The Avengers are Earth’s Mightiest Heroes

 

Known as ‘Earth’s Mightiest Heroes’, the Avengers are an ensemble cast of Super Heroes. Featuring a roster of characters, the Avengers defend the world in spectacular battles and clash with wily villains.

Central to the ‘The Avengers’ room in ‘Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe’ are the costumes of the members of the team: charismatic genius–billionaire–playboy philanthropist Tony Stark (Iron Man); failed army recruit turned government Super Soldier Steve Rogers (Captain America); brilliant scientist Dr Bruce Banner and his dual personality, the Hulk; heir to the Asgardian throne, Thor; former Russian spy Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow); marksman Clint ‘Hawkeye’ Barton; telekinetic Wanda Maximoff (Scarlet Witch); and the enhanced synthetic being, Vision.

Installation view of ‘The Avengers’ room, ‘Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe’, GOMA 2017 / Photograph: Natasha Harth © QAGOMA

Also on display are the costumes of Nick Fury, Director of the counter-intelligence organisation S.H.I.E.L.D., which recruits the Avengers; his Deputy Director, Maria Hill; and rogue S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Crossbones; Thor’s duplicitous brother, Loki; and Captain America’s best friend, Bucky Barnes, known as the Winter Soldier. This room also highlights important battles faced by the Avengers through keyframe artwork, costumes and props.

Loki walkabout costume / Tunic (linen, leather, metal); over-tunic (leather, metal, wool); dickey (apron); (cotton, polyester, linen); trousers (leather, cotton, polyester, metal); bandolier (leather, urethane, metal); cuffs (urethane, linen, polyester); boots (leather, rubber) / From Marvel’s The Avengers 2012; Winter Soldier costume / Trousers (cotton, polyester, nylon); vest (leather, metal); harness (urethane, plastic); belt (urethane, plastic); holster (nylon, plastic); hand (leather, urethane); arm (urethane, elastane, polyester); boots (leather, rubber); mask (urethane, plastic); weapon (resin, rubber, plastic) / From Captain America: The Winter Soldier 2014 / © 2017 MARVEL / Photographs: Natasha Harth © QAGOMA

Loki

Intent on conquering Earth, Loki, wayward brother of the Avenger Thor, makes a deal with the powerful intergalactic warlord Thanos. Commanding Thanos’s alien army, Loki unknowingly brings the fractious Avengers together to face the extraterrestrial Chitauri in a fight known as the Battle of New York. The combined might of Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye defeats Loki’s alien allies, but not without widespread destruction to parts of the city.

James ‘Bucky’ Barnes

James ‘Bucky’ Barnes, a childhood friend of Steve Rogers before he became Captain America, was also a member of the US Army’s elite unit the Howling Commandos, led by Rogers in World War Two. Thought dead by his allies after a daring raid, Barnes was instead captured by the villainous organisation Hydra. Intent on creating their own super-powered combatant to counter the formidable Captain America, Hydra turned Bucky into the Winter Soldier, a cyber-enhanced assassin programmed to obey through a series code words found in a tattered red notebook from the Soviet Union. Once discovered, Barnes is captured and held in a containment chamber where he struggles with his dual personality.

Nick Fury costume / Jacket (wool); sweater (cotton); trousers (wool); eye-patch (leather); shoes (leather) / From Captain America: The Winter Soldier 2014; Maria Hill costume / Jacket (cotton, polyester); trousers (cotton, polyester); camisole (cotton); boots (leather) / From Marvel’s The Avengers 2012 / © 2017 MARVEL / Photographs: Natasha Harth © QAGOMA

S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury and Deputy Director Maria Hill

Behind the superhuman might of the Avengers are the dedicated agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division). The US-based global intelligence agency was created as the last line of defence against the worst Earthly and extraterrestrial threats. Founded by Tony Stark’s father Howard, alongside Colonel Chester Phillips and Agent Peggy Carter in the wake of battles against Hydra during World War Two, the group was active until recently under the leadership of Director Nick Fury and Deputy Director Maria Hill.

Although Hydra was suppressed during the war, it remained active and slowly infiltrated the senior ranks of S.H.I.E.LD. When Hydra realises Captain America is close to discovering the conspiracy within S.H.I.E.LD., turncoat agent Brock Rumlow attempts to assassinate Rogers. After he is revealed as a traitor, a scarred Rumlow returns as the masked Crossbones and faces off against Rogers and his allies again.

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Go behind the scenes of ‘Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe’ to experience more than 500 unique objects from your favourite films, never-before-seen iconic objects which offer a glimpse into the work of production designers, storyboarding and pre‑visualisation artists, costume and prop designers, and visual effects artists alongside the original comic books which introduced the characters and influenced the films.

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Purchase tickets for ‘Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe‘ online or at ticket desk 10.00am-4.00pm daily, and until 8.00pm Wednesday. ‘Marvel’ film screenings and ‘Marvel’ Up Late are separate ticketed events.

Amanda Slack-Smith is exhibition curator ‘Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe’ and Associate Curator, Australian Cinémathèque, QAGOMA
Feature image: Installation view of ‘The Avengers’ room, ‘Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe’, GOMA 2017 featuring the Winter Soldier containment chamber / Metal, steel, electronics, plastic, resin / From Captain America: Civil War 2016 / © 2017 MARVEL / Photograph: Natasha Harth © QAGOMA

Marvel’s Cinematic world is now assembled at GOMA

 

As the gatekeeper of one of the world’s richest holdings of comic book narratives – more than 8000 characters developed over nearly eight decades – Marvel has been a dominant force in popular culture since 1939. ‘Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe’ begins with Spider-Man and the comic books that inspired the characters who inhabit the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). View their first appearances in print to their contemporary comic book incarnations, which have inspired the narratives of the films.

Installation view of ‘The Cinematic Assembled’ room, ‘Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe’, GOMA 2017 / Photograph: Natasha Harth © QAGOMA

Founded as Timely Comics in 1939 by magazine publisher Martin Goodman, the company began as a response to the growing popularity of comic books, and in 1941, published its first Captain America comic. In 1961, the company changed its name to Marvel Comics, drawing on the title of its first publication, Marvel Comics 1939 #1, and soon after began to change the direction of Super Hero comics.

Under the editorial direction of Stan Lee (born Stanley Lieber), and with innovative artists such as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, Marvel sought to create characters who reflected real-life issues faced by its readers. In a shift away from the all-powerful Super Heroes popular at the time, these new characters often lived in existing cities and grappled with questions about their powers and abilities and how to use them – to defend their neighbourhoods, the world, and the universe at large.

The Marvel Universe is a collective space where characters – whether street-level heroes from Brooklyn or gods from Asgard – interact, sharing both physical space and personal histories. They squabble and fight among themselves, while vigorously defending the social order against those who seek to disrupt and destroy it.

Spider-Man

Spider-Man is Marvel’s most beloved neighbourhood defender. Debuting in Amazing Fantasy 1962 #15, he recently joined the Super Heroes of the MCU on screen in Captain America: Civil War 2016.

Amazing Fantasy 1962 #15 / Published August 1962 / Drawing on layered paper board: ink, opaque white and overlay over graphite underdrawing; 1a of 11 drawings; digital documentation of 11 drawings / Collection: Prints and Photographs Division, The Library of Congress, Washington, DC

When Spider-Man made his first appearance in the comic book Amazing Fantasy 1962 #15, publisher Martin Goodman was sceptical. A story depicting the life of unassuming high school student Peter Parker wrestling with new-found powers (the result of a radioactive spider bite) seemed quite a departure from the high-powered Super Heroes popular at the time. It was Parker’s vulnerability, however, that struck a chord with Marvel’s readership. The idea that a teenager could be a Super Hero – not just the sidekick – was completely new, as was the concept that his biggest obstacles weren’t the villains he fought, but rather the ups and downs of daily life: school bullies, homework, romantic crushes and family relationships. After the death of his Uncle Ben – at the hands of a robber Peter failed to stop – Parker is determined to use his powers to help others.

Presented in the exhibition is the first appearance of Spider-Man, a co-creation of writer Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko, the team who would go on to create the highly popular Doctor Strange, a character first seen in Strange Tales 1963 #110. Considered a national treasure, this original Spider-Man artwork is one of 11 pages held in Washington DC’s Library of Congress.  The full series of original artwork is shown alongside as a digital presentation.

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Go behind the scenes of ‘Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe’ to experience more than 500 unique objects from your favourite films, never-before-seen iconic objects which offer a glimpse into the work of production designers, storyboarding and pre‑visualisation artists, costume and prop designers, and visual effects artists alongside the original comic books which introduced the characters and influenced the films.

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Amanda Slack-Smith is exhibition curator ‘Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe’ and Associate Curator, Australian Cinémathèque, QAGOMA
Feature image: Installation view of ‘The Cinematic Assembled’ room, ‘Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe’, GOMA 2017 / Photograph: Natasha Harth © QAGOMA

Marvel: From comic book to cinema screen

 

In 1961, Marvel Comics – under the editorial direction of Stan Lee – ushered in a new era of comic book Super Heroes – heroes who were brilliant, but imperfect; heroes who struggled with who they were and the powers they held.

One of Marvel’s most beloved and flawed characters, Tony Stark, whose alter ego is Iron Man, was the first to appear on the big screen, in Iron Man 2008, as Marvel began to recast its heroes and the universe they share for the cinematic experience. The audacious charms of Tony’s reckless genius–billionaire–playboy–philanthropist character were hugely popular, and two sequels followed – Iron Man 2 2010 and Iron Man 3 2013.

This move from comic book to big screen was inevitable, and the parallels between the two visual storytelling mediums are obvious – both use similar panel-to-panel structures to show the development of characters in the narrative through images.

Installation view of Foyer Cabinet, ‘Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe’, GOMA 2017 / Photograph: Natasha Harth © QAGOMA

The storyboard shown here depicts an action sequence from Iron Man 2 2010, in which Iron Man and his friend War Machine defend themselves from an attack by war drones remotely controlled by Iron Man’s nemesis, Whiplash. The film drew inspiration from the early comic book Tales of Suspense 1959 #39, in which Tony Stark and Iron Man first appeared, and from the ‘Extremis’ story arc from the more recent comic book release Iron Man 2004.

Also on display are the maquettes for Iron Man’s Mark VI, the sixth suit built by Tony Stark, which featured in Iron Man 2 2010, together with The Iron Patriot, the second iteration of the War Machine suit showcased in Iron Man 3 2013.

Adi Granov / Iron Man no.1 / Concept art for Iron Man 2 2010 / © 2017 MARVEL

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Go behind the scenes to experience more than 500 unique objects from your favourite films, including Iron Man’s suit of armour, Tony Stark racing suit and helmet, Stark racing car, and never-before-seen iconic objects which offer a glimpse into the work of production designers, storyboarding and pre‑visualisation artists, costume and prop designers, and visual effects artists alongside the original comic books which introduced the characters and influenced the films.

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Amanda Slack-Smith is exhibition curator ‘Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe’ and Associate Curator, Australian Cinémathèque, QAGOMA
Feature image: Installation view of Foyer Cabinet, ‘Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe’, GOMA 2017 / Photograph: Natasha Harth © QAGOMA

Re-creating Marvel’s Cinematic Universe

 

Marvel’s move into the cinematic space has opened its universe to a broader audience, one willing to commit to an ongoing experience spanning years. Representative of a growing audience of consumers, they are drawn to these expanded environments because of the opportunities they offer, namely, sharing with like-minded fans. The ambitious nature of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with its grand mythologising narratives, has tapped into these common desires, earning substantial cultural cachet, which, in turn, has inspired audiences to seek ways to experience these worlds beyond the screen.1

Changes in how audiences respond to cultural trends have seen museums and galleries open up dialogues around popular culture and its place in the broader social context. Museums interpret and interrogate the way we understand the world around us, and they do so through active engagement with all aspects of creative production, including film, fashion, music, performance and online realms. Exhibitions focusing on popular themes respond to cultural trends by offering audiences an opportunity to directly experience and examine these stories, and to temporarily join a diverse community brought together by shared interests.2 ‘Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe’ is a response to this desire to delve deeper into this world. The exhibition — and integrated film program — celebrates the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe by exploring the way Marvel has transitioned their storytelling from the comic book to the screen, with an emphasis on the characters of Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk and the Avengers, through the presentation of over 500 objects (props, costumes, comic books, concept and keyframe art and clips from the films).3 The exhibition addresses three overarching thematics: ‘The Cinematic Assembled’, ‘Decoding the Universe’ and ‘Behind the Scenes’.

Charlie Wen / The Guardians no.1 / Keyframe for Guardians of the Galaxy 2014 / © 2017 MARVEL

‘The Cinematic Assembled’ looks at the films as a holistic, fictional world, dissolving demarcations between individual stories to probe the larger narratives at play. Told within one space across five discrete areas to reflect the Marvel concept of a single universe telling multiple stories, ‘The Cinematic Assembled’ is designed to capture the core of the cinematic experience. Importantly, it concentrates on the characters’ unique personal challenges, one of the aspects of the Cinematic Universe which makes the characters so relatable to contemporary audiences.

Beginning with a nod to the comic books that inspired both the characters and their films — highlighting in particular the street-level hero Spider-Man — the familial relationships binding these characters across the years are explored, beginning with a look at the affectionate, yet fractious, relationship of the Avengers. Brought together for their skills and held together through their mutual respect and shared purpose, the exhibition charts the events that unite them (battling aliens) and the conflicts that ultimately divide them (disagreements stemming from different personal ideologies).

Adi Granov / The Avengers / Keyframe for Marvel’s The Avengers 2012 / © 2017 MARVEL

As the First Avenger, Captain America is the moral epicentre of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it is fitting that his story forms the heart of ‘The Cinematic Assembled’. A character whose history straddles World War Two and the present day, his relevance and influence is as important now as it was when his character was first conceived in 1941. With a nod to the exhibit at Washington DC’s Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum depicted in Captain America: The Winter Soldier 2014 and drawing on the stories of Captain America: The First Avenger 2011, this aspect of the exhibition traces the character’s early life through to his recruitment at the World Exposition of Tomorrow 1943, his subsequent service with the Howling Commandos and their battles with the evil, clandestine organisation Hydra, and, finally, his relationships with lifelong friend Bucky Barnes and love interest Agent Peggy Carter.

Stepping beyond the everyday into stranger worlds, ‘The Cinematic Assembled’ then enters the fringes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, from its extra-dimensional spaces to far-flung galaxies and mythic vistas. Showcasing the adventures of ragtag space outlaws, sorcerers, gods and monsters, and underpinned by the immense power of the Infinity Stones,4 it explores ideas of legacy and responsibility, particularly through the mechanism of the heroic quest.

Pete Thompson / Dark Dimensions no.3 / Keyframe for Doctor Strange 2016 / © 2017 MARVEL

‘Decoding the Universe’ presents a detailed deconstruction of Iron Man, particularly outside his role as Avenger. Self-confessed genius– billionaire–playboy philanthropist and former weapons manufacturer, Iron Man is one of the most fascinating of Marvel’s characters. Impetuous and with troubled family relationships, he has made many enemies during the course of his high-profile, risk-taking existence. Driven by a push pull need for family — the one he was born into and the one he has built with the Avengers — the exhibition unpacks Iron Man’s need to understand his place in the world and the people around him.

Adi Granov / Iron Man study, flight with jets / Concept art for Iron Man 2008 / © 2017 MARVEL

Finally, ‘Behind the Scenes’ looks beyond the characters and the narratives in order to consider Marvel’s rigorous creative processes, especially in terms of pre- and post-production. Drawing on Marvel’s rich visual history, it showcases the work of designers, artisans and production teams, bringing together beautifully crafted props and costumes alongside previously unseen set pieces from Thor: Ragnarok 2017, as well as behind-the-scenes interviews and state-of-the-art interactive components.

As the layering of characters, locations and motivations becomes progressively more complex in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the obvious challenge to filmmakers is to continually refresh what has come before, within the parameters of consistency and continuity, while still creating films that enrich the experience of dedicated follower and casual movie-goer alike. An exhibition about storytelling and storytellers, ‘Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe’ brings together narratives from the screen, from behind the scenes, and from decades of creating comic book characters with complex personas and even more complex relationships. It offers audiences the opportunity to engage with this rich fictional world beyond the screen alongside true believers and new recruits — a world which will continue to evolve and excite for many years to come.

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Endnotes
1 Marvel has further expanded their universe to include a number of television series, including ABC’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 2013– and Agent Carter 2015–16; Netflix’s Daredevil 2015– , Jessica Jones 2015– and Luke Cage 2016– ; together with the latest addition Iron Fist 2017. Marvel has also produced a series of tie-in comic books, often ‘one-shot’ comics released as a single issue or limited series, beginning with Iron Man: Fast Friends 2008, which interweaves storylines between events in Iron Man 2008; and a series of ‘one-shot’ short films, released as DVD and Blu-ray extras, designed to answer narrative questions not addressed in the feature films; for example, The Consultant 2011 narrates the fate of the Abomination after his villainous rampage in The Incredible Hulk 2008.
2 Kevin Moore, Museums and Popular Culture, Cassell, London, 1997, p.104.
3 The exhibition showcases the work of the many talented people whose creative energies have culminated in the seamless, and seemingly effortless, creations we see on screen; this work includes the concept and keyframe artwork of Ryan Meinerding, Charlie Wen, Andy Park, Rodney Fuentebella, Jackson Sze, Josh Nizzi, Phil Saunders, Adi Granov, Anthony Francisco, Andrew Kim, Aaron McBride, Henrik Tamm, Michael Kutsche and Pete Thompson; costume design by Alexandra Byrne, Judianna Makovsky, Anna B Sheppard, Wendy Partridge, Sammy Sheldon Differ, Mary Zophres and Louise Frogley; and the props developed by Russell Bobbitt, Barry Gibbs, Drew Petrotta, Joey Calanni and Richie Dehne.
4 The Infinity Stones are six gems of immense power scattered across the Marvel Universe. Five of these stones have found their way into the films: the Space Stone (within the Tesseract), Power Stone (within the Orb), Reality Stone (Aether), Mind Stone (in the forehead of Vision), and the Time Stone (in the amulet, Eye of Agamotto, as worn by Doctor Strange). The sixth gem, the Soul Stone, has yet to be revealed. The gems are being sought by the super-villain Thanos (Guardians of the Galaxy 2014 and Avengers: Age of Ultron 2015), as he wants the unlimited power invested in the stones.

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‘Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe’ is organised by the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) in collaboration with Marvel Entertainment. The exhibition has received additional support from the Queensland Government though Tourism and Events Queensland (TEQ) and Arts Queensland.

Amanda Slack-Smith is exhibition curator ‘Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe’ and Associate Curator, Australian Cinémathèque, QAGOMA

I am Iron Man: The Marvel Cinematic Universe takes flight

 

When the studio launched Iron Man, the film’s post-credit sequence declared a bold, long-term vision — ‘You are not alone, Tony Stark. Your friends in the Marvel Universe are coming out to play’. Unfurling a new animated logo featuring a ‘flipbook’ of comic pages fluttering across the brand, Marvel proclaimed to fans the company’s pride in its comic book roots, and to the industry its intention to carve its own cinematic niche on the steps of Hollywood.1

‘You think you’re the only Super Hero in the world? Mr Stark, you’ve become part of the bigger universe. You just don’t know it yet.’

Nick Fury to Tony Stark in Iron Man 2008

Arguably, Iron Man was the cinematic move Marvel fans had been longing for. The comics of the Marvel Universe had built a strong and loyal fan base through the idea of a shared, interconnected space. Unlike their industry counterparts who had developed separate worlds accounting for multiple storylines, Marvel differentiated themselves in the 1960s by creating a collective space where characters, whether street-level heroes from Brooklyn or gods from Asgard, could intermingle.2 A methodology conceived by Marvel staffers Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and the famed Marvel ‘Bullpen’ over 50 years ago,3 this approach has created a rich and complex communal history, one which not only built familial relationships within the Marvel world, but also with audiences.

Iron Man 1968 #1 / Comic book / Published 10 May 1968 / © 2017 MARVEL
Tales of Suspense 1959 #39 / Comic book (cover, detail) / Published 10 March 1963 / © 2017 MARVEL

The Marvel Cinematic Universe was conceived to translate the comic book experience into a cinematic realm. Currently scheduled in a series of three narrative chapters, known colloquially as ‘phases’, the films distil years of complex storytelling into an interconnected and cogent narrative with each successive film expanding to include new characters and frontiers. Often working with independent filmmakers skilled in directing both feature films and television series, the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have become known for their playful sense of humour and a willingness to take genre-melding risks; Marvel grafts the action–adventure Super Hero narrative to wide-ranging genres, such as the techno thriller (Iron Man 2008), the espionage drama (Captain America: The Winter Soldier 2014) and the heist film (Ant-Man 2015).

Launching in 2008 with the charismatic Tony Stark in Iron Man, ‘Phase One’ delivered another four self-titled films: The Incredible Hulk 2008, featuring brilliant scientist Dr Bruce Banner and his dual personality, the enraged Hulk; Iron Man 2 2010, introducing former Russian Spy Natasha Romanoff (aka Black Widow) alongside the titular hero; Thor 2011, an interplanetary Asgardian prince and his brother Loki; and Captain America: The First Avenger 2011, featuring Steve Rogers as the failed army recruit turned government Super Soldier Captain America. Culminating in the ensemble film Marvel’s The Avengers 2012 — united with marksman Clint Barton (aka Hawkeye) and under the guidance of Nick Fury, director of S.H.I.E.L.D. — the Avengers became the ‘Earth’s Mightiest Heroes’ and, in a mere 143 minutes, they saved humanity from alien enslavement and punished the villainous Loki.

Adi Granov / End battle no.2 / Keyframe for Iron Man 2008 / © 2017 MARVEL

A bold collective piece with a cathartic level of old-fashioned, smashysmashy, good-versus-evil pummelling, Marvel’s The Avengers was the result of four years of cinematic groundwork that set the tone for the next phase. Balancing the creative energies of its changing roster of directors with a recurring cast and narrative continuity, which was, by now, an audience expectation, Marvel’s The Avengers was proof that a unified big-screen universe was possible, an achievement that sent similar franchises scrambling to emulate it.

Phase Two successfully built on Phase One’s groundwork, continuing the template of several singular hero-centric films and again concluding with an ensemble piece: Iron Man 3 2013, Thor: The Dark World 2013 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier 2014 were followed by the collaborative Avengers: Age of Ultron 2015. Two additional films featured fresh faces: the quirky space opera Guardians of the Galaxy 2014, with its cast of comic alien characters led by roguish half-human Peter Quill (aka Star-Lord), and Ant-Man 2015, featuring former thief Scott Lang, who shrinks to the size of an ant with the help of a high-tech suit. The success of these two films, showcasing largely lesser-known comic book characters, is testament to both the versatility of the Marvel back catalogue and the willingness of audiences to trust the unknown, based largely on brand alone.

Adi Granov / Iron Man study, flight with jets / Concept art for Iron Man 2008 / © 2017 MARVEL

By 2017’s end, the Marvel Cinematic Universe will have released 17 films over a nine-year period. Recent films Captain America: Civil War 2016, Doctor Strange 2016, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 2017 and Spider-Man: Homecoming 2017 have witnessed a further expansion of the Universe and a procession of new characters — a post-origin story of Spider-Man (co-produced with Sony Pictures); Black Panther, aka King T’Challa of Wakanda, who will be seen again in Black Panther 2018; and Doctor Stephen Strange, an egocentric former neurosurgeon with an interest in the mystic arts.

With each successive film, the Marvel Cinematic Universe grows ever more intricate as it expands, its success heavily reliant on the company’s long-term release schedule — now stretching to 2020 — designed to strategically introduce a rolling array of characters, settings and adventures. Developed concurrently, and up to a decade in advance of release, the films comprising the Marvel Cinematic Universe represent an all-encompassing cinematic vision.

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Endnotes
1 Martin Flanagan, Andrew Livingstone and Mike McKenny, The Marvel Studios Phenomenon: Inside a Transmedia Universe, Bloomsbury Academic, New York, 2016.
2 Steve Rogers was raised in Brooklyn in New York City.
3 The Marvel ‘Bullpen’ was a moniker created by Stan Lee to describe the core group of Marvel’s in-house comic book creators in his editorial page ‘Bullpen Bulletins’, a news update published in most monthly Marvel comics.

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‘Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe’ is organised by the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) in collaboration with Marvel Entertainment. The exhibition has received additional support from the Queensland Government though Tourism and Events Queensland (TEQ) and Arts Queensland.

Amanda Slack-Smith is exhibition curator ‘Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe’ and Associate Curator, Australian Cinémathèque, QAGOMA

Marvel and the moving image

 

As the gatekeeper of one of the richest holdings of comic book narratives in the world — over 8000 characters developed over nearly eight decades — Marvel’s move to the cinema screen was inevitable. They’d been dipping their creative toe in other media since the 1940s; under the name of founding company Timely Comics, they produced the 15-part, black-and-white film serial Captain America 1944 (Republic), while in the 1970s, CBS’s The Incredible Hulk 1978–82 and The Amazing Spider-Man 1977–79 were produced by Marvel Comics as live-action television series. However, even with these forays, Marvel had yet to find the right formula that would showcase their characters on screen with the same care and fidelity as depicted in their comics.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, amid a series of complex company mergers, Marvel continued its push into the moving-image market through a number of animated television series. The popular Saturday morning slot on the children’s network Fox Kids proved particularly effective for the Marvel-produced X-Men 1992–97 and Spider-Man 1994–98, and successfully embedded these characters, alongside Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and Hulk, into the wider pop culture lexicon. These series attracted a broad, non-comic book fan base and, in doing so, created a bridge between the comics and the films to come, a relationship that would develop in the 2000s to embrace the desirable teenage and young professional markets, which were primed for the forthcoming plethora of Super Hero films.

In the 1990s, Marvel licensed a number of premium characters across several major studios to capitalise on the growing interest in comic book film adaptations. It was an incredibly successful strategy. Of the 50-plus Super Hero films released in the ten years after September 11, nearly half — including their sequels and spin-offs — were based on characters from Marvel’s comics. The popularity of these films saw beloved Marvel characters reach new audiences in ways they never had before.1

By 2003, Marvel were seeking a more sustainable model. Although the company had enjoyed a global boost to their brand through several highly successful film franchises, the licensing of individual characters from one universe across multiple studios allowed little opportunity for the expression of character interconnectedness, a quality intrinsic to the Marvel Universe. This lack of a shared narrative also meant lesser-known characters were unlikely to be developed. In addition, over time, earlier licensed characters had begun drifting away from their central narratives. In the 1970s, Marvel had toyed with the idea of going into film production themselves, but the costs were prohibitive and the idea was shelved,2 but, by the mid 2000s, times had changed.

Adi Granov / Cover artwork for Black Widow: Deadly Origin 2009 #2 / Comic book / © 2017 MARVEL

By the end of 2006, Marvel had secured the necessary financing for their own major independent movie studio and began working on plans to bring together their fan favourites and rising stars — Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Black Panther, Falcon, Ant-Man, Scarlet Witch, Doctor Strange and the team from the Guardians of the Galaxy — into their eagerly anticipated vision of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Stepping into the arena with their debut film Iron Man in 2008 — drawn from a comic originally set during the Vietnam War (1959–75), but now adapted for the events unfolding in Afghanistan — Marvel brought to a wider audience the audacious charms of a reckless industrialist–billionaire–playboy–philanthropist and began a cinematic phenomenon that continues to this day.

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Endnotes
1 Marvel co-produced Spider-Man 2002 and Spider-Man 2 2004 with Columbia Pictures, and X-Men 2000, X2: X-Men United 2003 and X-Men: The Last Stand 2006 with Twentieth Century Fox.
2 Sean Howe, Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, Harper Perennial, New York, 2013, p.215.

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‘Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe’ is organised by the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) in collaboration with Marvel Entertainment. The exhibition has received additional support from the Queensland Government though Tourism and Events Queensland (TEQ) and Arts Queensland.

Amanda Slack-Smith is exhibition curator ‘Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe’ and Associate Curator, Australian Cinémathèque, QAGOMA