iFeature | DC’s WHO’S WHO and MARVEL’s OFFICIAL HANDBOOK Strike Back!
The latest hardcover omnibuses collect and reflect on the most iconic eras of DC and Marvel Comics providing some categorically nostalgic reflections on the two biggest imprints during the height of their greatest popularity.
The 80s and the 90s are pop-cultural two decades that emphasize the significant ascent of genre culture into mainstream entertainment. The spotlight was being turned up on high from gaming platforms that welcomed the advent of the arcade into everyone’s living room with the cartridge systems' popularization from Atari's introduction to the handheld units eventually made available by Nintendo. The conservative news took on “Dungeons & Dragons” role-playing and how it may or may not be corrupting young people and inducting them into satanic practices, while the rest of us turned into the animated Saturday morning cartoon with cheerful glee.
Comic books were emerging at the top of bestseller lists drawing a more diverse audience with stories that were far more enlightened, controversial, and socially minded. The conclusion of DC’s year-long Crisis on Infinite Earths reshaped the imprint’s 50-year publishing history and established a legacy that insisted on all-new chronicling. Marvel’s bestselling Uncanny X-Men established the success of spin-offs and encouraged franchise proliferation that expanded its makeup and lead to a multi-media rise that would lead to a blockbuster take-over at the box office. In the decade leading up to the new millennium, comic book characters were in widescreen appreciation.
Among the most exciting publications that came out of the 80s from both DC and Marvel Comics were the categorization and encyclopedic analysis of the respective universes. Marvel hit the ground running in 1982 with its Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe which provided an A - Z guide of every character in the Marvel world with comprehensive information that listed important data that helped to flesh out and realize these fictional heroes with data the included height, weight, and physical descriptions, as well as background detailing origins and when appropriate science-based descriptions on how their powers worked.
DC benefitted from following the format with its own encyclopedic look at its 50-year publishing run with Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe released in 1985 to accompany the aforementioned 12-issue Crisis on Infinite Earths maxi-series which also encompassed
the entirety of its full-length history. The preliminary 26-issue run of the premiere volume covered all the major players in the DC Comics Universe across the decades, although it almost immediately needed to be revisited due to the massive reboot caused by the “Crisis”. Many entries like Supergirl for example, although included in the initial run, were reflective of a continuity that no longer included a “Supergirl” in its history.
The Latest Update Marvels…
Marvel recently revisited and reprinted in its omnibus formats the now-classic original Official Handbook and its denser Deluxe Edition and now continued the tradition of bringing to fans the next iteration in the series with its collected, hardcover reissue of The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Update ’89.
The hardcover compendiums truly capture a moment in time. In the case of the MARVEL release, it presents updated (and some revised) entries, including several new heroes and villains to join the ranks of the Marvel Universe making their mark in 1989. In the decade that followed, many of the more popular characters in the Marvel reign entered into a much more dynamic and brash era, defined by leather combat vests and utility packs, as well as numerously strategically placed cut-outs across strikingly slinky Kevlar suits. The omnibus collects issues #1-8 of the Update ’89 edition and includes updated profiles from the trade paperbacks that would follow.
If this latest release of the Official Handbook Update ’89 tells us anything, it's that Marvel was an expanding narrative and moved in several groundbreaking and surprising tangents into the late 80s. The Uncanny X-Men with the legendary Chris Claremont at the helm continued to outsell many of its contemporaries on newsstands with the competitor’s The New Teen Titans by Marv Wolfman always running a close second. It’s no surprise that many of the new characters profiled for this edition are part of or an extension of the mighty mutant mythology. This edition is also revelatory in its inclusion of updates to the Avengers roll call including looks at the “new” Vision and the controversial USAgent.
A loose-leaf “Master Edition” would be published in 1990 that was made up of 36 issues and is very rare to this day. Marvel hasn’t announced whether or not it has plans to release this series as its own omnibus, and actually returned to the well one more time in 2004 to issue an updated and what it considered a more comprehensive Official Handbook in 15 hardcover issues. This edition would also be reprinted in a trade paperback format that included revisions and corrections as compared to the hardcover first editions. The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Update ’89 Omnibus is reasonably priced at $75, reprinting beyond 500 pages of handbook content.
A Who’s Who of Heroes
By comparison, not just in size (and price) the DC Who’s Who Omnibus Volume 2 is a lot more colorful and far more encompassing, as it collects the entirety of individual issue releases and independently selected entries well into the mid-1990s, including full one-sheets from the oh-so rarely available tear-sheet edition of DC’s Who’s Who that was released in limited runs and nary reprinted. The omnibus includes the entire 7-issue run of the in-depth exploration of the 30th century in Who’s Who in the Legion of Super-Heroes which celebrated the group of heroes from DC’s far-flung future during one of their most important anniversaries.
The entries that follow include the revamped full-page portraits and single-page profiles that were formatted for the loose-leaf editions of Who’s Who. Each issue featured pages that could be separated easily from the spine and then collected in a three-whole binder organized however the collector preferred. Entries were designated by hero/villain/supporting character/place or event, as well as color-coded. The layout doesn’t feel as sophisticated as its progenitor, but it captures the spirit of what made the encyclopedic series popular with fans. Who’s Who always provided beautifully designed entries by top talent and the background information and detail that brought them to life.
The Who’s Who format continues to remain popular still today. It was recently reconstituted as a supplement in the special one-shot The New Golden Age comic book written by Geoff Johns, to initiate background information on some long-denied relevant “Golden Age” heroes, villains, and sidekicks, including the “original” Golden Age Aquaman. The included appendix profiles in the “Who’s Who” presentation of many of these new players that are going to become significant in the unfolding storyline of the limited series Stargirl: The Lost Children also written by Johns. Perhaps this might suggest that the publishers are considering revisiting Who’s Who.
Given the latest “Dark Crisis” reboot of the multiverse, the timing couldn’t be more perfect and the need to revise the deeply textured history continues to inspire.
Knowledge is Power!
For every comic book enthusiast who lost themselves in the pages of their favorite monthly magazine, whether it was The Avengers or Superman, owning a series of books like the encyclopedic Official Handbook or Who’s Who opened up that world and fueled the imagination in a whole new way. It was extremely validating to have these types of reference materials readily available and this information at one’s fingertips. The Internet has changed the game and expanded the opportunity for fans to chronicle, even debate their heroes’ power base levels in their continuing and expanding narratives, but nothing replaces glimpsing back like a time capsule through the historical lens of these great books.
MARVEL’s The Official Handbook of the MARVEL UNIVERSE UPDATE ‘89 Omnibus 3 | feat. all 8 issues of the Update ’89 including additional revised and updated content appearing in later TPB editions and is available now from all major booksellers including Amazon and competitively priced at $75.
DC’s WHO’s WHO Omnibus 2 | feat. complete content from the Who’s Who in the Legion of Super-Heroes limited series and the loose-lead Who’s Who in the DC Universe #1-16 and the Update ‘93 is available now from all major booksellers including Amazon and comic book specialty shops.
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