Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Marvel Chronicle: Love It, Hate It - Need It, Leave It?


Marvel Chronicle: A Year By Year History
Tom Brevoort, Tom DeFalco, Matthew K. Manning, and Peter Sanderson

DK Publishing 2008

MSRP $50.00

Doug: I can’t recall a time in recent memory when I’ve seen a book at a book store and had that “Wow! I’ve gotta have this!” feeling. The Marvel Chronicle is one of those books. This week we’re going to take a look at this handsome reference text, and hopefully shine a little light on its upsides/downsides.

THE GOOD

Doug: I’ll start – physically-speaking, the Marvel Chronicle is a handsome book. From the die-cut wraparound cover to the colorful box inside which it’s packaged, this is a really cool product. It is a big, heavy book, standing about an inch thick. The pages are glossy, but the coloring is reserved – one complaint I often have about reprint material is that new coloring/printing techniques often lend too bright of a palette to material that originally saw the light of day on low-quality newsprint.

Doug: Marvel’s history is surveyed month-by-month and year-by-year from the company’s inception as Timely Comics in 1939 up to June 2008. Once the Silver Age years arrive, the yearly recaps grow longer, from two pages to four. This is welcome, as many readers will be most familiar with the Marvel Age and beyond.

Doug: As with any DK book, there is liberal use of reproduced images; while I would say the editors didn’t always pick the best or most relevant pictures, for the most part they got it right. At times the noted events/storylines are seminal to the Marvel we know today; at other times the editors seemed to relish finding the most irrelevant stories to highlight. Overall, there’s a really nice sampling of all things major and minor, with some lost nuggets around every page-turn.

Doug: Throughout the book are several two-page spreads, sometimes of whole comic book pages or covers, at other times a lone panel. Of note is a very large Hulk panel – captivating! These are very effective representations of period art, and each spread contains a caption noting its creators and historical relevance.

THE BAD

Doug: Well, where to begin… No, it’s not really that bad. Actually, my gripe really isn’t about the book itself, but about decisions Marvel has made lately that have in my mind harmed the industry (and particularly my enjoyment of modern comics). I am speaking of the two most recent banes of my existence – the mega-crossover and writing stories strictly with the trade paperback in mind. While I think the Marvel Chronicle is for the most part fair in their reporting, it’s that fairness passed off as brilliance that ticked me off. Joe Quesada and Bill Jemas made no bones about the fact that both of these recent “marketing strategies” are certainly by design, and done truly with no other goal than to up the profits of the company. Now I am not stupid – I understand that as a private enterprise, Marvel’s goal is to make money for itself. However, that should never be at the expense of the enjoyment of the consumer – creativity in the context of good, solid, in-character storytelling should be their foremost concern.

Doug: That’s my major beef with the book, and again it’s not the book’s fault. I will say that, while I read every page in the book, I didn’t get all that excited until I got to the Silver Age material. But I am glad this is a comprehensive story, as Marvel’s history is rich in anecdotes of triumphs and pitfalls.

THE UGLY

Doug: I’ll let Karen have her way with this, but let me just say that if the editorial staff at DK is going to go all Marvel-cutesy by giving themselves nicknames (that are an embarrassment to the good-natured habit of Stan Lee back in the Bullpen days), then they should have taken better care to turn out a book that had been checked for historical accuracy. Miss Karen?

Karen: Thank you, Doug. First, let me say that I have enjoyed reading the Chronicle. As Doug says, it is an attractive tome, well-designed and full of wonderful illustrations. However - you knew that was coming right? - there are a number of errors and gaffes which have diminished my enjoyment. Unlike Doug, I have not finished the entire book; I am currently in the 1980s. But from the previous sections I have noted mistakes which would make me question the reliability of the information provided. Here’s a few things that caught my eye:

- In the historical sidebar (these are a nice feature) for 1960, Charlton Heston is listed as the star of the film “Spartacus”. It was actually Kirk Douglas.

- In the 1964 section, the first appearance of Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch is discussed. However, it inaccurately describes the siblings as discovering their father was Magneto in Avengers 185. This actually took place in the first Vision and Scarlet Witch mini-series.

- In the entry on Count Nefaria for 1965, it describes him as “the most powerful crimelord on Earth”, with super-strength, speed, invulnerability, and laser vision – yet he did not receive those powers until 1977.

- In the description of Gwen Stacy’s death in the 1973 section, it says Spider-Man “managed to swoop down on his webbing and catch her”. In reality, he shot his webline at Gwen, and reeled her back up to the top of the bridge (possibly snapping her neck, but that’s a debate for another post).

- In the 1974 entry on the first appearance of the Punisher, the text states it was in Amazing Spider-Man 130, while the accompanying cover illustration clearly shows it was issue 129.

Karen: I don’t want to harp on this, but if I was able to find these, I am sure there are more. While it may seem nitpicky to some, I would like to be able to use this as a resource, but the lack of accuracy is bothersome. I would say buy it, enjoy it, but realize it may not always be correct in its version of events.

Sharon: A few years ago I bought the Fantastic Four: The Ultimate Guide by the same publisher, DK (Dorling-Kindersley). The FF book is filled with the same sort of obvious mistakes Karen lists. Then some time later I bought DK’s Avengers: The Ultimate Guide —again, really blatant mistakes. Still later on I was about to buy their DC Comics Encyclopedia; I got as far as getting on the checkout line at my local Barnes and Noble, but while waiting on line I flipped through the book. The sheer number of obvious errors was staggering, so I didn’t buy the book. The misinformation was just too maddening. Now, I understand how difficult it is to put such a book together—in fact, our frequent commentator Skydragon has given us his take on the many factors that are involved in producing books of this sort, too--and DK books are by no means the only ones with mistakes, but it’s just that DK’s mistakes are so apparent. So based on my experiences with their books, I’ve adjusted my expectations. In short, the visual appeal of DK’s books is considerable and worth the price of the book (I’m a sucker for comic book art in any venue), but readers should be aware there are likely to be some textual mistakes.

6 comments:

Dan said...

Hi -- just wanted to leave a comment in regard to the DC Comics Encyclopedia. I was one of the contributors to the original and headed up the revised & expanded edition, and want to apologize for the errors and typos that made it into the latter. I'm trying to have as many as possible fixed for future printings, so I'd be happy to receive any input.

I have some more thoughts on the DC Encyclopedia here if you're interested: http://geekosity.blogspot.com/2008/10/dc-comics-encyclopedia-revised-and.html

Sharon said...

Hi, Dan, thanks for the feedback. Your geekosity blog is fascinating!

And on behalf of fanatics like myself who lap up every word ever written about comic books, thanks for producing the DC Comics Encyclopedia in the first place. We realize that composing/compiling such an exhaustive book is a massive undertaking and that mistakes come with the territory. But it's very refreshing to know that you are actively working to improve the book!

You know, I think I'll pick up a copy of the DC Comics Encyclopedia after all. So stay tuned, you may get an email or two from me...

Dan said...

Thanks Sharon! We frankly missed a checking step in the rush process, which kills me since I feel I could have caught many of the mistakes. Please send me any corrections! I'm serious about trying to get as many of them possible fixed for the future.

Doug said...

Dan, thanks from me, as well, for checking in on this issue. I can only imagine the massive undertaking putting out a book like the DC or Marvel Encyclopedias, or the Marvel Chronicle would be.

I understand that there will be some things that slip through the cracks. However, specifically in the case of the Chronicle, some of the errors that Karen cited in the post seem unforgiveable. The pop culture historical references (Spartacus, as mentioned) seem to be things that could just be cut-and-pasted from another resource (credit given, of course) and then double-checked. The errors concerning the first appearance of the Punisher in ASM #129 (or not) -- I cannot fathom. Any comic geek over the age of 12 ought to be able to proofread that.

At any rate, I do appreciate those who are willing to produce these resources. They are wonderful things to have on a shelf. You are to be commended for your interest in furthering comics fandom!

Karen said...

Hi Dan, thanks for stopping by! I think all three of us agree that we enjoy the various DK publications. As my co-bloggers have mentioned, I realize editing such a comprehensive work is no easy task. So I can understand that errors may get through. As a comics fan, I'm always looking for good reference material. But ultimately there's nothing like the primary source. But I do appreciate the efforts of yourself and the other folks who put together these entertaining books. I also appreciate you coming to our blog in a spirit of friendliness - it would have been easy for you to take umbrage with us!

Dan said...

Hi guys -- thanks much for the comments! And it's OK to be critical of these errors. As readers & buyers you deserve an error-free product, and I'll keep doing what I can to steer things toward that ideal. I appreciate the feedback!

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