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  • Annika Santhanam

Marvel: Universe of Superheroes Exhibit

The most exciting time has arrived for all Marvel fanatics. It’s Marvel’s 80TH Anniversary! This major event perfectly coincides with the release of Avengers: Endgame. So while you’re waiting in line to get your tickets, check out how The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia has decided to celebrate Marvel’s anniversary. The museum has created a brand-new exhibit dedicated entirely to the Marvel universe – Marvel: Universe of Superheroes!

This immersive exhibit at The Franklin Institute opened on April 13th and is on display until September 2nd, 2019. It exhibits more than 300 of the original comics, hand-drawn pages, concept art for the movies, and original costumes with props from all twenty-one MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) movies. It couldn’t be a more appropriate way to celebrate how amazing and beloved the Marvel universe has become for today’s generation and beyond. And lucky for you, here’s a glimpse of this amazing experience.

How It All Began: A Recap of Events

In 1939, Martin Goodman, a publisher of pulp magazines, creates the foundation for Marvel comics. These comics become the first known superhero comics, and with no competition from TV, the internet, or video games, these comics become increasingly popular.

The first Captain America comics are released a year before the United States enters World War II. They become extremely popular throughout the nation because Captain America represents a symbol of hope and victory for World War II. With the threat of Hitler and his army rising, the Captain America comics are just what the country needs to boost morale. The comics also become the first type of American war propaganda. Post war comics take a dark turn with the introduction of horror and crime themes and is not received favorably by concerned parents. By the early 50’s, this controversy becomes utter panic. Comic book burnings are even held around the USA. Due to negative publicity, Goodman sticks to westerns and romance, running a small operation for superhero comics with the help of his nephew, Stanley Lieber, known better to the world as Stan Lee.

The decline of superhero comics in the nation causes Stan to consider quitting his job. However, he is encouraged by his wife to give superhero comic creation one more try. Stan turns to Jack Kirby, an imaginative storyteller best known for his wonderful graphics. Together, they create a new team called The Fantastic Four. This team is a pioneer in the world of comics, introducing a story line in which the members of the team are all family who love each other, fight with each other, but work together in the end to save the world. These new comics help put the human in superhuman and receive more fan mail than any other comic Marvel has published that month. Superhero comics have finally made their grand return.

Stan and Jack create an astounding amount of new Marvel characters over the next year, creating The Incredible Hulk, The Mighty Thor, The Invincible Iron Man, Ant-Man and the Wasp, and the Uncanny X-Men. Stan and an additional artist he hired, Steve Ditko, end up creating what would soon be known as one of the most famous Marvel characters in the business’s history: The Amazing Spiderman!

The summer of 1963 proved to be one of the most important in the history of the Marvel universe. It was then that Stan and Jack came to the realization that they could combine the individual characters to create an entirely new and powerful superhero team: The Avengers.

Marvel comics became a staple in the lives of almost every American. The list of Marvel heroes continues to grow both in amount and in diversity. With the production of the Iron Man movie in 2008, Marvel has now drawn millions of people to comic stores and also to movie theaters. Now, for the very first time, the vast history of the Marvel universe and its amazing superheroes has finally been assimilated in one place.

Touring the Marvel Exhibit

The exhibit at The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia starts off with a welcome video that recounts how the Marvel universe has evolved. The experience spans two floors, with each floor containing its own interactive activities, information, costumes, props, and life-size figures of some of the characters.

As you walk through the exhibit, you are immediately drawn in by the stunning comic book pages from the mid 1900’s that survived for so long. The way that the characters and the cover art is drawn is breathtaking, and it’s hard to believe that regular people drew characters as amazing as the ones featured in the exhibit. One of the most impactful and emotional parts of the exhibit is the many tributes to Stan Lee. We see a looped video montage of all his cameos in the MCU movies, the pictures on a bulletin board of his high school yearbook photo, his time with Jack Kirby, and his great experiences with the current MCU. After his death this year, it is great to see that all his dreams and accomplishments are continuing to be developed and revered posthumously.

Seeing the characters on a silver screen makes you think of them as part of a fantasy in your head, but it is a wonderful surprise when you see the costumes up close, in person, right in front of you in a glass case. You learn to appreciate the detail put into making these costumes and how intricate things like Bucky’s metal arm and the movie magic that is part of this franchise are. Some props on display include the original Green Goblin mask and pumpkin bomb, Vulture’s mask, Captain America’s shield, the orb from Guardians of the Galaxy, Star-Lord’s mask, Gamora’s weapons, Thor’s hammer, the Eye of Agamotto, and a boatload of other original movie pieces from all of the MCU movies.

Three of the original Iron Man suits are also part of the exhibit. Seeing Iron Man, Mark I, III, and XLII suits makes it seem like Iron Man could be real. One of Tony’s arc reactors is even on display from the original Iron Man movie, and if you compare it to the recent ones he’s used, you’ll be able to see how much the arc and the character have evolved over the years.

Additionally, on display is the original Black Widow costume from the Avengers along with the batons she uses in the movies. It was very cool to read about the history behind her character, how she originally started out as a villain in the Marvel comics, and how the character has grown to become one of the strongest and most important characters in the MCU. Along with this, there is a section for the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D television series, which is one of Marvel’s most successful productions.

The exhibit also features a recreated Mirror Dimension from Doctor Strange with some of the props and costumes from the movie inside of it, an entire section dedicated to the smaller but well-known characters of the MCU (The Defenders, The Runaways, Luke Cage, and Miss Marvel), and life-size models of multiple characters, including the Hulk, Miss Marvel (Kamala Khan), Spiderman, and The Thing from the Fantastic Four.

So whether you’re a die-hard Marvel fan or a casual one, this exhibit is definitely an experience that you don’t want to miss out on. This world of fantasy would make any visitor marvel (ha, get it?) at the technology and the concept of the movies, and you’re inspired to imagine a world where you can step in and embark on your own journey. So step into the wonderful world of this brand-new Marvel exhibit. As the intro video so perfectly states, “You may just find the hero within yourself." Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more articles!

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