(Before I begin this sure to be rambling discourse about a book nearly 30 years old, let me first say that the Prattle is indebted--once again--to Christoper Elam, who in bequeathing these 15 volumes inspired me to give this whole bloody-minded endurance test a go in the first place. Blame or praise should go in his direction)
It's rather fraught with peril to do anything related to the Official Handbook Of The Marvel Universe at this point. For one thing, Leonard Pierce's long-lived and absolutely hilarious takedown of both the Marvel Handbook and DC's Who's Who has helped me survive many a long night and fill it with laughter, oh such laughter. Also, House To Astonish regularly does the Official Handbook to the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, which takes a character from the Handbook's pages and re-purposes them, often hilariously, into newer and vital characters. They're good people, and kind people, and both deserve your patronage, so go have a look. I'll wait.
Back already? Great. Now, the problem I have is the world probably needs one more write-up on this series like it needs a hole in its collective heads, plus it looks like egregious dick-riding. However, hopefully my write-up will set itself apart by dint of the following two points:
1) This is the 1983 edition of the Marvel Handbook, which, discounting the Contest Of Champions backmatter, is the OG version of this here thing, and, by virtue of its timing, is a curious historical artifact. We're pre-Secret Wars, pre-linewide crossovers as a general rule, and still wiping the sleep of the 70's from our eyes. Walt Simonson is just kicking into high gear on Thor, Byrne is hitting his stride on Fantastic Four, and Uncanny X-Men is still pre issue 200 and thus well away from in inevitable slide into madness. It's interesting to look back and see which characters were getting promoted when (yes, Team Stereotype from Contest of Champions is in here) in light of how they ended up.
2) I am covering every entry in the book, except for the Appendix. I don't care how goddamned obscure the character is, if I must struggle with my dying breath to say something witty about Mercurio the Fourth-Dimensional Man or Ten-For of the Autocron race, well, I guess I shall. Remember: I drive seven hours for fun.
Ok, so those are my hooks, and look at it this way--it's a steady flow of content!
Are you sitting comfortably? Let's begin now:
ABOMINATION--If "Emil Blonsky" isn't the most Cold War name a comic character can have, I don't know what is. "Lenin Stalindropov," maybe. Anyways, the Abomination got super-powers from radiation, because in the 1960s "superpowers" was how they sugarcoated the diagnosis of "lymphatic cancer."
ABSORBING MAN--Oh my, yes. Crusher Creel and his pet wrecking ball Testicles get superpowers from Loki, the god of mischief during his "I'm going to hand out superpowers to random jamokes in the name of really pissing Thor off" and becomes the Absorbing Man, who absorbs the properties of things in much the same way as his cousin, Mr. Clean.
EL AGUILA--Ethnically speaking, you should know a few things about comics--all Arabs are either coloured red or a weird dark grey and all people of Spanish descent have pencil-thin mustaches that John Waters quietly seethes with envy over. Comic creators don't get out much. El Aguila can zap people with electricity from his sword, but pretends that he just has a sword with an electric blaster inside, lest people find out he's a mutant, because while we can tolerate people zapping people with swords by mechanical means, you do that naturally and they will kill your ass.
AIM--The Advanced Idea Mechanics are a group of brilliant scientists who create whatever insane shit Jack Kirby thought up that could shoot big crackly dots at things. For some reason, this collective of brilliant minds elected to dress everyone in beekeeper suits. And really, if they're so smart, who are we to judge really? Maybe it's we who do not get it. None of which addresses a somewhat obvious flaw--if they get smacked in the head and their helmet gets turned around, how the hell do they see?
AJAK--At last count there were 912 Eternals gallumphing through the Marvel Universe, and of those, maybe 7 of them are at all interesting. Ajak is not very interesting, save for the fact that his lack of a neck and ridiculous hat that really knock the hell out of the conceit that the Eternals are an "advanced race."
ALPHA FLIGHT--There are about 8 characters in the Alpha Flight entry. Every one of them has died at least twice. I have a wonderful love/hate relationship with Alpha Flight, mainly due to Bill Mantlo's run on the book where they--no lie!--wanted to turn it into their version of Alan Moore's Swamp Thing. Ultimately, this ended up making the book, everyone who worked on it, and most of the people who read it utterly insane.
ALPHA PRIMITIVES--The Inhumans were supposed to be this isolated group of special people who lived in a special city in the Himalayas and it took about, oh 15 years give or take for anyone to give much thought to the notion that, despite their roles as nominal protagonist status, they had a whole slave class called "Alpha Primitives," which are basically a clone race of brownshirts, which now that I think about it, was pretty much what they did in the Star Wars prequels.
AMERICAN EAGLE--Ohhhhh shiiiiiit. American Eagle is a Native American, and as such is coloured pinkish, because shut up, that's why. In case this was not enough of a give-away, he also wears a huge feathered headdress, feathers on his pants, carries arrows . . .I mean, damn. Anyways, American Eagle got his powers from a Uranium mine, which sounds like it has more a future than say, a blanket full of smallpox. He's very stereotypical, is all I'm saying.
ANACONDA--Despite what you may be thinking, this is the lesbian from the Serpent Squad, not Sir Mix-A-Lot's penis. Anaconda gets to be strong, gets gills, oh, and her arms can crush the shit out of you. She nearly drowned the Thing in her first appearance, back when the surest way to get some heat on a new bad guy was to have that bad guy beat the shit out of the Thing, Thor, or the Hulk. After Thundra, this makes the second girl who could stand toe to toe with Benjy, so . . .yeah. This means something.
ANGAR THE SCREAMER--His introductory story was called--and I am not making this up--"Vengeance in the Sky With Diamonds." That alone makes Angar, a filthy hippie with a voice that made you trip balls on LSD worth noting, even if it proves that comic writers were no more "with it" regarding hippies than they were with, y'know, Night Thrasher.
ANGEL--Oh, for the days when Angel's origin and powers could fill one page if you tried hard enough. The Angel can fly, just like everyone in the Marvel Universe, and ever since the mid-80s, a concentrated effort has been underway to make the Angel a little more meaningful as a character, hence his progression from Angel, the Archangel, to Angel Smurf, to Luminous Blue Angel Smurf, to Mutant Jesus, to Jailbait Bangin' Mutant Jesus I Hate Chuck Austen. Despite all this, the Angel has never been anything except boring as whale shit.
ANNIHILUS--Annihilus is a bat or a bug or a bug-bat who found a magic Good-N-Plenty candy and became all powerful and decided to go fuck with the Fantastic Four, because that's the kind of thing you do on casual Friday in the Negative Zone.
ANT-MAN--The founding Avengers consisted of a woman who could shrink down and zap you with laser beams, a Norse Thunder god, a big green sociopath who could rip a building apart, and Iron Man, who could also wreck shit despite the notable handicap of wearing a skirt. They were joined by Ant-Man. He talked to ants and was tiny. There are three Ant-Men now. They really didn't need to be one, far as I'm concerned.
AQUARIAN--Someone (I assume it was Steve Gerber) decided to recast the Superman story with an alien who lands on Earth as a grown man and is utterly retarded. Later on, Project PEGASUS rubs him up against the Cosmic Cube and he becomes Super Jesus. Comic books in the 70's, y'all.
ARABIAN KNIGHT--Our first member of Team Stereotype from Contest of Champions, the Arabian Knight found all his magical shit in a cave in Egypt, and decided that, "well, obviously, I will fly around on a magic carpet and fight crime." The Handbook notes "[his] belt-sash can be animated by mental command, serving as bonds, lariat, whip or climbing rope. It is made of the same substance as his flying carpet and is similarly indestructible." Nowhere in all of that does it say it holds his pants up.
ARCADE--Was Arcade the only villain who showed up in Marvel Team-Up who didn't get wiped out by Scourge? It seems so. As so many people have said, Arcade's Murderworld if often tagged as the place "where no one survives." Three decades later, Murderworld or Arcade has yet to so much as mildly injure anyone.
ARES--Ares looks so sad about having to share a page with Arcade, and who can blame him? Ares is the god of war, which means he has all the powers of war or something. The Handbook says "The javelin is his favourite weapon, although he also enjoys the sword and mace." You know, I have a hard time deciding my favourite of those three too.
ARIEL--This is Kitty Pryde, deep into her phase of never being able to decide on a code name, and so she went through a phase of naming herself after her favourite soft drinks--Sprite, 7-Up, and Fresca. I am unable to let this entry pass without mentioning the fact that Colossus banged the hell out of Kitty when she was total jailbait and then later on she got possessed by Wolverine's evil sword, and . . .wow, Chris Claremont has some serious lady issues.
ARKON--Like Mr. Spock, Arkon tends to get violent and unstable when he gets horny. Unlike Spock, Arkon expresses his sexual frustration by coming to Earth and throwing lightning bolts at people. I don't even want to think of how advanced a case of blue balls one must have to make that seem like a good idea.
ARNIM ZOLA--Arnim Zola is a scientist of genius intellect in addition to being a Nazi shithead. Zola once pulled his head off an put a radio on top of his neck for what is referred to in the DSM-IV as "some fucked-up reason." His rationale for this was that his brain would be more protected in his tummy. Arnim Zola sorely underrates the likelihood of being gut-punched and forgetting his piano lessons.
ASGARD--It's a big map of Asgard, which includes such scenic locations as Hel, Gundershelm, and The Swamp of Endless Flame. Very little on this map has probably not been used as the name of a death metal band at this point. I'm totally OK with that.
ASGARDIANS--Your importance is Asgard is in direct proportion to the utter insanity of your hat. Thus, Odin and Hela are high rollers and can not walk through doorways, while Volstagg is a fat fuck who only occasionally gets to do wicked awesome shit like beating up people. In fact, a lot of folks in the MU practice hierarchy by haberdashery.
ATLANTIS--Much like Asgard, pretty much every place name on the map of Atlantis has been plundered for the title of a progressive rock album at this point, as heard on Demon of Diamonds, Lair of the Serpent Crown and Lair of the Faceless Ones. Shit, King Crimson was SO HIGH back then . . .
ATLANTEANS--You know, for a guy who rules Atlantis, Namor doesn't really like to be around these guys, and I have a hard time disagreeing with him. Consisting primarily of douchebags, most Atlanteans fall into two groups--those in the background, and those who want to overthrow Namor for one reason or another, which is like 80% of the damn population.
ATTILAN--Attilan is the home city of the slave-holding Inhumans, apparently designed to be picked up and moved pretty easily--where is it now? The Moon? Mennonite Country? I forget. The map lists a place called the "former Alpha Primitive center," which I think is now an Applebee's or something. Goddamn Alpha Crow laws . . .
ATTUMA--Part of the 80% nation who's always trying to overthrow Prince Namor, Attuma apparently got to run Atlantis for a few years and while I'm sure this is terribly important for the three Sub-Mariner fans out there, honestly, he's just one more blue dude in a silly hat to me.
AURORA--Aurora had super-speed powers like her brother Northstar. She also shifted rapidly between a prim and proper French-Canadian schoolmarm and the team slut, which is the sum total of 30 years of her characterisation. I sometimes think Chris Claremont and John Byrne have more in common than either would like to admit.
AVENGERS--Give or take, at this point in time there are 39 Avengers in this entry. Of that, pretty much all of them, with the exception of Jarvis and Henry Gyrich, have died multiple times. Maybe 2 of them (Captain Marvel the first and the original Swordsman) have actually stayed dead. The best news is, of course, that we're still about 10 years away from Deathcry being added to the roster. Deathcry sucked, is what I'm trying to say.
AVENGERS MANSION--God bless us everyone, here is our first taste of the mad skills of Eliot R. Brown, the man who drew more technical diagrams about crazy shit that will never exist. Mr. Brown takes us on a tour of Avengers Mansion this go-round, which includes such picturesque locales as Dr. Pym's Pathology (fancy name for his babe lair) and Stark's J-8 Hi-Octane Jet Fuel (Tony's liquor cabinet) Oh and they just jam their Quinjets in a corner on the third floor like you do the hide-a-bed when guests come over for the holidays.
AVENGERS QUINJET--So apparently you can have a big-ass jet take off from your house in NYC and there's no problem with that at all, huh? The Quinjets were rolled out whenever they had a bunch of guys who couldn't fly or the people writing the book remembered they had some. Inevitably they get wrecked at an alarming rate, because that's really all they're there for.
I also noticed that these things weigh about 145 tons and are built in Wakanda, so they're built continent away and then shipped to North America. This outsourcing stuff is a bitch.
I have no idea why it seemed like a good idea to have every Alien Race attired in bikini briefs. While I suppose it's to keep the fetishists away, I doubt it worked all that well, ultimately.
AAKON--No, not that one. The Aakon are apparently a bunch of underachieving foils for the Kree, which means that they're pretty well jobber aliens--even the Handbook says they "lack genius." Damn, that's harsh.
A'ASKVARII--Apparently hailing from The Planet of the Overfiend, these guys apparently appeared in an issue of Black Goliath, one of whom was named Derath. I am too proud to make the obvious joke involving tentacles and the phrase "black Goliath," but you go right ahead.
ACHERONIANS--Their cultural traits are "self-centered, superstitious and hedonistic," which is what we used to call preppies behind their backs when this book was current.
A-CHILTARIANS--Their sole representative is named "Kraglin." I coulda sworn he was on Law and Order for awhile there.
ALPHA CENTAURIANS--One of the representatives, for some reason, is called Dynorr "The Stalker." I wonder if he gets really dickish and corrects people if they don't include the air quotes around the last bit. I bet he does.
ARCTURANS--"At present, half the Arcturan population is severely mutated due to a combination of biochemical advancements and radioactive fallout." Yeah, see, this is why the McRib only comes back for a few months . . .
ASTRANS--The Astrans have their excretory glands in their stomachs. I don't know as I am psychologically prepared for the notion of someone pulling their shirt-tail out as a prelude to taking a dump.
AUTOCRONS--One of them is named Ten-For. Oh my god, for reasons of my burgeoning insanity, the notion of a planet of aliens all named after CB codes is hilarious, though the notion of twins being named Ten-Onehundred and Ten-Twohundred is kind of sad, when you get down to it.
And that's it for this time! Join us next time for issue 2 "Baron Mordo to the Collective Man." Yes, it's a mediocrity sandwich!