Every year hundreds of thousands descend upon the city of San Diego and the San Diego Convention Center. The annual Comic-Con is an epic four-day pop-culture event that draws people from every corner of the globe and who knows perhaps other planets or dimensions as well. In the beginning the convention was just about comic books but over the last decade or so it has gone beyond the panels of the comic strip to include film, television, video games, toys and collectables. Studios and manufacturers take the opportunity to plug their product. They sell exclusive items, reveal never-before-seen footage, have celebrity panels and the list goes on and on. Comic-Con is a fun experience. It can be overwhelming. It can be cool. It can be exhausting. One thing for sure it will always be memorable in some way.
For me, as a movie fan, one of the main draws is the studio panels. Every year as the Con gets closer I wait with eager anticipation for the schedule to go online so I can see what will be shown. In addition I look for panels for TV shows or artists I like. Often times I have to skip a panel because it is in conflict with the Hall H schedule. For the uninitiated, Hall H is where the magic happens. Holding nearly 7000 people this is where the studios unleash their big guns. We’ll get back to that in a bit. I also look forward to hitting the exhibitor’s hall. No, really. I do. Every year I always make it a point to hit the Sideshow Collectables, Weta, Profiles in History and Star Wars booths. I just love looking at the displays and collectables that I know I can’t afford. If you have the time, aimlessly wandering from aisle-to-aisle can reveal a hidden discovery that you would have missed. This year I nearly missed the van from The A-Team but because I took a random turn there it was.
Comic-Con also brings together a trove of celebrities. They can be found in the autograph area or on the exhibitor floor signing at a particular booth. Sometimes if you’re lucky you may run into one. Last year my sole geeking-out moment was when I met poster artist legend Drew Struzan before his panel. As a former background actor I’ve met my fair share of celebrities and that pretty much took away the stigma of seeing someone in person because they were just normal people. I have a number of Struzan’s one sheets and some are hanging on my wall. This year while standing outside an ice cream parlor Cary Elwes and Corbin Bernsen were chatting and then heading into the parlor. I thought it was cool. It was interesting to see the general public just clamoring for photos. While to me it’s no big deal I can see how people get star struck because they don’t often see them like this. Another night we were having dinner at a Italian restaurant and at the table next to us was Saul Rubinek. Of course, the panels draw out the stars and creative team behind the movie or show. This year was notable with Sandra Bullock, Jeff Bridges and Tom Cruise coming out to promote their films.
When going to the Con there’s something about being in a room with 7000 other people who are there for the same thing. It’s geek nirvana. As mentioned Hall H is where the big stuff play. This year certainly didn’t disappoint. There is one day that would seem to summarize what it means to be at Comic-Con. That would be Saturday in Hall H. Some of this year’s and next most anticipated films would be teased. The Con’s third day might as well been called Marvel Day. On that day they stole the show.
That day was an experience. It began with my friends and I camping out outside the Hall. Yup sleeping on grass, sleeping on concrete, we weren’t the only ones. I’m guessing close to a thousand people will have slept outdoors that morning. The day before we spent seven hours in line and never got into the panel we wanted to see “The Walking Dead” panel. We knew we’d be camping out that night but didn’t expect to get in line that early. We actually got in line a couple hours before we originally intended. It was fun. Tiring, fun and worth it. There’s a certain bonding experience that you share not only with friends but with complete strangers too. We roughed it together. No one really slept. Music from nearby parties played into the wee hours. Fortunately it wasn’t too cold out and it wasn’t raining. Our efforts resulted in decent seats in the front section of the massive hall.
Warner Bros. kicked off the day with their panel that featured a number of great films and celebrities. Fans were beside themselves when we saw our first real look at next year’s Godzilla. We were entertained by Jeff Bridges during his panel for Seventh Son. They were intrigued by what was shown for 300:Rise of an Empire. Amused by The LEGO Movie footage. Captivated as Alfonso Cuaron and Sandra Bullock discussed the intense looking Gravity, this is one film I can’t wait to see. Finally everyone just fell in love with Tom Cruise during his panel for Edge of Tomorrow. Chris Hardwicke of The Nerdist was the moderator for this panel. When Cruise came out he said they have something in common. They both played Stacee Jaxx. This results in the two of them belting out a few lyrics of Foreigner’s “I Wanna Know What Love Is.” It was unexpected and geek gold. It doesn’t end there as Tom Cruise convinces Bill Paxton to come up on stage and he proceeds to quote Hudson. However, Cruise wanted to hear some Chet from Weird Science and he happily obliged. The panel did have a pair of surprises. The first one was a teaser that for most of its running time left viewers wondering what they were seeing. Soon they started to catch out and you could hear the crowd stirring. When the title Warcraft appeared on screen they went nuts. There’s nothing like a shared experience with thousands of other people at the same time. You can watch it online or read about it later but the energy when something is first revealed is palpable. Yeah they went nuts for Duncan Jones’ Warcraft but nothing prepared them for what’s next. Zack Snyder is brought to the stage. At the time everyone knew that the Man of Steel sequel was already greenlit. Perhaps this will be a title announcement or a release date announcement. Snyder teases everyone about the sequel and brings out actor Harry Lennix to read a quote that he says would give an idea of just where the sequel will be heading. When I heard the quote I thought Doomsday. The lights go out and the Man of Steel’s shield appears. This is followed by a light appearing behind it that reveals the bat symbol. The crowd goes nuts and Chris Hardwicke summed it up quite well. “Holy shit!” It’s moments like this that make coming to the Con so worth it. How can they top that?
Lionsgate tried with their panel that featured I, Frankenstein and The Hunger Games:Catching Fire. The new take on Shelley’s Frankenstein is interesting but it just didn’t seem all that great. It’s funny how I’ve already forgotten what the footage was that they screened. For the next chapter in The Hunger Games they screened the new theatrical trailer. The cast and director were on hand for the panel. I recognize scenes from the book but I still remember that while I liked the book it wasn’t as good as the first book. It was an okay panel. It certainly satiated the Katniss fans in attendance.
Next up was 20th Century Fox. It was already revealed that they would be looking at Wolverine and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Rumors were spreading that we may see something from X-Men: Days of Future Past. The apes were first and we had our first look at some footage. It didn’t show a heck of a lot but gave a hint of what’s to come. Cast members, such as Kerri Russell and Andy Serkis, along with director Matt Reeves were on hand for the panel discussion. Director James Mangold then came on to discuss The Wolverine. We are treated to some footage from the film which looks awesome by the way. My favorite line was Logan’s response to someone asking him to kindly surrender, “Fuck off, pretty boy!” It opens this weekend and looks to be one of the best. Hugh Jackman appears on the panel and before it leaves he wanted to give a shout out to a director he just did an independent film with. He brings out Bryan Singer. We are then presented with a moment that actually rivaled the first public assembly of The Avengers in 2011. I was there for that and that was a moment I haven’t forgotten. X-Men, past and present begin to come on stage. Jackman, McKellan, Stewart, Berry, Paquin, Ashmore, McAvoy, Fassbender, Lawrence, Page. The panel discussion was fun and breezy. It was still amazing seeing the caliber of talent on that stage, so many Oscar nominees and winners were up there. A funny moment was when a fan joked about an X-Men musical. Jackman’s response was do you really want to see Wolverine sing. The entire panel starts drumming on the table to egg him on. He obliged and belted out a few lyrics on the fly. Good times. Not only do we have this roll call we are treated to what looks like the eventual trailer for the film opening in May. This looks great and is so huge in scale. Marvel has done it again. They trumped DC Comics and stole the show. However, that would not be the end of it.
The Marvel panel was next. Here we are treated to cast and crew Q&A for both Thor:The Dark World and Captain America:The Winter Soldier. In addition we are shown new footage from both films and after seeing them I can’t wait to see them when they open. However, let me digress. The panel opens with a discussion with Kevin Feige. He is rudely interrupted when the lights go out. We hear a menacing voice over the speakers. There’s a flash of light on the stage. When the lights come back on there stands Loki. This was a fantastic opening to the panel. Tom Hiddleston appears in full costume and in character. However, a smile often breaks free from time to time as he tries not to laugh at the absurdity and uber coolness of this moment. This then leads into footage from the film. Both panels discuss some of the story elements and both leave you wanting more. At this point I’m sure everyone was expecting to see Edgar Wright come on stage to discuss Ant-Man. To everyone’s delight the next person to appear was James Gunn. He then brings out the cast and I think this was the first public appearance of the Guardians. We hear from the actors and Gunn continues to mention they’ve literally only started filming two weeks ago. However he does say they have a little something to show. We are shown some footage that sets the tone for this film and it’s pitch perfect. It’s tongue-in-cheek, irreverent and has plenty of attitude. It’s a great introduction to the characters and features a great money shot of Rocket blasting away with his guns. I never really read The Avengers. My full introduction to the universe came from watching Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. I could totally buy into the whole concept of the Guardians, Rocket and Groot. I wasn’t 100% sure of the Guardians but after seeing the footage I can rest easy. No one was expecting much from a Guardians of the Galaxy panel because they barely started shooting but the teaser was a nice surprise. However, Marvel was not done. We are told someone has something to say and out comes Joss Whedon. Knowing Avengers 2 was still a few years away I was wondering what he was going to talk about. There was already an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. panel so it must be something else perhaps Ant-Man. Instead we are presented with a teaser for the Avengers sequel. We hear quotes from the last film and see their faces on the metal that appears to be under construction. When the eyes and mouth lit up I immediately shouted “Ultron!” I was surprised like most people we thought Thanos would be the villain. We are then shown the official title Avengers:Age of Ultron. Right off the bat speculation begins about how things will lead into Phase III and where Pym fits into all this. That concluded the panel and Marvel stole the day.
Days like this make the endless waiting in line worth it. I’ve gone all four days and while the other three didn’t live up to this one it was still an enjoyable Con. Seeing the costumes and displays are always fun. I was getting particularly nostalgic at the Mattel booth when I was looking vintage Battlestar Galactica toys many of which I had when I was a kid. Hearing Kevin Smith’s annual Q&A is a highlight and always good for a laugh. More importantly the Con is a great place to hang out with friends who have the same interests and like you are willing to go the distance to be a part of the phenomenon. Two years in row I’ve missed The Walking Dead panel but I would be very bummed if I missed the Saturday in Hall H. I waited in line, and slept, for 12.5 hours before finally entering Hall H that day. It was worth it and I look forward to doing it again next year.
Speaking of next year I have a feeling it’ll be the worst one ever in terms of content and attendance. Big titles and a shit load of people wanting to see them. Star Wars, Hunger Games, Marvel, DC Comics, Star Trek, The Hobbit are just some of the possible highlights for Comic-Con 2014. Who knows we may be camping out for every night of programming.
Note: You can find many of the panel and highlights of Comic-Con 2013 on youtube. While still great it just doesn’t match being their live as it happens.