I think The Essential Handbook of the Marvel Universe may well be the most rewarding $14 I’ve spent all year. And this is a year in which I’ve bought a new computer, which is a whole lots of $14s combined, so that’s really saying something.
I remember stumbling across an issue of the Handbook when I was a kid and finding its obsession and devotion to trivial minutiae about imaginary super-people completely fascinating. When I discovered Marvel was reprinting the series as part of its dirt-cheap Essentials series, I dropped change without hesitation. The sheer preposterousness of the whole thing alone was worth the price of admission: not only is this a phonebook-sized tome of insanely detailed profiles about comic book heroes, the information contained within is nearly a quarter-century out of date. I’m pretty sure the majority of the characters covered in the book are either dead, or have been dead at some point, or have had a child sent into the future only to come back full grown and possibly evil, or have quietly been erased from the Marvel Universe due to their having been created during by Roy Thomas during a particularly loopy circa 1978 drug trip, and thus laughably ridiculous by any cultural standard which isn’t tainted by overexposure to mirror globes and roller boogie. What sort of idiots would print something like that? Apparently the idiots at Marvel. Good thing they have idiots like me to encourge them.
This is the sort of thing that sits around collecting dust until I’m good and bored, and that describes this weekend in a nutshell — the girlfriend is out of town for two weeks, and I’ve been forced to rush through Astonishia Story as quickly as possible for a review. Between yawns, I keep shouting curses at Ubisoft. Like, “‘Localization’ does not mean ‘dropping a raw translation into the game and nipping off for an early weekend.'” Fortunately, the Handbook is keeping me sane. I slog through another three battles, I get to read a profile.
Rereading these things as an adult, I realize — well, that I probably shouldn’t be rereading them as an adult. But I accept that it’s too late for me, so the other thing I realize is that this book is pretty much the progenitor of screaming Internet fantards who freak out when their four-color funnybooks aren’t “realistic” enough. Because, you know, a medium where spandex fetishists can rattle off three lines of faux-Shakespearean soliloqies between laser punches is so deeply rooted in real life. Whoever wrote this stuff — apparently Mark Gruenwald — spent way too long coming up with rationales for superpowers whose only real litmus test during the creative process was HOLY CRAP three hours to deadline I’d better think up something oh god oh god.
So, I’ve leared interesting things, like the fact that Alpha Flight’s Aurora isn’t just fast — she gets around by “channeling the kinetic energy of the atomic motion of her body.” Which handily has the side effect of making her skin more rigid (due to reduced atomic motion) and thus resistant to air friction. Or that Kitty Pride (who apparently was using the codename Ariel at the time, presumably so that thirsty villains wouldn’t mistake her for the great taste of Limon(TM)) doesn’t actually become intangible so much as she vibrates her molecules so quickly that they fall out of sync with her surroundings, and that she is fortunate enough to be able to cause her underwear to vibrate with her to help prevent embarrassing bouts of accidental public nudity.
In short, this book fills my mind with visions of sad, doughy 45-year-olds sitting in a basement-scented comics shop arguing about the physics of Dazzler’s disco-beams with the sort of passion other men put into making out with girls. It is, needless to say, glorious.
Other fun trivia: Google Maps indicates that the Avengers Mansion (located at 721 Fifth Avenue, NYC) has been converted into a small public park.
Also, the Avengers’ mainframe computer is capable of “2.5 giga flip-flops per second,” which certainly must come in handy when Galactus needs footwear for his beach outings.
Best of all, every once in a while I’ll come across a character who’s so frickin’ weird that there was clearly only one solution:
That’s right, they had to call on King Kirby to handle the art. Because lesser mortals cannot draw a man who has placed his brain into his stomach for protection, wears an ESP transmitter where his head used to be, and broadcasts the image of his former face on a TV grafted into his stomach. That way lies madness.
If comic books were still that awesome, I’d actually be willing to buy them.