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New Marvel Handbook in Hardcover, Marvel Encyclopedia Reviewed October 14, 2009

Posted by webofwebhead in Books, Marvel, Reviews.
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Marvel_LogoWhen I was a kid, I used to pick up ” The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe” comics whenever I could find them.  They were a bit pricey at the time, but the wealth of knowledge they supplied was irreplacable…some characters I had never heard of, others I knew, but didn’t know the history of as well as I’d like.  Carrying on in that same tradition is the The Marvel Encyclopedia, and DK Publishing was kind enough to give me a copy to review.

This is a big sturdy coffee table size book that says “Marvel comics have been around for 70 years, and there is a LOT you need to know about them!”  The wrap around cover art is a huge battle scene with Spidey and Cap front and center getting the double KO on Venom and the Red Skull.  This is a big upgrade over the old “we are all waiting in line at the DMV” look that the old Handbook’s had, or even the “we are all running away from Galactus/Thanos/Rob Liefeld” type covers of yesteryear.  I was surprised to find that the art on the dust jacket is also found on the glossy cover as well.  I like my books dust jacket free, so repeating the art on the cover is a good thing in my opinion.

This edition of the Encyclopedia is the Updated and Expanded version, which among other things means that it is current up through the Secret Invasion storyline.  The bulk of the book is devoted to individual characters, though teams are also covered, as are events (like World War Hulk) and decade’s of Marvel history (like the 80’s and 90’s).  Fittingly, more obscure characters receive smaller sections, perhaps up to four to a page, whereas major characters such as Captain America get multi-page spreads.  Each character receives a quick stat review (weight, height, etc.) as well as a separate powers and abilities blurb.  While all art appears to be various pick-ups (including some from back in the original Handbooks it appears), all of the blurbs are fresh with current events tied into the character’s history.

Take a minor character like Chemistro.  Here is a character I knew little to nothing about, but he is one of the central villains in the past couple of issues of New Avengers.  From his blurb, I now know that he is not the original Chemistro, and more importantly, he has a long history fighting against Luke Cage, one of the core members of the New Avengers.  Little tidbits like this enhance my appreciation of the comics I read on a weekly basis…which really is all I could ever ask for from a book like this.

At the other end of the spectrum, you have characters like the Hulk.  The Hulks spread is several pages long and bridges directly into the World War Hulk section.  I know the Hulk, you know the Hulk…but in this case the depth of review is refreshing…I missed Planet Hulk, and this fills in the major details for me.  Again, my current reading is enhanced by this background information.

I certainly felt like this book is aimed squarely at me as it’s target audience.  (DK’s own website lists it under “books for adults”.)  It’s recap of the 80’s and 90’s is a trip down memory lane, I started reading comics in 1983 when I was about 7 or 8.  As mentioned above, this is a coffee table sized book…not meant for a mere bookshelf.  The mix of older and newer art, static and active depictions make for a nice bit of visual variance on each page.  The MSRP is an even $40, a fair price for a large hardcover, though a quick check on a popular etailer website named after a river shows that it can be found for closer to $25.  To put it plainly, if I had received this under the Christmas tree this year, I would be a very happy camper…this type of thing makes a great gift idea for the comic collector that has everything.

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