A Night Alone at the Marvel Universe Live Stage Show
What does one wear to what is essentially a superhero concert event? For about an hour on Wednesday, this was a pressing concern in my life. Is one supposed to dress up in some sort of costume while attending Marvel Universe Live? I don’t own a costume, so this really isn’t an option. At first I decided to wear an Iron Man t-shirt, then decided maybe that’s too close to “wearing the shirt of the band you’re seeing to the concert.” Then I thought I might be defiant and wear a Superman t-shirt, but then I decided everything about that idea is stupid. I briefly contemplated a ‘Star Wars’ t-shirt, but then decided that’s depressing for some reason. It’s at this point that I took a quick assessment of my life and wondered why I had all these t-shirts so readily available. Eventually I gave up and wore a neutral ‘Brewster’s Millions’ t-shirt … at least I assumed Montgomery Brewster would not be a part of the Marvel Universe Live stage show.
For weeks, a friend of mine had been asking if I’d attend this show with him. For weeks I had been saying “no,” because I had little interest in attending a two-hour production geared for kids that mainly consists of people running around in costumes on the floor of Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. The mistake I made was mentioning this to my editor, who then insisted it would be a good idea for me to attend.
The problem was, at this point, the Wednesday night show was down to single tickets only, so not only would I be attending Marvel Universe Live, I’d be sitting by myself. I’m sure this wouldn’t look weird at all.
For some reason, I was expecting a scene resembling Comic-Con, with everyone dressed as their favorite Marvel hero, but that wasn’t the case. I saw a couple of adults wearing Captain America t-shirts, but for the most part, people attended Marvel Universe Live dressed as normal human beings.
Not surprisingly, there were booths set up, selling all sorts of Marvel propaganda and paraphernalia. One of these booth workers ominously explained to me that I needed to read the prequel comic book to fully understand the story that would be presented during the stage show. At first I scoffed, but then I really started to be concerned that for two hours, I wouldn’t understand was happening in front of me. Maybe I did need this prequel comic. Other people seem to have this prequel comic? Why should they get to understand the show and not me? This didn’t seem fair.
Then the characters show up and fight and fight and fight and fight and fight. And fight.
“One prequel comic, please,” I found myself saying out loud.
“You can’t just buy the prequel comic,” I am told.
“Why not?” I ask.
“You have to buy the program, and with the program, you get the prequel comic,” he explained.
“How much is the program?”
“Wait, what? How is that possible?”
“Will that be cash or credit?”
After spending $25 on a comic book, I found myself so distraught that I never even read it. I just sat in my seat, alone, surrounded by children and their parents, waiting for the show to start. According to the voice of the Marvel superhero J.A.R.V.I.S., not only would the show start in five minutes, it would feature, “safe smoke, lasers and Cosmic Cube interference.”
The most remarkable thing about Marvel Universe Live is that this is the only place that you can watch all of your favorite Marvel superheroes interact in non-animated form. Because of contractual situations, we will never see Spider-Man, Wolverine and Iron Man have a conversation in a movie. But, yet, here they all are – jumping around and performing what equates to a lot of nonsense. But, here they are nonetheless. (Though, I do think it would be funny if Marvel had sold off their characters to different live stage productions, too. “Oh, that’s the Fun Town Production? Yeah, they only own Thor. To see Storm, you have to get tickets to the Funky City Marvel production.”)
The story, without the aid of the prequel comic that I bought but didn’t read (I did ask someone to tell me what happened in the prequel comic) is basically that Loki (I’m just going to go ahead and assume you have a basic working knowledge of Marvel characters if you’re reading this) has a piece of the Cosmic Cube. To fill in the gaps of what he’s missing, he uses mutant DNA from Wolverine, Cyclops and Storm. To defeat Loki, the rest of the gang (which is pretty much every other Marvel hero) must collect the rest of the dispersed pieces of the Cosmic Cube, which are owned by an assortment of supervillains.
Admittedly, I am the naïve one here, but I honestly thought the actors would be acting out their parts. Instead, what we got is pre-recorded dialogue mixed with the actors miming and lip-synching out their parts. The characters yelled a lot – sample dialogue: "Let’s kick some Asgard!” -- which seemed appealing to the children that were sitting around me. (To paint a picture of how out of place I looked, I was asked three separate times by three separate people if I was in the correct seat. I was always in the correct seat, but, metaphorically, they were probably right.)
The best way to sum up this entire show is that every scene starts with some major exposition on the video screens, then the characters show up and fight and fight and fight and fight and fight.
Then there will be some sort of huddle, followed by some idle banter between the heroes – at one point Thor and Spider-Man argue over their Twitter followers – then there’s more fighting and more fighting and more fighting and more fighting and more fighting.
And more fighting.
To be fair, this is a mildly entertaining show and if I had children, this is probably a very inoffensive way to spend some time with these said hypothetical children. It is somewhat interesting to see real human beings dressed up like these characters while doing motorcycle stunts and flying around on wires.
It was during the second half of the show that the events in Ferguson, Missouri started to dominate my Twitter feed. Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post and Ryan Reilly from The Huffington Post (who I worked with at HuffPost for almost three years, but never met) had been arrested for doing nothing more than their jobs. Without getting too contrived, it did create this weird dichotomy of what I was seeing in front of me and what was happening just outside of St. Louis, Missouri -- the city in which I was born.
I couldn’t help but pay attention to the children in attendance, noticing the wide-eyed optimism as they watched these fictional heroes fight for what “is right” – which is in stark contrast to the authority figures we see in Ferguson. And at that moment, I found it strangely comforting that these kids could still believe any of this was possible.
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and GQ. He is the senior editor of ScreenCrush. You can contact him directly on Twitter.