The "Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe" was a particularly handy resource created by Marvel back in the 1980's. A number of series were created - a basic set, a Deluxe (expanded) set, a series of updates in 1989, and the Master Edition which was produced as file cards to be inserted in a binder. All provided fantastic summary information on characters, plus gloriously detailed facts and diagrams clarifying and formalising the powers and abilities possesed by the heroes and villains they described. Fans loved it.
Around the same time, Marvel also produced a number of "Indexes", including some Spider-Man indexes for the first 240-odd issues of Amazing, plus a few indexes to Marvel Team-Up (Vol. 1). After such a furious burst of activity, they then let the whole genre go quiet for a while, before introducing the series of "Marvel Encyclopedias", in a more robust hard-bound format.
However, space limitations in the encyclopedias meant that much of the detailed information on powers, equipment, etc. was dropped in favour of a simplified power grid. Sure, they covered a lot of characters, but I'm sure many fans were pretty keen to get the real info on Carnage's powers (Kasady having arrived after the original series of OHMU comics).
Well, good news. Marvel is running a series of OHMU (2004) titles.
Rather than alphabetic as their 1980's predecessors, this run of guides is grouped around characters, similar to the Encyclopedias. The detailed format of the original earlier OHMU's is generally maintained. In terms of character selection, the 2004 guide deliberately aims to cover more recent characters, such as Shathra and Jill Stacy, for example, rather than simply reprinting the earlier 1980's entries.
The classic villains selected for inclusion are those who have either been active recently, or have undergone significant changes in powers. Carnage is added, Venom (who had only just appeared when his original entry was created) is updated. The profiles on the classic characters (e.g. Sandman) do tend to focus more on their recent activities. Hey, this is the 2004 guide, after all.
The entries in the Spider-Man (2004) handbook are Black Cat, Carnage, Daily Bugle, Doc Ock, Electro, Ezekiel, Green Goblin, Hobgoblin, Lizard, Morlun, May Parker, Sandman, Shathra, Scorpion, Shocker, Spider-Man, Spider-Man's Costumes, Gwen Stacy, Supporting Cast, Venom, Vulture, and MJ.
Of course, that still leaves out heaps of great Spidey characters that either need covering for the first time, or who need a refresher. But hey, never fear, the Spider-Man 2005 Handbook has already been written, and is not far away. As soon as that one comes out, we'll tell you all about it, too!
The production quality of this new series is far superior to the 1980's OHMUs. With glossy paper, a glossy card cover, high-color printing, you'd hardly realise they're the same thing. There's a bit more focus on art this time, so the word count per page is slightly lower, but not enough to hurt the book at all.
As ever, these books are great if you want to run a role-playing game, argue that your favourite character could whup your neighbour's favourite character, or even figure out for yourself if Spidey's webbing really could stop a speeding train. Any serious Marvelite needs these stored on a handy shelf for answering those really tricky questions.
A top-quality book, packed with handy info. Four webs.