The Greatest Show on Earth has been the description used by the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus for decades. Feld Entertainment operates those circus shows, and truth be told the greatest show on earth for the 21st century is now likely another Feld production also—the Marvel Universe LIVE!
Marvel Universe LIVE! is a spectacle unlike any other ever mounted. It is a fascinating portrayal of a wide-ranging adventure featuring superheroes and supervillains battling it out across continents, all acted out in real time in a real place right in front of you. See the feature article elsewhere in this issue for more about the show coming to Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena December 12-14. This column is about the responses of four life-long fans of Marvel comics to actually seeing the Marvel Universe LIVE! show in October.
A little background first: At Marvel Comics, Stan ‘The Man’ Lee struck gold with the superhero characters he created in the 1960s during the Silver Age of comics. What Stan did that was so revolutionary is that he gave us characters unlike previous superheroes—real people with real problems who happened to be gifted with superpowers, but still had to deal with their real world problems. And their quest to solve their problems gave insight into the larger societal problems as well, a hallmark of all great speculative fiction.
An orphaned teenager named Peter Parker who became Spider-Man when bitten by a radioactive spider learned that with great power comes great responsibility. Scientist Reed Richards and his wife Susan and brother Johnny Storm and best friend Ben Grimm became the Fantastic Four when bathed in cosmic radiation during a space mission—but still had the squabbles inherent in a dysfunctional extended family.
A group of special children, gifted mutants facing discrimination from the society at large have to choose between trying to integrate into that society or separate from it, with their leaders Professor Charles Xavier and Magneto (born Max Eisenhardt and renaming himself Erik Lehnsherr) echoing the dilemma faced by Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X (born Malcolm Little but re-defining himself eventually as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz), become wildly famous as the X-Men.
Tony Stark is an American billionaire playboy, industrialist, and ingenious engineer, who suffers a severe chest injury during a kidnapping in which his captors attempt to force him to build a weapon of mass destruction. He instead creates a powered suit of armor to save his life and escape captivity. Later, Stark augments his suit with weapons and other technological devices he designed through his company, Stark Industries. He uses the suit and successive versions to protect the world as Iron Man.Iron Man/Tony Stark’s dad Howard Stark had helped create an agency to protect the world, S.H.I.E.L.D., led famously by Director Nick Fury. Together with Captain America, Thor, The Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye, they are The Avengers, and their 2012 motion picture is the third-highest grossing film of all-time at $1.5 billion (the highest grossing by a non-Canadian director; only James Cameron’s Avatar and Titanic have made more money). Following moves that aligned the Disney Corporation with Marvel and Feld Entertainment, we now have Marvel Universe LIVE! with movie quality special effects merged with live performers on stage. On October 4, four intrepid geeks went to see Marvel Universe LIVE!
“I am always looking for things that bridge the space between geek parent and geek kid, and some of my fondest memories of growing up the son of a stage-hand were all the cool live shows I got to see,” said the driver on our trip to Birmingham, Lucas Leverett, a ‘geek dad’ and founder of some locally-based events in the genre. “Marvel Universe LIVE! brings elements of circus, stunts, and motocross to the comic book spectrum in a very fun format. Parents who are deeply geeky and those who are new to Marvel alike can bring their kids, also from both ends of that scale, to this show and experience a new entertaining breed of live spectacle. When you think of something for kids of all ages, it really and truly is.”
“Marvel Universe LIVE! was definitely the show of shows!” said professional cosplayer, prop designer, and convention exhibitor/ performer Justin Webb. Webb drove from Knoxville to ride with us to Birmingham. Dressed as Star Lord from the wildly popular Guardians of the Galaxy film (another Marvel film that was the second highest grossing film of 2014 as of this writing, at over $770 million), children swarmed Justin for photos all afternoon.
“Having grown up with these heroes, getting to see them live was literally a dream come true for my inner child,” said Webb. “This is a show that will appeal to anyone of any age from the witty banter for the kids to the outrageous bmx (bike motocross) and wire stunts for the adults. I highly recommend if you are reading this to simply stop reading now and experience the magic of Marvel Universe LIVE! in person.”
You heard the man. Go get your ticket now so you can experience Marvel Universe LIVE! for yourself December 12-14 at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena.