Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Evolution of the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Original Series

This is a new feature that I’m posting on my blog and on the Comixfan site which I think will be of interest to people.  For the blog, each volume will get a separate post. For the Comixfan site, all posts will appear at the top for ease of references, with additions noted in the replies below.  Illustrations always in colour unless otherwise noted.

The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe (first series) 1983-1984

Number of Issues: 15 (32 pages plus covers)

Covers: Front and back covers in a single image, first 12 issues combine to form a poster that is three issues across and four down. #13-14 for a poster that is two issues across. #15 is by itself. Every solo character with an entry depicted (for #15, every wielder of a device depicted).  Colour backgrounds for all.

Formatting: The inside front covers for all list the contents and credits. 

#1-12: The body usually covered all but the last two non-cover pages.  Most entries were 1 page, though quite a few were ½, with two ½ page entries in a row filed alphabetically. On rare occasions entries took up 2 pages The last two non-cover pages were usually for Alien Races (all but Human Races ¼-page each). #12 had only 6 instead of 8 races, and they were slightly earlier in the book due to the Appendix. The Appendix, usually in the inside back cover was usually a full page of capsule entries.  In #1 it was only a ½-page at the bottom due to a ½-page Editorial at the top of the inside back cover. In #12, aside from the inside back cover (other than a small Special Announcements Section at the bottom of that page), there was an addition 1 ½ pages of Appendix entries.

#13-14 (Book of the Dead & Inactive): The main section covered all but the last four non-cover pages (#13) and all the non-cover pages (#14). Page counts remained typically ½-1 page. There was a four page section on defunct teams in #13. The inside back covers were basically a full-page discussion on an aspect of death (the top of #13’s inside back cover has an editor’s note)

#15 (Book of Weapons, Hardware, and Paraphernalia): Non-cover pages were typically about ½-page each (a few 1-pages). Inside back cover had entries on Adamantium and Vibranium that were close to ½-page, though instead of illos of these there was an Editor’s Note with ID card drawings for Avengers and SHIELD.

Interior Art: New main illos. Some entries have a secondary illo taken from another series (none in #13-14).  Team entries are usually headshots with no other illustrations. Locations typically have maps.  Some maps and diagrams have captions that are typeset while others are hand lettered. Colour backgrounds (this would not be used again until 2004).

Text Categories (*= not for all entries; categories only used once or twice not noted):

Main Entries (Solo)(#1-14)
Real Name
Legal status
Former aliases*
Other current aliases*
Code-name in own language*
Place of birth
Place of death (#13-14)
Marital status
Known relatives
Group affiliation
Base of operations
First appearance (First modern appearance for characters who first appeared prior to Fantastic Four#1)
Final appearance (#13-14)
Origin (#1-12)/History (#13-14)
Unusual features*

Legal status covers both location and criminal record. Identity refers to if secret or not.  Early issues in the Origin section would cover how they got their powers and in some cases key early activities after becoming active.  Later issues were more likely to go into more in depth into the careers of characters covered but that was not a hard and fast rule.

#12-13 focussed on deceased characters and therefore the Origin category was replaced by History and gave a snapshot of their entire career up to their deaths or time inactive.  Subsequent Handbooks have for the most part stuck with the term History to cover back stories (Master Edition is a notable exception).

In cases where characters first appeared prior to Fantastic Four #1, only their first modern (i.e. post Fantastic Four#1) appearance is noted, not their true first appearance.

See the Appendix notes below for a discussion of the Roman numerals that appear in some #13-14 entries.

Main Entries (Teams/Groups)(#1-14)
First appearance* (later issues only)

It was very uncommon in the early issues to note the First appearance of teams. With rare exceptions, issue 9 appears to be the starting point and even then this was done inconsistently at first.

For those team/group entries to have headshots (a majority), they used the following format, which continues to this day:
(Real name/alter ego in parentheses)
First appearance*

Main Entries (#15)
Description (untitled)

Alien Races categories
Origin Galaxy
Star System
Physical Characteristics (Type/Eyes/Fingers/Toes/Skin color/Average height)
Special adaptations
Type of government
Level of technology
Cultural traits
Names of representatives
First appearance

The more prominent alien races (Kree, Shi’ar, Skrulls) followed the team/group format (no headshots) and were in the main body rather than the Alien Races section.

Appendix entries
Real name/aliases if known in parenthesis (untitled).
In same paragraph as above, History (untitled)
In same paragraph above: First appearance and where died. 

In some cases there would be a mixing of different characters of the same name, in which case after the first character was covered, the next version of the character would be covered in the same paragraph.

In a few cases an entry was just a cross-reference.

In cases in the Appendix and in characters in #13-14, characters sharing the same name as another character would be noted by a Roman numeral, with the first published version of a character getting a I, the second a II, etc. (as opposed to the Deluxe and later versions, in which the chronological rather than published earlier version would get the earlier Roman numeral.

This is the only series to have a general Appendix, those appendices for specific purposes would appear in later volumes.

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