Marvel comics are the nearest thing modernity has produced to a holy epic, a blockbusting, record-shattering pop-cultural cosmology that echoes our deepest hopes and fears. NYT comics critic Douglas Wolk has read them all. This is what they add up to.
Over the last sixty years, the Marvel superhero comic books have grown into a gigantic mountain in the middle of contemporary culture. They are the longest continuous, self-contained work of fiction ever created: over half a million pages to date - and growing. Thousands of writers and artists have contributed to it. Every schoolchild recognizes its protagonists: Spider-Man, the Avengers, the X-Men. And not even the people telling the story have read the whole thing - nobody's supposed to. So, of course, that's what Douglas Wolk did: he read all 27,000 comics that make up the Marvel universe thus far, from Alpha Flight to Omega the Unknown.
All of the Marvels is a landmark, but ludicrously fun, piece of cultural criticism. Trying to make sense of the ever-expanding mythology, Wolk shows how it reflects a funhouse-mirror history of the past 60 years, from the atomic night-terrors of the Cold War to the technocracy and political divisions of the present day. He observes the Marvel story's progressive visions and its painful stereotypes, its patches of woeful hackwork and stretches of luminous creativity. 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.
Douglas Wolk is the lead graphic novel reviewer for the New York Times Book Review, and has written about graphic novels and comics for Time, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and Print magazine, among others. His writing includes the 2014 comic miniseries Judge Dredd: Mega-City Two, as well as a Kindle Single about comics culture (Comic-Con Strikes Again!). He teaches comics writing at Portland State University, and has moderated panels at most of the major American comics conventions. He has been awarded the Getty/USC Annenberg Arts Journalism Fellowship and a Mid-Career Fellowship with Columbia University's National Arts Journalism Program. He lives in Portland, Oregon.