Marvel Universe Live, the Lectro-Link, and the Live-Action Entertainment Experience

Curator's Note

With Disney's acquisition of Marvel Entertainment in 2009, the corporation has expanded the opportunities available for the comics-based company into nearly all media. For example, Feld Entertainment recently created and launched the Marvel Universe Live tour in conjunction with Disney to bring Marvel characters to theatrical life at sports venues around the U.S. According to the show's director, Shanda Sawyer, the show is meant to give fans the feeling that they've "really stepped into the Marvel universe. That they are inside that realm that they've read about, and dreamed about and seen in the movies." Billed as an "original, live-action arena experience," Marvel Universe Live acts as a staging site for a combined Marvel narrative unavailable in film due to character licensing rights across studios. The show's spectacle involves martial arts choreography, acrobatics, and vehicular, motorcycle, and pyrotechnic stunts, as the Avengers work with Wolverine and Spider-Man to defeat several core Marvel enemies. Marvel Universe Live also acts as a conduit for the extensive sale of Marvel products, with merchandize geared for every age, price point, and level of fandom. In particular, the Lectro-Link sells for $25 at the show's many retail outlets, though it is available for pre-order with the ticket purchase. Along with the Lectro-Link, ticket holders have access to a prequel comic for the show, which provides some of the narrative's backstory. The comic documents the development of the Lectro-Link by Iron Man and Spider-Man; according to the story, the device acts as a remote power source for Iron Man's suit. Conveniently, it also allows consumers to interact with the characters, as those who purchase the Lectro-Link can power them up and help Iron Man channel their energy in order to defeat his enemies during the show's climax. Thus, Marvel Universe Live utilizes the space of these large sports venues as a canvas to further exploit the intimate connection that fans crave with this franchise. Deemed a "new addition to Marvel lore" in the company's press releases, the Lectro-Link was created specifically for the show, a unique tool to promote the show's interactivity to young fans. Yet, despite the device's seeming necessity for the show's narrative, the future of the Lectro-Link in the Marvel universe remains unclear. No other Marvel property has incorporated it. Ultimately, its main function was to sell the idea of engagement with the spectacle, limited as that interaction might be within the vast Marvel universe.


Is Marvel Universe Live an outgrowth of Disney on Ice? Figure skating, like many Disney properties, has been traditionally been gendered female and used as a marketing expansion for princess and other Disney narratives. Could be an interesting counterpoint in a broader "stadium" study.

This was a partnership with Feld Entertainment, which I knew previously for their association with the Ringling Bros./Barnum & Bailey Circus. They also are known for Monster Jam and Moto-cross shows, events that would typically skew male and would travel to stadiums and arenas like Marvel Live. It appears that Feld also co-produces some of the Disney On Ice shows, too. and there are obvious similarities between the way they are staged. It does speak to the larger issue of Disney attempting to market more to the male audience. I know that when they revamped Disney XD, pursuing boys was the main strategy. They've made a lot of money with the Cars franchise, but that skews much younger (as do a lot of the princess lines). There are some interesting corollaries with the On Ice shows. It definitely could use a fuller study.

This (and especially the 'lectro link') also seems to be an interesting variation on the cross-media staging of participation: while cinema and television do only become participatory through the addition of second screens etc., the translation of comics or films to 'live shows' offers another possibility to equip fictional narratives with interactivity. I wonder, however, if the stadium (in comparison e.g. to stage shows in amusement parks) contributes to the liveness of the experience.

Wow! This is an amazing turn of events -- or of business strategy -- for a family-owned company that once operated mostly as a concert promoter, then bought up Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circuses a half century ago. Lectro Link is light years away from trained elephants and tigers -- but seems to serve the same demographic: families with kids. The question is: will Lectro Link become a collector's item we'll find mint-in-box at the 2035 Comicon? If these Marvel fans have mobile devices, perhaps a toy like Lectro Link could be taken as redundant? Only time will tell...

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