BOOKS: All of the Marvels: Douglas Wolk

·3 min read

Jun. 4—Douglas Wolk read all of the Marvels then wrote a book called "All of the Marvels."

By all of the Marvels, he's referring to having read all of the Marvel comic books that are interrelated between the introduction of "The Fantastic Four" in 1961 through the company's comics published through roughly 2017. That's approximately 27,000-plus comic books. At roughly a half-million pages, Wolk makes the argument that Marvel Comics has created the "biggest story ever told," according to the book's subtitle.

It's a compelling argument. True, many of the comic books are self-contained adventures, or two- to three- to six-issue story arcs. But each of those issues are and can be interrelated. Some small element introduced as far back as that first issue of "Fantastic Four" 61 years ago can be a story-telling point in an issue of any other Marvel title today. No character or story element is too small, everything has potential for a story in any number of Marvel Comics books — depending on the creativity of the writers and artists.

Wolk established some rules for his journey through all of the Marvel Comics. He excluded some titles such as "Conan the Barbarian," for example, since the character's stories did not relate to the overall Marvel Comics Universe (at least it didn't during the time period of Wolk's experiment; Conan has since been introduced to the rest of the Marvel Universe via mystical time travel and "Savage Avengers").

Yet, Wolk gives full chapters to works such as "Master of Kung Fu," a martial arts comic book that ran from the mid-1970s through mid-1980s. It featured few connections with the Marvel Universe but developed a cult following through the years. While its connections to the rest of the Marvel Universe are tenuous, the chapter explores the handling of race and culture in past comic books, the copyright entanglements of combining Marvel-created characters with characters from other characters whose licensing has since lapsed, and groundbreaking creative work.

He lays out his ground rules for readers then digs into his research and advice. He implores readers not to start at the beginning with "FF" No. 1, not to read specific titles from the first issue all the way through, to not seek only the "big" story arcs without reading some of the "filler" stuff for a given title — how can the "big" stuff have any impact on a reader unfamiliar with the status quo of a character or a title prior to the "big" thing happening? ... He recommends readers jump in anywhere, on any title, at any time, though he gives some recommendations of good starting points in several titles.

Wolk looks at the expected things — chapters devoted to the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the X-Men, for example — as well as the unexpected — the chapter devoted to "Master of Kung Fu," as example again.

"All of the Marvels" is fun to read for long-time fans who may be deeply familiar with some Marvel titles but not others, or who believe they are familiar with all of the titles, or ones who have never picked up a comic, or those who've only seen the Marvel movies but want to know more.

Wolk is welcoming to life-long Marvel "true believers" as well as newcomers.