More answers to your questions:
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“What were your opinions on the Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe/Who’s Who series?”
I loved ’em. I liked the comic book versions more than the looseleaf/three-ring-binder versions, though the latter made more sense, being more forward-thinking in ease of updating by just swapping out old pages for new. Maybe I just liked the comics better because I didn’t have to sort out the pages and put them into binders in the proper order.
But yes, I enjoyed them quite a bit, particularly when I was younger and not as knowledgeable about all the characters from throughout the respective histories of the two publishers. I even appreciated the different approaches each company took, with Marvel’s encyclopedic entries being far more detailed, even down to exactly how many tons each character with super-strength could lift, whereas DC’s tended to be a little more loose with nailing down character stats and histories.
DC moved away from their “Who’s Who” series, sort of morphing them into the Secret Files special issues that focused on one franchise/character at a time, and I think some annuals had Who’s Who pages included, maybe? Marvel goes back to their “Marvel Universe” format once in a while, though the most recent-ish ones have been character/theme-focused one-shots. One even just came out about a month ago, focusing on Marvel’s post-Secret Wars status.
Nowadays, with reboots and rebirths and restarts and reruns, trying to do the same kind of encyclopedic maxi-series overview of all your characters is a chump’s game, with likely two or three line-wide relaunches occurring during the course of that run. I know that DC has had some mass-market hardcovers in recent years, with big pictures and light, mostly continuity-free descriptions of their characters, and Marvel has a series of volumes going into a little more detail with their own line of heroes and villains.
The best solution to keeping any kind of listing like this current would be putting it online, which Marvel and DC already kind of do, and of course Wikipedia does do. That would certainly allow the space necessary to explain, say, the differences with post-Flashpoint, New 52 versions of characters that you’d need to do in 6-point type on a printed page to get everything squeezed in there.
But it just wouldn’t be the same as getting your copy of The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe and spending forever plowing through the walls of text inside. You certainly got your money’s worth. Plus, there were those great diagrams of vehicles and weaponry by Eliot R. Brown, which were fascinating to look at and almost made you believe, for just a moment, “well, yeah, that’s exactly how Doctor Octopus’s arms would work.”
By the way, in 1982/early ’83 I was trying to track down one of the early issues of Marvel Universe that might have still been on newsstand racks in the area, when I ran into a schoolmate of mine. After learning what I was up to, he said “hey, why not try Ralph’s Comic Corner up in Ventura, they probably have it.” I’d not known about the shop ’til that moment, and in a way that little encounter with a school buddy may have put me on course to being where I am now…trying to figure out how many copies of Aquaman: Rebirth #1 to order for my shop.