on January 28, 2007
My buddy recently purchased the Marvel Encyclopedia and lent it to me, as he frequently lends me comics I don't have (and I, vice versa, to him). I both dug the thing and was sorely disappointed at the same. The layout is fantastic -- the chosen pictures extraordinary with old-panel word balloons remastered -- with an excellent combination of old school artwork and new. The typeface is also well done.
However, when one gets into the nitty gritty, one'll be finding himself going "Huh??" quite often. And this is mostly the fault of lousy proofreading. To be sure, a comics novice would most likely in no way be able to pick up on a lot of these blunders. But being that I was heavily into Marvel Comics in the 70s and early 80s gave me a good vantage point from which to judge.
Let's start with my favorite hero, Iron Man. For the most part, the writer (Andrew Darling, one of several contributors) did a good job. Obviously the writers cannot cover every tidbit of a character's career or the volume would be over 1,000 pages, possibly more. Some things do have to be omitted. But most of Shellhead's key moments made it into print. The main proofreading blunder in the Iron Man section (a two-page spread, by the way; I'd expect no less!) was in the "Old Flames" segment at upper right. Long-time Tony Stark girlfriend Bethany Cabe is listed, but there's just one problem -- it's not Bethany pictured. It's [volume 3] Tony Stark girlfriend Rumiko Fujikawa! Doh! Rumiko didn't make the list but should have -- easily so over very briefly-noted-in-IM-lore squeeze Sunset Bain. In addition, you can see the influence that current Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada has; in the "Essential Storylines" segment, Iron Man vol. 3 #27-30 are listed. Guess why? Quesada wrote 'em. No true-blue Iron Fan would list those issues if they had to name three "essential" Iron Man stories. Unbelievably omitted is the one storyline virtually all Iron Fans would list as a must-have: The Armor Wars (Iron Man #225-232). And one of the "essential" stories contains a glaring error: Iron Man #153-156 are listed as "alcohol stuggle issues." URRNT! Not even close! Those are pretty much one-shot stand alone issues at a time when the title was in creative team transition (David Michelinie and Bob Layton, Iron Man's best-ever creative team, were exiting).
WHO TO INCLUDE?
There was also the head-scratching topic of who was included in the book, and who wasn't. Recent (and lame) Iron Man adversary Tiberius Stone made the book, but, for example, occasional Shellhead foe Midas -- who was an enemy of several Marvel heroes -- did not! Huh? This was also a common complaint among the myriad Amazon reviewers. Another that stuck out for me was the ridiculous inclusion of a character named Bloodhawk who appeared in a mere two issues of the Avengers back in the late 70s. C'mon -- aren't there much more worthy characters out there??
RETCONNED OR NOT?
A little-known Marvel character called the Rocket Racer stood out for me. First, it states his first appearance was Amazing Spider-Man #172. I used to own that issue as a boy, and read Spidey's then-battles with the skateboarding crook. Here's what got me about Racer's entry: It states he "was a scientific prodigy" who "developed a superpowered skateboard which was cybernetically controlled..." Now, there's a thing in comics called "retconning" where sometimes a hero's (or villain's) origin is "redone" to make him/her more "up-to-date" for a modern audience. It's also sometimes done to correct mistakes a writer made in the past, or simply to allow for what a current writer wants to do with a hero/villain. Now, I don't know if Marvel retconned Rocket Racer or not. If they did NOT, then his origin is completely erroneous. If anyone reads those Spider-Man issues from the late 70s, you'll see that the Racer was just a common thug (but not necessarily an evil person) who made a deal with a guy called the [Terrible] Tinkerer. The deal was that the Tinkerer (a mechanical genius) would develop the Racer's skateboard and glove rockets for 50% of whatever the Racer managed to steal in his crime sprees. Chances are RR was retconned, but then why include the original first appearance without noting that his origin had changed in the summary text? It would leave interested comic collectors who may go out and search for the relevant comics scratching their heads!
SPEAKING OF FIRST APPEARANCES...
Another thing that was inconsistent was the noting of characters' first appearances in the Marvel Universe. Notwithstanding the Rocket Racer above, I noticed that the writers tended to always include a character's first ever appearance in their bio, despite the fact that they may have changed names and/or appearances [possibly] many times. For instance, Mach-4's first appearance is noted as Strange Tales #123 from 1964. However, Mach-4 is a very recent character. Rightly noted in his bio is that he started out as a character called the Beetle, who indeed surfaced around 1964. OK. All fine and dandy. However, when you read the entry on the Speed Demon, his first appearance is listed as Amazing Spider-Man #222 (1981). Later in his entry you read that he started his career as the Squadron Sinister's "Whizzer." I have that very issue! And it was Avengers #70 from 1971! So, why do the encyclopedia's authors utilize first-ever appearances pretty much 95% of the time despite what a character eventually became ... but in Speed Demon's case (among a few others) his first appearance is listed as his first appearance as Speed Demon -- when in fact he started out a decade earlier as The Whizzer?
SPEAKING OF THE WHIZZER...
One of my favorite Marvel super groups is the DC Justice League analogue Squadron Supreme. This group exists in the Marvel Universe on a parallel Earth called "Earth-S." The leader of the group, Hyperion, has his first appearance listed as Avengers #85. Not noted is that the character Hyperion's first appearance was actually 15 issues earlier in Avengers #70, just like the Whizzer/Speed Demon above. (The Squadron Sinister was retroactively patterned -- see "retconning" above -- after the Squadron Supreme by an evil higher-order cosmic being ... Marvel writers apparently decided that a good group of these heroes wouldn't be such a bad idea!) In mainstream Marvel continuity, the Squadron Supreme at one time attempted to use their powers to take over their world in what was essentially a benevolent dictatorship. When they realized this wasn't a good idea, they dismantled their programs and became "ordinary" heroes. Eventually the team was whisked away from their world (to ours) by their arch-enemy; when they made it back years later, an oligarchic compendium had assumed world control, and in a 1998 special edition issue the situation was left as the Squadron continuing to fight this compendium for the world's freedom. So it says in Hyperion's bio. However, when you read the Squadron's own bio in the Encyclopedia, it says at entry's end that "the Squadron has now successfully liberated their own world from the grip of various monolithic corporations ..."!! So which is it, Marvel?? One entry says they're still fighting (the correct entry) and another says they've won already! It's doubtful I'd have missed a follow-up issue detailing their victory over the oligarchy as I'm always on the look-out for Squadron Supreme storylines, natch.
1941: A GOOD YEAR
In the most egregious example of lousy proofreading, the year "1941" appears an inordinate amount of times as a character's first appearance. This was the year in which the famous Captain America made his first-ever appearance, but other characters ...? On page 229 of the book, both the villain Proctor and hero Prodigy's first appearances are listed as 1941! Prodigy is even listed as having his debut in Captain America Comics #1!! Proctor's first issue is correct (Avengers #344) but that issue appeared in the 1990s, not 1941 as listed!! There were several other characters erroneously listed as having their first appearance as 1941, but I didn't write their names down and I can't recall all of them at the moment. Nevertheless, the year 1941 wasn't the only boo-boo; the dates of many characters' debuts were botched. One I recall immediately was Kitty Pryde's from X-Men fame. Her debut issue number is correct, but the year listed is 1994. The correct year is 1980!
Fairly new comics fans will take delight at this book. Older fans will still dig it, but as noted will wonder how a work of this magnitude managed to get published with all the errors -- especially when Marvel bigwigs Tom Brevoort and Tom DeFalco were contributing writers!!
on October 16, 2006
In the style of their 2004 publication, "The DC Comics Encyclopedia," Dorling Kindersley have released "The Marvel Encyclopedia," a guide to the characters of the Marvel Comics universe. DK are no strangers to Marvel's universe, having frequently released "Ultimate Guide" books covering the histories of Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Hulk, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, and next year, Ghost Rider. But how does this tome, touted as "the definitive guide," stack up?
The sheer number of characters included is absolutely massive, with over 1000 separate entries for characters that span the past and present of the Marvel Universe, and even occupants of other dimensions, timelines and alternate universes (such as MC-2 characters like Spider-Girl, or occupants of the future of 2099). Each entry is headed with a table that provides a quick hit of info from the character's vital stats to their real names, first appearances and powers. The body of the entry provides an abbreviated origin and history for the character, bringing things up as recent as possible at the time of writing, and includes at least one image of the character. Standard entries are a paragraph long - of such a size that, barring larger pictures, about six can fit on a single page. At no time does such a thing occur, however, as entries range from being this size to quarter-page, half-page, full-page, and for the most notable characters and teams like Spider-Man, the Hulk, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four and the X-Men, double-page spreads. Entries are signed with the initials of their writers - contributing Marvel editors Tom DeFalco and Tom Brevoort, X-Men: Ultimate Guide writer Peter Sanderson, and other scripters Michael Teitelbaum, Daniel Wallace and Andrew Darling, who have all contributed to other Dorling Kindersley comic guide books.
The bulk of characters chosen for inclusion seem to have been fairly heavily based on the 1980's edition of Marvel's own guidebook publication, also written by Sanderson, "The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe," (leading to one or two odd naming conventions, such as the original Captain Marvel being listed as "Captain Mar-Vell") with more entries added for characters created since then. The range of characters is simply astounding, from the company's figureheads to hilariously obscure nobody do-nothings, which gives readers unfamiliar with the depth and breadth of the Marvel Universe a brilliantly expansive look at its past and present.
For regular Marvelites, however, some choices are sure to be questioned - and since I am a Marvelite, here's a couple for ya. Why does Energizer, of kid-team Power Pack, get her own entry, while none of her team-mates do? Why does obscure Golden Age monster It, The Living Colossus, get an entry when the most famous of such creatures, Fin Fang Foom - active in comics as recent as six months ago - does not? Where is the entry for the biggest X-Men villain of recent years, Cassandra Nova? Why does major cosmic villain Thanos receive only a standard-size entry, while no-namers like Bi-Beast, Chemistro and Plant-Man get half a page? All those things said, however, this is very much the complaint of a man who might know a bit too much for his own good. I also own the DC Encyclopedia, and, as I know a lot less about that universe, so I can't make these complaints about it - but I guarantee that major DC fans will have said exactly the same thing about that book. It's a case, I feel, of being a little too close to the subject matter.
What is certainly NOT a subjective issue, however, is the topic of errors. Such a publication will always be susceptible to mistakes, and more than are comfortable have crept into the finished product. With men such as DeFalco, Brevoort and Sanderson penning entries, one expects... well, perfection, frankly. These are chaps who know it all. And in fairness, the entries scripted by them are the best of the book. It is those by the other writers that have proven the weakest link. In fairness to all involved, however, there are very few outright ERRORS in the book - there are just instances of outdated information. For example, the Space Phantom's entry recounts his origin as an alien from the planet Phantos, which was retconned out as of 1998. The Mandarin and Blacklash are stated to be alive, when both have been dead for over half a decade. The Mole Man's real name is listed as "Unknown," when it has been known to be Harvey Rupert Elder for about eight years. Emma Frost's entry is probably the most embarrassing example of these - it only goes as far as her involvement with Generation X, neglecting to mention the fact that she has been a member of the X-Men for five years, is now romantically involved with Cyclops, and has acquired the power to transform into diamond.
Then, there are the real mistakes, which are distinctly minimal, but present nonetheless, with the entry for "Warlock" being the worst example. In the Marvel Universe, there are two characters named "Warlock" - the genetically engineered cosmic hero ADAM Warlock, and the New Mutants ally and member of the alien race called the Technarcy. The entry for Warlock covers the former, but throughout the book, references to the Technarcy alien suggest that the Warlock entry is for him. Furthermore, both characters are connected to two separate characters known as "the Magus" - one is the evil future self of Adam Warlock, the other the father of the alien Warlock. The same error occurs - the article is about the alien father, but other articles indicate that it is about the evil future self.
Outright mistakes most frequently come in the form of pictures, however - once in a blue moon, an entry is simply illustrated with an incorrect image. In most cases, you can understand the goof - for example, Aquarian's entry being illustrated with an image of Zodiac member Aquarius, Happy Hogan's entry picturing CRUSHER Hogan, or Nightshade's entry being paired with a picture of the OTHER character called Nightshade - but that doesn't excuse it. Warlock and the Magus's errors are compounded further by these - although the man illustration of Warlock's entry is right, an inset image depicts the alien Warlock, while the Magus's entry is completely screwed up, being decorated with a picture of neither alien nor future self, but DOC MAGUS, a completely unrelated character from Spider-Girl's universe!!
With DeFalco as Consultant Editor, I have no doubt that most if not all of these mistakes would have been caught had there been a little more time for production, but it seems very much as though the book has been released now to get it out in time for Christmas, and to in turn capitalise on the current bout of high profile popularity Marvel is undergoing thanks to their huge Civil War crossover event.
But seriously, folks - in spite of the flubs I have noted here, please, please remember that for every one entry that slips up, SCORES more are spot-on perfect. I genuinely recommend the book, for new readers and those wanting to learn more, if nothing else. For dyed-in-the-wool Marvelites... well, it was never going to be better than the OHOTMU, was it? Heck, even that had its share of mistakes.
on February 1, 2007
Well designed, nicely laid-out with a generally high standard of artwork (although some of the older material is of a much lower resolution than one might expect to see these days) and certainly good value for money in terms of how much book you get for your buck.
But this encylopedia is depressingly full of errors, both typos and factual inaccuracies, particularly in the choice of illustrations, their annotations and the various character summaries. Some of it might be obvious only to fanboys (no-one other than a reader of "Alpha Flight" would know that the entry for Laura Dean is accompanied by a picture of Zuzha Yu), but even novices will wonder whether entirely human crime boss The Rose should be described as having "feathers", why the main illo of Johnny Storm has him wearing a backwards 4 on his chest, or why an "eleven-year-old" Jean Grey is depicted as an infant.
Unlike previous reviewers, I think the balance between well-known and obscure characters is about right. No single volume could ever reasonably cover every Marvel character. But the structure of what's here is questionable. Looking at associated entries, it becomes obvious to the reader that The Sworsdman has had an extraordinarily convoluted history, yet his own description is suprisingly terse. Damien Hellstrom gets two separate entries (one as Hellstorm, another as Son of Satan) that are virtually identical, yet the authors seem to have gotten hopelessly muddled on the difference betwen Adam Warlock and the New Mutant called Warlock, to the extent that the latter has been overlooked, despite the fact he's cross-referenced in other entries.
This book certainly should have been more thoroughly proof-read before publication, but the fact that so many points of Marvel lore got past Tom Brevoort and Tom deFalco (who was Marvel's editor-in-chief when much of what's described was in print!) is unforgivable.