These books act as an encyclopedia of characters who have died in the Marvel Universe. They are a companion to the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, but for some reason I couldn't get those at my local Wackers drug store or the used book shop that had comics in my town. Just the "Dead" ones.
Each entry has many images of the character along with their stats, history, powers, etc... and of course, the way they died. I loved reading all the stats. You can learn everything you need to know about every obscure character in the Marvel Universe. Which helped turn me into an über-geek and further ostracized me from my friends who were more interested in football.
I'm still amused by reading the "Stength Level" entries for everyone:
But these books also taught me a lot about drawing and writing.
Each entry begins with a full-body shot of the character in costume. As you flip through the pages, you get a variety of ways of drawing super-heroes by practically every artist that worked for Marvel in the '80s. Being a 5th grader in a small town, I didn't have access to life-drawing classes of any kind. But I had these comic books, which became my first lessons in anatomy and drawing while the artists became my silent drawing instructors. I studied how the muscles connected to each other, and how they changed shape with different poses. I learned proportions, shading, expressions, and even a bit of how clothes hang on a body. Marvel Superhero comics are great for a beginner course in anatomy, because the muscles are exaggerated while the drawings are paired down to the essential lines needed to define those anatomical distortions. And the "House of Marvel" style dictated an overall blandness that made many of the artists adhere to more "realistic" style. By the time I started learning real anatomy, I already had a strong foundation of how all the muscles and body parts fit together.
The backstories and stats of each entry made me realize that characters are more than just a costume-design and an alter ego. Good characters, of any kind, need a fully realized history. Not only could a character actually die, but they also had spouses, relatives, friends, hometowns and occupations. Who needs Creative Writing 101?
I learned that Baron Blood is survived by a grand-nephew named Kenneth Chrichton; IT, The Living Collossus had a day-job as a special effects designer; Hyperion II used to be a health club manager; The Living Monolith is a widower; and there is "allegedly" a widow left by the Purple Man:
This got my young mind thinking about how even these heroes and villains, that I'd barely even heard of, had a full life outside of their brief appearances in the comics. I soon began writing long backstories for the hundreds of characters I was inventing in my own sketchbooks:
I loved how the wrap-around cover designs all connect to make one image of a graveyard full of Marvel ghosts. I still think about this when I'm working on the layout for one of my own books.
And finally, these books have the added bonus of giving lessons in bad costume design. The '80s Marvel Universe was in serious need of a Tim Gunn.
(what is with those little bat-wings on his ankles?)
Though, it wasn't long before I was asking my mom for real anatomy books and art lessons, these books were a big part of the beginning of my education as an artist and cartoonist.
Side note- There's something about Hammer and Anvil. Their marital status is "unrevealed." Perhaps if they'd been given the civil right to marry each other, they might not have turned to a life of crime.