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Pow! 'Marvel: Universe of Superheroes' Rules MoPop

Fascinating history, cool costumes and a chance to build your own Iron Man suit

Author Elisa Murray

Published on: April 25, 2018

marvel superhero
Elisa Murray

Superheroes: Love 'em or hate 'em, their hold on kids (and legions of adults) is intense. The Hulk-sized new exhibit at MoPop, "Marvel: Universe of Superheroes" is a chance for parents and kids to explore this cultural obsession together, or at least the Marvel side of this obsession. Ten thousand square feet of exhibit space (the museum's biggest exhibit to date) traces the history of the Marvel superhero universe through hundreds of cool artifacts, interactive displays, footage and mood music that sets the stage. 

Checking comics history at the newsstand. Photo credit: Elisa Murray

My 8-year-old son, husband and I went to the exhibit on opening weekend, along with my sister's family, who are in a higher echelon of superhero knowledge and interest. But we all — from Marvel newbies to aficionados — found something to love about the exhibit, starting with the way that MoPop organized the line to enter the special exhibition (the exhibit costs an extra fee, and you can only enter once). At first, the kids were dismayed by the length of the line, but it moved quickly and gave us a chance to peruse in great detail MoPop's wall of guitars; there is also a faux "newsstand" set up outside the exhibit with displays of vintage comics, while headlines rotate on a digital screen.

Black Panther
The costume worn by Chadwick Boseman in Marvel Studios’ "Black Panther" is on display. Photo credit: Jonathan Pulley / Museum of Pop Culture

The exhibit opens with a 7-minute video that shares highlights of nearly 80 years of Marvel superhero history, starting with the creation of Captain America in 1941, to a post-war decline in superhero comics, to a resurgence in the 1960s with the creation of iconic characters such as the Hulk, Ant Man, and, of course, Spider-Man, who — Marvel points out — put the "human in superhuman" with his adolescent angst.

Spider-Man dangles. Photo credit: Elisa Murray

After leaving the video gallery, visitors browse at their leisure through two levels of exhibit space that do a deep dive through all aspects of Marvel superheroes and their narratives. The exhibit is designed to be immersive, with dark rooms that make the bold graphics and superhuman-size displays and costumes pop. Ambient music is everywhere.

My 10-year-old nephew, who is a huge superhero movie fan, was most impressed by the original movie costumes and artifacts on display, ranging from Black Panther's costume in the 2018 movie to Robert Downey, Jr.'s original Iron Man costume to the Sony Walkman in "Guardians of the Galaxy."  My 8-year-old enjoyed the interactive areas of the exhibit, including a digitally enhanced stage where you can make a personal Iron Man costume on a screen and a bench where you can get cozy with The Thing for a selfie.

The Thing
The Thing waits for a photo op. Photo credit: Elisa Murray

History major that I was, I loved learning about the history of superhero comics, including the "war on comics" in the 1950s, which resulted in a "comics code," and which calls to mind current debates about video games. I also enjoyed the displays about the artists and their creative process, and about the slow diversification of Marvel's stable of superheroes to include more women and superheroes of color. You'll find displays on the likes of Black Panther; Ms. Marvel (the first female Muslim superhero); and Miles Morales, a teen African-American Spider-Man. 

The exhibit's treatment of diversity in the Marvel-verse brings up my main criticism of the exhibit. Not surprisingly, an exhibit by and about Marvel does not spend a lot of time on self-reflection. It celebrates Marvel innovations, such as the mutant X-Men (which, according to the exhibit, helped explore the "perils of intolerance") but only lightly touches on some of its missteps of the past (such as the stereotypical treatment of early African-American characters). If you want to explore these themes more deeply, you'll have to do some extra credit reading about the history of Black Panther, the influence of female readership on superhero stories; and the influence that superheroes can have on kids' body image

Miles Morales
Teenage Spider-Man Miles Morales. Photo credit: Elisa Murray

My other criticism of MoPop is cost: It is a very expensive ticket. To enter this special exhibit you pay $8 on top of MoPop's regular prices, making the cost $27 for kids ages 5–17 and $36 for adults (you can save $2 by buying online). If your family members are true superhero fanatics then the exhibit will be worth it for its depth and range. If your child is young or only mildly into superheroes, this might be a time to leave the kids at home and go by yourself or with a friend so you can really indulge in browsing at leisure.  

Or you might consider a family membership, which costs $129 (for two adults and up to five kids), so you can follow the strategy of a mom I met at the exhibition who happens to be a science fiction writer. She went by herself on opening day so she could take all the time she needed, and returned with her two young sons on Sunday. Bam!

If you go...

Where: Museum of Pop Culture (on the east side of Seattle Center) at 325 Fifth Ave. N., Seattle

When: MoPop is open daily, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. (summer hours, 10 a.m.–7 p.m. daily, start May 25; the Marvel exhibit runs through Jan. 6, 2019. 

Fees and deals: $27–$36 for tickets to the special exhibition and regular exhibits; save $2 by buying online; kids ages 4 and under are free. Family membership for two adults and up to five children costs $129. Marvel special exhibit costs $8 extra for members. 

More to see at MoPop: Make the most of your ticket by also checking out exhibits such as "Indie Game Revolution" (if you make it in; my kid couldn't make it past the the Nintendo games just outside) and "Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds"; or playing music in the Sound Lab. 

More to see at Seattle Center: See our complete age-by-age guide, as well as the best hidden spots at Seattle Center. 

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