... [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.
Mr. Wolk is quick to point out that his book is not a syllabus—one of the many charms of this highly enjoyable volume is its spirit of inclusivity: He is against the idea of Marvel as the special province of some grizzled, in-the-know crowd who have followed Marvel stories for most of their lives (a crowd that includes Mr. Wolk himself, who worked in a comic-book shop in the mid-1980s) ... He tells readers, 'Skip around! Trust your taste!' His book is helpful for doing just that, with most chapters citing specific issues of magazines, complete with their publication dates and the names of artists and writers, as jumping-off points to reflect on developments in the series ... Mr. Wolk brings to his task insight, humor and a deep love of Marvel that does not blind him to the occasional inanity.
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.
... the book bears the alluring scent of the completionist, someone who reached the end ... Critically, Wolk doesn’t log all 27,000-plus comics that compose the publisher’s lumbering megatext, but cherry-picks a series of through lines he sequences with a conversational, entertaining voice and casually whip-smart analysis ... Wolk knows which comics have touched on his own idiosyncrasies—and when Marvel’s mirror version of the world, Earth-616, rotates with surprising relevance around our ailing planet at large. Naturally, his issues are different from mine. I can’t say I care enough about hammer-wielding Thor to enjoy a couple dozen pages and ample footnotes about his exploits, and I wish Wolk had given more space to Daredevil ... We never lose sight of Wolk’s own authorship, one of the reasons he can weave together a series of curated, argumentative plot summaries over almost 400 pages. A writer with less control would put us to sleep ... The book incorporates some exemplary Marvel panels, but these are irritatingly too small to read without a magnifying glass. And Wolk’s sensibility falls short in its examination of Marvel as a business ... Let Wolk’s deserving text be more than free marketing material for a corporation ... Buy it for the critical thinker who uses alternative worlds and fantastical allegories as a lens of analysis, so they can pick apart a failed utopia made in the image of our own.
... so busy exploring the tunnels and byways in his great pile of Marvel comics that he sometimes forgets other genres and ideas exist ... Before delving into those limitations, it’s worth acknowledging what is both a useful document and a worthy folly. Wolf has embarked on a fun stunt and written a fun book. He doesn’t try to start at the beginning and explain everything. Instead, he picks up strands here and there, using each chapter to pick up particular characters or series or issues and explain how a knowledge of the whole can enrich an understanding of the parts. The result is less a grand narrative than a hodgepodge of entertaining listicles — and a buyer’s guide ... largely a newbies’ guide ... The problem is that Wolk doesn’t just praise individual comics or series. He insists that the entire edifice of Marvel publishing is a singular aesthetic triumph ... his context is Marvel and only Marvel. His stance might be provocative if Marvel were a niche interest, a fresh lens through which to view culture or society ... It doesn’t help that Wolk’s evidence for the unique vastness of the oeuvre is not especially persuasive ... We are already just about buried in all of the marvels. Wolk’s solution is to praise the mountain that buries us. If you are looking for help in clawing your way to the surface, you’ll need to read something else.
Comics and music critic Wolk brings an insightful and affectionate eye to this cultural behemoth as he catalogs the long and winding road Marvel superheroes have followed over the years. Wolk makes no attempt to capture the full breadth and depth of the Marvel comics universe, a task that would be both impossible (for Wolk) and near incomprehensible (for readers). Instead, he dedicates chapters to the superheroes, creative partnerships, events, and idiosyncrasies that have made Marvel what it is, from the familiar (Black Panther, the X-Men) and the justly or unjustly forgotten (Master of Kung-Fu, Linda Carter). The result is an affectionate, lively, charmingly footnoted whistle-stop tour through Marvel Comics that acknowledges the many places where the comics stumble as well as the many where they shine. Wolk is unwavering in his belief that comics are for everyone, and he offers numerous jumping-on points for new readers. Every comics fan needs this book.
... while you might be able to quibble a bit with beginnings and endings, [Wolk's] demarcations are pretty solid; his analysis of the various foci definitely tracks ... Part literary criticism, part wanton fanboying, part nostalgia trip, All of the Marvels is one fantastic read for anyone who loves comic books. Is it a stunt? Sure is – and a hell of a good one. Just an incredible idea. Spectacular. Mighty. It is smart and funny, rife with sharp analysis and engaging ideas. In short, it treats this body of work with genuine respect – respect it absolutely deserves.
Wolk pulls off an extraordinary feat in this tour-de-force ... His infectious zeal for the Marvel universe shines in his insightful analysis of everything from the genre’s cultural impact and symbolism—examining, for instance, how the X-Men have served as proxies for those ostracized by society—to the saga of the Black Panther’s creation, which spanned years and writers. In Wolk’s thorough handling of his subject, no page is left unturned or character left behind—even the radical Squirrel Girl, who values compassion over violence, gets an honorable mention. Comic fans will be riveted.
The author’s exhaustive and mostly uncritical approach will appeal to those who share his passion for this self-sustaining superhero culture, understanding that in a story as big as Marvel’s, everythingcan be a reference to the past' ... A simultaneously wide-ranging and engagingly specific guide to the sprawling realm of comics culture.