Four hours with a 6-year-old taught me that parents are the baddest motherfuckers on the planet. I have never been so exhausted. Nothing I've done in my adult life has prepared me for a day of trying to wrangle a 6-year-old while Spider-Man occasionally pops up to talk to him, but that's how I spent my Saturday when I took my nephew to Fair Park for the Marvel Experience.
What's the Marvel Experience? Well, it's the closest thing we're getting to Jurassic Park in 2014. It's a traveling circus of bright lights, loud sounds and marketing. It's crack for 6-year-olds, and with the weather being sunny and 65 it was a perfect storm for every family in the area to jump on the green line and take the kids to see the stars of Disney's crown jewel of a franchise.
My nephew Tyler is a precocious child who spent the entire car ride to Fair Park telling me about how Venom, Spider-Man's archenemy, can grow "ginormous." This was followed up with the phrase "Did you know" and then another fact about a Marvel character. This went on for the entire 40-minute car ride; I am now America's foremost expert on Marvel Comics knowledge acquired via 6-year-old boys.
The experience is a series of domes surrounded by an open-air court, with tours kicking off every 30 minutes full of families crowding in to be part of the weekend's hottest ticket (every tour I saw go in was sold out). Lines stretched from the SHIELD entry point almost to the road, and kids of all ages were dressed as their favorite heros. Chris Pratt's Star Lord was prominent with the kids, adults seemed to be pro-Captain America judging by the number of hoodies being worn.
After you're ushered into the gates, you're directed to a sign-up system where you put in your information and choose a codename. Tyler went with his middle name, because he's 6; I went with Falcon, because I'm about 8 in the maturity department. From there you enter the first dome and watch an animated video in which Iron Man and She Hulk tell you about joining SHIELD. It's all very slick and full of humor. The kid was instantly obsessed.
From there you go to a new room and meet Nick Fury, voiced by Keith David, along with a who's who of Marvel heroes such as Wolverine, El Capitan Americano, Iron Man, Spider-Man and Black Widow. And then you get the back story: something called a Super-Adaptoid broke in and stole powers, and blah blah blah. Listen, the story doesn't matter, what matters is the next room is the main room, and they give you blasters.
The main room -- a.k.a. the Recruit Training Center -- is a Stefon Night Club of comic book dreams. It's got everything. There's an Iron Man flight simulator, a Holo-Blaster training room (Tyler and I own this), a Spider-Man wall climb race simulator (Tyler wins his race), a Black Widow agility course, a costume customizer, hero archives, weapon replicas and so much more. The look of pure joy in Tyler's eyes caused my black heart to lighten, and grow three sizes, and that was before we ever shot off blasters.
So we shot off blasters, Tyler climbed like Spider-Man, we did some interactive fact finding thing, and then we whisked off to the next stage, the Simularium, an immersive 3-D room where we were trained in combat by Iron Fist (hell of a potential porn name there) and She Hulk.
After training, we're whisked off to a location to watch our heroes infiltrate the secret base of Lady Hydra, the Red Skull and Modok, voiced by Kevin Smith of all people. Tyler's favorite hero, the Black Panther (a.k.a. proof that I'm doing a hell of a job as an uncle), shows up, and he squeals with glee. I'd trade almost anything to be as happy as he was in that moment; kids are awesome.
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We're then sent to board a jet, but before we can get on it everyone is attacked, the doors get stuck, and the Hulk has to save us. You kind of have to be there to get it, but it's slick, and kids cheer loudly.
Finally we get to the ride part of the experience, where we take seats on moving chairs and blast off to help the Avengers fight the Red Skull et al. Kids cheer, parents smile, we all help Iron Man kick some super robot skull ass. Tyler says that today is "the best day ever" and I'm clearly in the lead for Uncle of the Year.
And then everything went to hell when we entered the SHIELD gift shop, and among the rows of shirts and various merchandise Tyler spots a $35 Iron Man figure in the gift shop, and I have to very calmly explain that Uncle Jaime is a writer, and is therefore not in the business of dropping the price of a bottle of Maker's Mark on a toy that would be discarded on the car ride home.
But, before you all call me out as being the worst guy on the planet you should know that you shouldn't feel bad for the kid. On the ride home we made a detour to Titan Comics where a coloring book, three Guardians of the Galaxy toys and some comics were purchased. So, sorry ladies, I'm not close to being father material at the moment, but if you want to know how to defeat Modok and fire a Holo-Blaster, thanks to the Marvel Experience, I'm your man. The Marvel Experience is in Dallas through January 31. Tickets are $40 at ticketmaster.com.