A Book Review
The ultimate assembling of the most powerful cast of characters in the Marvel Comics Universe is once again cataloged and dissected for the most ardent fans and collectors in the latest tome of the Official Handbook.
Oh, the 90s! The era that glamorized and fixated on the über-muscularity and body-building bulk of the gym-obsessed, as Hollywood blockbusters elevated Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and Seagal to the upper echelon of stardom. The gun-toting, sword-swinging anti-hero was all the rage, and our comic book heroes reflected it all. Marvel's mightiest mutants, the X-Men remained at the top of the best-sellers list breaking new ground, as Spider-Man spun a web of intrigue battling an identity crisis.
Big hair, leather jackets, and weapons bandoliers were the trend. The bigger the guns, the more cybernetic implants, and the wilder the dystopian future you troubled back from to land at the entry point of the 21st Century — more power to you!
It was a very interesting era in comics and Marvel certainly responded to the fandom, reflexively pushing the boundaries and moving the bar to appease its audience’s appetite for the extreme. When it came time to catalog all the most drastic changes, additions, and evolution of many of the greats, the editorial team at Marvel turned to the tried and true and turned to a trusted format. The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Master Edition managed to improve on previous editions and introduced a format that would appeal to collectors of the encyclopedic volume.
Since its introduction in the early 80s, The Official Handbook became a dependent part of every Marvel Comics aficionado's library. The encyclopedia-like approach made every collector feel like an insider, especially given the measure of real-world feeling factoids that put many of our most cherished heroes and villains into context. The OHOTMU also provided a measure of how expansive the Marvel Universe is and is ever-evolving. Given the excitement to add to its continuing legacy, editor Mark Gruenwald, after “deluxe” editions and updates were employed, envisions a new direction for the next release.
By the 1990s, and since the last handbook update, the Marvel Universe had expanded to include interlocking continuities of more than 100 titles and thousands of issues, with more than 2000 identifiable “significant players”. To chronicle all those individual heroes, villains, and their supporting casts, Gruenwald and his team decided that the “Master Edition” would be delivered to consumers in a loose-leaf, hole-punched modular format that collectors could fit into custom binders. Each issue delivered a random selection of characters on model sheets that could be sorted alphabetically.
Meant to be an “ultimate” version of the OHOTMU, the “Master Edition” provided a comprehensive data listing and bibliography of each entry; bypassing the traditionally detailed historical data, which editors felt was always revised to remain current. This would give each profile a full page with a full-color profile featuring front, back, and side views of the character, with a page dedicated to data. In some more prolific cases, legacy characters, (like Captain America, for instance) would have additional pages dedicated to them in action or their supporting casts.
As with previous omnibus releases from Marvel, including previous versions of OHOTMU, this Master Edition puts all the previous individual issues at the collector’s fingertips. This first volume collects all individual entries, for the first time alphabetically from A - L, from The Abomination to Lyja, The Lazerfist, with a second volume promised to fill in the remaining entries. The huge volume also features full-color covers of individual issue releases and anecdotes from editors regarding the time-honored Handbook tradition.
This latest omnibus release is a snapshot of the Marvel Universe as it stood in the 90s and also provides great general detail and looks at the individual entries with excellent descriptive profiles. Nostalgic and informative, it remains the “gold standard” for encyclopedia collections of the superpowers inhabiting the Marvel Universe. Their competitor, DC would also follow suit and appropriate the loose-leaf style for their updated 90s release of Who’s Who with a pin-up style page and data section.
A decade later, the following editions of the OHOTMU would return to the more familiar, original format that would return to the detailed histories and more descriptive power and abilities sections.
THE OFFICIAL HANDBOOK OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE Master Edition | Vol 1 A - L is currently available and can be found at your local comics specialty shop (featuring an exclusive cover) and on most online retailers including Amazon. The cover price is $100 US/$125 CAN.