“CARING about superhero comics will empty your pockets, break your heart, and fill you with red-eyed indignation. They linger over stupidity and violence, and prey on the audience’s emotional identification and sense of incomplete understanding; there is cruelty and unfairness stamped into every page. The whole structure is balanced on a disintegrating pile of flimsy, trivial amusements created for children of the baby boom.”

It is fair, I think, to suggest that the love on display in Douglas Wolk’s recent love letter to Marvel comics, All of the Marvels is not the simpering, overly romantic kind. It can see the motes in the eye, the sometimes gimcrack construction, the hucksterism and hype and, yes, the pure greed that at times lies beneath.

But then, isn’t that true love? When you can see the flaws and still care? Even for a long-lapsed true believer like myself, someone who hasn’t been a religious Marvel reader for decades, there is a huge pleasure to be found in Wolk’s eccentric and enjoyable journey through 27,000 Marvel superhero comics, from The Fantastic Four to The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.

Wolk’s central idea is to examine Marvel comics as a kind of continuous text. “The big Marvel story is a funhouse-mirror history of the past sixty years of American life, from the atomic night-terrors of the Cold War to the technocracy and pluralism of the present day,” he writes near the beginning.

And the more you dip into it the more you get back out, he suggests. “Every little detail of them becomes charged with meaning, another world (which is also a stranger, more vivid version of our own world) is slowly revealed to you – a world of constant spectacle and drama so broad and complicated that its mysteries perpetually unfold over hundreds of pages every week.”

OK, maybe there is just a little simpering here. But the truth is Wolk is having fun here and it communicates.

The result in my case is nostalgia for the teenage Marvelite I was and maybe a challenge for the apostate I have become decades later.

Because the thing that thrilled me in my teens (and we’re talking the late 1970s and early 1980s) – that sense of insiderness that I got from reading Marvel comics (fuelled by the constant crossovers and guest appearances and footnotes) – is now the thing that I find most off-putting.

When it comes to the cinematic Marvel Universe, I am usually to be found nearer the Martin Scorsese end of the spectrum. I watch the films and find them OK at best, mildly amusing mash-ups of goofy humour and often rather tedious CGI effects, all of which requires an investment to the ongoing Marvel narrative that I’m not really interested in making anymore.

I guess it’s the telenovela aspect I can’t be doing with. And yet, back when I read Marvel Comics religiously, that was a huge part of the appeal. The soap operatics (my favourite Marvel panel is still the moment when Peter Parker meets Mary Jane Watson: “Face it tiger … you just hit the jackpot!”) and the never-ending nature of the story.

The high points of the early years of Marvel are where Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (on The Fantastic Four) and Lee and Steve Ditko (and later John Romita) on The Amazing Spider-Man threw one damn thing after another at their heroes to see how they coped. Later, writer Chris Claremont and artists Dave Cockrum and John Byrne did the same with The Uncanny X-Men.

For any Marvel fan of a certain vintage the biggest question about Marvel is how to sum up Lee’s contribution. There has long been a strain of criticism that suggests that, because of the idiosyncrasies of the Marvel method – in which artists were given creative carte blanche – the likes of Kirby and Ditko did all the work and Lee took all the credit.

If there’s some truth in that, it doesn’t recognise Lee’s unique contribution as a writer, something Wolk nails here. At his peak, Lee wrote up to a dozen scripts a month, “with language that bounced and sang and snapped and rattle like it couldn’t get enough of itself.” (Reading that last phrase I thought, ‘Yes, that’s exactly it.”)

Lee was also responsible for much of the self-referential, name-dropping sense of a Marvel community that has now been sustained for 50 years in the comic books and now the movies, something the teenage me found so hugely attractive.

It is, I guess, the Marvel nostalgist in me that enjoyed All of the Marvels so much. Any book that recognises the admittedly problematic brilliance of the greatest of Marvel’s comics The Master of Kung Fu (seriously retooled for this year’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings to do away with the racist “yellow peril” overtones of the original) is always likely to gain my approval.

But the book also argues that there is merit in the insiderness, that embracing the Marvel universe in all it’s mutable (and yet in some ways never-changing) “glory” is the way to get something out of it.

And somewhere in the middle of all this I began to think of my own favourite comic book, Love and Rockets. Because aren’t Gilbert Hernandez’s tales of Palomar and his brother Jaime Hernandez’s ongoing stories tracking the lives of his characters Hopey and Maggie doing exactly the same thing? (Albeit on a much smaller scale and, for the most part, without the involvement of killer robots or radioactive spiders.)

Deep down maybe I remain a true believer after all.

All of the Marvels by Douglas Wolk is published by Profile Books, £20