Now in its fourth “phase,” the Marvel Cinematic Universe spans upwards of 70 hours of films and television shows. It’s an enormous franchise — but it’s tiny compared to the totality of Marvel Comics itself, whose literary universe of superheroes has been in continuous publication since the early 1960s. All told, the company’s epic story stretches across more than 27,000 individual issues — with new installments coming out each and every Wednesday.

Marvel’s story was never intended to be read in its entirety, and at this point it’s so long and so large that consuming and comprehending all of it sounds like an impossible undertaking. But that’s exactly what author and comics historian Douglas Wolk set out to do. Over the course of five years, he read every Marvel comic ever made, then turned what he discovered into his latest book, All of the Marvels: A Journey to the Ends of the Biggest Story Ever Told. 

It’s a fascinating chronicle of a truly quixotic undertaking. Wolk’s book works as both an entertaining introduction to the big picture of Marvel’s story, and as a deep dive into some of its strangest corners. (There’s a very amusing chapter that argues, not entirely jokingly, that rather than Spider-Man or Captain America it’s actually Linda Carter — AKA Night Nurse — who may be the main character of the Marvel Universe.)

Even before Wolk burdened himself with this Galactus-sized project, he was already one of our great comics critics. (His previous effort, Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean, is one of the most engaging books ever written on the subject.) As a fan of Marvel (and of masochistic quests like this one) I wanted to talk to him about why he tackled this assignment, and what he learned from all those hundreds of hours spent thumbing through back issues of Darkhawk and Master of Kung Fu.

Here are some of the biggest revelations he shared from our conversation. And before you ask: No, he has no plans to repeat All of the Marvels for DC Comics. (“I’ve got my eyesight to consider,” Wolk quips.)

What One Man Learned Reading All 27,000 Marvel Comics

All of the Marvels is on sale now.

Every Marvel Movie Ever Made, Ranked From Worst to First

From the Captain America serial to Spider-Man: No Way Home, we ranked the entire history of Marvel at the movies.

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