seems to be a popular choice among my fellow train commuters. Or maybe I’ll look into that game based on confectionery crushing that everyone keeps talking about. 

Excelsior! 

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U-Man
“As a boy Meranno was a playmate of Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner, but actually despised him.” I get the feeling a lot of Namor’s playmates felt the same. Remember back in the ’80s when they made shows starring kid versions of our favorite cartoon characters, like Muppet Babies and The Flintstone Kids? I kind of want to see someone try that with Marvel characters. Anyway, U-Man is an Atlantean mad scientist who backed the wrong pony in World War II and is now stuck with a belt buckle that attracts zero chicks outside of certain parts of Idaho. A blue-skinned mer-man making an alliance with a bunch of white racists? What could possibly go wrong? C-

Urich, Ben
Ben Urich is an archetype I don’t think exists anymore: the chain-smoking, ink-stained newspaper reporter who ferrets out the truth through quiet and dogged determination. He figured out Daredevil’s identity and swore not to tell anyone, depriving himself of the biggest scoop in his career. “Ben Urich has the normal human strength of a man of his age, height and build who engages in no regular exercise.” As a former journalist myself, I’d say that sounds about right. B

U.S. Agent
Blurgh. As I wrote a while ago in a list of the least essential Avengers: “We’ll let the man himself explain it: ‘The power of a tank, and I still get treated like the Captain America stand-in I used to be.’ Well… because you are, dude. In a franchise that’s already threatening to burst at the seams with too many characters to keep track of, there’s not much point in adding one whose sole reason for existing is to remind people of another hero who’s better than him in every way.” Also? No one seems to know if his name is spelled “U.S. Agent” or “USAgent.” This bugs me. It shouldn’t, but it does. D

Utgard-Loki
He’s king of the Frost Giants and shrinks in size when he’s exposed to extreme heat. Oddly enough, extreme cold causes me to experience the exact same problem. Ask that Costanza guy, he knows what I’m talkin’ about. C

Vagabond
My, we sure loved our off-the-shoulder look in the ’80s, didn’t we? Priscilla Lyons was a hitch-hiker who hooked up with Nomad while searching for her missing brother; she then decides to become a superhero herself despite having no powers or training of any kind and weighing all of 120 lbs. Does it get any sillier than that? Why, yes! “To her own astonishment, Vagabond even succeeded in defeating the Black Racer, a member of the Serpent Society, by tickling her into helplessness.” Hey, maybe she’s the real reason Doctor Doom wears all that armor. D

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Venom
Uch. Let’s be clear: it’s not the concept of Venom I have an issue with. Spidey’s books have always had an element of sci-fi in them, and the idea of his costume being a co-dependent, semi-sentient alien had potential, especially when the spurned alien bonded with someone who also felt an insane hatred for Spider-Man. And Eddie Brock wasn’t even someone that Parker already knew! How refreshing is that? The problem is that once you paint Venom as an unstoppable killing machine who will keep coming at Parker until he’s dead, there’s only one place to take that story arc — and since Marvel wasn’t willing to go there, they instead had Parker fake his own death and have Venom retire to a desert island. Except the fans wouldn’t have that, and Venom kept coming back again and again at the expense of other characters with more depth, and he morphed into yet another overexposed ’90s anti-hero who was barely better morality-wise than the homicidal scumbags he gleefully dispatched. Not a terrible idea, but a good case study in the dangers of letting the fans dictate direction. C-

Vertigo
Whoa, the gals down at Fabric Land’s discount counter saw this lass coming a mile away, huh? As you might guess, she’s a mutant with the power to upset a person’s balance. As far as mutant powers go, this doesn’t sound like it’s enough to go into the assassin trade, but good on her for following her dreams. C

Vishanti
These are three benevolent mystical entities (or a three-headed single entity) often invoked by Doctor Strange in his spells. I wonder if that ever bothered them. “All right, the water temperature is perfect, the bath salts are dissolved, the candles are lit and Adele is cued up on the stereo… time to enjoy this nice relaxing hot DAMMIT STEPHEN DO WE HAVE TO DO THIS NOW???” At the time this bio came out, they were most recently seen in Triumph and Torment, one of the best Doctor Strange stories ever written. Really, go check it out. B

Vision
Hey, what’s our favorite synthezoid been up to since we last talked about him? Well, he and the missus moved out to California to join the Avengers’ West Coast branch — where, one hopes, he worked on his tan because boy this version of Vision needed some color. His change in hue was due to the actions of government agents who disassembled him and erased his personality in response to the Vision’s minor case of try-to-take-over-the-world-itis. Then the magically created children he shared with the Scarlet Witch ceased to exist, “contributing to the Scarlet Witch’s recent nervous breakdown.” I should expect so. Also, “Versions of Visions” is up for grabs unless Bono has already nabbed it for the latest single you didn’t know was inserted in your iTunes. B

Warwolves
Delightfully bizarre body-snatching creatures from another dimension who remind me of how wonderfully bonkers the Excalibur book was before it was thrown into the same blender as all the other Marvel mutant titles at some point in the 1990s. Sigh. B-

Watchdogs
A paramilitary group of self-appointed moral guardians who have gotten face time on recent episodes of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for reasons that should be both obvious and depressing. “They use vandalism, arson, flogging, lynching and other acts of torture upon institutions and people whose behavior they do not desire. They have occasionally resorted to murder.” But not, like, all the time — just occasionally. Because you don’t want to go overboard when you’re trying to keep birth control pamphlets out of teenagers’ hands. C

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Watson-Parker, Mary Jane
Can you believe at one point there were three attractive women showing an interest in Peter “Science Fair Groupie” Parker at the same time? And you thought comic nerds bought Spidey books just for the fistfights. Mary Jane needs no introduction, and despite a few questionable editorial decisions over the years I’d argue she’s one of the most important supporting characters in the Spider-Man books, if not the entire Marvel universe. One quibble I do have: in her bio, it states she realized Parker was Spider-Man before they officially met, because her younger self saw Parker leave his house dressed as Spider-Man on the night of his uncle’s murder. I don’t know when Marvel decided that was a thing and I’m not usually a stickler about retconning stuff, but this feels like a mistake to me, in that it suggests her romantic attraction to Parker was based at least in part on her knowledge of his alter ego. You want to feel that she loves him for him, you know? Anyway. Any tiger that finds her on the other side of the door has definitely hit the jackpot. A-

Whiteout
She’s a shapely lass whose costume and sobriquet suggest someone with snow- or ice-based power, but nope — this Savage Land denizen has the ability to project a white light that blinds her opponents. You know what, I respect that. How many battles are lost because someone guessed someone else’s weakness based on their name and costume choice? Too damn many, I say. So kudos to you, Whiteout, for maintaining an aura of ambiguity. B-

Whizzer II
Do we care that he used to be a postman, or his daughter’s name is Tina, or he gained his speed powers from a strange fog bank that somehow only affected him? No. No, we do not. All we care about here is that he, like the original Whizzer, did the two things you must never, ever do if you take “Whizzer” as your superhero name:  (1) Wear yellow from head to toe. (2) See No. 1. D

Widget
More wonderfulness from early Excalibur issues, Widget is a floating, semi-sentient metallic head that can open portals to other dimensions. If there’s a way to use him to escape to an alternate Earth where the entirety of Marvel’s 1990s output never happened, or an Earth where Zack Snyder’s application to film school got rejected, I’m all for that. B

Wild Boys
Am I missing something here? These guys are basically two assholes with a 1968 Pontiac convertible who are best known for “looting and pillaging the neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen.” Neither have any known superhuman powers, but they are “greatly skilled in the use of knives” and one of them is “very acrobatic.” Daredevil shouldn’t break a sweat putting these jokers away. Power Pack shouldn’t break a sweat putting these jokers away. Let’s move on. D-

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Wiz Kid
Serious question: is it considered racist to make the team’s resident computer genius a Japanese kid? I mean, I guess it depends on how the Japanese feel about being depicted as tech support in our pop culture. It’s not the worst kind of stereotype to have attached to you, but on the other hand it’s still a stereotype (and think about how that kind of assumption must affect Japanese people who aren’t so good at changing their smartphone settings). Or maybe I’m focusing on the wrong group here, and it’s people in wheelchairs who should be offended by the idea that their disability somehow transforms them into magical inventors and hackers (see also: Oracle, Box from Alpha Flight, the chick from Shaq’s Steel movie). As for me, I’m offended that someone decided this kid’s knack for inventing gadgets was a mutant power, because Christ forbid anyone in a Marvel comic be a normal person who’s just really good at something. C

Wolfpack
Just as Marvel was about to go all in on superhero comics, it came out with a graphic novel and limited series starring a “normal” gang of interracial youths from the mean streets of the Bronx. “Well-intentioned” is the word we want here. This might have worked better as a gritty urban drama if it were more grounded in reality, but after you get through the mysterious mentors, secret cults, ancient legends and true fathers revealed, it comes off as a wee bit implausible. And that’s not even getting into the fact the entry itself, while regaling us with stories of World War II derring-do and ancient Chinese martial-arts masters, only barely mentions one of the five people shown in the picture, and even then gets his name spelled wrong (Rafael/Raphael). I mean, the wheelchair-bound street gang member named “Wheels Wolinksi” alone ought to be good for a paragraph or three, no? D+

Wong
Doctor Strange’s majordomo is a bit of a snooze, if I’m being honest — not that that’s a bad thing when you’re an assistant to a sorcerer supreme. I can’t imagine someone who’s easily rattled or overly dramatic would last long in Strange’s employ. There’s a lot here about how Wong’s family has a long tradition of serving mystics on the side of good, he’s adept in the martial arts, he once got abducted by otherworldly sorcerers — you know, the usual items you’d expect in a CV for a guy like Wong. B

Worm
“Worm possesses the superhuman ability to control human minds with an unknown liquid secreted through the suction cup-like pores in his hands.” First off: ew. Second… nah, I’ll let you have some fun and write in your own Bill Cosby joke here: [                                                                                               ] Also? He has no legs and the only way he could look more like a slimy giant penis with spindly arms is if he started ranting about making America great again. C-

handbook-xemnu
Xemnu the Titan
When he first appeared in one of the Marvel’s monster stories in 1960, he placed the entire population of Earth under hypnotic control “in order to force them to construct an immense starship to enable him to return to his home world.” But an Earthman got the better of him by using a mirror to reflect his hypnotic powers back on himself, trapping him in a gaseous state. Yes, it sounds stupid, but back in the day we defeated aliens with whatever we had lying around: mirrors, cold viruses, the yodeling of Slim Whitman, you name it. But even more stupid is what happens next: he found a way back to his home planet, discovered everyone there died in a plague, got lonely and decided to come back to Earth. And instead of staying here to Netflix and chill, he launches an insane plan to use a children’s TV show to hypnotize kids into coming with him to the “Magic Planet” — and when that plan failed he used his “advanced science” to create monsters to destroy the Hulk. Let me repeat: he keeps trying to kidnap humans to take home because he’s lonely, and yet he had the technology to create living beings all along. You know what, Xemnu? You’re not just a creep, you’re an idiot. I don’t care if you remind me of Wilfred Brimley forgetting his razor on a camping trip. I’m glad you ended up a teddy bear in a giant alien’s collection. D 

X-Factor Ship
This was a sentient vessel about 1900 ft. long (or 580 metres in you live in the civilized parts of the world) first sighted as Apocalypse’s flying fortress. After he deserted the ship, X-Factor moved right in, because who wouldn’t want to live in the sentient headquarters of their greatest arch-nemesis? Just add a few throw pillows and you’re golden! Thankfully, Ship released itself from Apocalypse’s control and defused a bomb left behind by the former occupant. Wow. The worst thing I ever did was leave the ring around the bathtub for the new tenant to deal with. He messes up that X-Men movie, now this — I’m starting to think this Apocalypse fellow is kind of a jerk. C+

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X-Terminators
Meh. Go back and read the entries on Boom Boom, Rusty Collins, Rictor, Artie, Leech, Skids and Wiz Kid. There’s nothing new to report here other than keee-rist, who dresses this Rictor kid? Just in case any millennials are reading this: I want to reiterate that at no point did any of us children of the ’80s ever dress like that. Acid-washed parachute pants with leg warmers, ripped sweatshirts and Flock of Seagulls hair, sure, we’ll cop to that. But not this. Dear God, not this. C

Yashida, Mariko
Wolverine’s cross-cultural and star-crossed lover. They were set to be wed until Mastermind — apparently in a snit because he waited until the last minute and all the good stuff on their registry had already been snatched up — messed with Mariko’s mind and forced her to call off the wedding. And right when Logan was standing at the altar! Try getting your catering deposit back after that! You’ll be dining on canapés for a long time, believe me. As for Mariko: she fine. B-

Young Gods
“The Young Gods are twelve human beings who were born on Earth and who have been chosen by the pantheons of Earth’s gods to represent the finest qualities and genetic potential of humans (see Gods).” Not even finished the first paragraph and already I’m bored to tears. These people were chosen to represent humanity the next time the space-faring Celestials came to Earth to judge our worthiness to continue living and HEY NO PRESSURE KIDS JUST YOU BE YOU AND SAVE US ALL FROM A HORRIBLE EXTINCTION ‘KAY? I mean… where do you go with this idea after they’ve faced their big challenge? Oh, here’s where. From the wiki: “After years of waiting on the silent and unmoving Celestials for a sign, the Young Gods go mad and descend into deviant behavior for the hopes of even the slightest acknowledgement.” I guess Harvey Dent was right, you either die a hero or… C-

Yukio
I swear, every time I hear this one’s name I think my son is trying to rope me into another goddamn trading-card game. This Japanese assassin/adventurer’s origins hadn’t been revealed at the time this entry came out, so you know what that means: lots of long-winded synopses of all the stories she appeared in. She loved Wolverine, she didn’t love Wolverine, she tried to kill him, she helped save his life — it’s your basic Katy-Perry-sings-“Hot-N-Cold” situation. She’s done all right for herself — even scored a speaking role in that solo Wolverine film that didn’t suck — but her agent still owes her big time for casting her in that Kitty Pryde and Wolverine mini-series. “It’s the two most popular X-Men fighting ninjas! It can’t miss! What? No, Frank Miller isn’t attached to it, but trust me, this will put you on the map, baby!” Woof. B-

handbook-zaladane
Zaladane
“Real name: Zala Dane.” In other words, she came up with her alter ego codename by pushing her first and last name together. I’m sorry, but that’s just lazy. It’s like if Miley Cyrus started a new career as an international terrorist and decided to call herself “Mileycyrus.” (Note: I am not suggesting Ms. Cyrus is a terrorist, though I’m open to adding a twerking ban to the Geneva Conventions.) She’s presented as the sister of Lorna “Polaris” Dane but we don’t get anything here about their past relationship, or how Zaladane came to live in the Savage Land, or how she acquired her powers, or what her specific powers might be, or where in a prehistoric jungle she goes to maintain that sassy hairstyle. But at least we know she prefers to travel by giant pterodactyl. That’s something, I guess. C-

Deceased: Pryor, Madelyne
Shortly before this Handbook update came out, Pryor met her end in an issue of X-Factor, during Marvel’s big “Inferno” event. And rather than place her alphabetically or create a new “Book of the Dead” with only one entry in it, the editors decided to stick her at the end of this final issue. I don’t care either way; I just don’t like being reminded of the big muck-up that whole storyline was. I mean, when Claremont first introduced Pryor — someone who just happened to look a lot like the recently deceased Jean Grey — back in X-Men #168 as a new love interest for the mourning Summers, was he playing the long game and planning six years later to reveal her as a clone by Mister Sinister created to exploit Summers’ genetic potential by mating the two to produce a child of limitless power… but then Jean’s surprise resurrection complicated that plan so Pryor was targeted for death by Sinister’s operatives… and then the X-Men moved to Australia and faked their deaths and took Pryor with them… and then she started getting dreams sent to her by demons who wanted to unlock her dark side… and then she turned evil and took on the identity of the Goblin Queen… and she planned to sacrifice her son in a demonic ritual that would have linked Limbo and Earth forever… and then she died in battle with X-Factor and Jean took back the piece of her personality that the Phoenix force has taken from her and given to Pryor? I’m guessing no. But if he were… wow. That’s auctorial madness on a scale you can’t help but admire (from a safe distance). Anyway: Madelyne. Sweet gal until she wasn’t, and she didn’t deserve all the crap she was forced to deal with because of the assholes manipulating her to further their own twisted agendas. Feel free to make a joke about the political candidate and/or pop idol of your choice. C+

 

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