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Mike Pitches It: Getting a “Real” Superhero Experience

Sorry, folks: I hate roller coasters.

It’s something about the whole sensory experience: the stomach-churning as you wait in line; getting strapped in, only to be launched into the air–reaching dizzying heights–this odd dichotomy of ultimate freedom and sternum-bruising confinement.

It’s that whole experience that left me wanting (and slightly fearful) when Six Flags New England came out with Superman: The Ride of Steel back in 2000. Back then, I was a freshman in high school–a little too introverted for my own good–so when our class went up there to celebrate finishing the PSATs or something, I stayed earth-bound and watched everyone’s backpack. Needless to say, I didn’t share in the “Superman experience.”

Since then, We’ve seen a number of other superhero-themed roller coasters. Six Flags has the benefit of WB tie-in branding, so Batman, Green Lantern were all a-go-go. (But just like the movie industry, apparently they can’t even make a damn Wonder Woman roller coaster. Even when the final episode of the Lynda Carter series took place AT an amusement park. Come on, people. Think of the retro tie-ins!!!)

It totally makes sense. You’re given a chance at weightlessness–a fleeting moment of flight that only costs a pricey admission fee to the park rather than an even pricier trip on the vomit comet. People crave at least some fraction of the rush it must be to wield limitless power–even if it’s over in less than five minutes.

I think about all those Spider-Man rides down at Universal Studios where you are in a contained craft looking through 3-D glasses as Stan Lee shouts to you thwipping through a fictionalized New York. We long for the sensory experience.

I remember reading an article over a year ago about people paying to be kidnapped for fun (ugh, I’m pretty sure it was GQ or something. Feel free to judge). Even within a scenario like that, it’s the individual trying so desperately to put out there in the world that there’s something special and significant about them. Maybe they’re a spy, or someone with a secret (or secret power), and HYDRA or LexCorp is trying to extract the info. It’s an extension of fantasy that comes from an imagination fed by talk of X-genes, the CADMUS project, or even that alien technology stuff in Ex Machina. 

When I was five years old, my dad and I went to Universal Studios in California where I got to do The Star Trek Adventure. You put on the costumes, filmed on Trek sets–and could even take home a souvenir VHS copy of your exploits. Can’t we build a better superhero experience? One that feeds all of these various sensory and experiential fulfillment needs?

I could imagine a Doctor Strange ride or experience in the same vein as the Harry Potter experience–where you could don some magical artifact that allowed you a sorcery lesson with the Supreme himself. Why not an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D laser-tag or paintball match against HYDRA? There, you could have opposing factions, even a mole in the midst of your group. It forces you to work together and save the day.

That’s what seems to be missing from all of the current rides and attractions we have for the superhero experience: other people. It’s such an isolating experience getting strapped into a coaster or other vehicle. Actually being a hero means saving people (or stunt doubles/actors in my proposed scenarios). It means having to work together even with differences/different powers–isn’t that why we love the various Justice Leagues or Avengers? Batman likes to work alone, but even his actions have consequences to those around him. I wouldn’t mind a ride that simulates driving the Batmobile–but the element of catching a villain ought to be balanced with the need to avoid crushing cars or blowing up buildings (lest Alfred chastise you over the batphone).

If designers could strive to create these sorts of experiences where people (read: customers) can play out these superhero fantasies on a seemingly grander scale, I guess my hope is that you can transfer those internalized desires to do what is right into the outside world. When my friends stepped off the Ride of Steel I could tell they were a little different after going up, up, and away. There was a spring in their step–just a drop more of adrenaline in their system. It almost looked like they could levitate. Give me that, but give me more.

Look, all I’m trying to say is I want a Fraction/Zdarsky Sex Criminals-themed ride. Is that too much to ask?

Mike Balderrama

When Mike was on vacation with his family in the summer of 2002, he walked into a North Dakota comic book shop to avoid his parents and picked up Steampunk #12—what would be the final cliffhanger issue of Chris Bachalo and Joe Kelly’s failed series. Enamored with the artwork, the quirky story, and confusing-but-archetypal love-story-through-time concept, he visited all the comic book shops in Connecticut to collect the back issues. Thanks to the fledgling and shady comic-sellers online, he managed to get all 12 issues, the prologue comic and preview comic, as well as the two trades that collected all the issues. While Mike isn’t sure why he felt the need to tell you this, he does want you to know that he loves making comics, talking about comics, reading comics, and complaining about how he wishes he could write comics. He’s a Classicist and has a big thing for myth and storytelling, plus he does museum stuff. He once worked at RISD and got a contact high off of a lot of awesome creative people.