Field Trip! Marvel: A Universe of Superheroes Exhibit at MoPop
With the continued dominance of Marvel Studios at the cinemas, as well as the ever-increasing weight of the House of Mouse behind them, I’ll be honest something like this didn’t come up sooner.
Still, the above statement is a bit unfair…as it implies that the Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes exhibit now at the Museum of Popular Culture (MoPop) in Seattle deals strictly with the MCU and that’s not entirely the case. Sure, there are plenty of costumes and props from the aforementioned films, but those serve only as part of the experience. I was surprised to find that there were also costumes and props from films outside the MCU, such as Sony’s earlier Spider-Man films. What makes this a must-see for comic book fans, no matter if you’re a Marvel zombie or a DC fanatic, is the fact that this exhibit also covers the (Marvel) history of comics as well as at least some idea of how comics themselves are produced. Also, for the young and young-at-heart, there are ‘larger than life’ hero statues that make for great photo ops…selfie or otherwise.
So let’s talk about the history bit first, since that’s actually what you’ll start the exhibit with. You’ll actually see a copy of Marvel Comics issue #1…the first appearance of Namor the Sub-Mariner and the Human Torch (not the Johnny Storm version) as well as how Timely Comics evolved into the Marvel that everyone knows now. Obviously, Stan Lee is well represented…duh…but thankfully Jack Kirby is acknowledged as well. It’s at this point that it’s well worth pointing out the original artwork that is on display within the exhibit. While there are contributions from artists throughout the company’s history, the high-point for any longtime comics fan is to see original comic pages from the legends of the industry: Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, John Romita, John Buscema…as well as more modern masters such as Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee, Whilce Portacio and Mike Allred. One thing to note about this original artwork is some of the cover art on display. You’ll see the cut-outs used for the comic’s title as well as any call-outs or blurbs…it’s really kinda cool to see.
Of course, as mentioned in the opening, the Marvel films are well represented…not only with respect to props and costumes, but also with concept art and storyboards. Some of the biggest surprises here were artifacts from non-MCU films…such as some costumes from Blade and a Green Goblin mask from Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man. Also worth mentioning is the fact that there are costumes there from the Marvel Netflix series as well as ABC’s Agents of Shield. The biggest surprise, for me at least, was saved for last…literally. Just as you’re leaving the exhibit, there’s a lounge with comics where you can sit and read and it is there that they actually have displayed the old Captain America costume from the old 70s TV movies starring Reb Brown. While I would have liked low-budget Marvel films to have been represented a bit more, this little tip of the cap to their humble cinematic beginnings was certainly appreciated.
To provide a bit of a road map, once you get out of the history section, you’ll find yourself starting off just as the Marvel Universe in the comics did…with the Fantastic Four. That dovetails quickly into Black Panther (having been introduced in the pages of the FF). Spidey is up next, followed by the Avengers. With Infinity War out for all to see now, the Avengers serve as a bridge into the cosmic realm of Marvel with a focus on Thanos and the Guardians of the Galaxy. Next up we have the X-Men section before entering what I felt was both the most disappointing yet coolest section of the exhibit, the Doctor Strange portion. While there isn’t much in this particular section, hence the disappointment, the display itself was amazing and more than effectively carried a mystic vibe. This segues into what has been known as the Marvel Knights…the street-level heroes that are the main focus of the Netflix series, such as Daredevil and Jessica Jones…but Ghost Rider is also represented here due to his appearance in ABC’s Agents of SHIELD. Lastly, there’s a look at the early days of Marvel fandom…with both fanzines as well as early publications from Marvel’s official fan club, FOOM or Friends of ol’ Marvel. This serves partially as history but also as a benchmark showing how far into the mainstream comics fandom has become. It was like looking back through a window into my own fandom. Sure, I wasn’t even born when FOOM was around…but I was given a bunch of Marvel comics from around that time so I had some insight. But to see fandom grow from something that was hidden or spoken of only in hushed tones so as not to invite bullying to now where nearly anyone and everyone is wearing some sort of logo, either Marvel or DC…A-list character or D-list…is something truly amazing. I mean, hell, this whole thing is about WALKING THROUGH A MUSEUM EXHIBIT DEVOTED TO COMICS! If that’s not mainstream…I don’t know what is.
I went into this exhibit in sort of expecting a classic Disney cash-grab with the Marvel Cinematic Universe being put front and center…and I was instantly impressed that when you walk in, it’s the publishing side’s history that greets you. And while the MCU is CERTAINLY represented and, especially in the Avengers section, can definitely seem like the emphasis, the attention to the publishing side…showing the original artwork and scripts and giving some insight as to how comics are actually made…helps to make this exhibit a far richer experience for any comics fan…not just people who were introduced to this hobby through the House of Mouse’s bombardment. Marvel’s Universe of Super Heroes exhibit serves as a fantastic window into not only the popular films, but the origin and the core of comic book culture and the heroes spawned from it. If you’re in the Seattle area or have plans to visit, you’ll definitely want to check this out. The exhibit is currently open and will remain at the MoPop until January 6, 2019.