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One block south of the campus of USC, near the rose garden in Exposition Park, sits the California Science Center. On the third level, just above the echo tube and the man-made geyser is an exciting new exhibit. The Science Center seems an unlikely setting for a discussion of costumed crime-fighters, a topic which often inspires a reality-defying suspension of disbelief. To the contrary it looks like the new Marvel Super Heroes Science Exhibition is going like gangbusters.

“Marvel Super Heroes is a wonderful avenue to introduce visitors to the remarkable achievements of current science and technology – achievements that in many ways give us special powers we dream of through comics, such as Doc Ock’s dexterity with prosthetics, Iron Man’s physical strength, and Daredevil’s sight in the face of blindness,” said Jeffrey N. Rudolph, President of the California Science Center.

Running through September 4th, the exhibit was designed to teach fans and families about science and technology in a fantastic setting: Marvel Comics’ version of New York City. After its debut in Los Angeles, the Ontario Science Center will tour Marvel Super Heroes to other science centers and museums in North America.

Upon arrival, fans are directed above simulated skyscrapers, all in a noisy, windy sound tableau, designed to replicate the experiences of the high-flying, hard-swinging Marvel superheroes. They are then encouraged to cross an I-beam encased in clear Plexiglas® suspended 12 feet above the floor, meant to test their “fight or flight” responses in a study of the primal emotion of fear. The intrepid few who successfully cross the beam will find themselves dropped into the larger arena of Marvel Comics characters.

Immediately apparent after hitting the main floor is the sound of screaming. Far across the exhibit in the Danger Room, families unleash their wails and shouts at a giant sentinel, as though using the famous X-man Banshee’s sonic scream. When the party reaches 100 decibels, the sentinel is defeated, not an easy task.

Opposite the Danger Room is Daredevil’s Blind Alley, where folks can test their senses as they try to navigate a short maze with closed eyes. At the end of the passage, near the displays designed to test the senses of touch and smell, is the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning, where the curious can do a simple hand-scan to learn whether they in fact are mutants. The surprising answer is accompanied by a basic explanation of the mutation of various species.

“We design and fabricate exhibits and tour them across the country,” says Kristy Stratton of the Ontario Science Centre. One of the Project Consultants behind the super-show, Kristy has also worked on other such exhibitions showing around North America, such as a Circus Science exhibition.

There’s a lot for comics fans, the young and young-at-heart. Children and adults hang from strands of Technora®, the strongest man-made fiber, only to learn that actual spider silk is quite a bit stronger than that. The “Action Stations” are all designed around a specific Marvel universe character, like the prosthetics section featuring Doctor Octopus. Aspiring evil-doers must navigate Doc Ock’s tentacle to target Spider-man hanging above. Beyond the entertaining presentation of science, there’s a vibrant energy in the air. Kids and parents alike, as well as many comics readers drawn from around Southern California, all seem to be laughing and enjoying themselves.

Of course, the show doesn’t run completely smoothly. A few of the supporting features were not working as well as the Iron Man exhibit where potential powerhouses can lift a car. These minor malfunctions are probably to be expected, and are easily forgiven.

“Oh! I got a woman,” happily exclaims a little girl, after finding a coloring page of Storm at the crayon wall. The section is designed to encourage attendees to learn about the making of comics. The comics scene isn’t normally seen as girl-friendly, so for a girl to find a character that she can relate to shows that some care has been taken to create a broad enough experience for fans and non-fans to enjoy together. However, as the station was designed to outline the process of creating a comic book, the wall seems a bit lacking. Actually teaching fans about the creation of comics would require a bit more explanation; a little more than a box of crayons and a coloring page. Then again, as long as everyone enjoys themselves that’s no big problem.

A visit to the Marvel Super Heroes Science Exhibition would make a fun trip for any family, or any Marvel Comics True Believer. Along with the many other colorful action stations, it seems that there’s a genuine sense of adventure infused into the entire experience.

Credit - Photographer: Leroy Hamilton. © 2006 MARVEL

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