Here’s Your First Look at the Franklin Institute’s Marvel Exhibit

“Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes” runs through Sept. 2.

Super heroes have arrived in Philadelphia. After months of anticipation, the Franklin Institute’s Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes will open to the public on April 13. Through Sept. 2, Marvel Universe fans can explore more than 300 pieces of original comic book art, movie props and costumes, as well as life-size sculptures of the franchise’s most iconic characters, like the Hulk, Spiderman and the Thing.

The 15,000-square-foot exhibit traces Marvel’s 80-year history, documenting its transformation from a comic book publishing company to a full-fledged pop culture juggernaut, with a portfolio that includes movies, television series, video games, podcasts and more.

Fittingly, the exhibit opens with an original copy of Marvel Comics #1, published in 1939, and ends with Carol Danvers’ Starforce costume, as worn by actress Brie Larson in 2019’s Captain Marvel.

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Marvel Comics #1 A copy of a Black Panther comic book

An original copy of Marvel Comics #1.

The cover of Black Panther #2.

Other highlights include movie costumes worn by Chadwick Boseman in Black Panther, Chris Hemsworth in Thor: The Dark World and Chris Evans in Captain America. Original character sketches and comic book art from the X-Men, Fantastic Four and Luke Cage series will leave even the casual viewer impressed.

Costume worn by Tom Holland in "Spider-Man: Homecoming". Avengers artwork

The costume worn by Tom Holland in “Spider-Man: Homecoming”.

Original “Avengers” artwork.

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C.B. Cebulski, Marvel’s editor-in-chief, says that the drawings from iconic Marvel comic book artists like Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby were some of his favorite parts of the exhibit. “For me, seeing some of the original Amazing Spiderman art was just mind blowing. I remember reading that emotional, climatic scene of that storyline when I was a kid, so seeing it in just black and white with the raw ink…that for me was the highlight of this exhibition,” he says.

Artwork from X-Men Franklin Institute Marvel Exhibit

Original artwork from the X-Men series, including its first issue.

Elsewhere a trippy mirror installation playing animations of drawings by Ditko pays tribute to the character Doctor Strange, who was created in the 1960s and was portrayed by actor Benedict Cumberbatch on the big screen in 2016.

For Ben Saunders, the exhibit’s chief curator, the show represents a childhood passion that has come full-circle. Saunders, who also works as a professor of literature at the University of Oregon, credits Marvel comic books with teaching him to read. “I actually consciously remember thinking, ‘I need to learn to read so that I can read this,’” he says. “And it has ended up changing the direction of my life.”

Philadelphia is just the second city to host the exhibit. It debuted last year at the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle, Wash., drawing more than 300,000 visitors. The Franklin Institute expects similar crowds—after all, 40,000 tickets have already been purchased.

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Marvel Exhibit Franklin Institute Captain America Marvel Exhibit Franklin Institute Captain Marvel

The exhibit will vary from the one in Seattle, though, thanks to the addition of a tribute wall to the late Stan Lee, one of Marvel’s most iconic writers and producers. Lee, who frequently made cameos in Marvel movies and television shows, died last year.

On the eve of the exhibit’s East Coast debut, Saunders says he felt emotional about the entire experience. “It’s really moving to watch a new generation of fans discovering this stuff,” he says. “When I get to watch a little kid sitting next to Ben Grimm and getting photographed with The Thing, I just think, ‘This would have blown my mind when I was 10 years old.’”

Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Evening access is available 5-8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. Tickets range from $12 to $35 per person.

222 N. 20th St., Philadelphia, (215) 448-1200.

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