REVIEW: ‘King in Black Handbook,’ Issue #1

Reading Time: 4 minutes

King in Black Handbook #1

King in Black Handbook #1 is an encyclopedia-style comic by Marvel Comics. The head writers and coordinators are Mike O’Sullivan and Carl Farmer, with Farmer also providing image refurbishment, with several other writers involved.

Marvel handbooks have existed for decades, providing informative fact files on the many characters seen within the comics. There are multiple editions containing biographical and power details regarding both major and minor figures that have appeared. This version focuses specifically on the King in Black event, a crossover centered around Symbiotes and the god of Symbiotes, Knull. Within these pages are entries on many of the Symbiotic characters within the Marvel Universe, explaining who they are and what they do.

The choice of characters is varied, but with a specific remit. All of them have been the host for a symbiote at some point. The only objections to the rule are abstract entities or gods themselves. There are those that are more well-known to fans, such as Venom and Carnage. But there are also those that have not been seen in comics for a long time, such as Wraith, a symbiotic mercenary from Annihilation: Conquest. There are also items and aspects to King in Black that are given more explanation than is in the actual dialogue of the crossover. Even if the reader believes they know everything there is to know about these characters, they may still find themselves learning more or gaining hints on what to read after King in Black.

The contents of the entries within King in Black Handbook #1 are similar to the web pages seen in the character database on the official Marvel website. There is biographical information, such as real name, height and weight, team affiliations etc. The bulk of each chapter is the history, providing a synopsis of the character’s origin and actions preceding King in Black. Towards the end there is the powers and abilities section, explaining what each object or character is capable of, or what powerful possessions they have in their belongings.

Each piece wraps up with power ratings (strength, intelligence, and other categories) and first appearances. This provides the reader with a comprehensive understanding of each character by the end of the chapter. 

The history synopses are very well-written. Which specific writer filled in each area is unknown, but there are slight differences in each one without standing out. The tone is informative but regales the stories with excitement. The descriptions of what happens are brief but expressive, preventing the reader from getting bored. The entries are very helpful in regards to the connections to King in Black. You can see how long the threads have been unravelling before the crossover even started. There are notes within most pages that point out references and callbacks to characters, with some theories on powers and the effect each symbiote has on each other being mused upon. Other notes clarify differences when there may be confusion, such as if there are characters with similar names.

As with the history segments, the powers and abilities sections are written fantastically. There are very powerful adjectives utilized by the writers, such as “immense” or “nigh-invulnerable”. This results in the explanations feeling less like a dictionary extract, empowering the images that accompany each page. However, some words can be overused, seen repeatedly as the powers are described. 

Whilst the contents of King in Black Handbook #1 are captivating, the layout itself can be confusing. The font of the text is fine, large enough to be readable. But in many pages, the words are presented in three columns travelling down the page. The editors expect the readers to read down one column before progressing to the next one, but the spacing and design of them make that difficult. These columns are huge pillars of text, not broken up into paragraphs. They are too thin and too close together. This forces a jumble of words, difficult for the eyes to process. On other occasions, the text is awkwardly squashed between two images. 

Every page has images of the specific character being profiled. These have been lifted from existing comics. It is great seeing the variety in art styles on display, as well as revealing how long some of these characters have been instilling terror in readers. For figures such as Flash Thompson, this takes readers back to the very first Spider-Man comics in 1962.

Another negative aspect is within the power rating box. Each category is marked out of ten, with coloured symbols indicating each digit. Alongside the red symbols, there are occasionally purple dots for if there is a mitigating factor involved in the rating. For example, certain characters are much more powerful when they are possessed by a symbiote. And for others, they have had multiple alien inhabitants. Flash Thompson has a red mark for his stats as a human, and purple for when he is Anti-Venom. 

The design choice starts to muddy the small box. The symbol used as a digit is a thin-lined spiral, either red or purple. But the white background they are placed on make them difficult to see properly. 

King in Black Handbook #1 could be a useful item for Marvel fans that find themselves needing to know everything they can about the characters that inhabit the comics they read. But it also serves as a useful tie-in to an event that has a lot of backstory and hidden details built up before it. Everything you want to know about Symbiotes and their history is inside these pages. So newer readers may want to pick it up for the insight. The written contents of the comic are descriptive, well-researched, and informative, and the panels contain lovely art. Sadly, the poor layout of the text on certain chambers may be detrimental to the information that is trying to be addressed. 

King in Black Handbook #1 is available now wherever comics are sold.

 


King in Black Handbook #1
2.5

TL;DR

King in Black Handbook #1 could be a useful item for Marvel fans that find themselves needing to know everything they can about the characters that inhabit the comics they read. But it also serves as a useful tie-in to an event that has a lot of backstory and hidden details built up before it. Everything you want to know about Symbiotes and their history is inside these pages. So newer readers may want to pick it up for the insight.