Hidden Universe Travel Guides: The Complete Marvel Cosmos by Marc Sumerak
Imagine a mash-up of Lonely Planet and Fodors written by a group of snarky been-there-done-that travelers and you’ve pretty much got Hidden Universe Travel Guides: The Complete Marvel Cosmos. As the title says, it’s a travel guide to the many settings of the Marvel Universe (sometimes the settings are a universe), with a jaunty-voiced narrator whose more formal guidebook descriptions are constantly interrupted by the less-formal commentary of the Guardians of the Galaxy. It all makes for a fast-paced, mildly informative, and often funny trip through the many, many worlds, islands, moons, dimensions, empires, planets, universes, and pocket universes of the Marvel “Ominiverse.”
The guide is organized into the “Known Universe” and the “Alternate Universes.” The former covers twelve major settings, including The Kree and Shi’ar Empires, Planet Moord, Chitauri Prime (whence the bad guys in Avengers I came from), Titan (home to another bad guy—Thanos), Knowhere (home base for the Guardians), and Earth. Our planet is itself divided into another near-dozen separate destinations. Among them are Wakanda, The Savage Land, NYC, Atlantis, Monster Isle, and Counter-Earth. The Alternate Universes section begins with the ten realms of Asgard, then goes on to tour another eleven places, including Battlerealm, Otherworld, Limbo, the Negative and Neutral Zones, and the Superflow.
Most of these I recognized from both my long-ago days of voracious comic reading and my more current movie-going habits, but a few were brand new to me, such as Weirdworld, Cancerverse, and Halfworld. As such, my reaction to the base facts of the place ranged from fond reminiscing to going, “Where did that come from and which superheroes came from/traveled to there?”
The guide really does read like a guide book, with each 2-3 page setting description divided up into mostly the same pithy segments (not all entries appear in each description, and the mix is somewhat varied past a core group of six or seven):
Who lives there
History and Culture
Etiquette (no, really)
What to Wear
Dining and Nightlife
Sights and Activities
Shopping and Entertainment (again, no really)
Tips for a Fun Trip
Did You Know (aka “fun facts”)
Almost every page is illustrated, and there are several full-page illustrations sprinkled throughout the book’s 162 pages.
As noted the descriptions are factual and informative (though obviously without going into great depth or detail) and more than a little whimsical in tone. For instance, after describing the famed M’kraan Crystal of Shi’ar—a “nexus of all realities . . . that if damaged could create a black hole that consumes all of existence,” our narrator dryly adds, “Souvenir replicas are available at the gift shop in the lobby.” Later, the Getting Around section for Planet Moord reads simply, “Run. Hide. Then run some more.”
Meanwhile, the humor and snark level is ratcheted up even further by the constant interruptions of Quill and the gang. I admit that at first I found the frequency to be a little irksome, and I do wish they’d been cut back a little (Groot’s could be “pruned”). But really, they’re so much fun and hit their mark more often than not, so this was a minor complaint at best. I laughed out loud more than a few times and chuckled through most of the others. Quill is his usual charming self-referential, pop culture obsessed self (he makes a “Space. The Final Frontier” reference for instance), Drax’s comments tend to center on his desire to visit the places with the most fighting and risk (not to mention drinking), Gamora is more sharply witty, and Rocket is, well, you know how Rocket is. Groot’s interruptions of course all take the form of “I am Groot,” but as usual Rocket is there to translate for us.
Marvel isn’t afraid to poke fun at itself in these moments, as when the memorial to Captain Marvel is described in the Titan section. The narrator notes the burial site “can still be visited by those wishing to pay their respects,” to which Rocket says, “Or you can just wait ‘til he comes back to life. Again.”
I wouldn’t have minded a bit more detailed info now and then, sometimes the “travel guide” language was a little predictable or mundane, not all the jokes hit, and I thought the artwork could have been upped a bit—not a lot of stunning images though the potential was there. But these were all just minor quibbles barely noted or noted just in passing while I paused between smiles or laughs. There’s enough information here to serve as a useful reference to Marvel’s various settings and large-scale players, such as the Kree or Thanos, our narrator has a smooth, engaging voice, and it’s just a lot of fun to sit back and listen to the Guardians do their shtick. “Fun” is the key word here, and isn’t that what vacations/trip are for? Making this the perfect guide.