Thursday, July 31, 2008

COMIC-CON STRIKES AGAIN! Finally - Danny's MEGA Post Detailing My 2008 San Diego Adventures!

Holy lord, what a week.

I've been dyin' to post about my San Diego Comic-Con adventures for days now, but have not had even a single second to log on, especially considering how much there was to write about. Each time I sat down at night to write this week, I could tell that I wouldn't be able to last long before it was off to dreamland. Like I said, this week has been insane. While in San Diego this past weekend, I got only a few hours of sleep a night, and by the time I got back to LA on Sunday night, I was ready to drop. But there could be no rest for the weary - Monday was packed at work, and not only was it a long day in and of itself, and not only was I still exhausted from Comic-Con, but somehow, on Monday my entire team from work had a big dinner/party/bowling event over at Jillian's at Universal Citywalk. On almost any other night, it would have been okay, maybe even something to look forward to rather than dread. But as my pitifully low bowling score served as testament to, I wanted nothing more on Monday night than to go straight home and go to sleep. Since Monday, work has only gotten busier and crazier as a number of big projects are driving everyone in my group bonkers. Everyone who knows me knows that I am anything BUT a morning person, so it's been killin' me that all week, every day, I've had early-morning meetings - as if the powers that be have conspired to keep me feeling as out-of-it and perpetually tired as possible. And then I've been getting home from work later and later each night, and there's been a lot of housekeeping stuff to do, from restocking my groceries to getting many loads of laundry done post-San Diego. And basically, I've just been waiting for the magical day to come when I can sleep in sans alarm and FINALLY recover a bit from my current, zombie-like state. Oh man, that glorious day of sleeping ten straight hours of blissful slumber cannot come soon enough!

An, oh yeah, to top it all off, this week I experienced my first-ever GIANT EARTHQUAKE OF DOOM! On Tuesday, I was in a coworker's office for a meeting when we all felt a giant rumbling that seemed to turn the ground below us into jello. I have to admit, I was pretty shocked by the whole thing. I bolted up out of my chair and began to head for the exits. It was particularly nerve-racking because so much construction is going on in our office right now ... there are all manner of loose beams, etc. hanging around ... our floor could have been somewhat dangerous had the quake continued. Luckily, there were no real aftershocks or followup (yet ...), and no huge damage has yet been reported. My apartment seemed fine and nothing fell or anything. Still, it was definitely a somewhat scary experience, and doesn't do much to allay the fear that southern California is destined for some apocalyptic mega-quake at some point in the near future.

-Oh, and by the way, speaking of scary stuff, I just caught this week's episode of NBC's FEAR ITSELF and was very pleasantly surprised. You see, it's no secret that for most of its run thus far, NBC's primetime horror anthology has not exactly been delivering the goods. In fact, over a period of weeks I went from eagerly anticipating each episode, to barely remembering to record it, to then being so turned off by the poor reviews I'd read online that I stopped bothering to even watch. BUT ... I was curious to check out this week's ep, as it was co-written by Drew McWeeny, aka longtime Ain't It Cool contributor Moriarity, and also starred one of my favorite genre actors working today, the great DOUG JONES.

Suffice it to say, Doug Jones was flipping phenomenal in this one, crafting one of the sickest and most demented villains I've seen in either movies or TV in a long while. The short version is that he plays this guy Grady who ventures off into the snowy wilderness on a trip with some friends, and then goes missing for a long while, leaving his wife, kids, and brother (who may or may not be shtupping his wife), to nervously wonder what's become of him. Finally, Grady staggers home, but he's obviously a changed man - he's rail-thin, has a ravenous look in his eye, and seems to have been noticabley changed by his experiences in the wild. Seems out there, he had to do anything to survive the cold and isolation and so he decided that human beings were now on the menu. In short, he returns to his home with a strong hunger for human. Yikes!

Anyways, don't want to get into too much detail, other than to say I'd highly recommend that those of you who, like me, jumped off the Fear Itself train several weeks ago go online and check out this latest ep. A nightmarishly crazy performance from Doug Jones makes it well worth a viewing.

My Grade: A -

- And one more TV note: I've said it before here on the blog, but I'll say it again - week in and week out, I have actually really been enjoying CBS' SWINGTOWN. Not sure what others think of it, but to me it's a pretty light yet well-crafted piece of primetime entertainment, with a couple of really fun characters and several storyarcs that have been built up very well as the weeks progress. It's odd to me that CBS suddenly moved it to a less than ideal Friday night timeslot, but hopefully it continues to find an audience - would love to see this one keep on swingin' for a sophomore season.

- Okaaaaay ... enough already - what I really want to talk about is my trip to San Diego last weekend. So without further ado ...

SAN DIEGO COMIC-CON 2008 - Show Report:

- Last year, I attended my first-ever San Diego Comic-Con, and it was an absolutely great experience. Sure, that inaugural trip had its rough patches, but, overall, I left San Diego with the intention of becoming a Comic-Con regular from that point forward. I had been totally blown away by the size and scope of the event, but mostly, I had just really been struck by the atmosphere that permeated the convention center and the outlying downtown area. It was a place where the geeks truly had inherited the earth. Where you found yourself in line for lunch standing between Catwoman and Mr. Spock and didn't blink. A place where I had more spontaneous conversations with random strangers than maybe anywhere else I've ever been. A place where people were universally friendly, passionate, and just happy to be there. So I absolutely couldn't wait to go back this year for Round 2.

This year, I tried to plan things out a little bit better and farther in advance. Rather than relying on the kindness of friends to help us out with lodgings, we booked a hotel room fairly close to the convention center several months in advance of July. I applied for press passes early, and also made sure to look into a number of cool opportunities for our trip, and secured invites to some bigtime parties that were to be held after-hours in San Diego. To make sure we packed as much adventure into this trip as possible, we decided to drive up Thursday morning so we'd get in four full days of Comic-Con craziness ...

... Of course, our drive up to San Diego on Thursday was marred by absolutely awful traffic on the freeway, due to some kind of huge accident. My friends and I set out from LA at about 9:30 am. We arrived in San Diego over 6 hours later. At one point, I fell asleep in the car, woke up an hour and a half later, and we were practically in the same spot we had been when I drifted off into dreamland. The traffic was simply unmoving and at a standstill for hours on end. At least we had my custom-made Comic-Con mix CD to help ease the pain.

- Finally, we made it to San Diego. We stopped for a late lunch (we were starving by that point!), and then hightailed it up to the convention center, where we checked in, got our press badges ... and then, it was off to the races. From the get-go, it was clear that, even more so than before, Comic-Con this year was going to be JAM-PACKED with people. For almost the entire time we were there, even on Sunday, the main halls were packed so tightly that even just navigating outside to use the restroom or to grab a snack was a fifteen minute ordeal. Especially in the middle area of the show floor, where the big movie and TV studios had their giant booths, the place was a madhouse. But man, what a scene. People of all ages and races, men and women, kids and adults. People sporting superhero T's, capes and tights, and Slave-Girl-Leia outfits. More Heath Ledger-esque JOKER getups than I could count. It really is one of the craziest gatherings of humanity that you will ever see. And I mean that in the best way possible. If you're a fanboy, it's practically the Promised Land.

So let me simply go day-by-day and try to give an account of some of the highlights from San Diego. Keep reading ...


- So after a loooooooong day of driving, we spent a little time walking around the show floor and taking in the scene. One cool little story is that, while walking in the Artist's Alley, I spotted an unassuming elderly man sitting by himself at a table. He stood out though, and then I saw his name plate ... and my eyes widened. It was JERRY ROBINSON - one of the founding fathers of BATMAN, who in the early 1940's created one of the greatest fictional villains of all time, none other than the Clown Prince of Crime, THE JOKER. Wow. I couldn't help but go up and thank him for his work. I asked him what he thought of The Dark Knight (he loved it). And I purchased a piece of original art from him - a sketch of Batman and Robin, that he signed and adorned with a personalized note. Awesome. It's crazy that this guy, this living legend who must be pushing 90, was sitting in an out-of-the-way booth selling sketches at a show that was all but built on the characters he helped popularize. I'll talk more about this later, but it's important to remember - as much as we get caught up in the big Hollywood filsm and slick TV shows ... it's the classic COMICS and their creators that are where it all started, and they deserve their due respect.

-Anyways, I did think it was only right to attend at least one panel, the nerdier the better, to kick off Comic-Con right. Therefore, we all went to the DC NATION panel at 6 pm. It was actually a really fun panel, hosted by DC EIC Dan DiDio, and featuring a number of big name writers like Geoff Johns, Keith Giffen, Judd Winnick and more. The big surprise occurred when none other than KEVIN SMITH made a surprise appearance, and announced that he'll be writing an upcoming Batman miniseries. Sounded really cool, and I loved Smith's run on Green Arrow, where he wrote a pretty entertaining Batman - so I'm reasonably excited about this project. In any case, it was cool to see Kevin Smith, as I had hoped to see his Zach & Miri panel on Friday, but couldn't due to scheduling conflicts. And I mean, come on - what's a Comic-Con without Kevin Smith? Meanwhile, there was a ton of hype for John's upcoming Blackest Night and Flash: Rebirth storylines, which are both pretty much guaranteed to rock.

- After the panel, we checked into the nearby Holiday Inn, where we were met with two somewhat annoying surprises. One was that we'd have to pay an additional daily fee for parking at the hotel, which seemed like quite the ripoff. The other was that, due to some wonky fire-code violation stuff, we would be unable to get a cot / rollaway bed in our room. Ummm, say what now? Our room, which turned out to be fairly small, only had two slightly-larger-than-twin-size beds. There were three of us. This meant that one of us was sleeping on the floor ... (and that one of us was Seth! Bwahahahaha ....)

- Anyways, we grabbed some dinner at the hotel, and then headed out for our first big night on the town. I had secured us invites to the G4 PARTY that was going down at this cool bar / lounge downtown. Yep, we were set to party with the folks behind one of the hottest cable networks on the air today, the go-to destination for coverage of games, comics, and all things geeky-cool. I wasn't sure what to expect, but we got in without any problem, and not only that, but we ended up having a pretty big posse once inside as well. Me, Seth, and the G-Man were soon joined by Diane and her friend from the area, and we soon ran into a few of Seth's friends, as well as NBC's resident queen of publicity, Fowzia, and finally, G4's (and New England's) own Jules. Aside from the great group we had at the party, the highlight may have been this great band / rap ensemble that was performing, a group known as NERDCORE. Never before have I heard anyone rap about playing videogames and downloading stuff with such awesome intensity. To put it simply: they rocked. Also, there were all manner of interesting characters walking around at the party - a bunch of G4's on-air personalities were in attendance, along with some other celeb types. And as anyone who's seen my Facebook photos may have noticed, there was also an abundance of scantily-clad ladies walking around, some dressed in superhero gear, others dressed in full-on Princess Leia Slavegirl attire. Not a bad way to kick off Comic-Con.


- Okay, so Friday morning / early afternoon was the must-go panel of the entire show, that being WATCHMEN. We got straight in line for the panel as soon as we arrived at the convention center, and we were happy to wait outside of the massive Hall H for a while, because, man, this was going to be huge. And you know what? The panel lived up to the hype. Zach Snyder came out with the entire cast, as well as original Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons, and you couldn't help but be impressed with what they had to say. Look, I've already written a lot about Watchmen on the blog, so you guys should already know how big a fan I am of Alan Moore's seminal graphic novel. But to hear Dave Gibbons get giddy when talking about visiting the sets and seeing his artwork come to life ... to hear Patrick Wilson talk about playing Night Owl, and seeming to have an awesome grasp on the character ... to hear Billy Crudup seeming so enthused about Dr. Manhattan, and Carla Gugino seeming to have put her all into playing the original Silk Spectre. Every fanboy in the place was smiling ear to ear all throughout this one, folks, me included. This panel sold me on the cast, plain and simple. These guys, I can now say with confidence, are going to pull it off. They're going to do the impossible. They're going to make a kickass Watchmen movie. From Jackie Earl Haley as Rorschach to Malin Akerman as Silk Spectre to Matthew Good as Ozymandias to Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian -- these guys get it. Zach Snyder gets it. And good lord, I think even Alan Moore, if he saw this, some small part of him would be happy and proud, because these guys clearly are acting with reverance towards his work. And the footage they showed ... holy crap. We already got a taste of things with that amazing first trailer. But the extended montage they showed, set to epic, classical music, was just mind-blowing. The one snippet that really sold me - it was a one-second scene of Dan Dreisberg sitting alone in his lair, his hair disheveled, looking slightly paunchy. Wow - THIS was Night Owl, baby. They nailed it. The buzz is now official - you could feel it all throughout San Diego. It was this weird duality - everyone was still twittering over THE DARK KNIGHT ... but there was also this vague anticipation for the next big thing. And there was no doubt - that next big thing is going to be Watchmen.

- Sidenote: everyone at the Watchmen panel received a voucher for a free T-Shirt, available for pickup at the Warner or DC booths. When we tried to grab a T-shirt later in the day, they only had mediums, so I decided to wait for the next day, when I was told they'd get in more shirts in larger sizes. I checked back on both Saturday and Sunday, and no luck. Sadly, I never got my super-cool, Comic-Con-exclusive Watchmen T. Oh well ...

- The next panel we attended was a DC Comics panel dedicated to all things BATMAN. Like many at Comic-Con, we were all still on a high from Dark Knight, so it felt only appropriate to assemble with our fellow Bat-fans. The panel was a little strange though, because on one hand, the Batman comics are currently embroiled in an off-the-wall, psychedelic Grant Morrison epic called Batman: RIP, that is pretty far removed from the tone or storylines of Dark Knight. On the other hand, many in the audience were relatively new Batman fans who were less interested in the comics and really wanted to talk about Dark Knight. The odd juxtaposition did kind of call attention to the fact that DC has not been particularly great about making the current Bat comics accessible to new fans who may be picking up their first issue post-DK. At the same time, it's always really cool to hear the Scottish madman Grant Morrison speak - he is definitely an iconoclast who does things his own way and always brings a unique perspective to the table. And then, Jerry Robinson was also at the panel, which was really cool ... although there was a little of that Grampa Simpson syndrome at play, where he'd be asked a question and proceed to give long and somewhat rambling answers. That's not to downplay his legendary presence though - it was awesome to hear his perspective on The Joker throughout the years. Overall, a cool panel, though it's interesting that the two biggest bits of Bat-news at the show would be revealed elsewhere.

- We then went over to check out a pair of panel s for two of FOX's biggest action TV franchises. First up was the one, the only TWENTY-FOUR (24!). This was a truly kick-ass panel. Unlike last year's 24 panel, this was the first time that JACK BAUER himself, Kiefer Sutherland, was there in attendance, live and in-person, baby! Kiefer was really entertaining, and overall I think he made a great impression on all the fans in attendance - even going out of his way to praise the Comic-Con audience and to thank everyone for their support. He also had a great sense of humor - when one fan asked him to give them one of Jack's trademark "dammit's," Kiefer summoned up his best Jack Bauer bellow and yelled a "DAMMIT, WE'RE OUT OF TIME!" to much uproarious applause. Also on the panel, in addition to many of the show's producers and writers, was Carlos Bernard, aka TONY BY-GOD ALMEDA, aka The Bearer of the Soul Patch! It was awesome to see the dynamic duo of Jack and Tony on stage together, and the two were doing a great job of hyping the upcoming Season 7. But the real kicker was the Season 7 footage we were shown. First we saw an extended scene from November's TV movie that will serve as an S7 prequel of sorts. What they showed wa vintage 24, although it had Jack relocated to Africa, which made for an interesting change of setting. We got Jack leading a bunch of African kids around a wartorn village, when the group comes under fire by a squad of armed villains. In classic Jack style, the villains are brutally taken out one by one, in excitingly violent ways that elicited much applause from the Comic-Con audience. But then came the shocker -- Jack turns a corner, only to be held at gunpoint - we pan out, and the holder of the gun is actually a small African kid. Jack yells at him to put the gun down, but the kid isn't budging. Jack raises HIS gun -- he wouldn't, would he? That's what we were all wondering, as the scene faded to black and we all burst into more applause. If this scene was any indication, 24 is going to be BACK in a big way come November. And I for one am PSYCHED. And that wasn't it - we then got a trailer for the actual season set to kick off in January. Jon Voight (!) and Janeane Garofalo will play supporting roles, though sadly no sign of Kurtwood Smith, who appeared in earlier trailers. But still, TONY will be BACK FROM THE DEAD (in Zombie form?), Jack is back kicking ass, and S7 looks to be a return to form. A great panel, awesome footage was shown and it was just plain cool hearing Kiefer Sutherland and the rest speak in person.

- Immediately following the 24 panel, we stuck around for the PRISON BREAK panel. After the kickass 24 panel, this one was a slight letdown, to be honest. We were all hoping that William Fichtner and the rest of the show's awesome supporting cast of villains would be in attendance, but all we got was Dominic Purcell (who plays Lincoln), and Sarah Wayne Callies (who plays Sarah, who is back from the dead in the new season). Both seemed somewhat cool, but neither seemed 100% enthusiastic about being at Comic-Con, and it was obvious that the crowd was disappointed that Wentworth Miller and others didn't show up. Still, we did get to see the opening of the upcoming season premiere, at it looked pretty cool and intriguing. We saw Scofield trailing Gretchen, Whistler, and Mahone. He catches up with them, and is about to finally avenge Sarah by offing Gretchen, when the femme fatale reveals to him that Sarah is, in fact, alive, and that only she can bring him to her. A cool setup, but it remains to be seen where this is all going. I liked that one fan asked about the dangling plot thread from two seasons ago, where the show seemed to venture into sci-fi territory, hinting that Scofield had some kind of weird backstory where he was cloned or genetically engineered in some way. It was a good question, so it was kind if disappointing to hear that there weren't any concrete plans in place to follow up on it. A decent panel, but it couldn't match the energy or enthusiasm of 24 which preceeded it.

- After leaving the show on Friday, we met up with the one and only Aksel, himself a life-long San Diego resident, for a classic night of craziness as is only possible when hanging out with the Axe Man. My old roommate was in rare form, meeting us at TGI Fridays (sadly and conspicuously rare in the LA area) to kick off the evening's adventures. We hit up a number of Gaslamp District hot spots, and had some interesting stories to tell the next day.


- After our night of Aksel-approved insanity the night before, we rolled into Comic-Con slightly later than planned on Saturday morning, so we decided to immediately get into line for the afternoon panel for THE OFFICE, which by 10 am already had a line of fans that wrapped around the outskirts of the convention center grounds. Now, okay, The Office isn't traditional Comic-Con fare, and yes, the purist in me slightly resents the fact that so many random Hollywood properties now insist on having a presence at the show. But hey, it's The Office - the panel focuse on the show's writers. It was sure to be hilarious (especially being that it was moderated by Rainn Wilson!), I'm really into comedy writing so there's that, and then, of course, I am a proud NBC Universal employee, and felt I should go to at least some NBCU panels to show some support and company pride. Luckily, others from NBC felt the same, and we were able to find them in line so as to secure a slightly better spot than we had originally landed in. And it was a good thing too, because even after we moved up in line, we only barely got into the panel. Overall, it was a great panel - Rainn Wilson was often hilarious, and there were some pretty itneresting insights from the writers (including writer/actors like BJ Novack and Mindy Kaling) and from exec-producer Greg Daniels. You could really kind of tell by listening to the group talk where some of the different styles of humor on the show come from - there definitely seemed to be a wide variety of writing styles and senses of humor represented. Best and most Comic-Con-appropriate question came when someone asked how Dwight would respond to a robot invasion. The answer: a.) he'd run through the streets screaming about how his warnings of an impending robot invasion had been right all along, and b.) he'd quickly begin sucking up to the robots, and become assistant to the regional manager of the robots / robot overlord. Hahaha ... classic. Lamest question was when some woman from some lame-ass website gets up and asks the msot generic question possible, like "how do you prepare for your role on the show" or something stupid like that. Ughhhhh. But anyways, yeah, it was a very funny and often insightful panel, and it got me thinking about all the potential that the upcoming OFFICE season has.

- Okay, so the next panel I'll talk about may actually have been the highlight of my entire San Diego trip. Because, while my friends went to check out the "Chuck" panel, I decided to skip out and went to see one of my all-time heroes in person while I had the rare chance to do so. The man I'm referring to is none other than a true master of sci-fi, a living legend, and one of the greatest authors to ever live - RAY BRADBURY. Some quick background: I've been a huge, huge fan of Ray Bradbury since I first read The Illustrated Man in middle-school. That collection of short stories, along with Ther Martian Chronicles, are two of my all time favorite works of fiction, and both were enormous inspirations to me, in terms of how I look at the world, how I write, and in terms of influencing the subject matter that drives me and that I'm most passionate about. In high school, I wrote my senior English thesis on the works of Ray Bradbury as a reflection of postwar America. I love the Ray Bradbury Theater television show and have Volume 1 on DVD. And I hope to read and experience many more of his works as the months and years go by. Last year at Comic-Con, I somehow missed a chance to see Bradbury at his annual panel, but this year I was determined not to miss it. I just had a real sense of urgency about it. Because let's face it, Bradbury is getting up there, and he won't be around forever. And I didn't want to miss an opportunity to hear the legend speak in front of a packed hall of his fans and admirerers.

And what an experience it turned out to be. I wasn't sure what to expect going in, but I began to get goosebumps when I looked around and realized that the fairly large hall had become filled to capacity. I don't know if Bradbury always draws that big a crowd ... I know it's weird to say this, but I felt like there was that palpable, shared sense of urgency. We all wanted to see the man speak while we had the chance. And there was also a sense of getting back to basics. Amidst all the Hollywood hype and circus-like atmosphere at Comic-Con, here was Ray Bradbury, a TRUE science fiction legend who was not only a staple of Comic-Con since its inception, but a reminder of the great history and legacy of the show and of the genres it represents. This was the House That Bradbury Built, and I think we all felt honored and privaleged to be in that room at that moment. When a wheelchair-bound, somewhat frail looking Ray Bradbury was helped into the room and on to the podium, it was a Moment I'll always remember. The crowd erupted in genuine, heartfelt applause, the kind that only comes from true respect and admiration. It was the first of many times over the next hour that I'd have the chills.

The panel was moderated in a fashion by Bradbury's longtime friend Arnold Kunert, which was actually great, as it kept the discussion focused and helped to steer the conversation in some interesting directions. It's hard to describe what went on on that stage though. I'm not sure what Bradbury's health history has been, but for me it was at first a bit jarring to see the elderly Bradbury up on stage. My quintissential image of him from is from The Ray Bradbury Theater - that floppy writer immersed in his workshop - white-haired, an elder statesman, sure- but always with a bounce in his step and a gleam in his eye. Here on stage was, in contrast, a Bradbury who was wheelchair-bound and who struggled with his speech. Like I said, it was jarring at first, and almost sad for us longtime fans to see.

But then ... something magical happened.

As the conversation went on, and as certain topics came up, a certain glimmer began to appear in the old man's eyes and a smile formed on his face. As Bradbury talked about life and love and art and imagination, something seemed to come alive in him and he would become animated, alive, younger. You could see that old Ray Bradbury somehow boiling up from somewhere inside. I didn't expect it going in, but I found myself sitting there, listening to him speak, getting goosebumps, and becoming aware that I was witnessing something pretty special. And the stories we were hearing ... tales of Bradbury working with Jon Huston to adapt Moby Dick, and the rocky relationship the two had. Bradbury told of meeting Chuck Jones, of painting The Halloween Tree, of partnering with Ray Harryhausen on dinosaur movies, of creating Farenheit 451, and of his early days sending his writing to Amazing Stories and hoping agaisnt hope that this would finally be the submission that saw print in the fabled publication. But it wasn't just his stories that amazed - while we were hearing firsthand accounts of the stuff of legend, the real highlights were the other stuff - the random asides, the life lessons. It was while imparting a lifetime of accumulated wisdom that Bradbury really began to come alive. "It's all about love!" he repeated. "You do what you love, and to hell with everything else!"

Bradbury proceeded to talk in length about the theme of doing what you love. He talked about his early experiences with books, with movies, with robots and dinosaurs and pirates. About how each experience was part of the genesis of his lifelong love with those mediums and themes. He said that his college education was the library - that each new book he opened and discovered was his personal curriculum. He even mentioned how every woman he had ever been drawn to was an English teacher or librarian - I'm sure he could have elaborated a bit, but he left us laughing at his observation on his romantic past. He talked about how he began attending Comic-Con when it first debuted in 1970 for a very simple reason: when he was a boy, he read Prince Valiant in the Sunday paper, and from that day forward he fell in love with comics of all shapes and sizes, and he still loves comics, and THAT'S why he's come to the show each and every year since, in sickness and in health, because that love has never wavered. This statement was greeted, of course, with thunderous applause. In what quick turn of a phrase, Bradbury had somehow summed up what made Comic-Con great and what keeps it great. He cut to the core of why we were all there in San Diego in the first place, and it was a beautiful thing to hear.

It was simply inspiring to hear the passion that Bradbury still so clearly possessed. Earlier, a fan had presented him with a toy dinosaur as a gift, and Bradbury admired it with a childlike gleam in his eye. He still has that in him. The man is STILL writing stories, every day. Still producing movies. A new, big-budget version of Farenheit 451 is due soon that is poised to prove that his work is as relevant as ever. I'm not one to get emotional and burst into spontaneous applause, but during this panel, over and over again, with wide eyes and a smile, as I looked around at the others next to me who clearly felt the same way, I couldn't help myself. All I can say is this: Thank you, Ray Bradbury.

- So before the Bradbury panel, I actually went into the hall early, and caught the panel that preceeded it - a DC Comics Animated Feature panel, which featured DC head honcho Paul Levitz talking about DC's slate of animated DVD / Blu-Ray features, the most recent of which was the Batman: Gotham Knights film. The main focus of the panel was the upcoming Wonder Woman animated feature, which features Keri Russel as WW. Nathan Fillion, who voices Steve Trevor, was on hand at the panel, which was cool. Also there was Bruce Timm, the great artist who oversaw the DC animated universe from Batman: The Animated Series through JLU. The WW movie was actually looking pretty badass, the trailer shown had some great action and seemed to be a lot of fun.

- To close out the day on Saturday, we roamed around the show floor for a while, before heading back to our hotel to rest up for a bit. One cool highlight on the floor was that we actually saw Robert Smigel doing TRIUMPH THE INSULT COMIC DOG for my old employer, Late Night With Conan O'Brien. A truly awesome sighting, and I can't wait to check out the segment in its entirety.

- But anyways, our big event for the night was that, through work, I had secured some spots at the SCIFI CHANNEL / ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY PARTY, which is one of THE big Hollywood parties at Comic-Con. After some delicious pizza at Sloppy Joes, we walked over to the swanky Hotel Solimar. The party was being held on the hotel rooftop - an impressive area that featured a pool, and was decked out with an open bar, copious food kiosks, and moody lighting and video displays ... but wait, I'm getting ahead of myself. First, we had to wait in line. I had thought that a number of my NBCU Digital Distribution colleagues would also be in attendance, but none made it out. So Seth and I were kind of on our own, and a bit unsure of whether we'd actually get into the party - as the line was slow as molasses, with the rooftop party area apparently at its maximum occupancy level. We met a bunch oof interesting people in the line, though - a bunch of animators, some writrs for Adult Swim shows ... The most surreal part of waiting in line was that those of a certain celebrity status, from JJ Abrams to Joshua Jackson, were walking in and bypassing the line, and yet, at one point I saw DC Comics head Paul Levitz arrive and trudge to the back of the line (and yet, comics artist Jim Lee went right inside ... hmmm ...). But as we saw celebrity after celebrity walk into the party, Seth and I knew that we pretty much had to get in - this was the bigtime, baby. So we waited it out for a good hour and a half or so, but when it came time to give our names, we were good to go and were ushered inside without any problem. We were on the A-list and about to mingle with the stars.

So I'll be honest - I was trying to play it cool once inside, but I was definitely freaking out to some degree. This was definitely the most star-studded social event I've ever been to. When I went to find the restroom, I passed Matthew Fox, the cast of Chuck, and then got in line to use the Men's Room behind Jeph Loeb and in front of Masi Oka. We walked by Simon Pegg, Captain Awesome, JJ Abrams, and Joss Whedon. We ran into a bunch of NBC folks from the Agency, publicity, etc., from SciFi, and I also saw some colleagues from Microsoft who I had some good conversation with. My one disappointment was that Bruce Campbell was supposed to be there, but apparently didn't show up. I mostly kept my camera tucked away at the party, with the intention of not betraying myself as a drooling fanboy, but I don't think I could have passed up a potential photo-op with Ash himself. It was funny though, because since I was the sole representative of my department at the party, and one of only a handful of NBCU employees in attendance, I felt like that much more of a big deal. Not that I actually WAS a big deal, but hey, give me my moment of artificially-elevated sense of self-worth, will ya'?

But yeah, this was one bigtime party, and surely just the first of many such celeb-packed affairs that I'll be attending from this point on ... Hahaha ... But still, I kept getting the urge to call my mom and say "if you could only see your son now!" or something to that effect. Remember, even if my current job makes me a quasi-wannabe-Hollywood-playa (okay not really, but let me have my delusions) ... I'm still just a kid from Bloomfield at heart!

- So after we were satisfied that we had soaked in enough of the bigtime Hollywood ambiance, Seth and I grabbed some celebratory Pinkberry and headed back to the hotel. Which brings us to ...


- Sunday at Comic-Con was really the day to take in the show-floor one more time, make a few obligatory purchases, and just soak in the craziness of the show one last time. Although, I thought it was appropriate to do one last DC NATION panel, as a nice sort of bookend to how we kicked things off on Thursday. And also, the DC geek in me was curious as to the supposed big announcement that DC had saved for this one. The panel was a lot of fun - DiDio was once again entertaining, bringing up random people from the crowd to help him moderate the panel, including a 12 year old kid to answer audience questions about Final Crisis, and a girl in a pretty dead-on Supergirl costume to talk about the Girl of Steel. More hype from Geoff Johns on Blackest Night and Flash: Rebirth and JSA and Action Comics (the guy is definitely the best thing going in terms of superhero comics at the moment ...). And then the panel capped off with a little video presentation that revealed a pretty cool announcement: bestselling author and hugely popular comics writer Neil Gaiman, of Sandman and Stardust fame, will be writing a special Batman story called Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? Could be interesting, to say the least.

- The next few hours on Sunday were, again, just spent roaming the show floor and soaking everything in one last time. I got some trade paperbacks and posters on the cheap. I did another walkthrough of the big videogame section at one end of the show floor, making sure to check out some of the big titles on display, from Little Big Planet to DC Universe Online to Ghostbusters to Star Wars: Force Unleashed to Street Fighter IV. I walked around to the autograph areas and got in the obligatory sightings of Rob Van Damme and the "legendary" Virgil. I bumped into Jules one last time and got a few more photo-ops of some of the strange characters that make Comic-Con such an awesome place to be - people dressed like the cast of GI Joe, the Batman rogues gallery, or the X-Men - and everyone and everything in between.

- And then, finally, it was time to head out. We capped off our stay in San Diego by heading up into the Gaslamp District and catching an afternoon showing of The X-Files movie. I'll post a full review soon, but, at least for me, seeing the movie was always the perfect way to close things out this year. The X-Files was the pinnacle of genre television in the 90's, and maybe ever, and it reignited fandom in a way that hadn't been seen in decades, producing a legion of X-Philes that analyzed each episode and the larger context of the show with uncanny devotion. For me, for years and years, Sunday nights were synonomous with The X-Files, so it was only appropriate to once again, one more time, take a few hours on a Sunday and spend it with Mulder and Scully as they embark on their latest adventure. Without getting into a full review just yet, I'll say that the movie was certainly flawed, but to its credit it evoked the same creepy atmosphere and character dynamics that made me such a fan of the show in the first place. Again, I couldn't think of any more fitting way to put an exclamation point on our own 2008 San Diego adventure.

- All that was left was the long drive home. Thankfully, it was a much shorter ride back than it was driving down to San Diego. I was happy after a great weekend. Cool panels, fun parties, a chance to hang out with Brian, Seth, Diane, Adriana, Aksel, Jules, and many others. But the exhaustion of four days of nonstop craziness and little sleep had caught up to me (and still hasn't quite left me). And then, there was that same slight feeling of post-Comic-Con sadness that I felt last year that began to creep in, even before we left San Diego on Sunday morning. I love the atmosphere there. Even at this point where the show has to some extent been taken over by the Hollywood studios, that grassroots appreciation for the good stuff is what makes this show special. Where else would WATCHMEN get this kind of reception? Because sure, Comic-Con is a place where Watchmen, the movie, can get a huge reaction, but that's mostly because Watchmen, the comic book, made such an impact on so many people in attendance. That's where it all comes from. From the people who go out there and FIND the good stuff and tell their friends who then tell their friends. The people who don't settle for what Hollywood tells them to like, but who yell and scream at Hollywood to get it right and get their act together until Hollywood has no choice but to listen. At work on Monday, nearly everyone asks me about the show is as much of a "freak show" as it seems. Everyone jokes about the people in costume, about the nerds who attend the show, about the diehard fans and how into everything they are. Well, to me it ain't no freak show, dude. To me, there's something that's REAL about people with passion, and what's UNREAL is the majority of people you encounter in the so-called "real world." The people who live life without passion, without a desire to stand out and be different. The people who conform to whatever the masses dictate, who aren't tastemakers, who don't seek out what's new and different and great. THOSE are the people who scare me, not some guy in a Batman costume. And when I, as an aspiring creator and storyteller, attend the show and see what is essentially the dream in action - when I see writers and actors and producers go out there and show what they've been working on to the fans, and when the fans respond and go nuts ... I'm reminded that THAT's the dream, and that's where I want to be. I don't want to be in a cubicle in khakis. I want to be writing, creating, contributing to the pop-culture fabric. I want to be up there on stage showing off my latest project, something that comes from my roots as a fan, and is made with the fans in mind. That's where I hope to be, and that's what I have to work for. Because like Ray Bradbury said, you've got to do what you love, and to hell with everything else. And that, to me, is what Comic-Con is all about.

And now, after a week of little sleep and lots to think about, I'm off to spend some time in the land of dreams and nightmares. I'm glad I got to finally write this post, and I hope to have that X-Files review up soon. Thanks for reading, True Believers!

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