If you’re a Marvel Comics fan, don’t sleep on Universal Studios Islands of Adventure. The Orlando attraction is home to Marvel Superhero Island, an area of the theme park based on the Marvel Universe. Launched in 1999, Marvel Superhero Island was conceived years before Disney acquired Marvel Comics. Thanks to pre-existing licensing deals, Marvel Superhero Island continues to operate at Universal, in direct competition with Walt Disney World mere miles away. In addition to thrilling rides, Marvel Superhero Island is filled with some great Easter eggs. Here are some of the cool things you’ll find around the park.
One of the first things you’ll notice as you walk through the park are the giant character murals. Those colorful murals were drawn by comics legend Adam Kubert, who hid his signature in each of them. Here are a few examples.
Take a look at Captain America’s left arm, right next to his glove.
Can you spot anything on the bottom of MODOK?
For Iceman, Adam Kubert snuck in a reference to his son Max. Look for it on his foot.
If you’re a fan of 90’s Marvel Comics, then you’ll love the theming throughout the park. Almost all of the artwork from the 1999 launch remains to this day, giving the area a retro feel.
Familiar business names
Most of Marvel Superhero Island is decorated like a sprawling metropolis, with miniature city buildings and skyscrapers placed throughout the area. Various Marvel Universe businesses can be found on these buildings, which helps make the area feel more immersive.
The entrance to Café 4 is labeled Baxter Annex, a reference to the Baxter Building, the Fantastic Four’s original headquarters.
A sign for Nelson and Murdock: Attorneys at Law can be seen outside of the Marvel Alterniverse Store. This is a reference to the law practice Daredevil’s alter ego Matt Murdock shares with his partner Foggy Nelson. It’s worth remembering that this was put here in 1999, before the Ben Affleck Daredevil film and the Charlie Cox Netflix series. At the time Marvel Superhero Island opened, Nelson and Murdock was known to Marvel fans, but non-comic readers weren’t familiar with it, making its inclusion even more impressive.
A sign for “Donald Blake, M.D.” can be found above the vacation information center. This is a reference to the private practice Thor operates when he’s Donald Blake. Stark Industries is represented twice. A sign representing Tony Stark’s business empire can be seen on the outside of a building connected to the Spider-Man gift shop, and in the back of the Marvel Alterniverse Store.
Not to be outdone, Norman Osborn’s corporation is also represented twice, and under two different names. An Oscorp sign can be spotted next to the Hobgoblin mural on the Spider-Man gift shop, and Osborn Industries can be seen on the windows in the alley leading to Doctor Doom’s Fearfall.
The alley outside Doctor Doom’s Fearfall is a treasure trove of references. You’ll spot Fogwell’s Gym, the athletic center where Daredevil got his start. There’s also Gladiator’s Costume Shop, a reference to the boutique operated by Melvin Potter. Across from that you’ll find Blaze and Ketch Mechanics, an homage to Johnny Blaze and Danny Ketch, two of the men who operated as Ghost Rider.
While you're in line
There are plenty of cool Easter eggs to entertain you while you’re on line for the rides. While waiting in the queue for the Incredible Hulk Coaster, a warning message can be spotted on the outside of the ride. The message warns, “Restricted military defense lab. No unauthorized access unless by order of General Thaddeus Ross.” Longtime Marvel readers will immediately recognize the reference to Thunderbolt Ross, the Hulk’s longtime military antagonist, who later became Red Hulk.
As you go through the queue you’ll come across a secrecy policy plaque, warning participants not to discuss the Gamma experiment they’re about to undergo. The notice also warns riders to follow all of General Ross’s instructions, or face the consequences. This means that I’m probably committing treason by writing this article.
Continuing through the queue, a schedule is posted on the wall with a list of military physicians. You’ll recognize the names of some classic Marvel bullpen members like Dr. J. Kirby (Hulk’s co-creator Jack Kirby), Dr. S. Lee (Stan the Man himself), Dr. J. Buscema (famed artist John Buscema), Corporal J. Romita (iconic illustrator John Romita), Dr. B. Everett (legendary penciler Bill Everett), and Corporal P. David (longtime Hulk scribe Peter David). The Incredible Hulk television series is also represented with the inclusion of Sgt. L. Ferrigno (Hulk actor Lou Ferrigno) and Dr. B. Bixby (David Banner actor Bill Bixby). Betty Ross, the Hulk’s longtime love interest, is also included on the schedule.
The queue for Doctor Doom’s Fearfall is designed to be the inside of a Latverian Embassy. The Latveria flag seen at the entrance is different from the one found within the comics, but I feel like a country run by Victor Von Doom would probably change flags every now and then.
Continuing through the queue, you’ll come across a plaque on the wall with the Doombot code of ethics. If you’re curious, we’ve posted a picture of it in its entirety.
The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man
In terms of Easter eggs, the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man queue is the most elaborate of all the rides. In fact, I’d estimate that there are more Easter eggs on Spider-Man than there are in the rest of Marvel Superhero Island combined. The ride queue is designed to be the interior of the Daily Bugle offices. The Easter eggs you’ll come across depend upon if you use Universal Express, the single rider line, or the normal queue. The route for each queue varies depending on what park staff decide each day.
You’ll usually start in the Daily Bugle lobby, where you can’t miss a large portrait of J. Jonah Jameson. If you’re directed to the left entrance then you’ll enter a hallway with framed copies of the Daily Bugle on the walls. The first newspaper references a battle between Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus, with another article about Mary Jane Watson being named citizen of the week. The article refers to Mary Jane as a psychology major at Empire State University and the wife of Peter Parker, reflecting the status quo of the comics when the ride opened in 1999.
The next newspaper is dated March 27th 1967, with articles recapping the events of Amazing Spider-Man #46 and Strange Tales #158, complete with reprinted artwork. Another newspaper dated September 4th, 1963 details the events of Uncanny X-Men #1 and Avengers #1, once again with reprinted artwork. There are a few other newspapers with evergreen articles setting up the villains of the ride, and one that curiously details the dangers of a street known as Crime Alley. DC reference or coincidence?
Next you’ll make your way to Peter Parker’s office, which is filled with lots of fun touches. Curiously, freelancer Peter Parker not only gets his own office, but one with two desks. There is a framed photo of Mary Jane in front of the Eiffel Tower, which was probably taken during their honeymoon in Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #7. Black and white photos of Aunt May and Uncle Ben can be seen on Peter’s bulletin board, next to the Bugle company directory. There are too many names to list on the directory, but highlights include Ben Urich, Ned Leeds, and Joe Robertson. The other side of Peter’s office has a bulletin board of photos, many of which are reprinted from classic comic covers. There’s also a picture of J. Jonah Jameson shaking hands with Stan Lee.
After going through Peter Parker’s darkroom, you’ll pass through the Daily Bugle records room (which hasn’t been digitized yet). The file cabinets are labeled with references to various pieces of Marvel lore, including Canadian supergroup Alpha Flight. The record labels also contain references to Ben Reilly and the pivotal Secret Wars storyline.
If your queue goes through the pathway on the lobby’s right side, you’ll find yourself in the Daily Bugle bullpen. There are a series of cubicles and office doors with the names Ben Urich, Betty Brant, and Glory Grant. A few messages cycle through the intercom, including one where a Bugle staffer asks who paged Flash Thompson. At the time the ride opened in 1999, Betty and Flash were an item in the comics, so maybe this was a love connection?
The ride also has a few Easter eggs of its own. After being refurbished in 2012, the ride added a few Stan Lee cameos, and some other fun touches. Riders can spot a theatre called Excelsior, an homage to Stan Lee’s famous catchphrase. The Excelsior’s marque is advertising a production known as the Clone Saga, one of Spider-Man’s most controversial storylines. Another marque mentions Kirby, another reference to Marvel Universe co-creator Jack Kirby.
Other bits of fun
As you’re exploring the park, you’ll come across a series of speaker boxes which almost look like stripped down phone booths. Pressing the buttons on these speaker boxes will play a series of messages from the heroes and villains of the Marvel Universe. A small-time crook announces that the Avengers are in space, so they can enjoy a crime free-for-all. Guests can also listen in as Elektra calls Matt Murdock, revealing that she’s alive.
Each of the rides has a storyline, and in 1999 Marvel published a tie-in promotional comic enhancing the lore behind each attraction. Marvel Superhero Island Adventures #1 was sold within the park, and featured three stories, all written by Michael Stewart. The Doctor Doom story features art from Mike Wieringo. Doom is seen battling the Fantastic Four (naturally), and the story ends with him testing out his fear extractor which serves as the basis for Doctor Doom’s Fearfall.
The Hulk story is penciled by Sal Buscema, and pits the green behemoth against another gamma-radiated human after an experiment goes wrong. The Spider-Man story is drawn by Chris Bachalo, and serves as a prequel to the ride. Spider-Man battles the Sinister Syndicate, and Doctor Octopus builds the anti-gravity ray seen during the ride. The Storm Force Acceleration attraction is not featured because it opened in May 2000, a year after the comic was published. The comic can no longer be found in Universal gift shops, but various copies have made their way to eBay.
A few Daily Bugle newspaper boxes can also be found throughout the park, a nice touch that helps this feel a bit more like the Marvel Universe. Be on the lookout for a street sign pointing guests to Yancy Street Stan Lee Boulevard. Yancy Street was the neighborhood Ben Grimm grew up in, and if you don’t know what Stan Lee Boulevard is a tribute to, then you’re on the wrong website.
Whether you’re a longtime Marvelite, or a casual fan, there is something at Marvel Superhero Island for everyone. I’ve been visiting the park since it opened in 1999 and I still find new things. If you ever find yourself in Orlando, Florida, take a trip to Universal Studios Islands of Adventure. You can enjoy pizza at Café 4, fight the Sinister Syndicate with Spider-Man, and maybe you’ll find some awesome Easter eggs along the way.