... [a] brilliant, eccentric, moving and wholly wonderful attempt to distill it all into a coherent narrative ... If you grew up on Marvel comics like I did, All of the Marvels will be a gift. If your relationship with the monthly books is at best spotty — if, for example, you can’t tell your Heralds of Galactus from your Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, or your Jack Kirby from your Steve Ditko — All of the Marvels will be an eye-opener, and Wolk’s learned enthusiasm will have you dropping coin at your local comic book shop before you turn the last page ... A small warning, though: For a book that moves with the kineticism of a Kirby double-page spread, All of the Marvels kicks off on the square side, with Wolk explaining his methodology, laying out which comics he read, and the ones he did not, taking time to address the questions he imagines his readers will have. All necessary, I’m sure, but I won’t lie — the opening few chapters are a bit of a slog, and not at all indicative of what is to come...Trust me: Once Wolk finishes the preliminaries, All of the Marvels rips off its stuffed shirt, and soars ... It’s heady, thrilling stuff, and Wolk proves to be the perfect guide for this type of adventure: nimble, learned, funny and sincere ... impossibly invaluable. Wolk illuminates much that is important about our strange mutant Marvel century, proving, to borrow from Claude Lévi-Strauss, that Marvel is not only good to think with but also perhaps, in our culture, essential ... magnificently marvelous. Wolk’s work will invite many more alliterative superlatives. It deserves them all.
Rather than take a linear approach, listing who appeared when and what everyone was up to, chapters follow individual characters through time ... Wolk succeeds in a fascinating pop culture journey ... Wolk gets a tad carried away ... Still, when you’ve been brought up on the words of legendary Marvel architect and hype merchant Stan Lee, it’s forgiveable. Wolk is a knowledgeable, generous guide, lighting the potentially more confusing corners of the Marvel Universe with enthusiasm, humour and humility ... Existing comic fans will get the most out of All of the Marvels – the trivia-laden footnotes are almost a book in themselves – but if you’re at all curious about how Spider-Man and his amazing friends spent the last 60 years and why so many of us love them, this is the handbook you need.
This isn’t any kind of definitive atlas, this is a hiking map. Wolk to his credit says as much throughout, maintaining from the beginning that it’s not really designed to be exhaustive - he calls it a 'strange, looping route' designed to lead past numerous trailheads ... this is no full reckoning and it does the book a disservice to heap such a plutonium laurel upon its brow ... It is at times a frustrating read. If you already know the territory it can be maddening. It wasn’t just that I disagreed with some of Wolk’s interpretations of stories - I mean, that’s natural, to be expected, not yet a crime. I don’t grade down for having different opinions than me, no. But I had difficulty getting my arms around what Wolk’s idea of Marvel actually is - it occurred to me maybe I’m just too close to the subject to be satisfied with any organizational shorthand other than my own ... He gets the most important stuff right ... When you agree with someone on the big questions in life, it’s easier to overlook the small things. I certainly found no small mound of nits to pick ... I didn’t really want to cut the book apart, really - even though I didn’t agree with some of it, I agreed with some of the rest and thought it represented a noble effort that was by definition merely a small gesture towards something larger. Perhaps a bit enthusiastic. But if we’re being frank I also wasn’t really relishing writing a puff piece. I’m trying to be even handed. It has limitations, it knows those limitations, and it has good humor about it. But still, some of the sections are stronger than others ... Still, as I rounded the corner to the book’s final stretch I found myself distinctly unsatisfied. My qualms at that point could be jumbled roughly into two pots: in the first pot are querulous but benign disagreements of a qualitative nature, in the second organizational puzzles of a quantitative nature.