Avengers: The Ultimate Character Guide

Review by KC Carlson

Clocking in at 208 pages and featuring “more than 200 heroes and villains”, DK’s Avengers: The Ultimate Character Guide crams a lot of characters into its compact size. That may be part of the problem with this book — there’s not enough information for the typical hard-core Marvel fan, not enough useful information for the casual Marvel dipper, and probably too much (and confusing) info for the fan who only knows Marvel from movies and TV. And it’s all presented haphazardly (albeit alphabetically) without needed and appropriate context. Which begs the Ultimate question — just who is this book for?

Avengers: The Ultimate Character Guide cover
Avengers: The Ultimate Character Guide
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Lack of context is a major problem throughout this book. All its subjects are treated identically — heroes listed next to villains, core Avengers listed equally with Initiate try-outs or Great Lakes Avengers or Avengers from other time periods (such as the Two-Gun Kid). There isn’t much information to differentiate one from another. It’s one thing to be told that a character belongs to The Initiative, but what IS the Initiative? You won’t find out here. Nor is there any information about the Avengers organization itself, or its history, or key team line-ups, or even which characters are long-time members as opposed to the ones who were just there for a couple of issues before leaving. And many of the characters who are now supposedly dead aren’t mentioned as such.

Plus, there is the problem of keeping the information in tune with what is going on in the current Marvel Universe. I’m sure that DK’s book is meant to be as generic as possible as far as basic information is concerned, but the ongoing ebb and flow of the ever-changing Marvel Universe makes it difficult to maintain a point of demarcation for up-to-date status. Many characters in the book have been updated to post-Seige status, while others — most notably characters who were killed during Seige, like Ares and Sentry –have not.

Amusingly, a couple characters have two different entries under different names. Clint Barton, who has spent most of his heroic life as Hawkeye, has an entry, updated to reveal that he’s reclaimed the Hawkeye identity post-Seige. But Barton also has another page as Ronin, an identity he took over temporarily when the original disappeared (or was killed, we still don’t know). Instead of giving status on the original Maya Lopez Ronin, the page shows Barton in costume and repeats his basic stats (height, weight, etc.) from the Hawkeye page. Yet somehow the “Power Rank” of the two characters is wildly different — even though they’re the same (unpowered) guy! Barton/Hawkeye ranks 7 for fighting skill and 5 for intelligence, yet Barton/Ronin only ranks 4 for fighting skill and 2 for intelligence. Apparently, the archery expert is a better fighter than the martial arts expert, and Barton is also 3 points dumber as Ronin as he is as Hawkeye (probably for taking on the Ronin identity in the first place).

More egregious is the Captain America entry, which offers up stats for Steve Rogers, who for the last few years has either been a) dead or b) not dead, but appearing in a new costume as Steve Rogers. Meanwhile, the guy who has been (and currently IS) Captain America — Cap’s old partner Bucky Barnes (aka the Winter Soldier) — gets NO stats page for ANY of his three identities.

Speaking of the “Power Rank” feature, does anyone — outside of gamers — even care about such things anymore? Especially in an age where most heroes can actually summon up enough intestinal fortitude to defeat a gaggle of more powerful foes — if he/she really needs to. (Or because the writer says so.) I’m guessing that most superhero writers today don’t check out power grids to choreograph their latest fist-fest. If you go by the stats, the outcome would never be in doubt. So what are these things good for? Settling arguments? Hardly!

Avengers: The Ultimate Character Guide boils down to a collection of pretty pictures of the characters, almost all of recent vintage. If you’re looking for action shots by the original artists who first visualized these characters, you’re out of luck. And of course there’s no actual credits for any of the artists, either. The vital stats are generic in nature (they don’t even bother with First Appearance citations, so you can’t even go looking for yourself) and the skimpy history and “pop-ups” really only give you part of the story.

Obviously designed for younger readers, this is the kind of incomplete guide that would have had me tearing my hair out at age 12, due to all the frustrating inconsistencies. DK had a better Avengers book (Avengers: The Ultimate Guide), but apparently let it go out of print rather than update it. That’s a shame. I wish publishers like DK understood that they need to do a better job with these kinds of info-packed books, which are often out-of-date by the time they actually get to market. The sad fact is today’s 12-year-old can get better, more detailed, and more accurate information about these characters in 20 minutes on the internet than they can from this book.

About the only thing this book is good for is as a “starter” gift from a parent or grandparent who’ve noticed that their child is really into superheroes. It will be treasured for a short time — until the child realizes just how much better material there is available elsewhere (not the least of which is the Official Marvel Handbook material, which is regularly updated). After the child learns this, I fear this book will be quickly discarded. (The publisher provided a review copy.)


One Response to “Avengers: The Ultimate Character Guide”

  1. Grant Says:

    Thanks for the review, entertaining. I’m rather luke warm about a lot of DK comic book stuff. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything in one that I didn’t already know or already read elsewhere ad nauseum.

    Don’t know if anyone remembers the Marvel Index Guides from the 70s? I wish they’d go back to that format. Those were and still are a valuable source of info for researching that I still use to this day. I bought most of them at 7-11 when they first came out, but I wish I had bought them all. You can still find them on Ebay but they’re an arm and a leg.

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