Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Discuss: Character Handbooks









30 comments:

Edo Bosnar said...

Never had any of the DC Who's Who books, but I was all over the Marvel Universe Handbook when the first series came out in the early '80s. I read them all from cover to cover, poring over every single entry, and then often re-read those for favorite characters.
One thing's for sure: none of my textbooks for school got anywhere near that amount of time, attention and devotion.

Anonymous said...

Seconded - most leafed-thru reference books I owned back in college. We really need for this to make a comeback.

david_b said...

This all came out just-prior-to and during my reemergence back into collecting in college.

I never bought any, but paged through quite a few. It sure was a pretty nifty idea by Shooter (if he's to blame..).

Despite creating some confusion with power levels, character heights, the compliation of all this data greatly overpowered any systemic issues caused.

C.K. Dexter Haven said...

I loved the Marvel Universe series and I remember exactly where I was the day I stumbled upon issue #5 of that series (age 12) Loved the "Dead and Inactive" volumes too. By the time of the updates I was largely out of comics though I picked a few of those up as well.

They really organized the MU and enabled me to buy important back issues thanks to the referencing. The first series had a "lesser entities"-type print-only feature in the back inside cover which covered the more "mysterious" MU characters and concepts.

When they did one for G.I. Joe--which I adored circa 1982-85--I felt like the action figure dossiers already did a better job.

DC's looked like a "scooped again!" effort and I didn't like the layout and design of that series; never bought one.

Edo Bosnar said...

David, as far as I know, the MU Handbook was Mark Greunwald's baby, and I'm pretty sure he wrote most, if not all, of the entries. As I understand it, though, Shooter was more than happy to greenlight the project.

J.A. Morris said...

I was a big fan of them,had multiple volumes of OHOTMU. But I understand why some comic fans didn't like it, since the strength levels gave fans the right to say things like "Wonder Man could be the Thing" because the handbook said one could lift 95 tons and the other only 85.

Humanbelly said...

I think I have the entirety of the 2nd Marvel Universe handbook run-- the one that came out in the mid/late 80's? IIRC, that was the one with the continuously interconnected covers started by John Byrne, but then had to be picked up by someone else when he abruptly left Marvel to go over to DC.

While I loved the series as well, it's limitations became easy to see pretty quickly: even back then the fluidity and malleability of the Marvel Universe could render almost any entry obsolete in a single month. To wit: the X-Men entry that's shown above? Didja catch what Kitty Pryde's codename was at that time? And boy, the dead/inactive volumes from then could pretty much be shredded at this point-- I'd bet that at least half of those "truly, truly dead" characters have since been revived, retconned, or rediscovered-alive.

The aspiration to set everything definitively in stone for the benefit of us fans is/was great and absolutely admirable. We LOVE having an official reference source to support our musings and imaginings about our hobby-verse. And in a way, I think that that particular impulse was simply out ahead of the medium which is ideally suited to it-- that medium, of course, being the internet. A published reference book becomes fixed in time and therefor "dead" once it hits the shelves. A Wikipedia or MarvelWiki can be edited and revised for as long as the characters are still out there continuing on with their stories.

HB

Osvaldo Oyola said...

I loved them as a kid in the pre-Internet days. (I am selling a handful on eBay right now, cheap). But even today when all that info and more is available online - it was nice to search through them and get a snapshot of the characters at that time - and who was important or less important - who was "inactive," etc. . . Seeing pre-retconned origins and stories referred to is also very cool.

I would not be selling the ones I have if it were in my collecting budget to acquire a full set, but not enough of a priority right now.

Pretty sure someone has a project to keep them up to date online as well. . . but I am not as interested in that.

I was never interested enough in DC to pick up the Who's Who books, but I did flip through a friends.

Doug said...

I have started a shortbox of comics that I won't be selling on eBay. None of them have any sentimental value -- it's more a question of economics, in that I don't want to buy them in a different format. So the Marvel/DC crossovers like JLA/Avengers, Galactus/Darkseid, that sort of thing. But in that short box will be the complete Marvel Handbook (including updates and the Books of the Dead), volume 2 and the DC Who's Who plus updates. I just want to have those around for future reference. As HB pointed out, they were obsolete from publication.

But as Osvaldo alluded to, they are a snapshot of company/character history to a point in time. A point in time which just happens to coincide with my area of comics interest.

Doug

david_b said...

Agreed with comments by CK and Osvaldo on the DC version, it seemed too much like an 'also-ran', recycled idea by then.

DC could have gone with the Baxter format for added quality and spice over Greunwald's concept for Marvel, but as a result (due to that terrible printing process faced in the '80s), all their pages looked dull and washed out.

Karen said...

I loved these, even if the Marvel ones did perhaps overly define the characters. It was like baseball stats...

The problem with them some 30+ years later? the print is too small!

Anonymous said...

I loved both of these series, and I still have most of them (although some are pretty ragged now). I missed the Who's Who updates, but I got most of the Marvel ones. I still go through them every now and then, just for fun; some good art too, by lots of different artists.

I thought the covers were pretty good as well; I'd say the DC covers were better than the Marvel ones...I liked the funky layouts.

Mike W.

dbutler16 said...

I had both the Marvel and DC series, and loved both, but definitely preferred the Marvel version. It was probably ill advised, as it hampers the writers a bit, but I loved that they listed the strength level of every character.

Anonymous said...

One of the weird things about my comic reading was I was into Marvel Tales, Marvel Spectacular, Marvel Double Feature, Marvel Triple Action, Marvel Adventure and Marvel Greatest Comics, the reprint comics. I was also in Spider-Man, then later Thor, FF, Daredevil and finally, The Avengers. For some reason, I gravitated towards the old stuff before the new.

Well, anyhoo, during the early 80s, I stumbled upon FantaCo Chronicles. There was one for Daredevil, FF, X-Men, The Avengers and Spider-Man, though I never got that one. They covered the history, interviews, classic stories and an issue by issue breakdown up to the year of publishing. These lead my into the other side of comics. The behind the scenes history of the creation of the comics I read.

I couldn't get my hands on enough of these things. The 2 volume X-Men Companions. I also started reading things like Amazing Heroes and Marvel Age. Yet, I never got into the Marvel Universe Handbook.

Weird weird weird.


The Prowler (can get a very fine copy of Daredevil Chronicles, valued at 2.40 for only 2.37, IF I ACT NOW).

PS: Another stop reading now moment. Vanderbilt Alumni Association is offering a trip to the Celtic Lands, Ireland, Wales, Scotland and France including the D-Day beaches hosted my Mr Eisenhower II and Spencer-Churchill. Did I miss a memo? When did France become Celtic?

dbutler16 said...

My apologies for going off topic, but the entire list of blogs I follow got wiped away. Did that happen to anybody else?

Rip Jagger said...

Loved, loved, loved the handbooks. I learned a ton about the nuances of the Marvel Universe in these wonderful tomes, which in the days before the internets were utterly fantastic. Like so much they've been rendered moot by the web, but they are still charming and scream Bronze Age to me.

The DC books had better art, but the info was thinner. I kept these when I traded much if not most of my DC books because the Jack Kirby pages, and I still love them.

Rip Off

Russ said...

A few years back the Science Fiction Book Club offered,at a generous discount, both the DC and Marvel Encyclopedias, which were hardbound, more elaborate versions of the handbooks. They're out of date already, but interesting nonetheless.

Dan Toland said...

OHOTMU Deluxe remains one of my favorite things to come out of comics, period. It's obviously hellishly out of date, but I still pull it out and re-read it from time to time.

Anonymous said...

Yeah some of the Marvel handbooks were a blast to read but of course some of the descriptions of character traits and power levels were at odds with what you saw in some stories. Still, like Doug said it does provide a reference point and can be useful when researching a character.

Mike '5 ft 4" ' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Humanbelly said...

Mike-- dude! You're the same size as Wolverine!

How cool is that-??

(I mean, I think I'm, like, the same size as Tom Brevoort, say. . . )

HB

tetrahedron said...

I usually just lurk day after day because by the time I get the post in my inbox, it seems everyone has long finished discussing the issue. (I'm guessing living in Germany plays a part in that?)

However, I just want to say I'm surprised that generally everyone here liked the handbooks. They were one of the factors that caused me to lose interest in comics in the 80's (among other things), because I felt it was overanalyzing things and draining the fun away.

It stripped away the wonder and imagination of the Marvel Universe by defining and categorizing everything.

I also feel that this may have been one of the contributing factors to creators subsequently becoming obsessed with making every character ever more powerful.

It marked the end of the innocence for me, I guess.

Edo Bosnar said...

Tetrahedron, I'm living in the same time-zone as you (Croatia) and have no problems keeping up. In fact, most days I have the jump on everyone else because new posts appear at about lunch-time for me, instead 6 or 7 a.m. as it does for all of the USians and Canadians.

As for the handbooks, it's interesting that they caused you to lose interest. For me it was just the opposite: they sparked even greater interest in the Marvel Universe, in part because they featured entries on even obscure characters (some I'd never even heard of until then), so I often found myself trying to track down back issues to read even more stuff.

Prowler: I had every single one of those FantaCo chronicles books, and like the Handbooks, I read and re-read them. I found the FantaCo magazines really cool because when they were published I was about 11 or 12 and had never seen any fanzines, so I thought it was so awesome that comics were being discussed in this really serious, almost scholarly manner (in other words, they were being taken seriously by adults).

tetrahedron said...

Edo,
Well, I'm not sure how it works exactly. The emails come to my inbox at 6am, I click on the link a short while later when I get to the office, but the conversation is always long over :-(

On a related note to the topic at hand...I do like the Marvel Encyclopedia (I returned to comics - new & old - about 3 years ago) which serves a similar purpose, although I often dislike the choice of art and it's also not as complete as I'd like.

Tetrahedron

C.K. Dexter Haven said...

"I had every single one of those FantaCo chronicles books, and like the Handbooks, I read and re-read them. I found the FantaCo magazines really cool because when they were published I was about 11 or 12..."

I happened upon Vol. 2 of The X-Men Companion when I was 13 in the quarter bin of my LCS(!) and read and re-read it for months during the height of my X-Men obsession (or rather, my Claremont-Cockrum-Byrne-Austin run obsession). I didn't buy Vol. 1 until 1997 but of course I absorbed its content, too.

There was also the X-Men edition of Marvel Comics Index, published around the same time as the Fantagraphics stuff. I can't stress enough how important these three volumes were to me as a kid and I still have those publications--well worn though they may be.

I can't say I knew many kids who read comics when I was a kid, and even among those who did, I'll wager that their interest didn't extend to seeking out creator interviews and reference guides to the extent that everyone here (bar one) did. That's the difference between those reading and writing this blog and everyone else.

Doug said...

Tetrahedron --

The emails of our post topics come the next day -- that is why you don't feel "current" on any of our topics.

For example, and I'll use my time zone for reference: New posts come online at 6:00 am Central Time. The email of that post's topic comes to my inbox generally around 11:30 pm -- almost 18 hours later.

The option to have a post emailed is a nice service from Blogger, and I don't know why there is the long delay. But I'd suggest that, like Edo, you check in on us around mid-day your time and you'll be getting in near the ground floor of our conversations.

(And if memory serves, this isn't the first time you've voiced this concern to us...).

Best,

Doug

William said...

Loved both the Marvel and DC handbooks. They were awesome back in the day.

However, I wouldn't want them to do new "updated" versions, because then they'd have to include all the garbage they've piled onto the characters over the last 20 years or so. And I work hard to pretend none of that exists. I don't think I need a reminder.

Anonymous said...

I haven't popped in for a while....great topic. The Marvel and DC Handbooks were both new when I first started collecting comics, and really helped (and also added to) my curiosity about the Marvel and DC Universes. To this day I love picking up Handbooks. ( I often refer to Handbooks as "toilet reading", ha-ha)

starfoxxx

Anonymous said...

I also like when a Handbook includes issue numbers for appearances and events....then I add them to my "WANT" list.

starfoxxx

Vintage Bob said...

Being a trivia/continuity nut when it comes to comics, I loved the Marvel Universe Handbooks, especially the Deluxe Edition. But god how I hated the DC Handbooks (still bought them though). Don't get me wrong - I love DC and read quite a few titles and still collect back issues from the day. But to me DC never treated their characters with respect. Marvel did. DC never clearly defined their characters as Marvel did, and I've argued it was because their writers for the most part sucked compared to the writers at Marvel. I think the whole company attitude towards comics and comic characters was better at Marvel.

The Marvel Universe Handbooks would say something like:

"Thor can lift 100+ tons, Quicksilver can run at 700 miles per hours, and Moon Knight has an IQ of 210."

The DC handbooks read more like:

"Superman is really, really strong, the Flash can run really, really fast, and Batman is really, really smart."

Just seemed like a huge cop out to me. Anyone who can lift more than 200 lbs. at DC was listed as having "super strength" as if Aquaman were as strong as Superman. I as really disappointed with DC over that. If you're just gonna gloss over it, don't waste my time.

Sean Budde said...

I remember bringing a few of those Offical Handbook of the Marvel U issues to High School. I still have them all bagged and boarded in a box, most of them still looking like new...30 years ago...!!!

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