SEATTLE—As the Marvel Cinematic Universe expands to every movie theater in the world, the MoPOP Museum of Pop Culture (formerly Experience Music Project) swoops in this week with an exhibit that reminds fans where the heck these costumed heroes came from: the comics pages.

Marvel Universe of Super Heroes, a massive, two-story exhibit, began its world-premiere run in Seattle on Saturday with a mix of incredible historical context and Marvel's strange, narrow focus within the MCU. The very good news, as seen in the first gallery, is that the Marvel (which began life in 1939 as Timely Publications) is represented by way of a ton of original production art.

  • No sense in starting this gallery off slowly. Here's Marvel Comics, issue #1, behind glass.
  • A closer look. Sure is a rarity.
  • "The only known piece of original production art from the very first Marvel comic."
  • Original production art for a very early appearance of the Human Torch.
  • Look closely, and you'll see fine pencil lines beneath this otherwise impeccable ink work.
  • To set the historical scene, one wall included a few classic cartoons, including this gorgeous piece of Flash Gordon production art.
  • As in, not a reproduction. Look at those original lines.
  • More context for the pre-superhero period of American comics.
  • The exhibit places this full-wall poster version of a Captain America cover near the beginning of the exhibit. It sets a tone.
  • The Cap'n as part of the American war effort in the 1940s.
  • And this is one big reason why Captain America joined the pro-war crusade.
  • Hiya, Captain America!
  • A mock-up of Jack Kirby's drawing desk.
  • A very early Iron Man appearance in the series Tales of Suspense.
  • A Fantastic Four corner…
  • A closer look at this early issue.
  • Production art from Fantastic Four, issue 98, which paid tribute to NASA's first moon landing.
  • Moon zoom.
  • Original production art for Tales of Suspense issue 98; pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Frank Giacoia.
  • A series of touchscreen interfaces let exhibit visitors quickly flip through histories of superheroes and real-life artists alike.
  • Original production art from Amazing Spider-man, issue 122.
  • Spider-people timeline.
  • For whatever reason, MoPOP's representatives weren't keen on opening this glass up for us to take a peek. You know, to do some journalistic verification.
  • Marvel thought this page of original production art, portraying the first-ever appearance of Spider-man in his costume, was lost until it was rediscovered in 2008. MoPOP says this particular piece, on loan from the Library of Congress, will only be shown for three months, then put away in its vaults forever.
  • Thus, I zoomed in on Spidey's outfit so out-of-towners can savor this page's rare, public appearance. (It's from Amazing Fantasy #15.)
  • More production art.
  • It's Spawn-derman! (Just a Todd McFarlane joke.)
  • Tributes to various artists appear throughout the exhibit, like this one for "Shy" Steve Ditko.
  • We wish more issues were memorialized at this exhibit in such multi-page fashion, but as we learned, Marvel didn't do a great job archiving its original production art.
  • Web-weaving generations.
  • How bad was Marvel at archiving? Well, these are the only two cels remaining from Spider-man's original '60s animated series. So, pretty bad.
  • A few rooms recreated artists' workplaces.
  • The Hulk TV series' theme song is in the house, but you have to put on headphones to hear it.
  • Marvel specially commissioned a few original pieces of art for this exhibit, including this callback to an early Hulk story in which he attacked a hunter to protect his forest friends.
  • Original Hulks.
  • Hulk zoom! Hulk white-out! Hulk smash!
  • One original piece of Thor production art.
  • This artwork comes from the 1978 Spider-man wall calendar and includes a ridiculous number of Marvel heroes from that era.
  • Captain Marvel #28, from production art to colorized cover.
  • Late '60s pop-art for this Nick Fury cover, courtesy of artist Jim Steranko.
  • Ant-Man gets love, too. (This comes from Tales To Astonish #35.)
  • The cover of Avengers #116.
  • Cover art for Avengers #57.
  • The first time a black superhero graced a Marvel comic's cover, in 1969.
  • Cap and Logan face off.
  • A tighter zoom on this amazing cover, pencilled by Mike Zeck and inked by John Beatty in 1986.
  • A Black Widow wall.
  • Iron Man suits flanked this room, which explains the glut of lights bouncing off of this framed cover.
  • Wolverine wall.
  • X-Men bursting through a faded image behind them (which was composited later in the production line).
  • Oh, the "Dark Phoenix" age of the X-Men. (This is Uncanny X-Men #136.)
  • X-Men #14, 1992.
  • If you were hoping to see Deadpool in this gallery, I have bad news. This cardboard cut-out is it for this exhibit.
  • A brief recognition of Runaways and Young Avengers… but no X-Force? C'mon, MoPOP.
  • Blade gets some love at the exhibit.
  • Daredevil meets a matador.
  • Daredevil wall.
  • The exhibit includes what little Frank Miller artwork it can get away with in a "family-friendly" space.
  • A cool representation of Miller's dynamic panel-breaking style.
  • Get to know Misty Knight's comic origins.
  • An explainer of Miles Morales becoming everyone's favorite masked webslinger.

MoPOP has filled its exhibit's halls with large, framed pieces of art, but the biggest stunners aren't full-color, perfectly polished posters. Instead, that honor goes to countless production pages, all revealing original pencil lines, ink traces, white-outs, and color-request markings.

"Without private collectors, we wouldn't have a show," curator Benjamin Saunders frankly admitted to Ars, as pretty much every piece has a collector's name attached. When pressed, Saunders pointed to longtime writer and producer David Mandel (Veep, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Seinfeld) as the exhibit's largest contributor. The collection's main exception is the first-ever appearance of Spider-man on a comic page, on loan from the Library of Congress for only three months. ("I shudder to think of the insurance value," Saunders notes about that page.)

  • The exhibit's most selfie-friendly portion is this couch, complete with a napping Thing.
  • He's just resting his big, rocky eyes.
  • Pose with the Black Panther.
  • Get closer to the Black Panther.
  • More costumes from the 2018 Black Panther film.
  • This Spider-man costume doesn't appear to come from a particular film.
  • This one, on the other hand, comes from 2017's Spider-man Homecoming.
  • All of these costumes and props came from Thor: Ragnarok.
  • Cate Blanchett wore this 3D-printed helmet during production of Thor: Ragnarok.
  • We didn't get to test exactly how heavy Thor's prop hammer is.
  • Iron Men. Sam Machkovech
  • Battered but still action-ready.
  • We're not sure which Marvel film this Nick Fury costume came from.
  • Ant-Man runs around this mocked-up desk as a hologram.
  • I checked: This is indeed a Tesseract Cube taken from the set of 2011's Captain America: The First Avenger.
  • This shield was also taken from the same 2011 film.
  • Captain America film costumes.
  • I am (prop) Groot.
  • Gamora costume from Guardians of the Galaxy.
  • Black Widow costume from Avengers: Age of Ultron.
  • What's behind this peephole?
  • Ghost Rider, of course.
  • Ghost Rider jacket from its film.
  • Dr. Strange costume from the series' first film.
  • This Daredevil costume is taken from the more recent Netflix series. Meaning, no Affleck smell (assumedly).
  • These excited pals greet you on your way to the exhibit.

But this is not a true "how Marvel came to be" exhibit, and its pickier selection of movie and TV tie-ins make that abundantly clear. You have to walk downstairs to a "street-level" section of the exhibit to find any tributes to the X-Men, for starters, and none of that comic's films or animated series receive any acknowledgement. Same for any Sony Pictures films, particularly the Tobey Maguire trilogy of Spider-man films. (The utter lack of Deadpool comic or film material, on the heels of its sequel's impending launch, feels particularly weird.)

"I wanted to emphasize the story of comics to the screen and back again," Saunders said when pressed on the selection. "We had access to Marvel's entire print library—anything from that was fair game—and we could use that to pay the right tribute to the Fantastic Four and X-Men, which have more tangled rights histories."

But Marvel's tangled history as a comics publisher (under different names) from the '30s to '60s and its network of affiliated creators and artists don't get a museum-level historical dive or explanation, with the exception of a few touchscreen interfaces that let visitors get to know some of the company's biggest names a little better. Also, the exhibit's biggest historical beats are defined by which MCU properties the exhibit can highlight with props and film costumes. The result is ultimately two things at the same time: a shameless advertisement for Marvel Studios' film and TV output; and a must-see dive into some of the rarest, decades-old Marvel material imaginable.

The result isn't perfect, but comic-clueless novices and obsessive collectors will each get something out of what Marvel Entertainment has delivered. No closing date has been announced, though the exhibit's official descriptions hint that it should run well into Marvel's official 80th anniversary in 2019.

Listing image by Sam Machkovech

Original Article

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Ars Technica

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