Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

27 March 2009

Marvel Legacy: The 1960s-1990s Handbook

Collects: Four Marvel Legacy Handbooks (1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s)

Released: (Marvel)

Format: 280 pages / color / $19.99 / ISBN: 9780785120827

What is this?: Faux Marvel Handbooks, constructed to look like they were written on the last day of each of the preceding four decades

The culprits: Head writer Jeff Christiansen and a host of writers and artists

Marvel Comics Legacy: The 1960s-1990s Handbook is a weird idea, both creatively and commercially. Marvel Legacy consists of four issues, each representing a decade: the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Each issue gives Official Handbook-type entries for characters as they stood on the last day of the decade — so the “Spider-Man” entry in the 1960s issue features the character as he appeared December 31, 1969, and leaves everything that happened after that a mystery.

Marvel has been bound and determined to mine the market for their handbooks, and given that eight Essentials of the old handbooks and seven volumes of their new, hardback handbooks have been released, Marvel has proven there is a market for it. But this is just an odd idea, cutting off each character at the end of a decade. The big characters receive entries in multiple decades, and at the end of each decade’s handbook there is a “Where Are They Now?” appendix, but the divisions seem arbitrary. They probably seemed less so when each decade’s handbook was published as a single issue, though.

Marvel Legacy handbooks coverThe success of the new handbooks has influenced the characters chosen for Marvel Legacy. Sure, there are the big stars of each decade, slogging their way through history, but the book is filled with Z-listers and no hopers. Thermal Man? Father Darklyte? Both Lunatiks? Spider-Ham, for Heaven’s sake? There all here, whether you want them or not, because the Handbook team didn’t want to rehash the histories of the mid-listers.

I will admit to finding a considerable charm to the obscure characters, especially ones from the 1970s. Where else will you learn the story of Hypno-Hustler or Those Who Wield Power? Still, despite that charm, the parade of the obscure can get irritating. The ‘80s entries contain New Universe characters very few people care about. The ‘90s issue are studded with characters that are awful or kewl. The ‘60s feature ideas from Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko that didn’t resonate, and there’s a reason. The 1970s — well, I can’t say much bad about the ‘70s issue, except perhaps to note the higher than average horror content and bad women’s rights characters.

Marvel Legacy strives for a period look for each decade — using colored pages for older times to simulate yellowed paper, for instance, and it uses art from each decade as well. They get points for trying, but ultimately that doesn’t weigh heavily in my evaluation.

Marvel Legacy is a slog to read straight through. I don’t think this is the fault of head writer Jeff Christiansen or his team, but the fact remains I could only get through a half dozen pages a night before my eyes began to cross. One obscure character may be interesting; two might be amusing. But by the time I’d read six in one sitting, the details began to blur together, and my mind began to wander, especially with entries about confusing ‘90s characters who were retconned within an inch of their lives. I also know it would have “broken character,” but I would have preferred the “Where Are They Now?” segments at the end of each entry rather than at the end of each issue.

But, on the other hand, Marvel Legacy isn’t much use as a reference either. What is the chance that the obscure character you’re looking for will be in this book? And you have to know that character’s decade as well to find out anything about him. (Although that’s not likely to be a problem.) The book gives such a random slice of weird characters readers can’t count on finding useful information. It can be decent if you’re trying to figure out what had happened to Spider-Man in each decade, but how often do you have that desire?

This is interesting, but ultimately, it’s a better idea than a reference book. There’s an attempt to capture the flavor of times gone past that I applaud, but I’m not sure Marvel did that; it’s like trying to preserve a piece of pizza by pressing it like a flower between the pages of a book. Still, it will sit on my shelf with all the other Marvel handbooks, and I can’t say it will be used all that less …

Rating: Marvel symbol Marvel symbol (2 of 5)

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Blogger Marc said...

That's too bad about this book not living up to expectations. I'm not usually big into comic book reference guides (that's what Wikipedia is for, right?), but I've actually had my eye on this one for a while...the theme of it just seemed cool to me. Thanks for pointing it out for what it is, though, you just saved me a few bucks. :)

10:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

...please where can I buy a unicorn?

3:22 AM  

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