Comics : Marvel: The Characters And Their Universe (2001)

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

This review was first published on: Mar 2016.

Background...

This large-format book was originally released in 2001 by Beaux-Arts Editions in a deluxe 11" x 14" black fake-leather binding with a thick die-cut starburst badge glued to the front cover (no dust jacket). That edition measured 1.5" thick and is one of the physically largest books in my entire collection.

The book was re-released a few months later (in 2002) as a "Revised Special Collector's Edition". I.e. A slightly tweaked edition for obsessive-compulsive collectors who feel the need to buy every slight variant of all Marvel books.

The 2014 "Marvel 75th Anniversary" re-release of the 2002 edition from Chartwell Books was slightly more manageable in size. It was trimmed down slightly to 9.2" x 12", and measured a mere 1" thick. It also has a more conventional binding and a red dust jacket. The 2014 version doesn't include any new content, which means that it is quite out of date by now. Most importantly, it doesn't mention the Disney acquisition – which is a little ironic given that I actually purchased my copy in Disneyland!

This review covers both 2001 and 2002 editions.

In Detail...

Marvel: The Characters And Their Universe (2001)
Aug 2001 : SM Guest
Find ISBN 0883631091
Summary: Spider-Man Chapter (288pp)
Publisher:  Universe Publishing
Writer:  Michael Mallory
Cover Art:  Gregg Schigiel, Scott Elmer
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 Adapted By: Marvel: The Characters And Their Universe (2002 Update)
Marvel: The Characters And Their Universe (2002 Update)
Oct 2002 : SM Guest
Summary: Spider-Man Chapter (288pp)
Adaptation Of: Marvel: The Characters And Their Universe (2001)
See Original Credits, plus...
Publisher:  Chartwell Books
Writer:  Michael Mallory
Cover Art:  Gregg Schigiel, Scott Elmer
Staff Only
Issue
Review

Both editions were 288 pages in length. and feature the same ten chapters:

  1. The World of Marvel
  2. The Marvel Influence
  3. Captain America
  4. Spider-Man
  5. The Incredible Hulk
  6. X-Men
  7. Marvel Superheroes
  8. The Expanding Universe
  9. New Worlds to Conquer
  10. Chronology/Index

The book opens with a summary of Marvel's history from origins to 2000, then the second chapter covers Marvel's wider appeal in terms of toys, live-action shows and theme parks.

The next four chapters cover the origins and broader appeal of Marvel's foremost properties. The Spider-Man chapter runs to 36 pages of content in each book, meaning that our favourite web-crawler receives more coverage than any other single character.

The material is wide-ranging, featuring Spidey's origins and creators, then a sample of key comic book events, before shifting sideways to reference the Macy's Parade Spider-Man balloon and the various TV shows (cartoons and live action) featuring Spider-Man and Spider-Woman from the 1960's to the 1990's.

The 2002 version has additional content squeezed in at this point, describing the 2002 Sony movie. But in general, the 2002 text is nearly identical to the 2001 material.

The following chapters quickly races through some of the other most important Marvel Characters – Fantastic Four, Thor, Daredevil, Submariner, Punisher, and... Howard The Duck.

In General...

For me, the most interesting part of this book, historically speaking, is its coverage of some of the more obscure (and more terrible) movies and TV shows from the 70's, 80's and 90's.

Howard the Duck is well known, of course. And Dolph Lundgren's The Punisher too. But let's not also forget the 1978 TV Movie/Pilot for "Doctor Strange", plus Thor's appearance in 1988's "The Incredible Hulk Returns", and the ill-fated 1994 disaster "The Fantastic Four" (which was paid for being cancelled, and thus managed to make a profit without ever being released).

Wait, there's more! Did you know that the first official Spider-Man stage show was the 1999 UK-produced show "Spider-Man On Stage" (created by Butlins Family Resorts)? Were you aware that a Submariner TV series was started in the 1950's? And have you seen David Hasslehoff in the 1998 Fox TV movie "Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D."? The photographs and production details for these obscure appearances easily justify this book's presence in my collection.

The book isn't without its flaws. Firstly, it feels like it contains a lot of "filler". Much of the book's page count is simple reproduction of enlarged pages from classic comic books – most of which have already been reproduced countless times in other books. There's also 26 pages of pure black background with just small character illustrations, all used to separate the chapters.

Furthermore, the generic "History of Marvel" and "Character Origins" material is covered far more thoroughly in many other similar books. But if you haven't already read Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades, Marvel Universe , Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, or Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book then this book should serve as an decent enough introductory summary.

The writer (Michael Mallory) is also ridiculously kind in his critique of the various lesser-known movies and TV shows. His headline summary of the 1990 Captain America movie is "Captain America is not a bad film."

Seriously?! Sorry to break it to you Mr. Mallory, but Captain America (1990) was a cheesy embarassment of a movie, and its 9% rating on Rotten Tomatoes is fully deserved. Admittedly, six beers and twenty-five years of nostalgia will make it a hilarious late night re-watch. But that doesn't make it a good movie by any stretch of the imagination.

Equally, Mallory primarily attributes the cancellation of the 1970's Live Action TV Spider-Man series after one season to it being "expensive". He kindly neglects to mention that it was utterly, utterly boring. Even dedicated Spidey fans like myself struggle themselves to re-watch those tedious, overblown, lifeless episodes.

Overall Rating...

As an "Encyclopaedia or Characters", this book is decidedly uninspiring. And as a "History of Marvel", it also leaves a great deal to be desired. But buried within the generic content is a detailed (albeit rather generous, forgiving, and uncritical) guide to the lessor-known "gems" of obscure Marvel TV and Movie efforts.

And that's the content which justifies the Four Web rating that I'm offering.