All of the Marvels: A Journey to the Ends of the Biggest Story Ever Told
By Douglas Wolk
(Penguin Press, October 2021)
The superhero comic books that Marvel Comics has published since 1961 are the longest continuous, self-contained work of fiction ever created: over half a million pages to date, and growing. The Marvel story is a gigantic mountain, smack in the middle of contemporary culture. Thousands of writers and artists have contributed to it. Every schoolchild recognizes its protagonists: Spider-Man, the Avengers, the X-Men. 18 of the 100 highest-grossing movies of all time are directly based on parts of it. And not even the people telling the story have read the whole thing – nobody’s supposed to. So, of course, that’s what comics critic Douglas Wolk did: he read all 27,000 comics that make up the Marvel universe thus far, from Alpha Flight to Omega the Unknown.
And then he made sense of it: seeing into the ever-expanding story, in its parts and as a coherent whole, and seeing through it, as a prism through which to view the landscape of popular culture. In Wolk’s hands, the mammoth Marvel narrative becomes a funhouse-mirror history of the past 60 years, from the atomic night-terrors of the Cold War to the technocracy and political division of the present day – a boisterous, tragicomic, magnificently filigreed epic about power and ethics, set in a world transformed by wonders.
As a work of cultural exegesis, All of the Marvels is sneakily significant, even a landmark; it’s also ludicrously fun. Wolk sees fascinating patterns – the rise and fall of particular cultural aspirations, and of the storytelling modes that conveyed them. He observes the Marvel story’s progressive visions and its painful stereotypes, its patches of woeful hackwork and stretches of luminous creativity, and the way they all feed into a potent cosmology that echoes our deepest hopes and fears. This is a huge treat for Marvel fans, but it’s also a revelation for readers who don’t know Doctor Strange from Doctor Doom. Here, truly, are all of the marvels.
“Brilliant, eccentric, moving and wholly wonderful…. All of the Marvels is magnificently marvelous. Wolk’s work will invite many more alliterative superlatives. It deserves them all.”
–The New York Times
“Wolk is a fine writer and raconteur…. For anyone willing to take that step into the inconceivably vast and wonderful world that generations of creators have brought to us, issue by issue, month by month, year by year, All of the Marvels is an indispensable handbook.”
“The way Wolk makes sense of, finds beauty in, and connects all the different stories and details is masterful…. A must-read for all Marvel fans, from devotees to newbies, All of the Marvels is a colorful and heartfelt journey through the Marvel Universe.”
“Wolk pulls off an extraordinary feat in this tour-de-force, distilling over 60 years of Marvel Comics stories into a fascinating guide that will resonate with true believers and neophytes alike.”
–Publisher’s Weekly, starred review
Comics writer, critic, journalist and teacher Douglas Wolk is the author of the Eisner Award-winning Reading Comics and the host of the podcast “The Voice of Latveria.” A National Arts Journalism Program Fellow, Wolk has written about comic books, graphic novels, pop music, and technology for the New York Times, Rolling Stone, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Believer, Slate, and Pitchfork. He lives in Portland, Oregon.