Who Watches the Watchers - Forum for the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe & Similar Works 20 YEARS! 2004-2024

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1/04/2020 11:03 am  #1

The road to Handbooks

Since the forum seems rather quiet so far, I figured I'd start a thread or two to try and generate some life. For this one, I'm trying to piece together the history, and pre-history, of Handbooks. 

While it's generally acknowledged that Mark Gruenwald is the father of the handbooks, and that capsule entries in the Contest of Champions mini-series, covering many of the heroes included in the tale, were a precursor to same, I think there are other ancestors that need to be acknowledged. 

From as early as Fantastic Four #2 (1962), Stan and Jack began including pin-ups featuring the new characters they were introducing, beginning with the Thing.

While the scarcity of character information (we've got his name and a very general power description) means there's no way this could be considered a handbook entry in even the loosest sense, it's worth noting that artistically speaking this is VERY like how the handbooks would end up - good "hero shot" of the character, plus inset headshot of his human appearance accompanied by his real name - and in case anyone is wondering, the Human Torch's entry that followed an issue later also included a headshot showing him when not aflame. There's an excellent article about these pin-ups at http://marvelsilverage.blogspot.com/2018/10/marvel-masterwork-pin-ups.html

By the time the first annuals of the Marvel era came around, some of these pin-ups had evolved just a little, but enough to qualify I think as proto-handbook entries by adding in an admittedly tiny amount of character history and first appearance information. 

Skip forward to 1982, and we've got the aforementioned Contest of Champions and it's capsule character bios at the end of each issue. Far too minimal to be considered proper handbook entries, but a vital step on that road nevertheless. 


1/04/2020 11:19 am  #2

Re: The road to Handbooks

Next of course comes the first actual handbooks, the 1982 series that ran 12 15 issues. It set many important standards for all future handbooks, including that any attempt at an alphabetical run should end up going on for a few additional issues past whatever was originally solicited, and that covers should feature several of those inside - sadly, the "all covers should come together to form a single image" didn't survive beyond the 1980s.

The success of the original volume meant we only had to wait a couple of years for an expanded Deluxe Edition in 1984, with more detailed character biographies. Given how lengthy the combined cover is, I'll link to it rather than posting it here.

     Thread Starter

1/04/2020 11:49 am  #3

Re: The road to Handbooks

1984 also saw the release of the first tabletop roleplaying game based on the Marvel universe, with TSR's Marvel Superheroes:

What have these to do with the handbooks?

Firstly, the game and its supplements included character bios, though usually fairly brief ones. Many supplements were adventures featuring only a handful of characters, but there were also guidebooks covering different parts of the Marvel universe, such as X-Men and their related characters, Avengers-related characters, FF-related, etc. In terms of covering characters by theme rather than alphabetically, they serve as a precursor to the early 2000s handbooks. 

Then came the Gamer's Handbooks of the Marvel Universe in 1988 (a year ahead of the next proper handbook, Update '89).

Inspired by the Deluxe Edition, these are notable for a few things - they featured a "pull apart and put into a ringbinder" format that predates the same being used in the Master Edition; they covered some characters not yet covered in the "real" handbooks, including some characters who still haven't had a handbook entry in any run of the handbooks; they also included new art in some of those entries, a few instances of which (iirc) have made their way into modern (read: post 2000) handbooks.

One last note regarding the rpg: As far as we can tell, the real identity of the Marauder known as Blockbuster, Michael Baer, was revealed in the Marvel Phile article in TSR's Dragon Magazine #117, a regular feature that covered characters for the game. Since TSR held the license to use Marvel characters, and Dragon was their house magazine, the info is canonical and ended up being used in various Marvel titles subsequently, but it remains one of the more unusual places for new info like this to debut. As far as I am aware, this is the only time the game introduced new info about an existing Marvel character. 

     Thread Starter

1/04/2020 12:32 pm  #4

Re: The road to Handbooks

The main reason why things are quiet so far is the site is still on the testing stage. I'm still trying to create discussing on layout before moving things over, though I'll probably do a few test posts today. I do have a similar post to this one. Once it's revived we can look at if this one should remain separate or if the two threads should be merged.

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1/07/2020 2:44 pm  #5

Re: The road to Handbooks

Here is the post that I thought was parallel to this one. Not quite the same but a similar. Unfortunately some of it appears to have been lost in the crash but enough survived to create the basic idea.

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