As my brother-in-law and I strolled through Disney Springs he found All of the Marvels and tossed it to me to thumb through. He knows I love comics and thought I may need a impulse buy...I did not. A few days later I was able to borrow a library copy and found something that was not Star Wars The High Republic (am I in a rut) and allowed me to review some of the history of another Disney universe.
Douglas Wolk for All of the Marvels: A Journey to the Ends of the Biggest Story Ever took on a challenge that I still struggle with. I mean, I know how big this task is, and in fact, I mentally think of it as semi-impossible. Wolk read 27,000 plus comics. Now I have read most of Marvel’s run for a few years in trades from the library. But the idea of decades and decades of reading is flabbergasting to me. Yes, he does call out the restrictions he gave himself so he could focus on the Marvel throughline. But honestly, it’s more comics than I can comprehend.
The journey of the history of Marvel comics is really broken into two essay sets. The long essays deal with major Marvel characters or themes. These essays include topics like the X-Men, Thor, and Black Panther. There are also shorter essays or interludes that cover more obscure topics like presidents in Marvel, music, and Linda Carter also known as Night Nurse. Wolk uses specific comics as milestones in his essays. He lists the title and date and then summarizes it. Then he jumps to another title, usually with a gap between issues, and explains how they all together make one large story. Sometimes, he even goes backward.
The good news for me as a reader is I am highly familiar with almost all of these titles. So the essays have a structure that I know, understand, and sometimes add my own commentary. But, the essays are also really recaps too of the stories. So I would suggest one not look for a deep-dive literary essay in every summary. What Wolk does is show how “it’s all connected” as a Marvel fan would say. But it does not deeply go into every major turn with full literary dissection. If one really does not want to read recaps, this may not be the book for you.
For me, one of the best points that Wolk makes about the Marvel story is that the main theme is a romance comic. And that is why Linda Carter is really so important to this tale. Before superheroes, Marvel (under any of its former names) printed all kinds of genres. They could be Western or monsters before superheroes. One of the most important in this history is romance. And this is why Linda Carter, who was a romance title lead and eventually found herself pulled into the chaos of superheroes is so important. Wolk does an excellent job of showing how romance titles evolved into the Marvel universe we enjoy today. Peter and Mary Jane…Reed and Sue…there are so many romances among our superheroes and it is a theme that’s been in place since the beginning.
All of the Marvels: A Journey to the Ends of the Biggest Story Ever by Douglas Wolk is a Herculean effort, and I’m not talking about the superhero version. It is just so many comics to read in a reasonable amount of time, says a guy who reads a lot of comics. I applaud the effort and am glad that I read it. I just wonder if it may be too recapping or too inside the panel for comics novices.
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