Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Essential Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Master Edition volume 3

Essential Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Master Edition volume 3 collects the entries for Professor Power through to Zzzax from across the thirty-six issue run of the series. Additionally it includes another printing of the single page guide to power levels, the single page special glossary and an index to which issue each entry originally appeared in. 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. A few characters get second entries with new looks and updated information, including Sabretooth, whose entries show just how much more of his past was revealed in such a short space of time, and Wolverine, whose ones show how it was all much the same.

Usually the entries are in the correct order give or take some errors such as placing Union Jack III before the combined entry for Union Jack I & II. However there are some odd placements with characters who have no codename and are listed by surname. Thus "Rahn, Tamara" is listed under T but "Stone, Tyler" is listed under S. Some high profile heroes such as She-Hulk get a second page with brief entries for the supporting casts, with the image page showing the hero in action. Spider-Man's cast is so big that he gets a third, with the image page nominally devoted to his webshooters in action. The entries for each cast member list:
  • [Name]
  • Current occupation
  • Relationship [to the hero]
  • First appearance
As ever the Punisher is different and his second page is instead given over to his arsenal in the following format:
  • [Type of gun]
  • [Name of gun]
  • Caliber
  • Action
  • Capacity
  • Weight
  • Note
There are a small number of entries for races such as the Skrulls, 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
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
The big name teams such as the X-Men have a Membership Roster running over multiple additional sheets that detail each member's time with the team as follows:
  • [Identity]
  • Real name
  • Current status
  • Membership record
  • Note
The index at the back isn't the most useful as the entries are not reproduced in their original issue packs and an alphabetical ordering makes it redundant, with the small number of placement errors just adding to the problem. Otherwise this volume just comes to an end with no reproduction of the concluding editorials that instead appeared in the first volume.

It has become incredibly repetitive to state just how boring and inessential these volumes are but the reproduction of no less than three incarnations of the Handbook has been repetitive in and of itself. The Master Edition is thinnest on actual narrative information and feels like an overblown set of trading cards with the format of landscapes and static images just failing to inspire. There is a clear advantage in having the sheets collected in the intended order but this just doesn't outweigh the fact that in the internet era where it's easy to produce a regularly updated encyclopaedia of characters a paper series from many years ago just doesn't need to be collected at all. These volumes are easily the least essential of all the Essentials.

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