I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.
As I’ve acknowledged previous in this space, my quest for more, more, more of superhero comics when I was at the peak of my youthful obsession extended past the paneled adventures themselves. Any opportunity to read about the fantastically powered heroes and villains I’d committed to was highly welcome. I read material like that over and over again, hungrily pulling in as much information about the characters as I possibly could. Equally inhibited by time and access, there was no way I’d be able to read every Marvel comic book ever printed, but I could develop a facsimile of the encyclopedic knowledge I craved through whatever CliffsNotes-style recaps I could find. Empty calories, but at least I felt sated.
So when my publisher of choice announced a limited series entitled The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, it was as though it was made just for me. In an extension and expansion of the succinct biographies that ran in the back of issues of Contest of Champions, In Handbook, major characters were typically afforded an entirely page to share their histories and vital statistics, right down to detailing height and weight.
I reveled in all this data, delighting in the knowledge that accumulated in my brain. I studied these pages more intently than any schoolbook I had at the time. The entire month between installments would be given over to scrutinizing the minutiae, imagining the stories referenced, and thinking about how everything lined up. A major allure of the Marvel stories was the direct promise that they were interconnected, all part of one tremendous saga. This was the serious-minded almanac of that saga, delivered one issue at a time.
As if the character profiles weren’t already satisfying my itchy curiosity, there was another facet of the Handbook that hit my spot so perfectly that it practically set my foot thumping like a supine Labrador who is the beneficiary of a perfectly deployed belly scratch. There were entire pages set aside to break down the gadgets, vehicles, buildings, landscapes, and other significant objects in the Marvel Universe. And the attention to detail was blissfully ridiculous.
Nothing cemented to me that I’d fully given over to helpless comic book geekdom like the measureless time I spent hovering over a cutaway rendering of the Avengers Quinjet trying to determine where the vertical thrust deflector ducting sat in relation to the variable area afterburner nozzle.
After I’d read every word, I considered the implicit messages that could found in the production particulars of the series. The general prominence of the characters in the Marvel Universe could be sussed out by their placement and size on the wraparound covers, for example. Even the artist assigned to the drawing seemed to hold a clue, with fan favorite pencilers on major figures and handy bullpen toilers on the comparative super-powered scrubs.
There was also the nifty running appendix that dutifully presented the different alien races that popped up over the years, many of them for little more than a single issue. That’s how I learned “Vegans continually radiate anti-gravitons from areas of their brains contained within two horn-like projections on the front of their skulls in order to support their vast bulk.”
I wasn’t the only one who fell for The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. The series proved popular enough that it was extended a few issues to add deceased characters and yet more gadgets. And a second edition series followed around a year and a half after the completion of the first, immediately playing catch-up on all the new continuity wrinkles that had piled up. Eventually, they started circling back to the conceit with such regularity (not to mention indulging in odd offshoots) that I lost interest. The foundation remained, though. A sizable amount of schooling from that time might be gone, but still have a handle on the history of the Marvel Universe, at least up to that point.
Previous entries in this series (and there are a LOT of them) can be found by clicking on the “My Misspent Youth” tag.