A World Where “Comic-Book Sensibility” Is Considered a Compliment


A new immersive experience brings Marvel superheroes to virtual life.

It’s a ubiquitous rite of passage for anyone whose imagination has ever been captured by the alchemy of tights, capes, great powers and word balloons. Tying a bath towel around your shoulders and jumping off the bunk bed faster than a speeding bullet, working on the perfect flinging motion for that trashcan lid shield — not to mention the simple act of thwip-thwipping your way across the schoolyard during a time when “the web” had no meaning other than Spider-Man’s preferred method of travel — these are just a few of the myriad of means by which generations of comics fans fantasized about having adventures like their favorite superheroes.
Doug Schaer readily admits he wasn’t one of those people. “I wasn’t really a comics fan growing up,” he said. “I had my Underoos like everyone else,” but that was about the extent of his interest in the genre as a child.
As an adult, though, there are few people in the world more interested in living life as a superhero. That’s because Schaer is one of the founders and the COO of Hero Ventures, the company behind Marvel Experience Live, the new entertainment venture that began its 12-day Philadelphia stint on June 24.
The $30 million enterprise — it costs somewhere around $2.5 million just to mount the show in each city where it plays — promises to immerse participants in a two-hour adventure that includes a state-of-the-art 4D motion ride, a life-size Avengers Quinjet and what is being billed as the world’s first and only 360-degree, 3D stereoscopic projection theater.
For Schaer, a former sports agent who created Hero Ventures with company CEO and fellow entrepreneur Rick Licht, the pair’s lack of fanboy status actually helped them come up with a concept that would appeal to more people. “We learned about what makes fanboys tick,” Schaer explained, “but we ultimately made something we wanted to see — our target audience is the one that goes to see The Avengers,” the multibillion-dollar movie franchise that is the cornerstone of the current Marvel Universe.
And accordingly, there is plenty of Avengers action in Marvel Experience Live in what the company calls “the world’s first hyper-reality tour.” The Hulk is there, as is Iron Man, as well as Spider-Man, Wolverine and 20 other heroes from Marvel’s 8,000-strong character stable. They are all there — virtually, of course — as part of a SHIELD-organized strike against no less than M.O.D.O.K., the Red Skull and the Adaptoids. 
While there is 24 minutes of animated content to help drive the narrative, this is by no means a passive experience. Each participant is welcomed into the virtual world as a new SHIELD agent before traversing the enormous self-contained domes that house the experience — a full two football fields’ worth of activities like scaling security walls, weapons training and holographic web-slinging, soaring and smashing.
Schaer said that the mashup of cinematic elements and theme-park sensory overload is by design. “We really love the feature films and we pondered, what if you could be dropped into the middle of a feature film?” To make the most of that scenario, he added, “we wanted to take the very best of the attractions and elongate it into a full-fledged immersive adventure.”
The result is two hours of highs, lows and mediums — “you can’t keep people on highs for two straight hours,” Schaer emphasized — all set in a family-friendly environment he described as “light PG-13. The narrative is complex enough for the fanboys to appreciate it, but it is simplistic enough for the 4-year-olds and 5-year-olds to understand and follow it.”
Schaer has plenty of experience with learning how to communicate effectively with children. In addition to having two of his own, he coached a 7-year-old girls’ basketball team during his time living on a kibbutz in Israel in the 1990s. That was just one of his many basketball-related adventures in the Jewish state, which also included playing for Hapoel Yokneam in the Liga Bet and coaching American Jewish youth teams for tournaments in Israel.
After his return to the United States, Schaer went to law school at the University of Southern California, and he wound up staying on the West Coast, ultimately becoming a successful agent before launching Hero Ventures. When asked what the difference is between representing professional athletes and superheroes, he laughed before responding, “Superheroes are all about the betterment of everyone else; most athletes, especially during the early part of their careers, are thinking about themselves first and the betterment of everyone else second.”
It is that commitment to making the world a better place that helps explain the continually expanding prominence of the role of costume crusaders in popular culture, said Danny Fingeroth. Fingeroth, a longtime writer and editor for Marvel Comics, is also a comics historian and author of one of the best examinations of the Jewish origins and subtexts of the comics industry, Disguised as Clark Kent: Jews, Comics, and the Creation of the Superhero.
“The superhero has become the Western for our time,” Fingeroth said. “The Western was America telling itself the myth of how and why we came to be. The cowboys have gone out of style — they were too corny and antiquated.” Today, he elaborated, Superman, Wolverine, Captain America and the others “are the modern equivalent of the hero coming into town and cleaning things up and making it safe for folks to go about their daily lives.”
Another reason for the explosion in their popularity, he added, can be summed up in one word: technology. For the first seven decades or so after they first launched off of oversized pup pages in all of their four-color glory, there was no way to bridge the gap between what could occur in imagination and what could be shown onscreen. Today, thanks to CGI, greenscreens and other advances, people walk into a movie theater — and Marvel Experience Live — expecting to be wowed, not disappointed by what is projected in front of them.
And, Fingeroth said, what often gets brought to life still retains some of the Jewishness infused into the characters by the countless Jewish writers, artists and editors who have worked in the comics industry since its inception.
“It is the mainstreaming of what would be considered a Jewish sensibility into pop culture,” he said. “It’s a way that everyone can see themselves as their best selves — as what we would do if we were ethically and morally perfect, or if we were flawed and trying to transcend those flaws. They are the real, operatic metaphors for the challenges we face every day.”
Marvel Experience Live
Now through July 5, with showtimes throughout the day
Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia
Contact: gsalisbury@jewishexponent.com; (215-832-0797).


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