The early to mid-‘80s saw the release of some of the greatest Marvel comics of all time. Spider-Man was waging an epic battle against the mysterious Hobgoblin. Todd McFarland was penciling the Hulk. Under Frank Miller’s direction, the Kingpin was deconstructing Daredevil. In honor of Marvel’s 25 anniversary, a New Universe was being unleashed (okay, nobody thinks that one is great but me). And for all true believers, a comprehensive guide to Marvel superheroes, supervillains, sidekicks, and all other personages was compiled. That guide was The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe.
The Official Handbook listed every Marvel character there ever was or ever had been. These characters were typically presented one to a page, though major characters like Captain America were usually given several pages and two minor characters were sometimes presented two to a page. These pages gave a full-body portrait of the character as well as a picture of the character in action. They also gave pertinent details of the character (real name, aliases, occupation, legal status, etc), a biography/history, and an explanation of the character’s powers where applicable. (Many, by the way, thought that The Handbook was overly analytical, that it tried to make too much scientific sense of the characters’ powers. I didn’t think so. I loved the scientific explanations of those powers. I can still remember much of those explanations, such as the fact that Quicksilver not only had muscles that allowed him to run at super speed but had an enhanced skeleton that could withstand that super speed.) These pages were listed in alphabetical order with superheroes and villains listed by their super names; i.e., Tony Stark would be listed by Iron Man, not Tony Stark. Collected together, these presentations created not just a comic but an encyclopedia, an encyclopedia that had to be released in twelve comic volumes. Twelve double-sized comic volumes, each of which had a cover that featured the heroes discussed in that issue rushing headlong into battle. All twelve of these covers could be laid end to end to create one long parade of Marvel heroes.
And that wasn’t all. There were two additional volumes called The Book of the Dead and Inactive. These volumes contained those heroes, villains, and others who had been killed in action. The covers of these two volumes depicted these heroes as shades rising up from some netherworld. Those covers, and the fatal stories told in detail on the pages between them, made these two volumes some of the most popular, at least in my school.
Lastly, there was one more volume: The Book of Weapons, Hardware, and Paraphernalia. This volume covered the various devices of the Marvel Universe in the same way that the other books covered the characters.
Over the years, there would be several versions of The Handbook, usually with different covers and updated information. Today, I’m not really sure which version I had, but I’m sure I loved it. I didn’t have them all, but I pored over the ones I did have, studying each character, learning his or her statistics and abilities and stories, relishing each detail. They were long reads, being not just twice the size of a normal comic book but also having a whole lot more text. Yet I read them again and again. Read them and believed them.