Jim Shooter, Marvel's then Editor in Chief, initially came up with the idea for this project, envisioning a guide detailing statistics much in the manner of those found upon the backs of baseball cards. This initial project was to be called The Marvel Super-Specifications Handbook. He appointed Mark Gruenwald editor of the project, and in Gruenwald's hands the project gained its published name and also grew in scope to cover all aspects of the Marvel Universe, although Gruenwald himself noted it was not comprehensive.
The OHOTMU detailed the more significant characters, items and locations in the Marvel Universe, itemizing them into individual entries. Individual entries consisted, in most cases, of:
* A frontal full-body view of the character. These illustrations were drawn solely for the OHOTMU, often by the artist most closely associated with the character; for example, the original entries for Elektra and Bullseye were illustrated by Frank Miller.
* Prose text describing the character's origin, powers, and other abilities and unique traits, as well as 'statistics' such as place of birth, former aliases, height, weight, hair and eye color and so forth. The original edition opted only to describe the "Origins" of characters (how they acquired their powers), instead focusing heavily on detailed explanations for how those powers functioned. In its Book of the Dead supplement, however, the handbook provided entire "Histories" for the deceased characers, a trend which was then adopted for the main body of the Deluxe Edition, allowing the entire life and career of the characters to be covered. In a few cases, the Handbook even included previously unrevealed information. In addition, major important pieces of equipment were given technical illustrations with breakdowns of their functions and features.
* Example pictures of the character in action, taken directly from the comics themselves.
There have been many iterations of the OHOTMU concept since it was first launched in 1982, this torrent features:
Volume 4, 2004-2005: Marvel has been releasing individual one-shot OHOTMUs that supplement the Marvel Encyclopedia, which target specific families of characters, beginning with Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe: X-Men 2004. Other entries in this themed, subtitled series include Spider-Man 2004, Avengers 2004, Hulk 2004, Daredevil 2004, Wolverine 2004, Golden Age 2004, Women of Marvel 2005 and Avengers 2005. One Handbook a month is planned through 2005.
Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe - Alternate Universes 2005.cbr
Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe - Avengers 2005.cbr
Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe - Fantastic Four 2005.cbr
Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe - Horror 2005.cbr
Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe - Marvel Knights 2005.cbr
Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe - Spider-Man 2005.cbr
Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe - Teams 2005.cbr
Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe - Women of Marvel 2005.cbr
Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe - X-Men - AOA 2005.cbr
Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe - X-Men 2005.cbr
Official Handbook of the Ultimate Marvel Universe - Spider-Man & Fantastic Four.cbr
Official Handbook of the Ultimate Marvel Universe - The Ultimates & X-Men 2005.cbr