First let me talk about the good stuff. And the good stuff is good. Someone researched the characters meticulously. We get to see characters not seen for decades. Heroes and Villains of long standing have their histories laid bare. All of their powers and abilities are explained thoroughly and in a way that is easy to understand. Newcomers who knew nothing of the X-Men villain, The Blob, who has been around since 1964, could learn all they ever wanted to know about him in a concise yet complete manner. And given how many characters have years, if not decades, of visual history from which to choose, the official art used to represent them is as iconic as possible, giving a strong first impression to new comers and making the characters easily recognizable to more experienced readers of comics.
I should point out briefly that the book does not cover every single character whose hero, villain, or normal name starts with “B” or “C.” However, the book acknowledges this fact on the front page and tells you where you can find additional biographies.
Now for the major problem with this book, as well as with the other 13 volumes in the “Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe” series. It is not, and cannot be, up to date. Marvel publishes roughly ten comics a week, or about 40 a month, plus mini-series and major events. Each comic adds to the mythos of its characters. Major ones, like Captain America or Cyclops, appear in multiple books a month, so they grow and develop even more. This book is a published text. It can’t change. The most dramatic example I can think of is Captain America’s entry. In January 2007, Captain America was shot and killed. He wasn’t revived until January 2010. That was over two years ago at the time of this writing. He’s done many notable heroic deeds since then. But if you read this book and only this book you’d still believe him dead. Even assuming this book had been fastidiously up to date when it was published in 2011 (it’s not, several entries like the one I just mentioned are ripped word for word from the “Marvel Comics Encyclopedia” published in 2009), it would still be out of date by now. The character Colossus underwent a major change this past September. Marvel is currently heavily promoting its upcoming “Avengers vs X-Men” event that will run from April until December of this year, and which will no doubt involve many changes and developments to existing characters. This book will not reflect that. So save your money and look the characters up on the Marvel Wiki. All the history is there and it is up to date.
Given the clinical and informative nature of the book, it’s suitable for all ages, although some younger children may not understand all the words.