‘Students Of S.H.I.E.L.D.’: Marvel Comics Enthusiasts Fly Into Action With New Club
Have no fear, Penn State Marvel comics fans – there’s finally an organization for you to share your love for your favorite superheroes.
Students of S.H.I.E.L.D., a play off of the ABC show “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” is a new student org that focuses on its members love for Marvel comics — including all the brand affiliated movies, video games, TV shows, and beyond.
What falls under the Marvel umbrella, you ask? It’s more than some may realize — “The Avengers,” “The Guardians of the Galaxy,” “X-Men,” “Fantastic Four” and “Spider-Man” are just of the few of many Marvel series. The university boasts an impressive amount of student organizations, but co-founders Daniel McNamara and Adam Ponsonby realized there wasn’t a group for fellow Marvel lovers.
McNamara said the two came up with the idea of starting a Marvel-focused student organization in late September while studying for a physics test.
“As I was writing the constitution for the club, the entire time I was thinking, ‘This is awesome’,” he said.
Even though the group is only in its first semester, Students of S.H.I.E.L.D. has 15 active members at each meeting. We tagged along to last week’s meeting to find out more about the club. The hour was action-packed (pun intended), kicking off with an icebreaker asking everyone to name their favorite action scenes from any Marvel film and watching trailers for upcoming movies.
Last Thursday night in 106 Boucke was a particularly important one, since the group chose its leaders for next year. McNamara, the current president, was re-elected. Students of S.H.I.E.L.D. has more officer positions than most student groups, and gives all members a chance to take on a leadership role through positions like podcast coordinator, social activities chair, and comic book chair.
Many subgroups exist within the Marvel fanbase, including those who enjoy the films in Marvel Cinematic Universe, video gamers, and comic book readers. Finding a way to be inclusive of all these subgroups was difficult at first for the group’s fearless leader, but McNamara said it became easier as the weeks went on.
The group holds weekly comic book readings during the meetings. Recently, they’ve been reading the “Ant Man” series, which is getting its own feature film later this year. While it might seem a bit weird to some to read a comic book out loud, it was actually a fun experience. Hearing the group use different voices to imitate the characters actually made me want to learn more about Ant Man, a superhero I otherwise would not have known about. The comic book readings have a pretty good system down — whoever would like a copy of the comic during the readings gives the money to the comic book chairperson. That person then goes to Comic Swap on Fraser Street to purchase the newest comic book in the series and brings them to the next meeting.
McNamara said the comic book readings are a trial and error process until the group finds a series it likes. The group started off with “Secret Avengers” before giving “Ant Man” a try. “It’s tricky with the limited selection,” McNamara said. “But Ant Man is perfect since the movie is coming out soon.”
The group’s ingenious organization isn’t limited to the weekly readings. Leading up to the release of the new Avengers movie “Age of Ultron,” Students of S.H.I.E.L.D. organized weekly movie nights for its members to go through the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, including its first films such as “Iron Man” and “Captain America: The First Avenger” to more recent ones like “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
“It’s exciting to see these films with a group, especially in the theaters,” graduating senior Brandon Hyde said. “That collective roar of seeing a character pop up on the screen creates a bond.”
The group impressed me with its organization and flow of meetings for only being one semester in, and most of the members attribute that to McNamara. “The group has really hit the ground running,” Hyde said. “It’s cool to see how on top of everything [McNamara] is, and he is so open to new ideas.”
Hyde said it’s bittersweet he is graduating right after the group started, but he can’t wait to see it expand in the future. And that is exactly what newly-elected vice president Chris Valera wants to focus on next year. He said he really wants to take the group further and get its name out there. The group was at the annual spring involvement fair, and Valera wants to continue appearing at events and conventions in the future so the group can get exposure.
McNamara said the group was also invited to be a part of “NerdCon,” which was a mini involvement fair in North Halls featuring the “nerdy” clubs the university offers. The event gave Students of S.H.I.E.L.D. a chance to attract like-minded students to join its ranks.
Vincent Faust spent the beginning of his freshman year testing the waters with special interests groups. Faust said the groups he tried out didn’t click for him, and after finding out about Students of S.H.I.E.L.D. through the student organization database, he decided to give it a try.
“The people here keep me coming back,” Faust said. “I could be reading comics in my dorm, but here, while we socialize, we can talk about things we would be interested in otherwise.”
Growing up with a father who loves Marvel comics, Kaif Aalim-Johnson heard about the group through mutual friends and joined about six weeks into its launch. Aalim-Johnson talked about how many people feel Marvel’s characters are very relatable compared to its rival D.C. comics. “X-Men is the pinnacle of anyone who feels left out, and Spider-Man shows that a hero can human problems, too,” he said. “Magneto’s speech in [“X-Men: Days of Future Past”] just speaks to minorities’ struggles in America.”
This feeling of being able to relate to Marvel comic book characters is what brought these students together, which helps in creating a welcoming environment for those who visit the group.
“Everyone knows each other,” Valera said. “We try to see each other outside of the meetings when we can, but with classes and finals coming up, it can make it hard to do so.”
Hyde said the social aspect of the group is his favorite part. Coming in to talk all things Marvel every Thursday helps Hyde “let off some steam” amidst a stressful semester. “There are so many components already, which makes it hectic at times, but that’s what’s so great,” he said.
In the upcoming year, the group plans to focus on getting involved with the Anime Organization’s annual Setsucon and THON. McNamara would love to see Students of S.H.I.E.L.D. have a table at Setsucon or even go dressed in Marvel cosplay. Thinking ahead to fall semester, McNamara also brought up the idea of having a Marvel-themed Halloween party. Newly-elected treasurer Keebie Mills thinks a THON affiliation will be great for the group.
“It’s the biggest thing on campus,” Mills said. “It would bring visibility for us. People can think ‘I like THON and I like Marvel. I want to do this.’”
Mills, also one of the podcast chairs, hopes to expand on the group’s current podcasts by touching on more topics such as comparing Marvel media to other films and comic book series. Fellow podcast chair Valera films the podcasts for YouTube, while Mills creates audio-only versions. One of the first podcasts discussed how comic books are pieces of literature, while another talked about why superhero movies do not receive more praise at awards shows, aside from special effects nods.
In the comic book world, Marvel and D.C. are fierce competitors, and while most comic book fans prefer one or the other, chances are many appreciate characters from both sides. However, Students of S.H.I.E.L.D. decided to focus primarily on Marvel topics. The decision to do so was not to ostracize anyone who is a D.C. comics fan from joining the group, McNamara said, but to bring together fellow Marvel enthusiasts to share a common interest.
“I considered adding D.C. and making it all inclusive,” McNamara said. “But by not allowing D.C. along with Marvel, it gives someone the chance to create a D.C. student group.”
It sounds like someone is foreshadowing a rival club to come to Penn State one day, but for now, we will have to be satisfied with the reigning “Avengers” on campus. If you are interested in joining your fellow Penn State Marvel comics fans, you can find Students of S.H.I.E.L.D. every Thursday in 106 Boucke.