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

12 April 2011

A few notes on the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, A-Z, v. 1

Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, A-Z, v. 1 coverI’m slowly working my way through the first volume of the new, hardcover The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, A to Z, and even though I’m barely into the B’s, there are a few things I can tell you about it as opposed to the previous edition:

1) The entries seem to have a greater level of detail than the original, which frequently had only a paragraph or two about the history of minor characters while concentrating on powers and vital stats. I don’t know if my perception here is correct; maybe I’m wrong, or maybe there has been so much history over the past 20 years that the entries had to grow.

2) That level of detail does expose some truly idiotic character twists over the past quarter century or so. Every character who has more than a one-page entry has a history that advances in two or three different ways, then gets reset before the next avenue of development can be explored. I applaud the Handbook for unflinchingly laying this stupidity in front of his, and I know the purpose of a reference book isn’t to make excuses or justify the material it’s recording, but there are times when I just want the book to try to give an overriding reason for all these stupid directions. I do appreciate the occasional moments when the writer gives up trying to make sense of what’s going on, adding phrases like “for unknown reasons” or “strangely” to the histories.

3) There are too many entries that make me groan at the thought of reading. Do I want to read three pages about the Annunaki, the Babylonian pantheon, or the 2020 A.D. timeline? (That’s one page more than the 2099 timeline, which supported multiple titles.) No. No, I do not want three pages about either topic. I don’t want to read one page about them, really. And sometimes these drier entries go on too long; the original Handbook had two pages on Atlantis and two on Atlanteans, while the new edition combines the entries into five pages on Atlantis.

4) And there are questionable choices. There’s no entry on Attilan, but minor Goliath / Iron Man villain Atom Smasher and Infinity Abyss plot device Atleza get their own pages? I suppose Attilan could be in the Inhumans entry, though, and I do enjoy minor villains getting their due.

5) Speaking of getting their due: all pictures are credited to the artists on the same page as the illustration. Even the smaller and inset drawings are credited … to the correct penciler, at least.

6) The original Handbook had large pictures of the characters accompanying each entry. The new version scales down the size of these pictures while still keeping them a useful size.

7) There are other areas of design that have been improved. The paper is better, the text is larger, the margins and spacing have been adjusted to add more white space. The headings for each entry’s sections are in red print, setting them apart from the mass of black text.

8) That being said, these advances come at a price. The original, definitive Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, Deluxe Edition (OHotMUDE) came in 20 issues, each retailing for $1.50, and I was able to find them for less than that today online. Each volume of the new Handbook retails for $24.99, and there are twelve volumes. (Each set had their additions afterwards, but we’ll leave those aside for the moment.) So the original goes for about $25 or $30; the new Handbook set retails for about ten times that, although if you can get a discount, you might be able to knock it down to $180 or $200. That’s pretty steep. But it does look pretty, I have to admit.

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