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One man, 27,000 comic books: A journey across the Marvel universe

Multiple editions of various Marvel comic books. Wolk read approximately 27000 issues in his journey to read over half a century of Marvel comics.

East Lansing native Douglas Wolk wears many hats: writer, critic, and most recently, Marvel comic book tour guide.

Douglas Wolk gave himself a daunting task: to read every Marvel comic from 1961 to 2017.

“I read sitting at my desk. I read on treadmills. I read when I was on public transportation. I read when I had my phone with me and could spare a few minutes,” Wolk said. “However I could get away with reading, I read.”

After using virtually every bit of his free time to complete the project, Wolk decided to compile his knowledge into a book. All of the Marvels, out now, takes readers through a tour of the Marvel Universe. In it, Wolk examines the nuances of specific storylines, and summarizes them in a way that is easy for readers to see the bigger picture (without having to read 27,000 comic books).

“I like the idea of being a guide to this enormous, weird territory as somebody who has covered basically every inch of it,” explained Wolk.

Though he did not read every comic book word for word, Wolk’s chronological assessment of the Marvel universe through comic books is a rare approach. However, he explained that this is not what Marvel intended, and his new book helps condense the knowledge for those who can’t undertake the same task.

It was not meant to be read all the way through from the beginning,” said Wolk. “It was always meant to be: follow your taste; pick up what you like; ignore what you don't like. It's all one big story, and it's all connected.”

According to Wolk, Marvel experienced a range of cultural shifts throughout the years - and it’s evident in the comics. From the 1960s and into the past decade, both the creators and the content have become more diverse.

“There is a much, much broader range of the sorts of people who get to be the protagonists of these stories and who get to be the creators of these stories, and that’s two different issues,” said Wolk.

As a 51-year-old heterosexual and cisgender white man, Wolk told us he has no interest in ever reading another comic about a character just like him. Instead, he plans to enjoy Marvel’s new range of diverse comics and continue his passion for reading.

“What I like is reading stuff by people who are in significant ways not a lot like me, and about characters who are in significant ways not a lot like me,” said Wolk. “And there's a lot more of that, and I'm so happy to see it.”

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Anna joined Stateside as an assistant producer in August 2021. She is a recent graduate of Michigan State University's School of Journalism and previously worked for The State News as an intern and student government reporter.