I used to pore over copies of The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe for hours at a time as a youth. To tell the truth, I still do. However, the new updates are not quite as special to me as the original handbooks. The art featuring the characters in the new books is rarely actually new and if it is, then it is the same artist featuring most of the characters. Older handbooks had some of the best artists selected from Marvel’s Bullpen and often featured the characters the artists were associated with at the time. Comic book panels depicting key scenes or costumes were accompanied by text that detailed at length the history, powers and skill sets of each character. Nowadays, the text has to abbreviate so many years of continuity that the narratives often lose a sense of wonder (becoming mere lists of pivotal moments instead of a soap opera-like story) and the accompanying art in the character’s biography is shrunk to the point of being ridiculous. All that said, I still adore the art from many of the Handbooks back in the day and wanted to share some of my favorites in all of their black and white glory!
First up is the decadent and diabolic Black Queen Selene of the Hellfire Club. Energy vampire, sorceress and manipulator of inorganic matter (she could animate the very floor to wrap itself around a victim), she possessed a wit and cunning only matched by very few (I would count White Queen Emma Frost and the Enchantress among them). Mark Beachum drew this amazing image and my adolescent self will always be indebted to him for the wild places my imagination took me upon its repeated viewing.
William Talltrees took on the mantle of Red Wolf to avenge his family. He is connected to the spirit of wolves as a shaman and has a heightened spirituality. When his wolf companion Lobo (who had amazing spiritual powers and a connection to William) was revealed to be a Skrull during Secret Invasion, I was disheartened. Surely it is borderline offensive to undermine the entire core of the character’s abilities which are already steeped in cliche and stereotype. If a character’s abilities stem from the spirit world, how can this lack of connection to one’s own familiar be explained away? Nonetheless, I still enjoy the overall design of this character. Artwork by Javier Saltares.
Super-speedster Quicksilver has been in lots of organizations for someone who is not much of a people person. Starting out in The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants was a misstep, but then Pietro joined the Avengers. He was a member of the government sponsored mutant team X-Factor and now he teaches at Avengers Academy. He’s also been seen fighting alongside the Young Avengers as they search for his twin sister Wanda, the Scarlet Witch. Artwork by John Byrne.
Speaking of twins, here’s Alpha Flight’s Aurora as drawn by John Byrne and inked by Joe Rubinstein. Jeanne-Marie Beaubier lives with dissociative identity disorder, alternating between prim and proper Jeanne-Marie and the outgoing pleasure seeking Aurora. Aurora’s powers are linked to her brother and include flight, super-speed, light and energy projection.
Northstar is the twin brother of Aurora and was also drawn by John Byrne. Arrogant and brash, champion Olympic skier Jean-Paul left Alpha Flight and is now an X-Men, out of the closet (finally) and actually has an on panel boyfriend (FINALLY).
The sorceress from the Dark Dimension and sometimes lover of Doctor Strange, Clea is both beautiful, wise and steeped in fantastic fashion sensibilities. You know you love those tights! Artwork by Paul Smith.
Umar, also a sorceress from the Dark Dimension as well as the mother of Clea (!), uses her powers for subjugation and personal power. She has battled Doctor Strange as well as his mentor The Ancient One many times. Artwork by Joe Rubinstein.
This image depicts the form and style of a typical Handbook entry, this example being for the shape-changing empath Meggan of Excalibur. The possibilities of Meggan (now called Gloriana) and her wide array of powers is simply staggering. Artwork by Alan Davis.
After the original Captain Marvel died, Monica Rambeau took on the mantle. With her light, energy, and force field powers, one would think that Monica would be a bit hard to relate to. However, she is one of the most down to earth Avengers in the roster. Artwork drawn by John Romita Sr. and inked by Joe Rubinstein.
Dane Whitman is the third person to carry the title of Black Knight in the Marvel Universe. With his winged steed and his enchanted blade, he fights for justice alongside the Avengers. Paul Cornell wrote him well in the recently completed and collected Captain Britain and MI:13 series. Artwork by Kerry Gammill.
The high flying Angel is my favorite male Marvel superhero. Here he is in my favorite version of his costume. I have loved Angel as a member of the X-Men, the New Defenders, the Champions and X-Factor. A low point for me in the character’s history is when he turned into Archangel. I do not totally understand how he can now transform from feather wings to metal bladed wings, but that is about to be featured soon in Rick Remender’s X-Force. Here’s hoping Warren Kenneth Worthington III can find his soul again. Artwork by Brian Postman.
Here’s the swash-buckling Raza Longknife of the space-faring Starjammers in all of his Dave Cockrum-designed glory. Artwork inked by Joe Rubinstein.
The first of the All-New, All-Different X-Men to die, Thunderbird was also designed by Dave Cockrum. Artwork inked by Joe Rubinstein.
Hussar, Earthquake, and Manta of The Imperial Guard designed and drawn by Dave Cockrum. These members are most known for their fight on the dark side of the moon against the X-Men for the fate of Jean Grey in The Dark Phoenix Saga.
We end our mini-retrospective with the telepathic Moondragon by Jim Starlin. I have a special place in my heart for the self-styled goddess of Titan and I followed her exploits in The Avengers and The New Defenders with avid fascination. I love that she is bald, has a superiority complex and apparently unlimited mental powers as well as martial arts prowess. That she happens be bisexual makes her an even more complex and fascinating character to me.