Ka-Pow! Superheroes in Museums

It’s always the quiet ones you should watch out for; the ones that are often described as ‘mild-mannered’ in particular. You never know what they might be keeping to themselves. It could be nothing, or it could be a double-life as a super-powered crime fighter complete with colourful tights, a cool car and maybe even a side-kick or two.

Especially if they have an alliterative name.

I’ve often wondered with all the mysterious artefacts in museums, why there aren’t more (or indeed any?) superheroes whose alter ego is a curator or something similar. Surely dealing with potentially potent objects from an ancient, possibly forgotten civilization would make for a decent origin story? But then where would you go from there? How can they go out and fight crime without arousing suspicion? Superman and Spider-man both have journalistic alter egos to give them a reason to be at a crime scene, but unless someone tries to touch/lick/steal an object from the museum this superhero probably won’t have a reason to go out and tackle the Big Bads outside.

You’re probably wondering where all this is coming from. Was I bitten by a radioactive spider at the Science Museum? Did I accidentally unleash a powerful force from an artefact at the British Museum? Alas, no. It was the discovery of Wonder Woman’s costume in a museum store that prompted this post; A Guide to Superheroes in Museums!

Wonder Woman

Lynda Carter's Wonder Woman costume
Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman costume (C) The Children’s Museum of IndianapolisWonder Woman

The Amazonian Princess Wonder Woman was created by William Moulton Marston (who co-incidentally contributed to creating the first lie-detector). She was brought to life by Lynda Carter in the 1970s live action television series and her famous star-spangled costume – complete with Lasso of Truth and bullet proof bracelets- can be found in the stores of The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.


JFK meets Superman
JFK meets Superman

Kypton’s most famous son pops up in quite a few places due to the significant impact he’s had on popular culture since his introduction in the 1930s. He stands for Truth, Justice and bright red underwear. I’ve encountered a few Superman related objects on my adventures (alas, not the space-pod he travelled to Earth in) but by far the most interesting has been this comic book from the Museum of the Kennedys in Berlin.

Doctor Who

Matt Smith's Doctor Who costume
Matt Smith’s Doctor Who costume

Or more simply, “The Doctor” is the hero of the world’s longest-running sci-fi themed television programme. He’s been through several different incarnations over the years and has attracted a loyal band of followers who have dubbed themselves “Whovians“.

You might doubt The Doctor’s status as a Superhero but consider this – he is an alien, can return from the dead, can travel through time and space, has nifty gadgets and side-kicks to boot as well as existing in both televisual and comic book forms. Definitely a superhero.

Also a TARDIS is cooler than a bat-mobile.

Unlike the other superheroes in this list, The Doctor has a whole museum dedicated to him:  The Doctor Who Museum in East London. 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
(C) The Weston Mercury

Not only does Buffy have the best theme-tune in all of televisual history, but like the Doctor, she has broken free of the restraints of television and has her own comic book now, so if she wasn’t officially a superhero before, she is now. You need a comic for it to be official (at least that’s my definition).

Buffy’s adventures often had a museum-y element to them (Inca Mummy Girlanyone?) but in 2010 she was the star of her own exhibition at what is now the Weston-Super-Mare Museum in Somerset.

Batman and Robin

Batman Lunchbox
(C) Washington Post

The caped crusader and his side-kick Robin can be found in The Smithsonian in lunch-box form.

Judge Dredd

Although he hasn’t really captured the imagination of the masses in the way other heroes on this list have done, Judge Dredd still has a cult following and remains one of the UK’s best known superheroes. The Cartoon Museum in London often display artwork from 2000AD in which Dredd features.

Iron Man

Iron Man
(C) Royal Armouries

The Golden Avenger was briefly on display at the Royal Amoury in Leeds in the summer of 2012.

The suit was a replica made by Bradford-based car-body repairman Mark Pearson who was inspired by Robert Downey Jr’s take on Tony Stark.

Mark has said  “This all started out with a quick browse on a movie replica prop-makers’ website but quickly spiralled into a challenge that I just couldn’t resist. The first replica attracted a huge amount of interest, but the high spot came when the Royal Armouries got in touch and commissioned me to create another. It will be one of the first things that visitors see when they enter the museum.”

The Power Rangers

If, like me, you spent most of your childhood in the 1990s then you probably have fond memories of shouting “It’s Morphin’ time!” in the playground as you enacted scenes from Power Rangers (I was usually Billy, the Blue Ranger).

The V&A Museum of Childhood have a Power Ranger in their collection and I think I have this one at home somewhere. Does anyone else feel old when relics from their childhood become part of a museum’s collection?


Spider-man at the museum of natural history
(C) Marvel Comics

Watch out for the hyphen. It’s Spider-Man not Spiderman. Stan Lee deliberately put in that little ‘-‘ to stop it looking too similar to Superman. Grammar lesson aside, I think this is my favourite Superhero in a museum story…

In a genius moment of cross promotion, the spider-powered superhero delivered a spider (a Chilean Rose Tarantula) to curators at the Museum of Natural History in New York for their Spiders Alive! exhibition.


Ok, I admit this last one is cheating a little bit, but Hercules (or Herakles if you want to get all Greek) is one of literature’s earliest super-powered heroes and he exists as a hero in the Marvel Universe. So there.

A marble bus of Hercules has made it on to the British Museum’s Highlights and you can find it in the Enlightment Gallery (Room 1).

If all of this has whetted you appetite, and if you’re in the area you can also visit the Hall of Heroes: Super Hero Museum in Indiana where highlights include the Batman costume worn by Adam West!


4 Comments Add yours

  1. I never thought about the combination of super-heroes and museums. It’s a great idea and gives me lots of ideas to explore with my son.

  2. There was a variant storyline of Thor (Thor The Mighty Avenger) where Jane Foster is the new head of Nordic Antiquities at the Bergen War Memorial Museum in Bergen, Oklahoma. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jane_Foster_(comics)#Other_versions

    Also, the Arab American National Museum has a collection of comics and graphic novels by or about Arab Americans. It’s dedicated to Geoff Johns, DC’s Chief Creative Officer. http://www.knightarts.org/community/detroit/a-super-day-at-the-arab-american-national-museum

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