This week’s SATURDAY SIX looks at Marvel Superhero Island. This is a big weekend for Marvel. The critically acclaimed Captain America: Civil War hits the theaters in what looks to be a MASSIVE debut. We here at the SATURDAY SIX offices have been counting down the days since the movie was officially announced in October 2014. So to honor this momentous occasion we’re putting the spotlight this week on MARVEL. Despite Disney owning Marvel, the only* Marvel in Orlando right now is over at the Universal Orlando Resort. Now Universal inked their exclusive deal with Marvel back when no one wanted to touch the comic book company with a ten foot poll. Marvel had destroyed their own comic business by catering to speculators along with signing away their characters to awful movie deals out of their control. The recent Fantastic Four movie from Fox – the one that scored 9% on Rotten Tomatoes, wasn’t even the worst Fantastic Four movie ever made (this one is.) But that’s all in the past. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is better than ever (with a Pixar-like run of 13 good-to-great films) and Universal did the characters right over in Islands of Adventure. So sit back, watch your language, and let’s start our countdown with…
# 6 – MEET CAPTAIN AMERICA
We have to start off with the Sentinel of Liberty himself, Captain America. In the last 100 years Captain America has played an important part in our culture. His creators (Joe Simon and Jack Kirby) made a character to fight the growing menace of Nazi Germany. The first Captain America comic book came out in December 1940, a full year before the attack on Pearl Harbor. At the time there was a segment of America that didn’t believe we should enter the war, but the very first issue of Captain American had our star spangled superhero socking it to Adolf Hitler on the cover, making it perfectly clear how Simon and Kirby felt. After World War II ended, the popularity of many superhero titles waned, with Captain America himself getting canceled by 1949.
In the 1960s, when Stan Lee and the rest of Marvel Comics were creating a whole new era of heroes with Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, and Iron Man, Captain America was brought back to lead the Avengers. We all know the story now, that he was a man frozen in time, literally, thawed out to lead Earth’s mightiest heroes. Captain America has been a staple of the Marvel comic book Universe ever since.
Remember those awful movie deals Marvel signed back in the day? Well Hollywood also made a Captain America movie, which of course: stunk (and that’s being generous.) The general consensus was that you couldn’t make a good Captain America film. The character was too square, too goody-two-shoes for a world which now wanted anti-heroes like Wolverine and the Punisher. Well, that all changed with the release of Captain America: The First Avenger. The sequel, Winter Soldier, is generally considered one of the best superhero films ever made (in Your Humble Author’s opinion, it’s not even close. #TeamCap)
# 5 – CAP DINER
This may surprise you, because the overall food selection at Cap Diner may make you long for the haute cuisine available at your average counter service restaurant at the Magic Kingdom. However, Cap Diner has two things going for it that make it a Must Do place for any Marvel fan.
The Million Dollar View. Cap Diner has a lot of seating both inside and outside, with most of the tables having an unbelievable look at the rest of Islands of Adventure. Here you can relax and look out into a picturesque setting that includes Hogsmeade Village, Mythos, and even Sneetch Beach over in Seuss Landing.
It’s actually more of an Avengers restaurant than one based on Captain America. This actually may be heartbreaking for any Disney fan trying to find the loophole for any character not being used by Universal because there are so many just in this restaurant. You have the big hitters like Thor, Iron Man and Ant-Man, but also a slew of Marvel characters that, up until recently, only hardcore Marvel Zombies would recognize, like the Black Knight. It’s absolutely incredible to see some of these characters outside of a comic book store. Imagine a Disney restaurant filled with characters from The Black Cauldron and Meet the Robinsons – that’s the level of depth the restaurant mines. This is a restaurant which features The Absorbing Man. ‘Nuff said true believers.
# 4 – AN ACTUAL COMIC STORE INSIDE A THEME PARK
Comic books and theme parks are a natural fit. The biggest readers of comics are kids and adult males, two of theme park’s biggest demographics. The SATURDAY SIX even looked at the very best theme park related comic books. After purchasing Marvel in 2009, Disney has started to bring comics slowly back into Walt Disney World (mostly in the form of trade paperbacks, but Memento Mori at the Magic Kingdom not only carries single issues of the Haunted Mansion comic, it has park exclusive variant covers). Both Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure carry a lot of comic books, with Marvel Superhero Island having a working comic book store.
Stocked with single issue comic books, trade paperback collections, action figures, and other collectibles (Marvel high end guitars?), this is a store that the guys from the Big Bang Theory would have no problem spending some time in. Even better, the store has an entire backstory that is told in a comic book form via a huge mural by one of the registers. The story goes that the X-Men villain Magneto amassed a huge treasure trove of Marvel comics and was able to channel the entertainment value of the items themselves into pure energy.
The X-Men’s Storm ended up defeating Magneto and allowing guests the ability to purchase their favorite Marvel products. Talk about a story told in the Mighty Marvel Manner that would make Stan Lee proud.
Can it be? Yes! This Marvel Merchandise is so packed with thrills and excitement it is a source of limitless power! – Magneto
# 3 – CELEBRATE THE VILLAINS
We’ve said it many times in the past, but the theme parks just don’t give enough love to “the bad guys.” Heck, a hero is only as good as his villain. We’ve got Gaston’s Tavern in the Magic Kingdom along with the occasional meet and greet with a villain but we need more. Have you ever have an interaction with Lady Tremaine, Anastasia, and Drizella? It is priceless.
We all love Diagon Alley, but how great is Knockturn Alley? It’s nice just to bask in the creepiness of it. Marvel Superhero Island has an entire section of the land dedicated to the bad guys we love to hate with Villain’s Alley. It all starts off with Kingpin’s Arcade, and anyone who has had to drag kids away from video games while in a theme park knows an arcade operator is a natural fit for a true baddie. Of course the main feature of the area of Dr. Doom’s Fear Fall. This is an attraction where the queue needs to be experienced as it is completely subversive for a theme park ride. The videos that play are a must watch. In a next level touch of evil, on the ground surrounding Fear Fall are outlines of characters who have fallen from the ride. Nothing will ever touch the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror in terms of quality, but as far as drop rides go, Doom’s Fear Fall presents a great take on the concept.
Just as guests can meet Captain America (along with Spider-Man and the X-Men), Villain’s Alley offers them the chance to interact with some true heels with Dr. Doom and the Green Goblin. While Dr. Doom is an imposing presence, the Goblin character can be absolutely crazy leading to some wonderful photo ops. It’s fun just watching Goblin interact with families.
# 2 – INCREDIBLE HULK COASTER
Until Hogwarts Castle took it’s place, the Hulk Coaster was for all intents and purposes the icon of Islands of Adventure from Day One. It’s curved green track dominates the landscape and you can hear (happy) screams from guests well before you even enter the park. With an unbelievable accelerated launch, the Hulk is one of the best coasters in Florida, and it’s about to get better as it is just about to finish up a very lengthy refurbishment where the entire track was replaced. Hulk is also one of the rare coasters at Disney or Universal where guests can get some fantastic shots of people riding it because of how the track is laid out.
# 1 – THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF SPIDER-MAN
What else can we say about The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man? It has been over 15 years since it made it’s debut, and it still may be the best attraction in Orlando. A ride that will leave you in awe, Spider-Man combines 3-D screens seamlessly with actual sets and props, having you constantly wonder “how did they do that?!” Filled with humor, action, and a thrilling finish, Spider-Man appeals to all demographics, and is everything we want in a theme park attraction. It even has two completely themed queues (one for standby and one for Universal Express) along with terrific gags to catch along the way. If you are a comic book fan…if you are a Marvel fan… if you are a fan of ol’ web-head…you OWE it to yourself to ride The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man.
HONORABLE MENTION: Adam Kubert’s name throughout the Island
We all love the little details and “Easter eggs” hidden in Walt Disney World and Universal, but one of my favorite examples is located in Islands of Adventure. Artist Adam Kubert created many of the larger-than-life drawings that you see throughout Marvel Superhero Island, and if you look closely you will find the name “Adam” cleverly drawn into most of the characters.
So there you have it: Six Reasons We LOVE Marvel Superhero Island at Universal. See you next weekend for the latest installment of the SATURDAY SIX, where we’ll look at something fun from the world of Disney and Universal. If you enjoyed yourself, be sure to check out The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! articles, or, for your listening pleasure, check out the E-Ticket Report podcast. You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan)
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Special Thanks to crack staff photographer Brandon Glover, the stunning siren of superheroes JeniLynn Knopp, Disney Springs and Sapphire Falls Guru bioreconstruct, and blogger to the stars Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. Be sure to also check out Brandon on The Park Blogger podcast with co-hosts Aengus Mackenzie and Brian Carey and Meg’s Yeti To Be Named Disney Podcast.