“A royal blast from start to finish” – All of the Marvels by Douglas Wolk

IMG_22Sep2021at085626I can’t tell you how much fun I had reading this book. First, a simple description. This is a book about a man who read something in the region of 27,000 Marvel comics, starting with Fantastic Four #1 from 1961 and ending with Marvel Legacy #1 in 2017. In some respects that will give you all you need to know whether you are interested in reading this book or not. If you’re not into comics, you need not tarry here. If, on the other hand, however, you experienced that rare flush of giddiness as a kid when you saw a comic (quite possibly an out of sequence comic, it being quite hard to follow comics when I was a kid, you were utterly reliant on (a) what your local newsagent stocked and (b) whether somebody pipped you to the post and got there before you), and bought a comic and read a comic and thrilled, as I did, to the latest exploits of Spider-Man or Daredevil or The Hulk, then quite possibly this is very much for you, as it was for me.

When I started reading All of the Marvels, I had a twin impression in my mind of what this book could be. Either (I thought) it will be a gallop through narratives (here is a chapter on everything that has happened to Spider-Man, here is a chapter on everything that has happened to Thor, etc) or it will be more memoir-like (this is what happens to your life when you attempt to read 27,000 comics) – either of which, it should be said, would have been fine with me. All of the Marvels is closer to the former than the latter, but it’s also something else too (as well / instead): if you imagine Wolk to be a tour guide within a city you’ve only visited briefly a handful of times in the past (a city you possibly kid yourself you’re familiar with), and you have a seat on the coach that is this book and he takes you to various locations of interest. Along the way, you’ll want to stop and get off and explore (and he’s all for that) but you’ll also want more.

What do I mean? Well, you get that aforementioned chapter about everything Spidey. Which is great. I read Spider-Man as a kid, as I said, but I haven’t read editions or trade collections for decades. A lot of water under that bridge, let me tell you. You also get chapters on the Fantastic Four (which serve to remind you of how dysfunctional the Marvel cinematic universe is, currently lacking a place for them although maybe the reiteration that is being hinted at will finally get them right), X-Men (one of the most popular comic books of all time), Thor, Black Panther, Ms Marvel and Squirrel Girl. There are also chapters on event comics (so you get brought up to speed with the likes of Dark Reign and Jonathan Hickman’s colossal end to all things Marvel which ran between 2012 and 2016 – I say colossal end but of course it isn’t and wasn’t because these things don’t end do they?) as well as interludes on everything from Stan Lee, Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby, to monsters and Presidents and Linda Carter (the secret lynchpin of the Marvel universe).

Now, it may be, you read the above as I read the book, glancing slightly ahead looking for your favourites. Not all of your favourites are here (in my case, no Daredevil). Some of the omissions may seem odd (no Captain America, no Iron Man, no Hulk?). I would certainly read Wolk on all of the above (and hope this book sells enough to either warrant a volume 2 or an extended 1,000 remastered version of this book – I’d read it!). Some of the chapters feel like sops to the Marvel cinematic universe (there’s a chapter on Shang-Chi, for instance, the most recent Marvel cinematic outing at the time of writing this, which Wolk justifies by saying that the relatively shortlived Master of Kung Fu series which ran between 1973-83 counts as one of his ‘hidden gems’) – but even then it’s interesting to read more about a comic I knew next to nothing about.

The best thing about All of the Marvels, though, is all of the little brain fireworks. It’s a book full of brain fireworks. Tiny moments in which my brain flared with some new nugget of information I had not known before. Things like: Wilson Fisk is Mayor of New York and Daredevil is his Deputy?! When did that happen?! Things like: how did I miss the son of Reed Richards and Susan Storm becoming such a gigantic thing? Things like: who was it that did for the Watcher? All the way through this book, there are flares like these. How could it be otherwise? There are at least a half dozen new comics emerging every single month. I would say there was probably a six or seven year window when I read super hero comics as a kid. Since then they have existed in a glowing, nostalgic bit of amber, fondly remembered, rarely revisited.

Does All of the Marvels make me want to read 27,000 comic books? No. Does it make me want to dip my toe into the waters of comics I’ve never tried (Thunderhearts, Runaways, more Daredevil, more Spider-Man, Ms Marvel, even Squirrel Girl, for Pete’s sake)? Yes. Am I glad I read All of the Marvels, did it bring me joy? Yes and yes. Bucketloads. Will this book happily sit on my shelf and will I go back to it because it is a source of joy? Yes. Do I wish this joy on you? Of course I do. No doubt you won’t agree with Wolk on everything (he doesn’t rate the first Secret Wars whereas I remember it as a thrill-ride!) but I’ll be surprised if you don’t find something here to amuse, distract and entertain you.

Any Cop?: A royal blast from start to finish.

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