Categories: Mario Sanguinet, THE BUZZ

THE BUZZ: ‘Spider-Man: Beyond Amazing – The Exhibition’ at the Comic-Con Museum in Balboa Park slings away on Jan. 3

By Mario Sanguinet

December 26, 2022

Earlier this summer, and just in time for Comic Con, the Comic-Con Museum in Balboa Park opened “Spider-Man: Beyond Amazing – The Exhibition” to celebrate the 60 years of our friendly neighbor. The exhibit’s last day is on Jan. 3, 2023 and the museum will close the same day to make way for new installations. If you haven’t been able to attend, you might want to include that during your end of the year plans. 

The curators Patrick A. Reed, a pop culture historian and journalist and Ben Saunders, a professor of English at the University of Oregon have done a great job selecting and highlighting the pieces that would make it into the exhibit. But, 60 years of anything is a long time. And choosing what makes it into an exhibition is no small feat. 

“They picked out the art and they interacted with the collectors to get the private art here for us to see it. So it was quite an extensive effort, they put it together in less than seven months,” said Rita Vandergaw, executive director of the Comic-Con Museum. It was all “built and installed in that time period as well.”

When asked what their selection process was like, Saunders said, “You sort of start with a wish list. And then you try to figure out what actually exists, what has survived, what can be found, what can make an alternative to the items in your wish list.” 

They partnered with Marvel, went through some of the Sony Archives, and relied heavily on private collections. Without their cooperation, this project wouldn’t exist. 

“Marvel never kept an archive of its artwork; we have to go to private collectors for all these things. And in this case, we were very lucky to have such a strong basis, a strong foundation with Mike Burkey’s collection, that we could augment it with a few additional collectors and some items from our own collections to really fill everything out,” added Reed.

Visitors will first walk into a mini-atrium with a brief series of video clips from the comics and some trivia, summarizing Peter Parker and Spider-Man’s origin story. All accompanied by original theme music exclusively developed for the exhibit. 

Then the exhibition begins with some of the first ideas and character prototypes that originated in other comics and eventually became Spider-Man. It also includes most of the major contributors to Spider-Man, starting with Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, moving through John Romita Sr. and John Romita Jr. as well as more recent editors and editions of the character. 

Throughout it there are first edition comics, original artwork, a range of Spider-Man memorabilia, as well as hand drawn panels with black ink and white out. And one of the “holy grail pieces of arcana,” as Saunders called it, what might be “the only surviving Stan Lee dialogue script from the classic Marvel era of the 60s.” 

The exhibit does a great job of incorporating analog mediums and digital mediums to tell the story of Spider-Man. For instance, there are a few digital stations where visitors can learn more about the villains, family, and love interests and how they all came to be. 

Others might find some of the original movie props from across the Spider-Man films, such as Doc Oc’s glasses, the Green Goblin’s mask, and the plainclothes Spider-Man suit from Homecoming (which I found to be one of the most interesting pieces).

When asked what they hoped visitors took from the exhibit, Reed said, “I hope that people walk away with a greater understanding of the medium, but also of how much storytelling really matters. And an appreciation for all of the different creators that have lent little pieces to this mythology.” 

And while Vandergaw said this while talking about the final portion of the exhibition, which was on the range of people and characters that have become part of Spider-Man canon, the sentiment applies to overall the experience the exhibit provides: “Regardless of age, race, gender orientation, or personal pronouns. Anyone can be part of the Spider-Verse.”

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