Comics : Marvel Avengers: The Ultimate Character Guide (DK, 2010)

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This story is part of a Lookback Series: Book of the Month Club

This review was first published on: 12 Sep 2015.

Background...

The folks at Dorling Kindersley (DK) Publishing in Britain are hugely prolific with their range of pop culture titles.

Back in 2010 they bought out their first edition of "Marvel Avengers: The Ultimate Character Guide", nicely timed to ride the wave of interest into the 2012 "Avengers" Movie. In 2015 they published a revised and expanded edition to tie-in to the "Avengers 2" sequel which was released in the same year.

We're going to review and compare both editions.

In Detail...

Marvel Avengers: The Ultimate Character Guide (DK, 2010)
Oct 2010 : SM Guest
Find ISBN 9780756667405
Summary: Character Encyclopedia (Spider-Man Appears)
Publisher:  DK Publishing, Inc.
Writer:  Alan Cowsill
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Marvel Avengers: The Ultimate Character Guide (DK, Revised 2015)
Mar 2015 : SM Guest
Find ISBN 9781465430014
Summary: Character Encyclopedia (Spider-Man Appears)
Publisher:  DK Publishing, Inc.
Editor:  Alastair Dougall
Writer:  Alan Cowsill
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Both books are physically very similar, being hardbound in a 7.3" x 9.3" format which is relatively small and compact by typical comic book encyclopedia standards. That choice of format is an interesting one to me, as it seems to mark the book as wanting to be considered a "practical book to read and reference" rather than a "coffee table book to flick through and look at the pictures".

The 2010 original edition is 208 pages (204 entries), which the 2015 edition extends to 232 pages (228 entries). Both are high-quality materials, printing and construction which is no surprise given DK's reputation.

The entries follow a consistent format, with every character (villain or hero) receiving a single page regardless of their importance or history. Captain America gets one page. Gilgamesh gets one page. Spider-Man gets one page. Big Bertha gets one page.

For each character, key details are given – Name, Occupation, Home, Height, Weight, Hair/Eyes, Powers, Allies, and Foes. There's a one paragraph background summary, a primary illustration, and several secondary inset illustrations (often with captions). Finally, there's a nifty color-coded numeric power ranking at the bottom of the page showing: Energy Protection, Strength, Durability, Fighting Skill, Intelligence and Speed.

The 2015 edition is, as the cover says, "expanded and updated". There's 24 additional entry slots (making room for Captain Britain, Captain Marvel (Danvers), Ex Nihilo). In addition, a few less-active characters (e.g. Blastaar) have been dropped to make space for more recent and relevant characters. In terms of changes to content, many of the entries (especially the major ones, e.g. Captain America, Black Widow) have received entirely new artwork and a refresh on the text for the 2015 re-release, but many others are essentially unchanged from the earlier edition.

In General...

Overall, I think I approve of what this "Character Guide" is trying to achieve. It obviously is not trying to expound the complex history of any of these characters. And while the selections of characters is done with a close eye on current story-lines, there's no attempt to describe those current story-lines in any real detail. The goal is simply to give you the summary, key details, a few fun extra facts, and some representative artwork to help you identify them when you see them again.

Perhaps the trickiest thing about this book is the challenge of selecting from the huge history of "Avengers-related" characters. In practice, this really means "characters that appeared in the Brian Michael Bendis scripted Avengers, New Avengers, Secret Avengers, Young Avengers, Whatever Other Avengers titles in and around the years 2010-2015."

Spider-Man appears of course, as does Electro (important in the founding of the New Avengers). Victoria Hand, Squirrel Girl, Doctor Strange, etc. Wolverine and Spider-Woman (Jessica Drew) are all present, as is Jessica Jones. Black Bolt appears, Rick Jones, Supreme Intelligence, and a lot of characters who came into the more recent Avengers comic-book plots.

But anybody reading this book and then watching the blockbuster movies is going to be somewhat confused, as very few of the villains or heroes appear in the films. Except of course that The Guardians of the Galaxy somehow got shoe-horned into the 2015 edition as "gratuitous Avengers tie-ins," as Marvel/Disney shamelessly wriggled to cross-leverage every commercial success to maximum saturation impact. So now Star-Lord has to sit beside the Great Lakes Avengers in this awful marriage of convenience.

Overall Rating...

Whatever I might feel about the confused set of driving factors that resulted in this eclectic list of "The Most Important two-hundred (plus a few) Avengers Heroes & Villains," I have no complaints about the implementation. There's enough basic facts to get the reader introduced to each character, without overwhelming with complex historical details or convoluted plot lines stretching back to the 1960's.

I give both editions 4 Webs each, although obviously you'll want to grab the 2015 version if you have the choice.

Footnote...

See also Spider-Man Character Encyclopedia (DK), published in the same format.