The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, Deluxe Edition #1-20

My friend Mike keeps saying that this blog is too negative. I find that fascinating, because I generally find something to like in almost everything I review. But still, Mike's a pretty smart guy, so he's probably on to something. So from now on, Mondays at Different Package will be devoted to the things I actually enjoy. This week, we'll start with the first comic I had to have...

Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, Deluxe Edition #1

Growing up in suburban Philadelphia, there was one thing I knew about DC Comics - they were for babies. Superman? Lame. The Justice League? Lamer. Batman? He was okay, I guess, but that's only 'cause he had a TV show. Marvel Comics, though? They were exciting. Their heroes had real problems like you and me, and they were set in the real world.1 We had an insatiable appetite for Marvel Comics - but of course, being kids, we couldn't afford many. So we turned to the next best thing - The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, Deluxe Edition.

The Handbook is like a hundred comics in one! Every issue has Spider-Man, the Hulk, the X-Men and the Avengers! Each entry has romance, tragedy, and comedy! There's enough trivia to satisfy the most demanding know-it-all, and each entry is a feast for the eyes! Plus, you can use the Handbook to answer all of fandom's most burning questions. Who's stronger - Thor or the Hulk?2 Who's faster - Quicksilver or the Whizzer?3 Who weighs more - Volstagg or the Kingpin?4

All joking aside, the Handbook has a well-deserved reputation as the Encyclopedia Brittanica of comics. Each entry is just thorough enough to give you a good overview of a character's powers and history, while just vague enough to leave you hungering for more. It makes sense out of the nonsensical, untangles the knots of continuity, and looks pretty, to boot.

If there's anything useful I've actually learned from the Handbook, it's a healthy skepticism. The plot summaries in the Handbook make every story sound like an incredible epic that shook the Marvel universe to its foundations.6 But the actual stories themselves tend to be underwhelming - it's not that they're bad, per se, but that most of them are just, y'know, kind of there. Memories and summaries, combined with fannish enthusiasm, tend to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. It's always better to recide and decide for yourself.

I've put together four complete or near-complete sets of OHOTOMUDE over the years. The first set was given to me by Greg Stanbach in 1988, and it's probably stil stting in my little brother's closet somewhere. The second set was assembled my freshman year at college, and lasted about a month before I just gave it to Edwin K. Chan (who seemed like he'd appreciate it more than I would). The third set was finished in my senior year, and got thrown out when I was getting rid of a huge pile of comps dumped on me by Don Simpson. The fourth was pieced together a few years later from the quarter bin, and I still have it today.

Now if only I could find cheap copies of the OHOTMUDE Update '89...

  1. Places like Asgard and the Shi'ar Empire. You know, the real world.
  2. They both have Class 100 strength, but as we all know, the madder the Hulk gets, the stronger the Hulk gets. The Hulk wins. Of course, that assumes we're talking about the savage green Hulk and not the crafty gray Hulk or the "Professor" Hulk or the snake Hulk.
  3. Quicksilver.
  4. As we all know, Asgardian flesh and bone are three times denser than their Earthly counterparts, so Volstagg gets the nod.
  5. See? I can be a big dorky fanboy, too. Though I'd gladly give up everything I know about Galactus's orgins to remember everything I've forgotten from chemistry class.
  6. Well, except for the issue of Iron Man where Tony Stark piloted his "Brainosaur" craft. There's no way anyone could make that sound cool.

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