Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Essential Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Master Edition volume 2

Essential Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Master Edition volume 2 collects the entries for Garokk through to Proctor from across the thirty-six issue run of the series. The only addition material is another printing of the single page guide to power levels. Once again the entries are mainly drawn by Keith Pollard and researched & written by Len Kaminski, Jamie Tost, Mark Gruenwald, Glenn Herdling, Murray Ward and Peter Sanderson. The whole thing is edited successively by Mark Gruenwald, Kelly Corvese and Tom Brevoort.

The standard entry for a character has a full-page shot of the character from the front, side and rear. Then there's a page of text with the following pro forma:
  • Biographical Data
  • Real name
  • Other current aliases
  • Former aliases
  • Dual identity
  • Current occupation
  • Former occupation
  • Citizenship
  • Legal status
  • Place of birth
  • Marital status
  • Known relatives
  • Known confidants
  • Known allies
  • Major enemies
  • Usual base of operations
  • Former base of operations
  • Current group membership
  • Former group membership
  • Extent of occupation
  • Physical Description 
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Eyes
  • Hair
  • Other distinguishing features
  • Powers and Abilities
  • Intelligence
  • Strength
  • Speed
  • Stamina
  • Durability
  • Agility
  • Reflexes
  • Fighting skills
  • Special skills and abilities
  • Superhuman physical powers
  • Superhuman mental powers
  • Special limitations
  • Source of superhuman powers
  • Paraphernalia
  • Costume specifications
  • Personal weaponry
  • Special weaponry
  • Other accessories
  • Transportation
  • Design and manufacture of paraphernalia
  • Bibliography
  • First appearance
  • Origin issue
  • Significant issues

Occasionally a section will be followed by a "Note", clarifying some point or other. Sometimes there is no space left for "Significant issues". The entries and art are all printed in landscape format. The first appearances for characters who originated in the Golden or Atlas Ages include both a "historical" and "modern" entry.

There are a small number of entries for races, presented in the following format:
  • Home world
  • Origin world
  • Habitat
  • Gravity
  • Atmosphere
  • Physical characteristics
  • Type
  • Eyes
  • Fingers
  • Skin color
  • Average height
  • Special adaptations
  • Unusual physical characteristics
  • Superhumanoid powers
  • Intelligence
  • Strength
  • Speed
  • Stamina
  • Durability
  • Agility
  • Reflexes
  • Society
  • Population
  • Government
  • Technology level
  • Cultural traits
  • Leaders
  • Names of other representatives
  • Major allies
  • Major enemies
  • Bibliography
  • First appearance
  • Origin issue
  • Significant issues

Such entries are very rare,

Groups and organisations are listed differently with this pro forma:
  • Organization
  • Full name
  • Purpose
  • Modus operandi
  • Extent of operations
  • Relationship to conventional authorities
  • Base of operations
  • Former bases of operations
  • Major funding
  • Known enemies
  • Known allies
  • Membership
  • Number of active members
  • Number of reserve members
  • Organizational structure
  • Known officers
  • Known current members
  • Known former members
  • Known special agents
  • Membership requirements
  • History
  • Founder
  • Other leaders
  • Previous purpose or goals
  • Major campaigns or accomplishments
  • Major setbacks
  • Technology and paraphernalia
  • Level of technology
  • Transportation
  • Standard uniforms
  • Standard weaponry
  • Standard accessories
  • Bibliography
  • First appearance
  • Origin issue
  • Significant issues

None of the teams included in this volume have a Membership Roster that details each member's time with the team.

Some high profile heroes such as Ghost Rider get a second page with brief entries for the supporting casts, with the image page showing the hero in action. The entries for each cast member list:
  • [Name]
  • Current occupation
  • Relationship [to the hero]
  • First appearance

The format gives limited opportunity to establish too much information but occasionally an entry will surprise. It's nice to see Marvel Boy I's entry (under his traditional name instead of "Crusader") acknowledge his membership of the 1950s Avengers when the team had then only been seen in an issue of What If? that was of uncertain canonicity. More odd is that the entries for both Hellstorm and Mephisto suggest that the latter is the father of the Son of Satan, just reopening the mess surrounding all the different depictions of the Devil. Otherwise some entries make reference to confused details as mistakes such as the question of Mordred's parentage or whether or not Karnak has hair.

Once again there are some errors of ordering with Grizzly II appearing before Grizzly I and the same thing happens with Nova II & Nova I whilst "Guardian" (Heather Hudson) precedes "Guardian I" (James Hudson). It's also all too clear when some entries were written - the two Guardian entries come from very different periods of Alpha Flight whilst the Goddess's entry stops halfway through the events of Infinity Crusade, Proctor's entry only goes part of the way through the Gatherers storyline in Avengers and so reflects how much of a mystery he remained right up until the end whilst the entries for the Human Torch II (Johnny Storm) and Lyja are notably out of sync. The Bibliography is also often cut short, such as the Green Goblin's career seeming to cut out on only his second appearance.

Second entries for a character are rare and limited to cases where the subject received a new costume after their original entry appeared; characters so blessed include Hercules, Iron Man, Jack of Hearts and Nebula. At the other end of the scale there are some rather random cases getting even a first entry such as the Kangaroo, a forgettable Spider-Man foe who only made a couple of appearances before dying.

The images can get repetitive after a while so it's a relief when some variation comes along such as Lord Chaos or Master Order who each have just a head and we're given them only face on and in profile. One character who could benefit from some variation is the Living Tribunal, whose image doesn't depict the little-seen rear of his head very well.

Because of the way these volumes have been assembled it's hard to track any changing policies throughout the series's original release run. Once again we get all the entries in alphabetical rather than release order and it's good to see both the original and updated entries where relevant. But this is still awkward to read due to the landscape format of the entries, whilst the text doesn't contain a great deal of substance and it's all timelocked to the early 1990s. This volume continues the trend of the Handbooks being far from essential to reprint.

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