Monday, 11 March 2013

Pop Culture Pilgrimage: Marvel Comics

This is the first in what will be a series of articles revolving around the concept of Pop Culture Pilgrimage.  The idea is to highlight pilgrimages based on visiting locations that have been the basis for locations appearing in Pop Culture, or Pop Counter-Culture. 


Superman lives and operates in Metropolis.  Batman is the protector of Gotham City.  But the Marvel super-heroes, by and large, lived and and jumped around in a real city, Manhattan, New York.  Sure, Gotham City has been described by Dennis O'Neil in these terms, "Batman's Gotham City is Manhattan below Fourteenth Street at eleven minutes past midnight on the coldest night in November."  This is the mood Gotham is intended to establish, and the term "Gotham" itself was a well-known nickname for New York city, even before Batman was published.  

But it remains a fictional city.  Manhattan, however, is very real, and the various locations depicted in Marvel Comics can be visited.  

Some of the locations, and street names, have been fictionalised.  The infamous Yancy Street, home of the Yancy Street Gang and former stomping ground of The Thing, doesn't exist.  But there is a Delancey Street on Manhattan's Lower East Side, which probably served as the inspiration for Yancy Street, and Fantastic Four co-creator Jack Kirby was born in the Delancey Street neighbourhood.  Similarly, the Daily Bugle (where Peter Parker used to work as a photographer) has a real address (East 39th Street and Second Avenue) but in the real Manhattan there is an apartment block at that address.  The movie placed the Daily Bugle in the Flatiron Building on 23rd Street, which in the comics served as the site of the offices of Damage Control Inc.  Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus have also battled on this building (Deadline #2, July 2002).  The Baxter Building (the headquarters of the Fantastic Four), Doctor Strange's Sanctum Sanctorium and the Avengers mansion also have real addresses, but don't actually exist.

But there are plenty of Manhattan buildings and landmarks that have been woven into Marvel history and fame.  The Green Goblin threw Gwen Stacy to her death from the Brooklyn Bridge (Amazing Spider-Man #121, 1973).  Spider-Man and Mary Jane Watson were married on the steps of City Hall (Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21, 1987).  Many Marvel stories have taken place around the World Trade Center, and the destruction of the World Trade Center in real life was also depicted in Amazing Spider-Man vol. 2, #36 2001.  Daredevil's stomping ground (and Nick Fury's birthplace) of Hell's Kitchen is a real location, currently referred to as "Clinton" by its residents.  The Egyptian god Seth attempted to destroy the United Nations (Moon Knight vol. 4, #4, 1998), which was only one of numerous adventures set at the United Nations.  Daredevil was lured to Madison Square Garden by Bullseye and their battle was broadcast on live television (Daredevil vol 1, #131, 1976).  Howard the Duck crash-landed in Central Park (Howard the Duck vol. 1, #18, 1977).  Central Park also hosted the Beyonder's alien construct (in Sheep Meadow, to be precise) which he used to teleport heroes and villains to Battleworld for the original Secret Wars.  The Absorbing Man and Titania tried to steal a life-size golden bull from the Guggenheim Museum (Thor #447-48, 1992).  Sam Wilson (The Falcon) and Joe "Robbie" Robertson were born and raised in Harlem.  And so on and so on and so on.  

Lest we forget, the location of Marvel Comics itself, currently 417 Fifth Avenue, is also worth a visit.  They used to do tours of the 'Bullpen', and when I did it in 1996, they had the poor jerk conducting the guide dressed up as Spider-Man.  A quick google-fu informs me that they no longer do tours, but it would be still worth a visit just to say that you had been there.  I've heard stalking gets results...

And the Bullpen has appeared in Marvel Comics stories itself, most notably Fantastic Four #10 1963, featuring Doctor Doom, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.  

But all of this has been covered in a guide book.  "The Marvel Comics Guide to New York City" by Peter Sanderson is the definitive guide to stomping around New York City and visiting real and nearly real locations depicted in Marvel comics.  

But for the less enthusiastic, who may wish to add, you know, 'other things' into their New York visit, there is this map here, originally published in Wizard Magazine, issue #199, which gives you the basics.

And if you're going , you may as well do it in costume.  Don't be shy, now...

All images used without permission but with love and respect.  Please don't sue me.  Copyright by original copyright holders.  One would assume.