Marvel Cinematic Universe 101: Comic Book Films College Course
Ron Seifried | On 23, Sep 2014
Now there is a reason to stay and watch the end of the credits for a Marvel movie: extra college credit!The current slate of comic book movies are a colorful gateway back to the printed pages of childhood. For devoted fans, they are a complex web of story and character development worthy of spirited debates and heated arguments, pitting nerd vs. geek online in recent years. These discussions are now moving into the classroom with the recently announced college course, “Media Genres: Media Marvels,” at the University of Baltimore, beginning in the 2015 spring semester. This class will examine “how Marvel’s series of interconnected films and television shows, plus related media and comic book sources and Joseph Campbell’s monomyth of the ‘hero’s journey’, offer important insights into modern culture… [as well as] uncover the unprecedented efforts by Marvel to establish a viable universe of plotlines, characters, and back stories.” Class instructor Arnold T. Blumberg says “Every generation has a modern media mythology that serves as a framework for entertaining as well as educating about ethics, morality, issues of race, gender, class, and so on. For the past several years, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings have served in that role for tens of millions… [yet w]e have a generation coming of age with these characters and this completely mapped-out universe. It could be argued that it’s never been done better. But no matter what your age, there is always a fantasy/sci-fi/superhero realm that helps you to explore your place in the world, your identity, and your ideals. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is that realm for this generation.” The course begins with the first Iron Man movie, and will explore the several related parts of the media canon including film, television and comic book that forms the cohesive universe from Walt Disney & Marvel Entertainment. Iron Man was the “human emotional core” and he was “someone who could readily comment on the insanity around him,” says Blumberg. The current curriculum will lead up through Marvel’s second Phase and latest outing, Guardians of the Galaxy. The modern definition of mythology now includes pop-culture references from comic book movies, at the same time slowly steering away from the ancient texts of Roman and Greek writers. Literature classics from William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens are now on the same book shelf as Stan Lee. It is difficult to argue for or against the controversy’s of the Common Core at the K-12 level when colleges are offering courses on movie franchises. Some will claim that University academics is attempting to appeal to the lowest common denominator and not the staid, old linguistics of the classics that rarely get airplay in today’s multimedia landscape. The college level literature curriculum has come a long way from the intellectual attributes of century’s old writers. Because of the flashy graphics and skin-tight spandex, comics were never taken seriously by the elitist’s inner circles of New York and Paris. Sure, Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johansson will always be accepted at Mimosa drenched brunches, as long as the discussion steers clear from Iron Man’s Tony Stark flirtatious affections for Black Widow. For decades, college students read and discussed the sexual adventures of Zeus, all in the guise of an intellectual forum. But the modern mythology of comic book adventures are sneered at because of the perceived lack of intelligence of the imagined average reader; middle aged, obese, single, white male living in his parents basement. This definition cannot be further from the truth. The endless stream of current fictional works has been inspired by the ancient texts of DC and Marvel Comics. What is sometimes forgotten was Batman is a contemporary of Frodo Baggins in fictional literature. The addition of the visual stimulation of comic frames has been misunderstood as a replacement of the sub-conscience imagination. Contemporary fiction comments on present world events. J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings was his commentary of the perils of war, based in part on the writer’s experiences in World War I. It was just wrapped in a vast, mosaic world with outrageous characters. Marvel has addressed the current political climate with this year’s excellent Captain America: The Winter Soldier, a film that deals with the loss of freedom for the supposed comfort of additional security, all at the price of millions of innocent lives. Sound familiar? Yes, the mounting student debt crisis will not look any better with students taking this class for an easy “A” grade. Instructor Blumberg claims this will not be an easy “A,” that a “percentage” will fail and at least 50% of the course will be devoted to writing. Because how difficult can comic book movies be? The foundation of a good education is now stapled together by childhood fantasies. Will Stan Lee & co. and their mass produced literature match the respected educational value of Shakespeare and Dickens. There are more similarities within this group then the years of creation may warrant. All produced serialized works for the masses, and each author needed and desired recognition and compensation to survive. The culture today is fixated on short bursts of entertainment. Perhaps UofB and Blumberg will tap into a reboot of the English/ Media-based undergrad degree. In one hundred years, society may look upon the classics of Avengers director Joss Whedon, and discuss the merits of Mandarin’s peculiar turnaround in Iron Man 3. The Marvel Phases will last until at least 2026, meaning there will be at least 20+ films, several television & Netflix series and a wealth of comics to tap into an ever evolving curriculum. But I do suggest rebranding the class to something more generic, to appease concerned parents that tuitions are being flushed down the toilet.