Tuesday, July 28, 2009

COMIC-CON Confidential: A Giant-Sized Recap of Danny's 2009 San Diego Adventures!

Well, I'm back in LA after an insane couple of days in San Diego for Comic-Con. If you've seen my Facebook photos, then you know that it was another successful journey to the center of the pop-culture universe, with many an adventure along the way. Let me try to recap:

DAY 1:

- On Thursday morning, bright and early, myself, Brian (aka "The G-Man" ), and Seth E. met up and began the long trek to SD, basically a straight shot on the 5 South freeway from Burbank. Seth drove, I provided the Rush (Fanboys style), and I also brought along my recently-purchased GPS unit, which would come in handy once we got to San Diego and had to find our hotel. We actually made excellent time, getting to SD in about 2 1/2 hours. Of course, it took an additional 45 minutes to find a parking space near downtown SD's giant convention center, but that's par for the course during Comic-Con. It is funny though, because this was now my third annual Comic-Con trip, and at this point we've become somewhat familiar with downtown SD and a lot of the nuances of the Comic-Con experience. It's still a total crapshoot a lot of times in terms of figuring out how to get into the best and biggest panels and events, but I do think we were, overall, a lot more savvy this go-round in terms of how to navigate both San Diego and the convention itself.

- Upon arriving to the Convention Center, we quickly checked in, got our swanky media passes, grabbed a quick lunch, and then made a dash for the gigantic line that had formed outside Hall H, the crown jewel of Comic-Con's many auditoriums, where the biggest and most-hyped screenings and panels are held each year. Our goal? To get in line early enough to make it inside for the AVATAR panel, aka the most buzzed-about movie going into this year's show.

- In the line outside of Hall H, it was HOT. We all got sunburned that afternoon as we waited in the sun for about 3 hours, crossing our fingers that all of the teenaged girls inside Hall H to see TWILIGHT would filter out when their panel was over. For the uninitiated, once you get into a room at the Con, you can stay as long as you want. So the question for those in line is always how many people will leave and how many will stay after a given panel. The cool thing about Comic-Con though is that lines are never quite as painful as they are elsewhere. There's people in costumes to look at, PR reps giving out free schwag, lots of random geeky conversations going on at any given time, and lots of friendly nerds eager to bond with their fanboy bretheren. Also, my friend and huge fangirl KC, a fellow former intern at Late Night With Conan O'Brien, met up with us in line. I hadn't seen KC in about five years, so it was great catching up. Also, we (well, mostly she) befriended this random Norwegian dude with a pony-tailed mohawk and a Snake Plissken T-shirt, who showed us pictures of the giant Superman statue he has in his Norway apartment, and told KC of his odd fascination with midgets. Um, yeah, 'nuff said. Only at Comic-Con.

- Anyways, luck was with us, as it turned out that the hordes of "Twi-hards" exited Hall H en masse after they all collectively wet themselves over footage from New Moon and appearances by all of the movie's stars (apparently one girl almost got run over in San Diego traffic while running after Robert Pattenson's car). So we just barely made it into Hall H for the AVATAR presentation, although we did miss the first ten or so minutes, which was mostly James Cameron's introduction, etc.

- Before I get to Avatar, a word on TWILIGHT and how it affected Comic-Con this year. Basically, back in the 70's, Comic-Con was a bunch of geeks, mostly male, who plain and simply loved comic books. They came together to talk about comics, buy comics and related items, and meet the writers and artists behind their favorite comic books. That basic idea is still the heart and soul behind the convention, but for the last ten years or so, ever since the big Hollywood studios realized what a great marketing platform Comic-Con is, the show has been dominated by movies and TV. And even though that annoyed a lot of the diehard comic book fans, at least the movies and TV shows that came to Comic-Con tended to be very much geared towards the core Comic-Con audience. Over the last two or three years, Comic-Con has broadened its scope even further -- this year there were panels for shows like Psych on USA and ABC's new sitcom The Middle. And then there was Twilight. Yes, it has vampires, but it's also chick-lit, and it appeals to a demo that was once almost totally foreign to Comic-Con: teen and pre-teen girls. Now, some of these girls are bigtime fangirls who like Twilight but also dig comics and animation and sci-fi. But some are just Hot Topic-sportin' mallrats who don't have much interest in the rest of what Comic-Con has to offer. And some people were bothered by this influx of "new blood" and how it made for unusually long lines and crowded halls, as the few panels that appealled to this demo (TV shows with strong girl-appeal, the panel for Twilight, etc) had so many young girls lining up bright and early that it made it very difficult to get into other panels in those same halls that either followed or preceded. My take on all this? I think it's pretty great. I loved seeing the Comic-Con crowd become more diverse than ever. And I guarantee that a lot of the girls who came for Twilight came away excited about at least one or two other things that they didn't know about before. Maybe they even picked up a comic book or two. To me, as long as the staples of the show remain in some form (and I have no doubt they will), there's no reason to get too upset about the Twilight phenomonon. But anyways, these were the kinds of conversations that dominated the chatter this year in San Diego. Oh man.

- Alright, enough with all that. Let's talk by-god AVATAR. I'll cut to the chase -- the footage we saw was flipping incredible. James Cameron's years-in-the-making epic has so far lived up to the hype, in that it looks and feels like nothing I've ever seen before. I had chills while watching the glorious 3D imagery, which was a startling blend of live action and photo-real CGI. It felt like something big, something new, something almost slightly scary. Because all of this new digital technology was being used to tell what looks to be an epic sci-fi story *about* how technology can be scary and strange and destructive. After James Cameron, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, and Zoe Saldana (Uhura in Star Trek) came out to big ovations (including thunderous applause for Sigourney, a true sci-fi icon!), we saw several scenes from the film, and I think I mostly watched with my jaw on the floor. It's funny because going in I knew almost nothing about the movie or its plot, but now I have a much better idea. Basically, it tells the story of a future where humans have made contact with a distant planet, Pandora, that is practically an Eden-like paradise, filled with strange creatures and blue humanoid inhabitants. Humans don't seem to be properly adapted to live on the planet, so a select few are chosen to undergo cloning experiments, which give them new bodies that resemble those of the inhabitants of Pandora. From the clips and ensuing discussion, one can guess that even as these cloned humans begin to adapt and become one with Pandora's population, earth's military has decided to go to war with the planet which it perceives to be a threat. Basically, this looked like a Star Wars-level space epic that is going to have some serious philisophical underpinnings behind its amazing look. While a number of scenes presented amazing action and astonishing set-pieces set in Pandora's lush environments, the scene that impressed me the most was perhaps an intense piece in which our main character (played by Sam Worthington, who checked in via video), first emerges from the cloning process that gives him his new blue Avatar body. The scene is almost more horror than sci-fi, as this astonishingly lifelike blue creature wakes in a lab filled with tense doctors. Just mind-blowing stuff. The visuals here are hard to describe - think live action but with digital sets that look completely real yet completely alien, and with digitally-augmented characters each comparable in quality to Gollum from Lord of the Rings. What's more, the 3D effect is rich and textured, completely immersing ou in the ultra-detailed environments. Suffice it to say, I think Avatar is going to blow some minds come December.

- So after the Avatar panel, we decided to stay in Hall H, as the next panel involved a true icon of cinema, the great TERRY GILLIAM, who would be presenting his latest film, THE IMAGINARIUM OF DR. PARNASSUS. The film is worthy of much excitement, as its Gilliam's return to surreal fantasy, but it's also bittersweet, as it contains Heath Ledger's final performance. However, in an impressive bit of last-minute casting, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Collin Ferrell stepped in to play different versions of Heath's character throughout the movie. The movie itself though looked very, very impressive, and contains the same kind of stunning, imaginative visuals that Gilliam brought to Monty Python, Time Bandits, and Brazil, among many others. We saw a trailer for the movie as well as several scenes, and it all looked pretty darn amazing - vintage Gilliam, to be sure. Meanwhile, Terry told his usual collection of stories about how dumb the Hollywood studios are, etc, but also as usual, he was a fun and interesting speaker. He even brought out the diminuitive Vern Troyer, who has a role in Parnassus, to join him on stage. It was a bit odd to get Troyer but not any of the film's big stars like Depp or Ferrell or Christopher Plummer, but oh well. Also, a finger of shame to the lame questions asked of Gilliam, which were almost all variations on "I love you, you're my favorite director, where do you get your inspiration from?" and so forth.

- After the Parnassus panel, we contemplated sticking around for a panel focused on Kickass, Matthew Vaughan's adaptation of Mark Millar's controversial comic. Apparently, the footage shown, well, kicked ass. But as it was getting a bit late by that point, we left the convention center, drove to our hotel (the Sheraton, a couple of miles away), checked in, and grabbed some dinner at the hotel restaurant. After that, we went back downtown to the Hotel Solimar, as the G-Man got us all on the list for MGM's swanky shindig that was taking place on the hotel's rooftop poolside patio. The MGM party was in the same place as the SCI FI Channel Party I attended last year, and this party was similar - lots of industry folk trying to look cool and standing around with a drink or two. The centerpiece of the party was the reveal of the new Stargate Universe trailer, and the entire cast of the new Syfy show was on-hand to help promote. Also at the party? A few random celebs, the best of which, in my humble opinion, was Hercules himself - KEVIN SORBO! Yep, I was at a party with Kevin Sorbo, ladies and gents. Now, the MGM party was mostly fun, but at times slightly awkward as folks I work with from NBCU and Apple were in attendance, very much in business / networking mode, whereas I was not really in that frame of mind. Luckily, my NBC Page buddies Diane and Adriana eventually showed up as well, so after a while we had our own little crew at the party. It's funny though, now that I've gone to two big "industry" parties at Comic-Con, I realize how, while they are cool and make you feel like you might be a Hollywood bigshot, there's no substitute for simply walking around downtown SD and partying it up with the people, those who are simply there to have fun and wear their geekiness proudly.

- Anyways, it was only about 11:30 or so when I think all of us began to crash, after a long and sweaty first day in San Diego. We exited the party and went back to the hotel, a successful Day 1 completed.

- But wait! I wish I could say that Thursday's adventures ended there, but unfortunately that was not the case ... You see, upon getting back to our hotel room, the rollaway bed we had asked for was awkardly positioned right in the middle of the other two beds, creating a three-bed row that was like something out of Charlie and the Chocolate factory. As a strong believer in personal space, I was determined to switch things up a bit, and so began the arduous task of rearranging the furniture in the hotel room to create a better layout. Of course, I was so dead tired at this point that the whole process did not go well, Things were being knocked over, items strewn about, etc. Worst of all, when all was said and done, I couldn't find my camera. I looked everywhere, and was beginning to freak out. After searching for a long time, I finally went to sleep, and then, of course, found my camera wedged under the mattress the next morning. Praised be Thor.

DAY 2:

- To set up Day 2 of Comic-Con, I have to start by saying that, well, my freakout the night before when I thought I lost my camera was actually ... only the prelude to the next day's drama. See, after taking a cab from the hotel to the convention center Friday morning, I realized about two minutes after exiting the taxi that I had left my cellphone inside the cab. Ugh! Since my friends had left separately that morning, I wasn't even with them to borrow their phones. So, basically, in between the day's panels and events, I was frantically using a payphone to call the cab company, etc. More on this saga later, but, the fact is, I didn't want this incident to ruin the whole day, so it was off to my first panel of Friday ...

- ... which was for the new AMC remake of THE PRISONER TV series. Now, as I've talked about before here on the blog, a couple of years ago I bought the DVD set of the original 1960's Prisoner series, and began to get really into it. I had heard about the show's influence on modern day hits like Lost, and quickly got caught up in the trippy universe of the show in which one man is mysteriously trapped on an island where men and women are stripped of all identity, with no hope of escape. Anyways, the panel for the new series was a real highlight for me. I had read the pilot script a long time ago, was really, really impressed with it, and so since then I've been eagerly anticipating this one. The footage shown did not disappoint. The writers and producers of the new series were on hand, along with Jesus himself and the star of the new series, Jim Cavaziel, as well as a couple of other actors from the show. Unfortunately, Ian McKellan, who plays the new #2 (everyone on the island goes by a number only), was not there in person. That said, McKellan seems like he is going to absolutely kick ass in this one. He was awesome in the scenes that were shown, and on the whole, the entire cast for this looks very, very strong. The look and feel of the show was VERY cinematic, and I think that this one could very well be another critical and popular hit for AMC. I'm psyched for its debut in November, and by the way, I loved the posters / banners for this one around the show floor that boldly stated "Resist." Suffice it to say, for the rest of the show I was yelling "WHO IS NUMBER ONE?!" and "I AM NOT A NUMBER!"

- After The Prisoner panel, I was lucky to find Seth and Brian, and we took in our first comic book related panel of the convention, DC Comics' BATMAN panel. The event featured an all-star lineup of current Batman writers and artists, including Greg Rucka (Detective Comics), Paul Dini (co-creator of Batman: The Animated Series, and current writer of Streets of Gotham and Gotham City Sirens), and Chris Yost (Red Robin). The panel didn't have too many major announcements, as the talent on hand clearly didn't want to reveal too many of the big surprises they have in store (ie "who is the new Batgirl?", and "when will Bruce Wayne come back?"). There was a lot of enthusiasm though over the Batman titles' new direction (in which Dick Grayson is the new Batman, and Damien Wayne the new Robin), and hey, who doesn't love Batman? (Sidenote: not as many Joker costumes this year as last year, but I did get a couple of great pics with various Harley Quinns, perhaps my personal fave of the Gotham City Sirens rogues gallery ...)

- Following the Batman panel, we grabbed lunch while I frantically explained to Brian and Seth my cell-phone woes. I tried calling the cab company and also my phone a bunch of times, but still no luck or good info. Not good. Anyways, we then met up with KC and got in line for what was one of my most-anticipated events, the big TWENTY (24) FOUR panel. Unfortunately, after waiting in line for an hour, we still were unable to get into the packed Ballroom 20 (the show's second biggest hall). Forget Twilight, this one I blame on the Whedon fans, who lined up outside of Ballroom 20 hours in advance for the Dollhouse panel later that evening. So, no, I did not get to see Kiefer and co. preview Jack Bauer's latest adventures, although the recaps I've read sound pretty sweet. Dammit! So while my Whedonite friends stayed in line for Dollhouse (damn them), I went off in search of other events of interest (still sans cell phone, FYI).

- So I left to spend some time with the real comic book fanboys who share my appreciation for superhero sequential storytelling. To that end, I ditched the line for Dollhouse and headed over to Ballroom 6 for DC Comics' DC NATION panel. Being a big DC geek, I always try to get in a DC-related panel or two, and after the earlier Batman panel, I was primed and ready for even more DC goodness. Plus, DC panels are great because they are chock full of great costumes of people dressed as Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Wonder Woman, and every other Justice Leaguer you can think of. At this panel, there was a group of about 10 people decked out as the golden age Justice Society. Sweet. There were also Lantern T-shirts a-plenty, as DC's BLACKEST NIGHT was clearly *the* most buzzed-about comic book event of the show. Everywhere you looked, you saw people sporting T's with the symbol of the Green, Orange, Yellow, Purple, Blue, Indigo, Red, and Black Lanterns. And yes, on Thursday I did proudly sport the Black Lantern T myself. In fact, Dan Didio, the EIC of DC Comics, showed up sporting ALL of 'em at once, cheerfully giving each shirt away to the crowd member who shouted out the most entertaining thing that they loved, hated, hoped for, were mad about, etc., according to the corresponding color of the emotional spectrum. (and yes, there was the obligatory shout of "Twilight!" when DiDio, ever the showman, asked people to yell out things that made them angry, bwahaha ...). Anyways, this panel was really less about news and announcements and more just about having fun with the fans. The crowd was very boisterous, and gave heroes' welcomes to the lineup of huge DC talent on hand - James Robinson, Greg Rucka, and Geoff Johns among them. GEOFF JOHNS got a gigantic standing ovation - DC's current MVP writer had fans on their feet and chanting his name in appreciation. And I have to say I myself am a huge fan - Johns' comics have been THE reason to read DC for the past few years, and he may be in the midst of his biggest and best epic yet with Blackest Night.

- After the DC Nation panel, I walked the show floor for a bit, checked out a number of the big booths, and then decided to get in line for THE MIGHTY BOOSH panel that was coming up later that afternoon. And man, how crazy - I was convinced that I was one of a small handful of people in America who is a fan of the crazy British comedy, but, oh man, the Boosh fans were out in full force at Comic-Con. Even though I got in line an hour early, I just barely missed the mark to get into the panel. It was cool to see so many Boosh fans in the house, but, man, I was annoyed that in one day I was denied entrance to both 24 and The Boosh. And this was after we had spent ample time on the car-ride up to SD quoting the Old Gregg episode. Oh well ...

- At that point, I returned to the show floor and tried to figure out how I could go about retrieving my cell phone. Also, we were supposed to meet up with the man, the myth, the legend - Aksel - that night in downtown SD, and I had no way of contacting him since I lost my phone and in turn his number. When I finally met back up with Brian, Seth, and KC, I was trying to figure out how to proceed. Finally, I called information, got the number for Aksel's parents' house, and called them. I got Aksel's cell # from his dad, and called the Axe-Man, who greeted me by asking "hey, did you leave your cell phone in a taxi?!". Whaaa? I asked Aksel how he knew this, and he explained that he had tried calling me earlier, and the taxi driver had picked up the phone (I guess he saw the name Aksel and picked up as opposed to when he saw the name Seth?!). Luckily, the driver had given Aksel his contact info, which I promptly wrote down. I contacted the driver, and he agreed to meet us in a couple of hours. Praised be Jeebus!

- So we walked around the show floor a bit more, and then headed up into the Gaslamp district for some quality eats. I remembered how delicious the food at NICKY ROTTEN'S was last year, and so we hit it up one mo' time, for some of the best pizza I've had on the West Coast, by far. During dinner, I got in touch with the cab driver, who kept saying he was on his way with the phone. It was a long time before he finally got to the downtown area, and when he did, he said that he wanted to meet away from a main street so that he didn't have to contend with the insane downtown traffic. What ensued was like an episode of 24 - I was running around downtown with Seth's cellphone, trying to figure out where this cab driver wanted me to go. "Go to the corner of 5th and Island and turn right." "Which way is Island?!" Finally, I found him, got my cellphone (!), and paid him for his troubles. At the end of the day, I was elated to have retrieved it. A true Comic-Con miracle!

- Right after that, Aksel joined us and we sat down for some delicious gelato and to catch up on old times. We broke out many of our classic college stories from the BU days, and then, finally, after a long Day #2 in San Diego, we said our goodbyes to the Axe-Man and headed back to our hotel, as I clung tightly to my cell phone and camera.

DAY 3:

- Saturday is traditionally the biggest day of Comic-Con, and I think it probably was in fact the most crowded once again this year. Although ... this year was unique in that Thursday and Friday were *very* loaded up with programming, so it already felt like things were winding down a bit post-Avatar, etc. That said, the sleeping giant in the room was a little movie called IRON MAN 2, which would hold its own panel on Saturday evening in Hall H. Saturday morning, Seth and Brian tried but failed to get into the panel for CHUCK. As you may recall, Chuck debuted at Comic-Con two years ago with a rock n' roll panel that brought the house down. Since then, the show had developed a huge cult-following and its fans were out in full force early Saturday. In fact, every panel seemed to have an immense line. When I got to the show, heard about how long the line for Chuck had been, and saw how massive in general the crowds were, I had to think quickly. I had planned to get in a couple of panels, with my main goal being FUTURAMA in the mid-afternoon. But I realized I had probably already missed my window for that one, as, like I said, the lines for all the big ballrooms were already gigantic by mid-morning. (I guess it's just as well, as supposedly the Futurama panel was disappointing - turns out the voice actors did NOT show up, and there was no new update on whether they'd actually been signed for the new season of the returning show ...) So, anyways, despite my reluctance to miss out on panels for BLACKEST NIGHT, FRINGE, and my favorite panel from last year, the spotlight on the legendary RAY BRADBURY, I saw the writing on the wall and agreed with Brian and Seth that the best course of action was to simply get in line for Hall H and camp out inside, with the ultimate goal being that we'd be well-positioned for the evening Iron Man 2 event. So we waited in line for only a short time (it was still pretty early at this point), got decent seats in Hall H, and stayed put there for, oh, about seven hours or so. But hey, we had some cool panels along the way - here's the report:

- First up in Hall H was SOLOMON KANE, a movie that is actually one of my absolute favorite things I saw at the show. I had heard bits and pieces about this one, but I think that due to its lack of a big-name director or star, it was still a bit under most people's radars. But man, did it look kickass. Basically, Solomon Kane is a character created way back when by Robert E. Howard of Conan the Barbarian fame, and his stories are similarly epic, violent, and imaginative. Kane is a warrior priest who believes it's his god-given duty to rid the world of evil by any means necessary, and so he travels around killing demons and monsters and all that. In a word, he unleashes righteous fury upon evil. And man, James Purefoy looks to be awesome as Solomon - just badass to the core. The trailer's moneyshot is Purefoy as Kane calling out a demonic evildoer, barking something like: "If I kill you where you stand, I will surely be condemned to hell for it. But ... it is a price I will gladly pay!" Awesome. The director and stars seemedreally reverential to Howard's source material as well, and were already giddy with ideas for possible sequels. All in all, SOLOMON KANE is now up there on my list of most-anticipated movies. It looks like a throwback to 80's epic fantasy like Conan - brutal, pull-no-punches, but with a real intelligence and style to it as well. Can't wait. This one brought the GRAVITAS.

- Next up was EXTRACT, the latest comedy from Mike Judge. Now, don't get me wrong, I am really looking forward to Extract. I love Office Space - it's one of my all-time favorite comedies. And the cluster#$%& of Idiocracy's release and lack of promotion still annoys me, as that movie was a lot of fun and a scarily prophetic version of the future. Plus, Beavis and Butthead and King of the Hill are up there on my canonical list of great animated TV shows. But, this is simply not really a Comic-Con type of movie. Worse, Judge just seemed bored and not particularly enthusiastic to be there, which really dragged out the panel. Meanwhile, Jason Bateman was there and wa clearly trying to be funny and entertaining, but he told us that he flew to SD on one hour of sleep while shooting a movie, and he seemed sort of out of it as well. Mila Kunis was there as well, and, well, she seems awesome and has real geek-cred to boot, but she didnt get to talk much and wasn't asked any particularly compelling questions. That said, Extract looks like it will be *very* funny. It was still hard to tell exactly how the scenes we saw would come together and whether they'd combine to form a great comedy, but things looked promising. But man, this was another one where the Q&A session was just brutal, with loads of lame-o questions from the audience. At some point in this panel, I think most of us were daydreaming about Iron Man.

- After Extract wrapped, we got a couple of more sci-fi-ish presentations. The first was a movie that looks pretty freaking cool, that being ZOMBIELAND. There wasn't as much excitement for this one as there might have been had the trailer not already been released some time ago in theaters, but still, it's a coming-of-age zombie action-comedy with Woody Harrelson as a badass redneck zombie-hunter. What's not to like. The movie's writer and director were on hand, as were Woody, Jessie Eisenberg, and Emma Stone. I count myself as a fan of both of them from their various films, and Eisenberg I thought was great in this past Spring's Adventureland. He seems like a perfect fit for Zombieland as the everyman, geeky teen thrust into a world overrun by zombies. Some of the scenes shown were overall just very cool, and the whole thing had a kind of over-the-top comic bookish vibe, but also a sort of teen-hipster style to it. Almost like Dawn of the Dead meets Tarantino meets Juno, or something. But the cast was very funny - Woody was particularly hilarious - and there were some very funny, very action-packed clips with a number of most-excellent zombie kills. I'm psyched for this one.

- Woody Harrelson then remained on stage for the second part of Sony's double-shot presentation, as he also appears in 2012. Yep, ROLAND EMMERICH's latest end-of-the-world disaster movie. Woody was then joined by the man himself, as Roland took the stage. And man, is he hilarious. He's like a skinnier and more flamboyant version of Arnold Schwarzennegger, with his thick Austrian accent and eccentric mannerisms. I give him credit though, he is a very entertaining speaker, seems like a nice guy, and certainly was very appreciative towards the fans. And as for 2012, well, wow. I mean, you have to wonder what more the guy can to do earth after Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, etc. But the carnage shown in the Comic-Con clips was so over the top that it went from being horribly tetarded to kind of hilarious to actually somewhat awesome for its sheer, unapologetic ridiculousness. I mean, we saw this extended scene of John Cusack driving his family through a crumbling LA, as armageddon occurs in the background. Planes are crashing, streets are flooding, the ground is rumbling, buildings collapsing ... and yet Cusack miraculously AVOIDS IT ALL with his superhuman driving ability, as he outraces the end of the world, boards a helicopter, and flies into the sky with his wife and precocious kids as he narrowly avoids being consumed by all hell breaking loose. WTF?! This one clearly will be a big-budget B movie, so my hope is simply that its so crazy and ridiculous that it's awesomely bad, otherwise, it might just be terrible. But man, Emmerich has no shame, no restraint, and doesn't know the meaning of the word subtlety. You've gotta love it.

- After an extended intermission, the next panel was, finally, the big one. IRON MAN 2, baby. And this, my friends, is what Comic-Con is all about. The presentation, the drama, the stars - these guys got it right once again. Two years ago, I was there when Jon Favreau and co. blew the roof off of Hall H when the first Iron Man footage was revealed, and I dare say that lightning did indeed strike twice here in 2009.

But first, a brief interlude on something that's both really lame and really cool about Comic-Con: people who are there who are clearly fakes, posers, etc. One such guy was there MC'ing the panels throughout Saturday in Hall H, some lame-ass movie reviewer from Access Hollywood. This guy annoyed the crowd from the moment he got onstage, with his over-excited and over-caffienated speech about how here in Hall H, "aaaat Commicaaan", we were in "the center of the universe!" Ugh. Immediately, you could tell that he was more enthusiastic about the fact that *he* got to be up on stage hosting than anything else, and the crowd was quick to catch on. The jeers slowly got louder each time he took stage, which was friggin' hilarious, as he seemed totally oblivious nad just got more obnoxious with each panel. But as he began to introduce Iron Man 2, the crowd just booed the hell out of him. It was awesome. And he was sooo annoying. I mean, he was up there talking out of his ass about how "two years ago, nobody cared about Iron Man, but now, *everybody* cares!" Um, maybe noone at Access Hollywood cared, but he was clearly talking to the wrong audience, as, well, duh ... everyone at Comic-Con cared about Iron Man well before 2007. Did this guy not realize that Bob Layton, one of the great Iron Man comic book writers of all time, was sitting right in front of him in the first row of Hall H? What a douche. He was the embodiment of the idea that fake Hollywood lamewads are invading Comic-Con, and I could only smile as this guy was practically booed off the stage. It's moments like that that make me love the Comic-Con crowds.

- Back to IRON MAN 2 ... like I was saying, what a presentation. Kevin Feige of Marvel came out and introduced Jon Favreau, to a huge ovation. Favreau proceeded to thank the crowd and quickly showed a new trailer, as the crowd was on pins and needles with anticipation. But ... this wasn't what the crowd was expecting. The trailer was a cheesy, cheaply-produced highlight reel of Iron Man 1 footage, that looked like the video Andy Samberg made to promote his stunts in Hot Rod or something. As the crowd became confused and wondered what was up, they suddenly rose in unison and went crazy as none other ROBERT DOWNEY JR. walked onstage, declaring that the trailer we just saw was "bull$#%&." Come on, he said to Favreau, I know you had better stuff back in the editing room. Favreau was forced to agree - he'd show us a "real" trailer, but first we had to sing Happy Birthday to his son, who was in the audience. So we did - 6,000 strong in Hall H, baby. And then, the footage. In short, it rocked. Downey is back as Tony Stark. Gary Shandling makes a quick appearance as a smart-ass Senator. The suit is back. There's the same rapid-fire Downey dialogue, humor, and attitude of Part 1. There was Samuel L. Jackson as NICK FURY talking shop with Stark in a diner. But then, business picked up. As "My Shadow" by Tool kicked up in the background, we saw Mickey Rourke as the villainous Whiplash, looking awesomely badass and brandishing two electro-whips that seemed like they could put quite the hurtin' on ol' Shellhead. Then, we saw our first glimpses of Scarlett Johansson as the Black Widow, outfitted in sleek black leather and kicking ass and taking names. At this point the crowd was going crazy. The screen faded to black, the Iron Man 2 logo appeared, and the throbbing chords of Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" played. Damn, that was awesome. Buuuut wait kids, there's more. We fade back up from black, and there's Sam Rockwell talking to Don Cheadle as Randy Rhodes over a huge arsenal of advanced weaponry. "Which of these do you want?" asks Rockwell. A beat. A gleam in Cheadle's eye. "All of them." he says. Cut to ... the money-shot. WAR MACHINE in full gun-metal suit of armor unleashing hell on some badguys. Hot damn, that was sick. The crowd goes nuts, standing ovation, Iron Man 2 has just blown the roof off of Comic-Con, baby. Back onstage, Favreau and Feige and RDJ introduce Sam Rockwell, Don Cheadle, and Scarlett by-gum Johansson. More feverish applause. Scarlett is in the house, geeks everywhere have geekgasms of joy. The following Q&A and panel discussion featured great quips from Downey, speculation on whether Favs would direct the eventual Avengers movie (the crowd voted a resounding "yes"), insight into Scar-Jo's prep process for the movie, some very humble words from Cheadle, and a fan statement that I heartily agreed with for Sam Rockwell -- that if he doesn't get an Oscar nom for MOON, well, then clearly the Academy is insane. The panel closed with a second viewing of the Comic-Con only trailer, and man, did it rock. All in all, these guys were the kings of Comic-Con once again. I am Iron Man, baby.

- Post-Iron Man, we were practically ready to call it a day after several hours in Hall H. Cabin fever was setting in, but ... there was also no way we were missing out on the next panel, that being KEVIN SMITH's annual Comic-Con free-for-all. Having seen Smith speak at Comic-Con before, I knew that his panels are essentially free comedy shows, and are not to be missed. This one lived up to previous Smith speaking engagements. While there was some news about his upcoming early '10 movie called A Couple of Dicks (starring Tracy Morgan and Bruce Willis), mostly, it was just an extended Q&A with the fans that led to Smith riffing on all manner of topics. Smith had a number of hilarious anecdotes about his life, answered a number of questions about his movies, and even held court on the whole Twilight-at-Comic-Con controversy, reassuring the fanboys to wait a couple of years, because, hey, pretty soon all those preteen Twihard girls would be 18 and full-fledged fangirls, not to mention legal. Hey, Kevin Smith's words, not mine. He said a lot of other hilarious stuff, but as you can imagine, most of it is not suitable for my family-friendly blog (yep, this blog is family friendly, baby!). In any case, Smith at this point is a veritable Comic-Con legend, so it's always great to hear him speak whilst in his element. Not to mention, the man is absolutely hilarious. I was laughing throughout the entire panel. And Smith's insults and back-and-forths with the rather ... odd ... fans who try to stump him with their questions are always awesome. But yeah, Smith is a Comic-Con staple. I mean, it was Smith's movies like Clerks and Mallrats that arguably brought fanboy culture into the mainstream in the first place, so regardless of what you think of him, I say the man deserves his props.

- After closing out our day at the show with Silent Bob himself, it was time for some much-needed grub. We walked back up the Gaslamp and sat down for some Mexican food. Just after we sat down to eat, two big guys walked by us, and as all three of us are old-school wrestling fans, we immediately recognized them as none other than ECW legend Rob Van Dam and cruiserweight phenom Shane "Hurricane" Helms. Awesome! Brian shouted "RVD!" and received a fist-bump of glory from the "Whole F'n Show." Both RVD and Helms are Comic-Con regulars and noted comic book fans, so while it was no surprise to see them in SD for the show, it was pretty cool to be sitting next to them at dinner!

- When we finished eating, the original plan was to head back to the hotel, change, and then head out for a night on the town. This was our last night in San Diego, afterall. But as we walked outside and surveyed the gaslamp district, we saw something too cool to pass up: an entire bar in downtown had been converted into a TRUE BLOOD-themed vampire bar, complete with free "blood" drinks for all! We basically had no choice but to enter, drink some fresh-squeezed "True Blood," and mingle with our fellow fanboys and fangirls. They really did a great job with the place -- the bartenders were decked out in full-on vampiric goth gear, and True Blood posters adorned the walls, with slogans like "Friends Don't Let Friends Drink Friends." Definitely did not suck.

- After hanging out at the True Blood bar for a bit, we headed back to the hotel for a few, then hit the town. Originally, we were going to go to this party called X-Sanguin, but when we got there it seemed potentially a bit sketchy, so we headed back downtown, which definitely seemed to be the safer bet. From past experiences I knew that if you're looking for a fun night out in SD, the Whiskey Girl bar is always a crowd pleaser. So that is where we headed, and enjoyed a night of good music and a crazy Comic-Con crowd. Strangely, the place was forced to close down early due to the fire marshall, so we wandered around for a bit before coming across CAFE DIEM, a diner that had been completely converted into a Syfy-themed cafe straight out of the TV show Eureka. During the day, the place was consistently packed, but late at night there was no wait for a table. Coincidentally, when me and Seth walked in we saw Diane and Adriana, who were just finishing up a late-nite meal. The four of us sat and recapped our Comic-Con experiences, before eventually calling it a night. A successful end to our final evening in San Diego.

DAY 4:

- Sunday at Comic-Con tends to be light on panels, so traditionally this is the day to walk the show floor, get in some good pictures with colorfully-costumed patrons, and browse the merchandise sold by the dozens of vendors at the show. Given the tough economic times we're in, sales at Comic-Con this year were reportedly down, and I was definitely one of the many who held off on making any big purchases. Not that I ever spend a ton at the show, but this year my purchases were limited to a couple of cool T-shirts (I got a great Big Lebowski T that says "I Don't Roll On Shabbos") and one or two trade paperbacks that were steeply discounted. But to me, one of the best parts of Comic-Con is just walking the aisles, taking in the atmosphere, and exploring some of the less-trafficed nooks and crannies of the massive show floor. For example, back in the day, the centerpiece of the show used to be the famed Artists' Alley, where comic book artists new and old would set up camp and draw samples for fans, sell original art, or just chat with their admirers. Artists Alley is still a big part of Comic-Con, but today it is sort of pushed aside to a far corner of the floor, and its bare-bones tables can't compete for attention with the elaborate Hollywood booths. But, there is a magic to Artists' Alley that you won't find anywhere else on the show floor. Last year, I chatted with the legendary Jerry Robinson, the artist who CREATED the Joker back in the 1940's. This year, I strolled the aisles, talked to current Batman artist Dustin Nguyen for a bit, and admired the art of many others who I've long been a fan of or perhaps recently discovered. I also walked around the many random booths from smaller vendors - I talked about the challenges of digital distribution with some indie comix publishers experimenting with iPhone apps and digital comics. I took a picture with the Suicide Girls. I leafed through displays of vintage Golden Age comics. They say that comics are being phased out of Comic-Con, but when you see this many people in one place buying comics, reading them, discussing them, dressing up as their favorite characters, etc., you know that the medium is still thriving and maybe even doing better than ever in some ways.

- Finally, we did one last lap of the convention center, collected all the free stuff we could, etc. I checked out some promotions that my department at NBCU worked on for the show as well. With XBOX, we handed out tokens good for a free, exclusive download of the HEROES Season 4 trailer that premiered at the show. With SONY, we created custom Caprica-themed PSP's that were awarded as prizes in a drawing. Anyways, we exited the convention center and were off ... almost.

- Before leaving, we stopped by the giant HEROES-themed outdoor carnival that was across the street from the convention. Apparently the upcoming season of Heroes introduces a new set of super-powered characters who are part of a traveling carnival sideshow. So, to hype the show, Heroes and Nissan set up a full-on outdoor event, complete with cotton candy, snowcones, rides, and carnival games. Pretty cool.

- Finally, since Brian had yet to see Cafe Diem, we decided to have lunch there before heading back to LA. This time there was a lengthy wait to be seated, but it was a good chance to stand outside and people-watch. I have to say, Syfy did an amazing job in setting up the cafe. The interior was fully decked-out with Syfy posters, the tables were covered with artwork from various Syfy series, and TV monitors played shows like Warehouse 13 and Ghost Hunters on an endless loop. But the kicker was the menus, totally Syfy-themed featuring Tracy Morgan burgers and Lou Diamond Philips salads and "Syfrys." Hilariously awesome. And hey, the food was pretty darn good as well. Cafe Diem, I think, was definitely one of the biggest hits of Comic-Con.

- And then it was back to the hotel and, eventually, back to LA. Another Comic-Con successfully completed, another series of adventures had. While I could have done without some of the lost-cellphone drama and whatnot, it was great to get away, see some amazing footage from upcoming movies and TV shows, and to walk the always-impressive show floor. But most of all, it's great just to be amongst people with passion and imagination. People who dare to dream, who look for possibilities beyond the mundane banalities of everyday life. The next Monday, as I put on my khaki pants and button down shirt for work, I had that feeling of "what am I doing?" This isn't me. I'm not a khaki pants person, at all. If anything, I am a dreamer, and Comic-Con is my annual reminder of that fact. It reminds me what I love about entertainment, it reminds me of why I moved to LA from the east coast. It reminds me what all of this is all about - it's about creating art and telling stories that affects people and inspires them and makes a difference in people's lives. That's what I'm here to do, and Comic-Con, for all its craziness and eccentricities, is most of all about the power of stories to inspire and captivate the imagination. This is the place where the dreamers go to dream.

- And with that, I wrap up my annual Comic-Con recap. But don't worry, I'll have more thoughts and ramblings on the show coming soon. I'd like to put off reentry into reality for just a little bit longer, thank you very much.


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