Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Essential Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Update '89 volume 1

Essential Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Update '89 volume 1 collects all eight issues of the series. As a bonus it also includes a chunk of corrected, updated and additional entries from the first reprint of the Deluxe Edition. Peter Sanderson remains the main writer but on this occasion the editors are Gregory Wright followed by Terry Kavanagh.

As the initial editorial explains, this series arrived a year later than originally planned due to the scale of the project. By and large it focuses upon characters who didn't get entries in the Deluxe Edition whether due to being too new, having only subsequently risen to prominence or being simply omitted the first time round. There do seem to be rather a lot of supporting characters suddenly given entries such as Aunt May or Ben Urich or Wong, almost as though extra entries were deliberately sought to pad the series out to eight issues. There is no separate "Book of the Dead" on this occasion with deceased characters instead incorporated into the main alphabetical sequence. The sole exception is an entry for Madelyne Pryor right at the end but this is presumably to make up for an omission within this series's own run.

The entries generally use the following pro forma:
  • NAME
  • Real Name
  • Occupation
  • Identity [secret or not]
  • Legal status
  • Other aliases
  • Place of birth
  • Marital status
  • Known relatives
  • Group affiliation
  • Base of operations
  • First appearance
  • History
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Eyes
  • Hair
  • Strength level
  • Known superhuman powers
  • (Other) Abilities
  • Weapons
  • Transportation

There are occasional variations such as "First modern appearance" for characters who debuted before the 1960s, with the later issues also listing the actual first appearances for such characters, whilst Captain Britain's entry includes both his first ever appearance in each costume and also the first appearance in Marvel US comics.

The entries continue to try to make sense of some more awkward pieces of comics history, such as the one for Gabe Jones acknowledging that US Army units were normally segregated during the Second World War but suggests Colonel Sawyer was ahead of his time. The entry for Master Menace, the Squadron Supreme equivalent of Lex Luthor, expresses disbelief that a lifelong enmity could stem from an incident that affected his hair growth (here accelerating it rather than the original story where Superboy accidentally made Luthor bald) but admits that no alternative explanation has been given and settles for speculation about a nervous breakdown that could also cover up inconsistent characterisation.

Early issues include more data corrections from the Deluxe Edition. Notably a number of them include the original first appearances for several Golden and Atlas Age characters, races and also mythical characters like Loki, showing the longstanding tension about just which comics from before 1961 actually are part of continuity. A correction for Ka-Zar does its best to explain how British peerage and courtesy titles work and that "Lord Firstname Surname" is inaccurate. (In fairness to Marvel titles and styles are complex and difficult grasp, though certain peers themselves have no excuse for getting their titles wrong.) There's also a quick rectification made when the wrong entry for the Chameleon was printed; the correct text is printed a couple of issues later.

Later issues include mini-updates for entries in the Deluxe Edition that haven't been replaced; however these stop midway through with the Ms at the end of issue #7 with the final two pages of issue #8 given over to corrections from this series. Also absent once again is the long promised Appendix covering characters and concepts that don't merit full entries. By this point it has gone beyond a joke.

Going for a selective update rather than yet another full edition of the Handbook has kept this series to a single volume and is easier on readers' wallets, both in the 1980s and now. For these points these series deserves some credit. But it often feels that some of the entries here have not been chosen because the characters have sprung to prominence since the Deluxe Edition or that the previous round made a major omission, but rather they've been given an entry just to make up the page and issue count. Had it been truly confined to major updates, serious omissions and new characters then it could probably shed at least a couple of issues. This reprint is necessary to complement the rest of the Deluxe Edition but I am still to be convinced that any of it needed to be included in the Essentials.

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