“Super” is what you can do; “hero” is what you can be.
Created by Stage Nine Exhibitions, Hall of Heroes is the newest traveling exhibition hosted by the Museum of Science & History (MOSH). The show brings guests into the world of superheroes, crime-fighters, spies, and ingenious gizmos through a series of immersive experiences. As visitors enter Hall of Heroes they immediately find themselves in the thick of the action as they begin their journey through several themed environments. Guests learn the circumstances that create superheroes, discover the ideals that heroes uphold and push the boundaries about what it truly means to be heroic.
I once worked as a freelance writer for Marvel Comics, but MOSH’s selection of Hall of Heroes wasn’t just a matter of curatorial predilection. Last year, the museum conducted a four-round poll, both online and onsite, in which the public voted for their favorite among sixteen available exhibits. Hall of Heroes won the competition, which isn’t surprising considering the tremendous popularity of superhero movies and television shows these days. For MOSH, the exhibition provides a great opportunity to use popular culture as a springboard for learning about science.
Hall of Heroes divides the spectrum of superpowers into four categories – powers of the body, powers of mastery, powers over the elements and the powers of gadgets. Guests explore these categories through a series of interactive stations and games.
The section on powers of the body provides an opportunity to delve into bioscience. Abilities that belong in this category include strength (exemplified by Superman, Supergirl, the Hulk and Jessica Jones), agility (think Black Panther), speed (the Flash), size (Ant-Man), healing (Wolverine), durability (Luke Cage), flight (Hawkman) and enhanced senses (Daredevil). Visitors to Hall of Heroes have the opportunity to test their balance, grip strength, agility, coordination, speed, memory and reflexes.
Mastery covers a broad spectrum of skills that require study, practice and dedication. Hawkeye and the Green Arrow are expert archers, Dr. Strange is a skilled practitioner of the mystic arts, Iron Fist is a top-rate martial artist, Captain America is a capable tactician and Black Widow is an exemplary hand-to-hand combatant.
Physical science is the domain of the section on elements. Thor, Black Lightning and Storm master the forces of nature, the Human Torch and Iceman control fire and ice, and Firestorm manipulates matter and energy. In Hall of Heroes, visitors explore the relevance that manipulation of water, electricity, earth and fire has with humans and superheroes alike.
Gadgets open the door to the world of engineering and technology and expose the genius and inventiveness of the world of superheroes. Spider-Man’s web-shooters, Batman’s utility belt of gizmos and Iron Man’s armor fall within this category. Hall of Heroes explores the role of specialized gadgets in superhero stories and how modern scientists and inventors are examining them for human use.
Heroes Past and Present
Hall of Heroes also offers a historical perspective to the world of superheroes. Four eras are brought to life through flashback vignettes. Interactive display cases take guests through a chronology of heroes and how people relate to them, from radio to pop culture, including everything from blockbuster films to large-scale comic conventions.
The superhero genre as we know it today was born in the 1930s, when American comic books introduced the world to the costumed crime-fighters who used their powers, skills and gadgets to battle arch-nemeses, uphold justice and save citizens from all manner of threats. During the Golden Age of Comics, from the late 1930s to about 1950, superheroes achieved their first success through comic books and serialized short films. Such classic characters as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Captain America made their debuts at that time. Interest in superheroes waned by the 1950s and comics shifted their focus to other genres such as war, westerns, science fiction, horror, romance and humor.