Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Essential Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition volume 3

Essential Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition volume 3 collects issues #15-20 of the Handbook, covering the entries from Wonder Man to Zzzax, then an appendix for Alien Races and finally the Book of the Dead covering Air-Walker to Zuras. The main creative forces are still Mark Gruenwald and Peter Sanderson though Eliot R. Brown is only credited on issue #15.

The first issue contains the last few entries for living characters. One oddity is that Ymir the Frost Giant is given a full-page art shot. Of all the characters to receive this accolade, he would be very low on the list and it's clearly an emergency piece of padding. The entries are fairly standard though Zabu's does its best to reconcile what is known about real life sabre-tooth tigers with how artists have often drawn him. The Book of the Dead continues in much the same manner. There are attempts to explain away some of the stuff that went unremarked upon in the Silver Age such as the suggestion that the Kangaroo might actually have been a mutant rather than simply someone who trained hard enough amongst real kangaroos or speculation as to why Frederick Foswell/the Big Man was released from jail so quickly. More recent confusions are also subject to clean-up attempts, with the entry on the original Hobgoblin doing its best to weave motivation into the already confused backstory whilst the entry for the Purple Man struggles with a chronology that makes it difficult to explain his daughter having inherited his powers.

An interesting set of revelations here concern many of the villains killed by the Scourge of the Underworld. Reading through these entries it's clear just how lame most of them were and the whole storyline was clearly a useful way to clear out a weaker corner of the Marvel universe. Left ambiguous is whether or not there was more than one Scourge with the entry for Titania I questioning how the male killer could have convincingly disguised himself as the woman who killed her and if it was another Scourge who killed the first.

The Book of the Dead also includes some characters who existed in other time periods, most notably Kid Colt, the Rawhide Kid and the Two-Gun Kid, even though the circumstances of their deaths had not been revealed and the Two-Gun Kid's time travelling means he may be alive in the present day. Notably the Rawhide Kid's first appearance is given as issue #1 of his eponymous series; it's not clear if this is an error or a declaration that the Kid who appeared in the first sixteen issues was the same as the better known character from issue #17's relaunch. Also notable is that the Book of the Dead tries to include a panel of each character's moment of death.

The Alien Races Appendix consists of four entries a page depicting each alien race with the following information:
  • NAME
  • Origin Galaxy
  • Star System
  • Planet
  • Estimated population (Sometimes just "Population", presumably because specific data is available)
  • Physical Characteristics
  • Type
  • Eyes
  • Fingers
  • Toes
  • Skin color
  • Average height
  • Special adaptations
  • Type of government
  • Level of technology
  • Names of representatives
  • Note
  • First appearance
Initially the front and end pieces finish off the guide to other dimensions before running some other lists and tables. "Strength Levels in the known Marvel Universe" lists all the exceptionally strong characters by the tonnage they are able to lift. We then get "An alphabetical list of Marvel's publications with series set in the Marvel Universe (excludes Western, romance, barbarian, and non-series Marvel comics)" that sets out to provide a clear canon. In contrast to editorial comments in earlier volumes, both G.I. Joe and the Transformers are now excluded though other toy titles like Rom and Micronauts are included. Conversely the canon includes the Captain Britain Weekly published by Marvel UK, which probably wasn't easy to find on the back issue market then.

At the end there's a gallery that first combines each four set of covers to show the continuous image and then reprints the covers from the first set of collected editions - a ten part deluxe format that reprinted two issues at a time and actually began during the original release of this Handbook.

The editorials continue to list errors as well as discussing other matters such as the public awareness of aliens in the Marvel universe and the limitations of space technology, just how to determine whether or not a character is actually dead (and a number of characters listed in the Book of the Dead have since come back to life; a list of criteria is given but it ultimately comes down to editorial rulings), how accurately the comics depict the events that happened when it comes to internal contradictions, and an announcement that the next series will be a shorter "'88 Update" under the editorship of Howard Mackie. We'll see how that turns out. What is notably absent this time round is a general appendix despite many entries referencing it; the editorial in issue #18 states it will appear after the Update.

The Deluxe Edition of the Handbook seems to be the incarnation most favoured by many fans, possibly because of its size and scope, possibly because of the even more deluxe reprint editions. But in the Essential series it's actually the least essential, being neither the original nor the final version. I could endlessly rehash or reprint my dislike of these particular volumes but ultimately they can be safely ignored.

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