'Marvel Encyclopedia: Updated & Expanded' Makes for an Aesthetically Stunning Visual Experience

This coffee table volume is incredibly beautiful and presented in ways that online searching can’t quite match.

Marvel Encyclopedia: Updated & Expanded

Publisher: DK Adult
Length: 432 pages
Author: Matt Forbeck
Price: $40.00
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2014-03

Above: Marvel's many incarnations of The Amazing Spider-Man

Way back in the year 1983, just a few years before what was then known as Marvel’s 25th Anniversary, the publisher affectionately (and none-too hyperbolically) referred to as “The House of Ideas” released a series of comic book-sized encyclopedic guides to the characters, places and unique items all found within their own fictional continuity. This series, known as The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe (commonly “Marvel Universe” for short) cost about the same as a comic book and was more than a little bit informative for the big time comic book fan out there and provided an excellent reference for that era’s stories in the pre-internet, pre-Wikipedia days. Marvel’s Distinguished Competition soon followed suit with Who's Who in the DC Universe, rounding out the resources for the other half of the “Big Two”.

The issues were traded and loaned out like baseball cards between rabid young (and not-so-young) fans who were hungry to know the histories of their favorite characters. In that I was 12 years old and a Marvel addict during the “Marvel 25th” event when The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Vol. II hit newsstands (back when that was a thing), I should know. Over the years, the Marvel Universe has expanded exponentially and has become much more of a multimedia juggernaut than we ever dreamed during the events of the “Marvel 25th”.

And now, the references have grown beyond the issue by issue Marvel Universes into the big, hardcover, $40, 432 page Marvel Encyclopedia. This most recent edition has just been released in the first quarter of 2014 for what is now being referred to as “Marvel's 75th Anniversary”. For those of you reaching frantically for your calculators and screaming “It just don’t add up!”, don’t worry, Marvel is now counting its age differently now than it did in 1986.

In 1986, Marvel counted from the debut of “Marvel Comics” as a company brand name in the middle of 1961. Now, Marvel is counting from the founding of its predecessor, “Timely Publications”, which launched in 1939 with an ongoing series called Marvel Comics. The jump from the Marvel Universe comic-sized mini-series (published by Marvel Comics) to the big, bulky coffee-table volume (published by DK) also fails to quite add up once the reader gets past the admittedly beautiful cover and glossy interior.

The cover is immediately striking with such Marvel Cinematic Universe juggernauts as Captain America, Thor, Iron Man and The Red Skull crowding for attention. If those Marvel juggernauts weren’t enough, the characters from other Marvel movies are also vying for the spotlight, with Doctor Doom, Mr. Fantastic, The Thing, Magneto, Sabretooth, Venom, Storm and Spider-Man clearly visible on the front cover. And if the hint that DK is using Marvel’s biggest juggernauts to entice potential buyers isn’t quite clear enough, the one remaining Marvel character gracing the front cover happens to be “The Juggernaut”. Subtle.

At first the interior pages of the Marvel Encyclopedia feel like just as much of a “Wow!” as the cover is, with brilliantly colorful, glossy pages that cover just about every Marvel character a rabid fan could possibly want to look up. However, after a few scores of page turns, the Marvel Encyclopedia starts to feel a lot less substantive and a lot less “complete” than a true rabid fan might require. In fact, even compared to the Marvel Universe entries of the '80s, the entries here feel remarkably truncated and less structured.

For one thing, we most assuredly are in the internet age now, and one can obtain a more thorough biography of each character on or even Wikipedia without having to pay the hefty cost for this thick volume. Unlike the previous Marvel Universe issues, these entries aren’t broken down into the orderly sections that are consistent throughout. Secret Identity, base of operations, powers and weapons and, most importantly, creators have all been inconsistently included here. Further, at $40, one must wonder whether the book is quite worth it. Especially considering its cost and size, it’s hard to imagine kids trading and borrowing the Marvel Encyclopedia.

Those shortcomings aside, it's impossible not to note that this coffee table volume is incredibly beautiful and presented in ways that online searching can’t quite match. Though the pictures do skew largely to the modern (with classic illustrations taking a back burner if at all), the pictures that are included are nothing if not eye-catching. Any true Marvel fan would love to have their hands on this book as a gift. New fans should also appreciate the brevity of most of these entries (with more complexity given to the longest-running and most popular characters), especially with the Marvel Movies as backdrops.

This is truly a beautiful book and a thorough reference, though not at all the most thorough version created for this purpose. There is (and will always be) something truly satisfying about holding such big reference books in your hands and flipping through pages to immerse yourself in an impressive universe like this one. Marvel Encyclopedia provides an aesthetically stunning visual experience to go with this guide.

However, when moviegoers see the previews for Guardians of the Galaxy and wonder “Who exactly is Star Lord?” it’s hard to imagine them waiting to go home and open up their luggable Marvel Encyclopedia for the answer as opposed to whipping out the iPhone and taking a quick look. That said… those moviegoers would be missing out on an impressive book.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.

8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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