Friday, December 30, 2005


The Official Handbook of The Marvel Universe was just what it sounded like: an encyclopedia of all things Marvel.
Published in the Golden Eighties, the Handbook (which I will heretofore call OHMU) was a geek’s dream, packed with information and stats for even the most minor characters. How tall is the Marvel version of Dracula, anyway? (6’ 5”) How much can the Israeli heroine Sabra bench press? (about 50 tons) OHMU held great appeal for Young Dave, for the same reasons I loved poring over the Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual. There was something about the orderly cataloguing of the heroes and villains and the quantification of their powers that really worked for me. The Deluxe Edition of OHMU, published in the late eighties, was even better. DC had their own compendium, Who’s Who in The DC Universe, that I think everyone would agree sucked ass in comparison to OHMU.

One of the things I really loved about OHMU was their Book of Weapons (detailed here) and their Books of the Dead and Inactive.

The wraparound John Byrne cover (above) shows the feature characters floating in eerie stasis. My scanner isn’t big enough to scan both the front and back cover and I’m too lazy to paste the two images together, so you just get the front cover. Sue me. Note that the dead characters have their arms crossed in repose and the inactive characters have their arms at their sides. I believe if you placed all the Dead and Inactive covers together it formed a mural of the characters floating in front of a big skull. Spooky!

I’m not entirely sure what the Marvel definition of “inactive” is. Could a really, really lazy superhero be included here? Or heroes on vacation? The Marvel definition of “dead” seems equally vague, since many of the characters in this issue have escaped from Death’s loose grip since this was initially published.
"Marvel death, where is thy sting?"

Just off the top of my head, the characters featured in this issue who were dead in 1984 but came back at some point include Baron Strucker, Baron Zemo, Bucky, Count Nefaria, The Destroyer, Dracula*, Drax, Gamora, Green Goblin 2.0, and maybe Lilith. I’m not complaining, I just think it’s funny.

I wonder from a practical standpoint how the impermanence of death would affect Marvel characters, spiritually and psychologically. I mean, after a while wouldn’t somebody like Hawkeye become so jaded by the death thing that self-preservation, restraint, and a belief in the afterlife would just get tossed out the window? Marvel death, where is thy sting?

The Marvel editors and writers are like capricious Greek gods, plotting the downfall or ascension of the mortals as the whim seizes them. I’d like to read a meta-marvel story where Reed Richards invents a device that peels back the invisible Fourth Wall to reveal an Olympus of fickle Editor Gods.** Characters like Speedball and Darkhawk would join editor cults in an effort to curry favor with the gods and avoid banishment to limbo. Oh, how those minor characters must have trembled when their champion, the Great God Gruenwald passed away and their fates were left to a new generation of Mad Titans like Bendis. I mean “Mad Titans” in a good way, of course.

But enough of that. Doesn’t Banshee look like actor William H Macy on the cover? Check it out:

As usual, in addition to superstars like Banshee, OHMU features a smattering of lame minor characters like The Jackal, a Spider-Man villain. Has there ever been a character who better embodied The Riddler Factor other than The Riddler himself? As I explained here, The Riddler Factor is that mysterious force that allows lame villains to actually pose a threat to vastly more powerful heroes and enables them to survive until the end of the comic book, when logic collides with lameness and the villain goes down in one punch.

Nothing personal, but I’m glad to see The Jackal is dead. The real question is how he survived to plague Spider-Man for more than one issue. I mean, he’s an old guy in a costume. That’s it. At least The Vulture is an old guy who can fly, but The Jackal can’t even do that. OHMU doesn’t mention it, but I’m pretty sure he had poison claws. That’s it.

Plus, look at him. Pretty damn goofy:

Who would be scared of The Jackal? He’s a seventy-year old who dresses up like a frickin’ Mogwai. You could walk briskly away from him and be perfectly safe.
OHMU claims he died by throwing himself on a bomb, but I think he succumbed to gout and a fondness for brandy.
Since we’re doing a “separated at birth” theme with the OHMU posts, I think The Jackal resembles the gremlins from a series of British adult literacy adverts. Behold:

Man, I loves me the Google image search. You find the weirdest shit. I was looking for a decent picture of an evil Mogwai from the movie Gremlins when stumbled upon these ads, which are inexplicably hilarious to me. Look at the cute little guy:

I submit to you, fair reader, that a British literacy gremlin would make for a more formidable opponent than The Jackal.

Speaking of animal motif characters, check out Man-Wolf. He’s listed as “inactive,” which is a pity, because look at that fly outfit! He looks fabulous. Disco isn’t dead as long as Man-Wolf lives in our hearts.

According to his entry in OHMU, Man-Wolf “possessed superhuman strength, speed, agility, and stamina,” apparently so he could dance the night away. Not a true werewolf, “Man-Wolf was not subject to conventional limitations of lycanthropy, such as a weakness for silver,” but he had a true weakness for roller boogie and shiny disco balls. Heads up Marvel! I want to read a Dazzler/Man-Wolf mini-series, and I want to read it now!

And holy crap, is Man-Wolf wearing leg warmers? That just makes him even cooler. You go, girl!

*To be fair, OHMU lists Dracula, who is undead, as "destroyed," which seems accurate.

** Grant Morrison beat me to the punch when he had Animal Man meet his writer (Grant) in that one excellent issue.


Anonymous said...

That little dude looks like Warwick Davis, aka Willow.

Nik said...

God, I loved these books back in the day. I understand they're actually doing an "essential" collection of them in 2006. They might be 20 years out of date, but I might just have to pick that up.

gorjus said...

I LOVE OHMU. Yeah, they're out of date, but they were so packed with information. I outgeeked all my pals my knowing much more Marvel history than them, mainly because of OHMU and Marvel Saga.

The creepiest thing about OHMU Books of the Dead? That they showed where the character got killed (shudder).

Man Wolf ain't wearing leg-warmers!! Those are just normal Cap'n America booties with, er, the . . . toes cut out?

Anonymous said...

The Handbooks are being updated soon, but probably without the low-end, ernest charm they had before. I picked up the first issue before a long road trip as a kid, and fought like hell to get every following one. I read entries for things like AIM or Hydra long before I ever saw them in a regular comic.
Y'all probably already know, but I think the full fifteen issue original Handbook is going to be an Essential volume: black and white and cheap all over! That small print is going to look like hell, and I'm still going to buy it. (I don't think the first series used a uniform type size: they'd use smaller print for someone with a huge history like Professor X, and huge print for someone like, oh, Ajax. Why do I know this? Aren't I in school for..something?)

Anonymous said...

Man, I loved me some OHMU (or OHOTMU as we kids called it) when I was a young Marvel Zombie. Good times.

Off topic, but speaking of Stilt-man...did anyone catch his cameo in the recent Top 10: Beyond the Farthest Precinct limited series? He was helping out, appropriately enough, at a construction site.

John said...


Marvel Team-Up Vol. 3 #19 - It's a Disco Inferno when the marauding Man-Wolf and the daring Dazzler join to fight the menace of Tina Bareback and her evil minions the Club Kids! RATED M FOR MATURE. 32 pages, $2.25.

Well, not really. But I'd buy it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the giggles, man. Planning to go back and comment on most of your stuff...

Seems to me, at least, from my much later perspective, was that Jackal's menace was his scientific ability, not his 'powers'. Remember, he unleased clones, which haunted Spider-Man and his readers for a long time to come after that...

Of course, one of the biggest fucking snafu's of the Spidey-verse was bringing back Norman Osborn. There was a way to end the Clone Saga, but that was *not* it. :P

(sorry, just venting)

Ray said...

Just a note- during Waid and Wieringo's run on FF, Reed and company do travel to Heaven, where we find out that Jack Kirby is God. That's a bit better than finding out that Joe Quesada and Tom Brevoort are the Heavenly Host, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

I don't know about you, but I was quite sad when Jameson's son ( which I will heretofor call Son-Son) Didn't turn into Man-Wolf in Spider-Man 2. Primary green scale mail ALWAYS looks good on the silver screen.

PS. Wasn't it awesome in She-Hulk when Son-Son and Thing were all-like down and shit? I mark out when writers connect the continuity dots.

Unknown said...

I remember that I had never thought Man-Wolf was cool until I saw his entry in OHOTMU.

He's a wolf with a bow!

How cool is that?

Not to mention (as it has been mentioned) the boots with the toes cut out.

All the better to claw you up, man!

Edward Liu said...

OHOTMU is also a more fun acronym to say than OHMU, even if Hayao Miyazaki used ohmu in Nausicaa.

Oh, hot mu!

Scipio said...

Cheer up, Dave!

Man Wolf might turn up in "Sword of Atlanist"...

Anonymous said...

" OHMU held great appeal for Young Dave, for the same reasons I loved poring over the Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual. There was something about the orderly cataloguing of the heroes and villains and the quantification of their powers that really worked for me."

Me too!

Hell, I can still spend a day just reading random article from Britannica and geeking out on things like the fact that for every species of fig there's a specific species of fig wasp which pollinates it and they're co-dependent.

But nothing in Britannica beats the drawing of the Succubus from the Monster Manual.

thekelvingreen said...

I wonder from a practical standpoint how the impermanence of death would affect Marvel characters, spiritually and psychologically.
Yeah, I mean if Peter Parker can come back from the dead, then how can that Jesus guy compete? Jesus doesn't even have stingers in his wrists or an appetite for people's faces, either. So why aren't people setting up churches for Face-Eater Parker?

The literacy gremlins are pretty disturbing. The ads consist of sad-looking adults being scared of reading to their kids, and then up pops one of the little buggers saying "GO ON BRIAN! READ TO THE BOY! WHY WON'T YOU READ TO HIM?" or some such. Then the adult gets this ashen look, and you know that after the ad cuts away, Dad's putting his head in the oven. Or am I reading too much into it?

Anonymous said...

Who's Who sucked compared to OHTMU? Oh, no no no no no. Who's Who had far better art, was far, far more comprehensive, and their loose leaf format was about a kajillion times better than Marvel's loose-leaf format (the primary purpose of which, according to the first issue of the loose-leaf Marvel, was to provide costume reference for role-players!) Now, the Deluxe version was better, yes.

Spencer Carnage said...


Did you ever play the Classic Marvel Super Heroes roleplaying game? You had to if you played D & D and read comics. Nothing was better than reading their character manuals(which were the same as the OHMU except with game stats) and be all "Dude, Wolverine's Claws do Monsterous(75) damage. No wonder he's always fucking dudes up" or saying "Dr. Doom's blast only does Remarkable(30) and the Thing has Excellent(20) Body Armor! No way would he take him out with one shot
" while reading Fantastic Four comics. If you didn't, your childhood was all the less exciting.

And, err...for the record, Sabra has Amazing(50) strength if she can lift 50 tons, just in case you're wondering.

I'll go now.

thekelvingreen said...

Oh dear god...

You are such a loser, Spencer.

Everyone knows the SAGA version of Marvel Super Heroes was better...


Walaka said...

I designed a superhero character who had leg-warmers once. Of course, she was a girl, not a wolf, and it was 1980. (Let's get physical, physical...)

I took a cue from you and reviewed a different directory on my site today, Dave. I wonder if you have ever seen it.

zack soto said...

I can't believe you dissed Who's Who!
the art was SO much better- they even tried to get the artists most closely tied to a character to do the art for the entries. (also had better covers.)

OHMU was like 50% Kieth Pollard.

(I still loved the marvel handbooks, and will be picking up the Essential OHMU editions)

Anonymous said...

I used to use OHMU to make my own superheroes. Specifically, I placed a piece of tracing paper over Man-Wolf and created my awesome new hero . . . Wolf-Man.

Anonymous said...

When did Man-Wolf go for the Lord of the Rings look? I used to have a Spider-Man record that featured Man-Wolf (and a Batman one featuring Man-Bat too!)but he wore some weird, torn space outfit.

montag said...

Man Wolf got his new duds in Creatures on the Loose, where he went on from werewolfy Spider-Man villain to become "Stargod", hero of an extradimensional realm. Yes, it was about as bad as it sounds.

Anonymous said...

The first edition OHMU that Dave's describing was indeed much better than the first Who's Who. It was the later editions where DC took the lead. The second edition of OHMU was pretty damn sweet, though. I loved the issue that listed every single alien species in the Marvel Universe. As previously mentioned, the later Who's Who got the artists currently associated with the characters to do the art. I love looking back and seeing all the early Vertigo characters with their weird art styles next to all the forgettable early 90s DC characters. The later OHMU just had generic profiles.

Anonymous said...

John: Dude, have you seen who's IN Marvel Team-Up lately? Kirkman's just nuts enough to pull that off.

Essential OHMU is out next week- I can't wait. I might also point out that the Jackal has come back- again, in the Lapham DD/Punisher mini this year.

Anonymous said...

And I have to agree with Dave: OHMU makes Who's Who its bitch.

The current OHMU one-shots are also well done, I think.

zailo said...

Literacy gremlins? I would think that would be more the realm of safety posters around the work place. You Know,
"Safety Goblin says be safe ...

Anonymous said...

entz, I hate to be a pain, but it was always the policy of Who's Who to have all-new art by the creators asociated with the character. OHMU (except for the main shot) was all recycled art (though, to its credit, they tried to have the pictures show the hero's listed powers and abilties in action - that was a good idea). I did like the giant appendix they did. And I loved the Deluxe edition's Alien Species guide, but Who's Who was, what, 24 issues long compared to OHMU's 15? And then there were the Legion series, the couple years of updates, and then the loose-leaf, which had its own set of problems, but compared to the Marvel loose leaf it was friggen Alan Moore. Anyway, what I guess I'm trying to say, is I like pie.

John said...


BIG MTU fan, here - totally! I love seeing what Kirkman dredges up each month. :)

Anonymous said...

I might also point out that the Jackal has come back- again, in the Lapham DD/Punisher mini this year.

No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, HELL NO. I wish this were a joke. I wish it were a bad dream. I wish it were an alternate reality. The clone saga marked the beginning of the end of 'comics' for me, and to hear this makes me all sad inside.

Carlos Torres said...

I cast my vote on the Who's Who camp. Original art by the characters more associated to them with their logos looked more cool than the same poses for every character by the same artist.

Ah, but the OHMU that featured ROM, that was really nice!

thekelvingreen said...

Original art by the characters more associated to them with their logos looked more cool than the same poses for every character by the same artist.
To be fair, the main art in the Marvel versions were essentially model sheets, so that new artists could just be handed a stack of Handbooks whenever they needed reference. That's why they had a generic appearance and had that weird "one hand turned out, one turned in" pose.

Not very exciting, but really quite useful.

Polly said...

oh, i disagree. Who's Who was far better. it REALLY covered everybody, there weren't lame add on books (like the book of the dead), they were all covered. PLUS you often got extra pictures of every character (how about some panel shots of DART from Atari Force? check!" whereas, the Marvel version usually had a standing pose of the character in a single color background. only REALLY big name characters like Thor ever had additional photos.

I loved my OHMU, but Who's Who really did it for me. i remember they made me want to find out about these old characters (doctor occult,e tc) whereas the marvel version didn't send me to the back issue bin.

Dweeze said...

That picture of Man-Wolf is from his team-up with the Village People, right?

Spencer Carnage said...

Kelvin -
SAGA? With those dumb little stones? Somebody take away this man's blogging license.

Anonymous said...

I never thought about it until I saw that partictular picture, but Man-Wolf was pretty much made to be airbrushed on the side of a 70s black GMC van. And it would say "The Man-Wolf" on one side and like, "Howling in the night" on other or something.

Uh, I can just see it, that's all.

Anonymous said...

The Jackal resembles Mortiis in my opinion. Actually, if Mortiis looked like the Jackal, I'd probably have slightly more respect for him... just slightly more though...

Anonymous said...

Man-Wolf may not have a weakness for silver, but he sure likes the gold. Bling bling, MW!

Anonymous said...

Like, you prolly won't be reviewing the comments for this old post anytime soon, but if you do, check this link for more UK TV ad gemlin-type goodness:

You know, I never did manage to complete my OHMU collection. Vol 5 eluded me, and I was sad.

Anonymous said...

Details of Man-Wolf:

OK, look. for TWO issues of Marvel Premiere, Man-Wolf did a sword and sorcery thing in some crazy dimension inside the magic gem. Fans remember this ONLY because those two issues were drawn by Mr. George Perez. Look at that unnecessarily busy suit and tell me it's not a Perez.

Anyway, since that was the only time anybody could remember when Man-Wolf WASN'T a cheap ripoff of Werewolf by Night, that suit made it into OHOTMU.

Anonymous said...

Wonder Man fan here, the Hulk issue you refer to was written by Allen Milgrom who drew the West Coast Avengers were Steve Englehart milked the stage fright subplot started by Jim Shooter shortly after Wonder Man was resurrected in the mid 70's. He was supposed to have overcomed that fear of dying and move on after the Avengers Korvac Saga (the first company wide crossover at Marvel Comics). Somehow Englehart found amusing rehashing the whole thing in his WCA series where Wonder Man conquered his fears one more time by beating the Abomination (Hulk's toughest villain who has KO Hulk on many times) and then Milgrom goes and uses it again in his short Hulk stint. To the character's defense he never ran from the fight, you can see that he is feeling scared but he is still wrestling mindless Hulk unarmed and he was the most unexperienced of the group's strongmen at the time. Since then a couple of stories have been written where he faces the Hulk to a standstill, notably in his solo series in the 90's and he comes close to beating him; the stage fright is gone.

Anonymous said...

What happened? No updates for a month?

Mister Sinister said...

Most of them ARE still alive or active.

Air-Walker's a robot
Ancient One is dead
Banshee is annoyingly active
Baron Blood is dead (YAY)
Strucker's alive as is another Zemo, Black Knight, & Bloodstone, Bucky's back, so is Mar-Vell.
Changeling got cancer or something & was killed by a retard w/ tard strength.
Nefaria's alive, Darkoth is dead but badass w/ the Soulsword, Death-Stalker was badass but is (SIGH) dead
Destroyer's back
so is Dracula & Drax
We were all waiting for Egghead to die
Foolkiller's been replaced by similar whackjobs
Gamora back
Ghost Rider's are both inactive
Giant-Man faded into obscurity
Goblin didn't even die the first time
It should be alive but isn't
Jackal is dead, but everything he made lasts for 4000 million years
(stupid clones)
Jocasta's been replaced by badass girl-Ultron
Korvac was too cool for life
Lilith is replaced
Mantis just left, no one wants her back
Man-Wolf lives w/ the 80's
The Ani-Men all suck
THe Champions sucked
The rest are WWII dropouts who no longer exist or people don't care about or never did in the first place

Most of them are still alive or replaced

TJ Womoc-attorney at law-coming soon to RBC

Anonymous said...

My favorite item in the Marvel Universe books was the detail in Rhino's entry explaining that his suit had a flap for his waste.

Mister Sinister said...

Stuff happened.
Banshee was hit by a plane in midair so hes dead

Baron Blood had a daughter

Giant-Man went active again until Clor came & slashed his chest open w/ a lightning bolt

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