Exploring the Origin of the Super Hero at the MARVEL Universe of Super-Heroes

Heather Raulerson

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Have you ever wondered where Super Heroes originated? Or have a desire to figure out how comic books are made? There is a fantastic event going on at the Henry Ford Museum with all those answers and more. The MARVEL Universe of Super-Heroes is the Premiere Midwest exhibit showcasing the origin of the Marvel Comics and the Super Hero that we know and love today.

The Origin of Marvel Comics and the Super Hero

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The first modern Super Hero showed up in comic books in 1938, with hundreds more unique defenders and warriors emerging in the early 1940s. Only a handful of Super-Heroes survived the first tumultuous years of their creation. The first Marvel Comics #1 published in 1939 featured the Human Torch (not the same character in the Fantastic Four) and the Sub-Mariner. The Human Torch was an Android who burst into flames upon contact with the air. The Sub-Mariner lived under the seas and hated the surface world for its abuses against Atlantis. This meeting of the two different worlds creates the cornerstone of the future Marvel Universe. And the fight between these first two superheroes was put aside to fight a common enemy during World War Two, showing that even rivals could work together for the common good.

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The Creators

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Stan Lee worked his way up to Marvel’s Editor in Chief from an office boy. He was a fierce advocate for comics and wrote newspaper articles and books on how to break into the comics industry. When Marvel Comics struggled to stay afloat during the 1950s, Stan Lee worked with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko to create different monster comics monthly. In the 1960s, Stan Lee worked with both of them to reinvent the comic book and how Super Heroes were seen. By far, Jack Kirby is the artist that had the most significant impact on American comic book history. Jack is credited for creating Captain America, The Fantastic Four, Thor, Incredible Hulk, Nick Fury, Black Panther, and the original X-Men, among many others.

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Stan Lee is best known for his live-action cameo appearances starting in the movie, The Trial of the Incredible Hulk in 1989 and every Marvel movie to date, beginning with Iron Man in 2008. The exhibit has a great video montage of all of Stan’s cameos. I have been fortunate to see another tribute to Stan Lee at the Mole Antonelliana in Turin. How many cameos have you seen of Stan Lee?

Captain America

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Captain America, co-created by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, was the biggest comic book hit of the 1940s. And as America was entering into the war, Captain America was used to promote liberty and showed how people could support the war effort. Over the years, Captain interacted with numerous presidents in the comics, taking on missions for them. Cap was brought back to life for the Avengers in 1964 to join forces with Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and the Scarlet Witch. Captain America has been the one Super Hero that has dealt with many of America’s significant events in history.

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Fantastic Four

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The Fantastic Four’s first issue was inspired partly by the Space Race, making them Marvel’s First Family in 1961. This was the first time that authentic family dynamics showed up in the comics, with family members bickering but loving each other desperately. The Fantastic Four dynamic became part of the Marvel formula that you still today in the Guardians of the Galaxy. The Thing was one of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s most original creations, and you can sit down and take a selfie with him along with many Marvel characters that swoop in the background through the window.

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Black Panther

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The Black Panther made its debut in the mid-1960s in the pages of The Fantastic Four as a commendable effort to make the Marvel Universe more inclusive. He was a big hit, and the Black Panther was embraced by all fans, which led to Black Panther receiving his first self-titled comic book in 1977. T’Challa was featured in some of Marvel’s strongest anti-racist storylines for comics. There is a beautiful photo display showcasing the costumes used in the Black Panther movie, along with a life-sized Black Panther that you can get a selfie.

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The Amazing Spider-Man

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The exhibit has quite a lot of content on the Amazing Spider-Man. Created in 1961 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, the premise was that superpowers alone did not make a Super Hero. "With Great Power, There Must Also Come -- Great Responsibility!" You can read about all of Peter Parker’s romantic interests of Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane Watson and see some artifacts from the Spider-Man movies, like the actual Green Goblin’s Mask and a Pumpkin bomb from the Spider-Man 2002 movie. Another area is a section displaying the art of the Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and all the artists that have drawn Spider-Man over the years.
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How Comics Are Made

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The process that is used to make the comics is fascinating. You will be able to see how they created a Spider-Man comic from start to finish - from the pencil thumbnails to pencil and ink pages, to digitizing in color and adding lettering. Most writers used the full script method to create comics. They write detailed descriptions breaking down every page and panel of a story, and then gave this to an artist to complete the illustration. The Marvel method uses a different method by creating short story synopses and then passing them over to the artist to finish the rest of the plot. Then the dialogue would be added by the writer after seeing the finished sketches.

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Marvel Costumes and Iconic Comic Book Covers

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Within the exhibit, you will see several actual costumes worn by the actors in the Marvel movies. You will see costumes for the Black Panther, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow, Captain America, and Dr. Strange. Also, you can see over 300 items of memorabilia from the movies and superhero pop culture.

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There are so many rare comic book covers to see in this exhibit, along with amazing detailed never-seen comic pages. Take some time to read them and the cards below them with all the details on who drew them. I was so surprised to see so many first comic books here, such collector items.

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The MARVEL Universe of Super-Heroes Exhibit Information

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The exhibit runs until January 31. You need to purchase your timed entry tickets here. And if you haven’t seen the exhibition yet, make sure to get your tickets soon because they are selling out quickly. The open hours are from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Henry Ford Museum is at 20900 Oakwood Boulevard, Dearborn, MI.

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I hope you enjoy your exploration of the MARVEL Universe of Super-Heroes. Plan to spend a couple of hours going through the exhibit and having fun with the interactive displays, including Doctor Strange's mirror dimension and taking a test flight in an Iron Man suit. And don’t forget to vote for your favorite Super Hero toward the end of the exhibit to see where they rank. Who is your favorite?

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Freelance travel writer and photographer who loves sharing her adventures from around the world. It is never too late to pursue your dream!

Rochester Hills, MI
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