Synopses & Reviews
The first-ever full reckoning with Marvel Comics’ interconnected, half-million-page story, a revelatory guide to the “epic of epics” — and to the past sixty years of American culture — from a beloved authority on the subject who read all 27,000+ Marvel superhero comics and lived to tell the tale
The superhero comic books that Marvel Comics has published since 1961 are, as Douglas Wolk notes, the longest continuous, self-contained work of fiction ever created: over half a million pages to date, and still growing. The Marvel story is a gigantic mountain smack in the middle of contemporary culture. Thousands of writers and artists have contributed to it. Everyone recognizes its protagonists: Spider-Man, the Avengers, the X-Men. Eighteen of the hundred highest-grossing movies of all time are based on parts of it. Yet not even the people telling the story have read the whole thing — nobody’s supposed to. So, of course, that’s what 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 whole, and seeing through it, as a prism through which to view the landscape of American culture. In Wolk’s hands, the mammoth Marvel narrative becomes a fun-house-mirror history of the past sixty 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, this 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 it all feeds 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.
“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... Comics fans will be riveted.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“What sounds like a madman’s quest turns out to be a deeply emotional hero’s journey. The best work yet from the best writer about the medium of comics.” Brian K. Vaughan (Saga)
“Thorough, fascinating and joyfully executed, All of the Marvels is essential reading for fans and scholars alike. A magisterial work of pop culture research.” G. Willow Wilson, author of Ms. Marvel
“Some of us are haunted by the memory of a childhood glimpse of some vast evocative dream; others exasperated by the slick iconography that has taken over our screens, wallets, and eyeballs. If you’re like me, it’s both. For all of us, Douglas Wolk’s naked dive into the Marvel source code is a revelation, a tour both electrifying in its weird charisma, and replenishing in its loving specificity. As an account of how a motley gang of accidental collaborators created a vernacular mythology out of the dodgiest of commercial occasions, it’s also a testament, and a tribute. Like Greil Marcus in Mystery Train or Manny Farber in Negative Space, Wolk pushes aside paraphrase to free up an encounter with what’s been there all along, homegrown art.” Jonathan Lethem
“Wolk hasn’t just read the entire Marvel catalog — an extraordinary feat all on its own — he’s managed to extract thematic and narrative threads from the the longest running continuous narrative in human history and to identify key pillars upon which to build his exploration of what the Marvel universe is, and what’s so damn interesting about it. No prior knowledge or familiarity with Marvel (or comics, even!) is expected or required, which means this is it, the book we’ve been waiting for, the long-desired guidebook for newcomers and lifelong fans alike. If someone is curious about getting into Marvel comics and doesn’t know where to start? Start here.” Kelly Sue DeConnick (Captain Marvel, Avengers Assemble)
About the Author
Douglas Wolk is the author of the Eisner Award–winning Reading Comics and the host of the podcast 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, Los Angeles Times, The Believer, Slate, and Pitchfork. He lives in Portland, Oregon.