Vonnegut referred to New York as “Skyscraper National Park”. Brimming with architectural marvels, part of what makes New York the greatest city in the world is the fact that it’s peppered with looming works of art. The Chrysler Building. The Brooklyn Bridge. The High Line. Grand Central. Every architect worth their salt was given free rein to absolutely cut loose, and paint a skyline so distinct it became synonymous with the very word ‘city’.
Maybe that’s why Marvel focusses so much of its energy on the Big Apple. Tony Stark building Avengers Tower in the heart of New York makes sense. Steve Rogers staggering, panicked and angry, into a post-coma Times Square wouldn’t land if it were in, say, Los Angeles. And where else would you put The Daily Bugle? No. It had to be New York.
The Daily Bugle building is now out in Lego form. Immortalised in plastic bricks, it clocks in at a staggering 82cm high and comprises 3772 pieces. But what strikes you almost immediately? It feels like a slab of New York.
The tall, thin windows, minimalist supporting struts and lean, economical design almost evokes the steel-framed Flatiron Building, one of New York’s greatest landmarks. High ceilings, lots of light, and those iconic fire escape balcony things wending their way towards the New York city pavement, where, sadly, there aren’t Lego sewer grates with gouts of steam belching forth (I’m going to have to rent a smoke machine now, I just know it).
But why build the damned thing? Why sit down as a 38-year-old, hunching over for 10 straight hours, painstakingly building this slice of quasi-history from the ground up?
Because building Lego as an adult absolutely slaps.
First up, there are many, many Marvel themed Lego sets out there, but they’re all pretty disparate. You can buy Tony Stark’s Hulkbuster armour, but then you’ve got this thing just sort of sitting there like an action figure. You can go out and snap up minifigs based on their various (fantastic) Disney+ MCU shows, and play with them to your heart’s content.
But the great thing about the Daily Bugle? It’s… well, it’s effectively a Marvel dollhouse. It’s a place where you can have countless weird, niche little tableaus playing out.
On one Daily Bugle level, you could have Agent Coulson waiting to see J. Jonah Jameson. On the next, you could have The Falcon and The Winter Soldier waiting in the reception area as Loki strolls calmly past security towards the lifts. Out back, in a sketchy alleyway, you could have the Defenders (Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and Daredevil) having a confab. Or, if you’re an absolute weirdo like me, you could have a friend from the UK make you custom minifigs of the main cast from the utterly wonderful New York-centric Elementary and have them investigating a crime near the fire exit.
There are countless parallel threads to the Marvel universe. The MCU, the Into the Spiderverse stuff, the Sony films, the Disney+ shows, and of course, the comics. You can cram it all in with The Daily Bugle, and have it all co-exist, interact, punch on. You can, in short, create a place where you can hide all your weirdest, most specific, most private fandoms and have them living their own lives behind the classic gables and struts of some truly refined New York city architecture.
In short: you can conceal your nerdom behind the guise of something closer, if I’m being honest, to an exercise in construction.
Which brings me to my next point. Who here among us has practical skills anymore? Sure, we might dabble. But can you fix a leaking pipe? Replace wiring? Build a cabinet? No. You don’t know how to actually build anything (probably). Your father-in-law bought you an electric drill, perhaps as an attempt to help you gain something akin to a practical skill, but you’ve left it in the garage for six months gathering dust. But building this set, something really weird happened.
I began to enjoy building stuff.
I know, I know. It’s just Lego. but ask anyone who has built one of the really massive sets (like the enormous Lego Millennium Falcon, for example). The instructions, laid out in a wordless idiot-proof IKEA-ish manner, deliberately withhold and gate upcoming stages. They’ll show you a little way ahead, teasing you with the promise of what you’ll soon achieve, but they don’t get ahead of the game. This means you can spend an hour cobbling together fairly abstract pieces, but only at the end will you be asked to lock them together.
And when you’re done, you’ll find yourself looking at The Daily Bugle, an almost metre-tall New York skyscraper. There is, in short, a genuine sense of accomplishment to be earned here.
You, a grown-ass adult with no construction skills whatsoever, will sit up straight, stand back, and take the whole darn Daily Bugle thing in. And in that moment, you’ll gasp as you clock onto exactly what you’ve built. These reveals add up, giving you – a grown-ass adult – an almost childlike eureka moment, one which seeds in you the kernel of a crazy idea… is this what it’s like to build real stuff? Should I open that drill? Would a sudden pivot towards carpentry fill the emptiness inside me?
I can’t stress just how much of a pressure valve this build afforded me. Lockdowns have been hard. Being able to completely lose myself in something which genuinely looks like a hulking piece of pop-cultural sculpture, an ode to a wing of the nerd universe I have dedicated an inordinate amount of my brain-space to, was worth the price of admission alone. But being able to redirect my angst into actually making something from nothing?
Paul F. Verhoeven is an author, broadcaster and TV presenter. His books Electric Blue and Loose Units are out now through Penguin, and his podcasts, DISH! and Loose Units, are available everywhere you get your podcasts. You can follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and in person, if you can find him (he’s very good at hiding).