Did Dark Reign foresee Trump? Was Iron Man about US military might? Who was Unbeatable Squirrel Girl – and was her superpower really non-violent conflict resolution? Only one man knows …

This should not be too hard, I thought, as long as I stay disciplined. All I have to do is read 27,000 comic books, then write about them. I had just signed a contract to write All of the Marvels, a book about reading every superhero story Marvel has published since 1961 as one single gigantic narrative. The Marvel story is omnipresent – its characters are everywhere, in movies, on television, even gracing shampoo bottles and bags of salad – yet also unknowable. It purports to be one big story: any episode can refer to, and be compatible with, any earlier one. But not even the people telling the story have read the whole thing. That’s not how it was meant to be experienced.

I did not, however, read six decades of stories in order. That would have been unbearable – and it is one of the two mistakes Marvel-curious readers often make. It is a surefire route to boredom and frustration as the fun lies in following your whims. The other error is trying to cherrypick the greatest hits, the pivotal single issues. Taken in isolation, these are peaks without mountain ranges. Their dramatic power comes from their context.

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