Sunday, August 1, 2010

Danny's COMIC-CON 2010 Recap Special: An Epic Post of Epic Epicness!

- Well, it's been over a week since Comic-Con and, finally, it's time to sit down and write about this year's annual adventure in San Diego. It's been an insane week since returning to LA, and I've barely had a chance to catch my breath. But, there's a lot to talk about with regards to Comic-Con 2010, so I'll do my best to recap -- with plenty of my usual random anecdotes, observations, and asides. So, let's get to it. As always, if geeky fanboy rantings scare you ... keep reading at your own peril.


- So, last Thursday morning, me and the G-Man hit the road for San Diego for the fourth straight year. Unbelievable, I can't believe we've made the trip so many times, but hey, there is a magic to the event that, once you leave, you just can't wait to rediscover in one year's time. I guess in Hollywood, it sometimes feels like Comic-Con 365 days a year. Afterall, we in the entertainment industry are now in a business where superheroes and science fiction rule the box office, where high concept TV is the new norm, and where just about every comic book and graphic novel under the sun is optioned by a major studio. And yet, while it's been awesome to take advantage of my industry connections to attend some cool parties and whatnot each year in San Diego, the main joy of going to the show is still simply the ability to engage in a shared experience of geeking out with my fellow fanboys and fangirls. Every year when entering the convention area, I just get that sense of being united with "my people." Sure, I like to think that I'm a man with wide-ranging interests, from politics to basketball to rock n' roll. But that's exactly it -- in so many areas of life, you meet people who have closed themselves off, who are too ashamed or timid to be loud and proud about what they love. Not at Comic-Con. It's a place to raise your geek flag high, to find random strangers and discuss the finer points of Geoff Johns' run on Green Lantern. Comic-Con is a magical place where GOOD ideas are celebrated and bad ones are boo'd. It's a place where the most talked about TV show isn't Two and a Half Men or Desperate Housewives, but THE WALKING DEAD. It's a place filled with smart, interesting, creative people who are into movies and TV and comics and games. That, to me, is pretty awesome.

- Anyways, me and the G-Man (also known as Brian) made our way down to San Diego on Thursday, and we made pretty good time to boot. I know that personally, I was pretty exhausted after a long night of packing and last-minute preparations, but I was also amped. Not only was I in serious need of a getaway, but this Comic-Con promised to be particularly fun. As it stands, our annual odyssey has become as much about seeing old friends as it has anything else. It's a great opportunity to see SD-based buddies like Aksel and KC - not to mention the ever-growing list of LA friends who attend the show. Luckily, I got to hang out with a bunch of various friends at this year's show - some of the meetups were planned, and others were completely random - which, again, is all part of the fun.

- So we arrived in downtown SD in the early afternoon and parked at our hotel - The Embassy Suites. This was, I think , easily the best hotel we've stayed at so far in San Diego. It was within walking distance of the convention center, and was super-nice to boot. But being within walking distance made everything so much easier. It was a pretty solid walk back and forth, but hey, it made us feel like we were working off some of the junk food that inevitably gets consumed at the show. Anyways, we dropped off our stuff in the room, and then headed off to grab some lunch before entering into the madness that is Comic-Con. We booked it to the Gaslamp district (a huge area full of shops and bars and restaurants that basically becomes an extension of Comic-Con during the show) and grabbed some grub at Joltin' Joes. Immediately, the craziness of the Con was apparent, as throngs of fanboys, having just left the Disney / Tron Legacy panel, were running around trying to find hidden Tron symbols as part of some sort of scavenger hunt. As we sat down to eat, it was already clear that we weren't in Kansas anymore - we sat next to all manner of costumed fans, and, as is customary in SD during the show, all the waiters and waitresses were decked out in geek-friendly superhero T's. And that's one great thing about SD - all the local businesses get in on the act and go all-out to get into the Comic-Con spirit. You've got to love it.

- Finally, we checked in at the convention center, got our all-important badges, and pondered what to do now that we were actually at the San Diego Comic-Con! Being overambitious as usual, I suggested we make a beeline for the Geoff Johns panel that was about to start in one of the large ballrooms upstairs. We made a go of it, but didn't end up getting in to see one of the best comic book writers in the biz talk about his various projects. By the way though, it's been amazing to watch the evolution of Johns over these last several years. Four years ago he was a fan favorite writer but still slightly under many peoples' radars. Now, he's the biggest thing going in comics, and has become DC Comics's official liason to Hollywood to boot, via DC Entertainment. After the spectacular runs he's had on numerous comics these last several years though, Johns certainly deserves all of this success. In any case, we ended up walking the show floor for a bit before eventually getting in line for our top "must-see" event of the day - the panel for THE EXPENDABLES which was set to fill the conventions's largest room, the mammoth Hall H. As we walked to get in line, we began to realize that Hall H this year was going to be even more insane than in year's past. While there was not Twilight presence to create pure chaos like last year, I think the whole Twilight thing began a domino effect in which attendees are now getting in line earlier and earlier for Hall H and for all panels in general, going so far as to camp out the night before for the next morning's panels. That said, we lucked out as we approached the gigantic line - my brother's roommate, Adam, spotted me - he'd been in line with his friends for a while, hoping to get into the preceding Joss Whedon / JJ Abrams panel. So we joined Adam and his crew in line, and after a pretty long wait, ended up getting into Hall H for the last 20 minutes or so of the Whedon / Abrams session. It was one of those panels that wasn't "about" anything in particular, just a chance to put two pop-culture icons together in a room and let them riff. Of course, we got there when they were already in the midst of fan Q&A, which is almsot always the worst part of any Comic-Con panel. For whatever reason, fans at the show tend to ask the stupidest questions imaginable of panelists, with endless variations on "how did you prepare for this role?" or "what was your inspiration for doing this movie?" Even worse, there is always a group of hardcore question-askers who seem to ALWAYS be at the front of the Q&A line, meaning we are subjected to their inanity multiple times while at Comic-Con. Ugh. Anyways, it was cool to see JJ and Joss speak for a bit. I'm not a Whedonite - I know, it's blasphemy to some, but I've never seen Buffy, or Angel, or Firefly. I've read his run on Astonishing X-Men and watched Dr. Horrible, that's about it ... for now. One of these days. But hey, I hope he kicks ass with The Avengers. But yeah, cool to catch he and JJ.

- But then, it was time for the main event. THE EXPENDABLES, baby. Ignoring the movie itself for a second, the sheer display of alpha male badassery on the stage in Hall H was staggering. On the stage we had: Sylvester Stallone, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, Randy Couture, Dolph Lungdren, and Terry Crews. Holy crap, talk about "over the top." Moderating the panel was none other than the Head Geek himself, Harry Knowles. As a longtime reader of Ain't It Cool News, I got a kick out of seeing Harry in person - a true character, indeed. But yeah, it's funny because via AICN I've come to better appreciate how awesome Stallone truly is. The guy is just a real mensch - his Q&A's on AICN reinforce that nobody in Hollywood is harder working than Stallone, and yet he's also funny, cool, and genuine - and super appreciative of his fans. Seeing Stallone onstage was a true pleasure, and ... dayum, the footage from The Expendables looked sick. Will the movie kick as much ass as we'd all like? I don't know. But what I can tell you is that the pair of action scenes shown at Comic-Con were flat-out brutal and intense. Gritty, ultra-violent, and just plain badass. If the movie has a halfway decent plotline to match the intensity of those action scenes, it could be the awesome retro 80's-throwback we are all hoping and praying for. One thing's for sure - Stallone clearly put his all into this one. He kicked ass with both Rocky Balboa and Rambo, so if he can match those films' with The Expendables, it should be one hell of a ride.

- After The Expendables panel wrapped, we stuck around in Hall H for SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD, which, ironically, is opening the same day as Stallone's action opus. Man, I want The Expendables to do well, but I'm also really hoping that Scott Pilgrim 100% kicks ass at the box office. No, I haven't seen the movie yet, but all indications are that Edgar Wright and co. have knocked it out of the park. Luckily, if we're judging by the reception at Comic-Con, the movie will a.) be awesome, and b.) go over huge. If I had to pick the number one most buzzed-about movie at all of Comic-Con, it might just be Scott Pilgrim. T-shirts were everywhere. The biggest costume on the show floor among the fangirls in attendance? Ramona Flowers and other female characters from Scott Pilgrim. The most rabid fans of any panel I went to at the show? Yep, the ones at the Scott Pilgrim panel. It was cool to see, frankly. Because no other franchise to me better represents the spread of geek culture into the mainstream. Legions of fangirls seemed as enthused about Scott Pilgrim as they were last year for Twilight. BUT ... Scott Pilgrim is about 1000 times cooler than Twilight, and it's something that us guys can get behind just as much as the girls. Because it's a movie and a comic that has something for everyone - action, romance, humor, style, rock n' roll - and it's overflowing with geek-friendly references to comics and videogames to boot. And that's when you realize - we ARE the Nintendo generation, baby. We ALL love this stuff - girls, guys, older, younger. The geeks have inherited the earth, and Scott Pilgrim just may be the proof. Anyways, the whole cast from the movie was there - Michael Cera (in goofy looking Captain America costume), Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Brandon Routh (Superman himself), Aubrey Plaza, Jason Schwartzman, Ellen Wong, Anna Kendrick, Kieran Culkan, etc. The panel was energetic, lively, and funny, and director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) was hilarious as the moderator. He even brought out his old pals Simon Pegg and Nick Frost for a cameo, claiming that they were also in the movie - only to reveal that he had misread his notes and meant to say they they were NOT also in the movie, leading them to hang their heads and sullenly walk offstage. Classic. Bryan Lee O'Malley, the creator of the Scott Pilgrim comic, was also really funny. When someone asked him the standard question of "who inspired you," he retorted rather brilliantly with "Nobody. I inspired myself. I'm a super-genius!" Later, Wright played pied piper and led a select group of randomly chosen audience members to an early screening of the entire movie. Craziness. Suffice it to say, this was a really feel-good panel filled with excitable fans and a ton of enthusiasm. Can't wait to see this movie.

- After the Scott Pilgrim panel, we went back to our hotel for a bit before heading out to explore the Gaslamp district, which is always extra-insane during Comic-Con. It's always a trip to walk around and see all the crazy characters roaming the streets at night, as well as all the random parties, events, and promotions going on all around downtown SD. Hungry, Brian and I grabbed dinner at Cafe Diem, the Syfy channel-themed diner that has now become a staple of Comic-Con. Being a good company man, I always make it a point to stop by there and check out the scene. This year, there were even some Digital Distribution promotions at the cafe (XBOX Live and Zune promotions on the tables and Syfy-themed menus), so I represented NBCU and had some tasty but overpriced Lou Diamond Flapjacks (you heard me). Then, as we walked through the Gaslamp, we bumped into Diane P. Diane had just come from an LA Times party that we were about to check out, and she told us that none other than STAN LEE was there taking pictures and signing autopgraphs. We booked it to the party, but of course, we arrived right as Stan the Man was wrapping up and heading out. Noooooooooo! At least, for mere minutes, we were in the presence of a true legend of comics and pop culture. And hey, the guy looks good, and gets around, for a man who's soon to be pushing 90. Man, it is nice to know that he's still kicking around though - just seeing the guy and seeing that trademark sparkle in his eye is enough to reduce you to an "Excelsior!"-screaming ten year old. So, even though we didn't get our picture with Stan, we stuck around at the LA Times party for a bit and chatted with some random partygoers about all manner of appropriately geeky topics, and partook of the free food and drink. Then, we met up with Diane again at a local bar where her comic book artist brother was participating in a drawing and drinking mash-up known as Drink & Draw. I'll say this: there are certain movie and TV stars I get starstruck by, but the fanboy in me still gets revved up when in the presence of a kickass comic book artist. So it was cool walking around for a bit and seeing the various pencillers do their thing. Finally, we walked back to the hotel and checked out for the night - Day 1 at Comic-Con was complete!

- After a long day on Thursday, I was pretty wiped. I tried my best to wake up at a reasonable time on Friday morning though, because I wanted to try to make it into the WALKING DEAD panel that was set to take place in the early afternoon, and would likely be one of the biggest attractions of the entire show. After all, THE WALKING DEAD is, perhaps, the very best ongoing comic book series of the last five years. It's freaking awesome. And the TV show has comic creator Robert Kirkman onboard as a writer-producer. And, oh yeah, some guy named Frank Darabount writing/producing/directing. Um, yeah, this show is going to be the bomb ... bigtime. Anyways, even though I got to the convention center a bit on the late side, I thought I'd still be in good shape, as I met up with my friend KC who had gotten in line much earlier. Unfortunately, we still didn't manage to get into the panel - in fact, we almost made it - if we had been maybe ten spots ahead we would have been good to go. It was disappointing, but, if nothing else, it was a good chance to catch up with fellow former Conan intern KC, who I hadn't seen in several months. In any case, I later caught some of the clips from the panel online, and, yeah, this show will indeed be all that and a bag of chips. And by the way, if you haven't read The Walking Dead, you are seriously missing out. Go buy Volume 1 as soon as humanly possible.

- After the whole Walking Dead panel epic fail, I decided to go off on my own for a bit and get in some slightly smaller, comic book related panels. After all, this is COMIC-Con, right? Seriously though, it's easy to live and breathe movies right here in LA. But where else can I convene with thousands of fellow comics fans? It's part of the reason why I always make sure to go to some comic book panels at Comic-Con. But yeah, I went and got in line for a spotlight panel on crazed comic book madman GRANT MORRISON, easily one of the most celebrated and controversial writers of the last couple of decades. Morrison, known for his surreal and mind-bending writing style, is always fascinating to hear speak, and this panel was no exception. Hearing Morrison cover such topics as his theory of time travel, his take on the Joel Schumaker Batman movies, and his plans for new Batman title, "Batman, Inc." was pretty cool. And hey, go figure, the questions from Grant Morrison fans were actually well thought-out and interesting! Next, I stayed put for a DC Comics panel on all things BATMAN, where Morrison was joined by writers like Paul Dini, Scott Snyder, Paul Cornell, and Gail Simone. No major announcements or reveals, which was a little disappointing. It was still cool to listen to some great talents speak, but I do think that the panel was illustrative of the fact that the comics guys need to up their game a bit at Comic-Con. I know that DC and Marvel can't compete with the movie studios in terms of production value and star power, but come on. Give the panels a little drama. Save some big announcements for the show. Have a teaser trailer, or some amazing artwork from an upcoming series. Give hints about the next big storyline. But give us ... something! And one other suggestion: Comic-Con is now a place where a lot of non-comics fans get exposed to comics for the first time. Why not give some background at these panels to get the new fans up to speed? Way too many comics panels gloss right over any attempt to give some context to what's going on in current storylines. Bottom line is, they should step it up a notch -- as a comics fan, I want the industry to put its best foot forward! As the Batman panel ended, I met up with Ken H., who used to work down the hall from me at NBCU. Ken is a huge DC comics fan, and a Comic-Con regular, so it was good to see him at the show. Plus, he kindly snapped a photo of me with a great group of Batman-themed cosplayers, which included two great-looking Harley Quinns. It's sort of become Comic-Con tradition to take photos with the best Harley's I can find on the show floor, and this was one of my best pics yet. What can I say, I have a thing for homicidal women in clown makeup.

- After meeting back up with the G-Man for a relaxing lunch outside on the convention center patio, we decided to book it over to the Marriot hotel next to the convention center for a panel on Writing For Television. The panel was great - really informative and with a lot of very practical information dispensed. The best part was that the two moderators of the panel are both involved in a writers' program that I recently applied for, so, hey, it was a great chance to network and give myself a chance to stand out from the crowd. See - I was actually semi-productive at Comic-Con this year! After the Writing panel, we decided to get in line for the Roger Corman spotlight panel that was taking place in one of the smaller ballrooms back at the convention center. In line, we bumped into fellow NBCU'er Kim H, who decided to join us for the panel. The line was sort of a mess, with a fairly inept Comic-Con employee herding us into an absurdly complicated snake-like formation. Eventually though, we made it into the panel, and despite being all the way in the back, it was still pretty cool. The legendary B-movie producer and director Roger Corman was joined by the likes of Joe Dante, Syd Haig, and Allan Holzman, and actress Mary Woronov. A pretty stacked panel of genre icons, to be sure - and it was fun just hearing them reminisce about the old days, giving all sorts of anecdotes about the making of movies like Death Race 2000, Galaxy of Terror, and Rock n' Roll High School. I've recently been trying to get into some of those old Corman classics, and just a few weeks prior watched Rock n' Roll High School for the first time with my brother, and loved it. It was really cool hearing the man himself talk about the making of the film. After the panel, I walked the floor for a bit and stopped at the Shout! Factory booth - they'd sponsored the Corman panel, as they are steadily releasing all the old Corman films on new-edition DVD's. Of course, their prices were pretty jacked up as compared to what you'd find on Amazon, so I held off on buying anything. That said, we found some fun swag and of course lots of good photo ops on the show floor, and we hung out there until the doors officially closed at 7.

- After a quick trip back to the hotel, we walked back to the Gaslamp district where we met up with the one and only Aksel for dinner at a rockin' Irish pub (Dublin's) downtown. There was an extra-festive atmosphere in the air, and we even got a cameo appearance from the Axe-Man's friend Bob. Plus, there was a guy next to us in a full-on, old-school Tron outfit! We had a fun dinner, and then me and the G-Man parted ways with Aksel, as Diane had helped us to score guest-list placement for the huge, celeb-packed From Dusk 'Til Con party (formerly known as The Wrath of Con). The shindig was held at the swanky Stingaree nightclub in downtown SD, and was sponsored by Starz and AMC Theaters. So we got tons of gladiator types walking around, looking straight out of Spartacus: Blood & Sand. Tons of random celebrities in the house - the entire cast of Chuck, Nathan Fillion, Scott Wolff, Adrienne Curry, Stan Lee (!), and the entire cast of Scott Pilgrim plus Edgar Wright! And many more to boot. AMC was actually honoring Stan Lee and Edgar Wright with awards, too, so each got a nice little presentation. Even though I've been to a few of these Hollywood parties now, it was still definitely surreal standing feet away from the likes of Michael Cera and Brandon Routh. I will say though, sometimes these parties end up being a bit boring despite all of the cool celebrities in attendance, because you basically just end up standing around and trying to look cool and not talking to anyone. But -- not this party! Since Diane is now a maven of the pop culture world via her web articles, we met a bunch of cool industry insiders, and, I even got to have a short conversation with one of my favorite artists, John Cassaday, of Planetary and Astonishing X-Men fame. Later on, I'm not sure exactly how it happened, but we totally hung out with the cast of Chuck, including the actors who play the likes of Chuck, Morgan, Captain Awesome, Big Mike, and Jeffster (alas, no Yvonne)! Yes, I tried to play it cool, but still - pretty, well, awesome - huh? Turns out just about the whole cast of the show is super nice and friendly. And yes, I revealed to Joshua Gomez that I got a tad emotional this season when Chuck finally told Morgan his secret. I don't know, the party overall just seemed way more laid back and fun than other Hollywood parties I've seen -- people were actually dancing, joking, and having a good time. Dammit all - it was a memorable night, and the only fitting way to cap it off seemed to be a late-night milkshake at Cafe Diem, so that we could all collectively geek out about the awesome party we had just attended (and you can check out my Facebook for photos!).

- Saturday was our camp-out-in-Hall H day, and I forced myself to wake up early to get in line even though just about every fiber of my being wanted to sleep past noon. I hurried to the convention center and made my way to the Hall H line, but what I found was sheer madness. After walking through the Hilton hotel, around the back of the convention center, and basically into the ocean, I finally made it to the back of the line. I had no idea if I had a chance in hell of making it inside for the Warner Bros. panel that kicked off the day in Hall H, but it wasn't looking good. I was standing next to this British journalist who was super annoyed, too. He was supposed to covering the panel for a big British film magazine and thought he'd have some connection to get inside, but was now stuck waiting with all the plain old fanboys. So, I was starting to get a little nervous about my chances, when the G-Man called to let me know that two friends of his from work had gotten in line at the crack of dawn. Meeting others in a big Comic-Con line can sometimes be a little risky, so I quickly told some guys behind me that I was running to grab something and could they please save my spot? They agreed (always good to have a contingency plan, Batman-style), and I booked it for the front-end of the line, where I jumped in with Brian and his friends. Success! Our streak of Comic-Con luck continued, as we easily made it into Hall H and got pretty decent seats for the big WB panel. We collected our WB-provided swag bag and 3D glasses, and sat down for the big show.
- The main attraction for most of us fanboys at the WB panel was, of course, the GREEN LANTERN portion of the event. For some reason, Warner decided to divide their panel between three big films, which I'm not sure was the right move. I mean, surely Green Lantern deserves its own panel? It's only the first big DC Comics movie since the inception of DC Entertainment last year, and it marks DC's first real crack at turning one of its characters other than Superman or Batman into a bonafide big screen franchise. Anyways, the panel brought out a lot of the big guns from the movie - Ryan Reynolds (Hal Jordan), Blake Lively (Carol Ferris), Peter Skarsgard (Hector Hammond), and Mark Strong (Sinestro), along with director Martin Campbell, writer Greg Berlanti, and DC's Green Lantern superstar, Geoff Johns. It was definitely cool seeing Johns up there promoting a big Hollywood movie that will in large part be culled from his comic book work, and you could see Johns' enthusiasm for all things GL spill over into the crowd. That said, it was interesting to later go back and read reaction to the panel. In the comics world, Johns is known for being incredibly secretive when it comes to spilling the beans on upcoming storylines. In Hollywood, and especially at Comic-Con, I think that secrecy may have slightly come across as a lack of actual insight into what would be in the film. Overall, I think the panel was a moderate success. There was nothing in it to make anyone overly worried about the direction of the film, but also nothing truly jaw-dropping. It did seem like a lot of things about the movie - the costume, the f/x, the overall plan for the franchise - are still up in the air to an extent. I don't know, it's a tough call. I think Marvel has set the benchmark for these superhero movie panels, and they've made the Marvel movie panels into rock concert-like spectacles over the years. The fact that DC Entertainment and GL didn't even have its own panel seemed to indicate that Warner still has reservations about the DC brand, and that is a bit troubling. I mean, Green Lantern should be owning Comic-Con and should be the event of the show - it shouldn't be lumped in with Harry Potter and Sucker Punch. I think fans were also really pumped to get some sort of hint about the overall direction of DC Entertainment. Some sort of hint about future films in the pipeline, whether it's Batman 3, The Flash, Wonder Woman, Superman, etc. - or, at the least, some hint that we'd be seeing the start of a shared DC Movie Universe similar to what Marvel is doing to such great effect. Again, Johns played coy when asked about this, and again, it was hard to tell if he was holding back or just honestly didn't know what was up. If it's the latter, DC really needs to figure out its longterm strategy. Comic-Con is about the longterm hype machine, and there really wasn't a lot from DC to get us excited about their brand on the whole. As a huge DC fanboy, this was a little bit worrisome, I can't lie.
Still, the GL panel was ultimately pretty exciting, and the teaser trailer shown had some very cool moments. Aside from the footage itself, I loved the bookends - an ominous message from the not-seen Guardians of the Universe, inviting the crowd to test their willpower by manipulating the green energy on screen. It set the mood for what should be an epic adventure. The footage itself though provided only fleeting glimpses of a few big money shots - the alien landscape of OA, the corpse of Hal's predecessor Abin Sur, and Corps member Tomar-Re. But, we didn't see any shots of Hal in costume (it's still evolving, apparently), and no footage of Sinestro. Everything that we did see flashed by so quick that it was difficult to digest. And it was just that very quick teaser, shown only once in the interest of time. It was a teaser that likely inspired a million questions from fans in the audience, but time only allowed for a handful. Johns and co. revealed a few interesting tidbits (we'll see all 3600 Green Lanterns even if only in brief, Parallax is in the film, etc.), but the most memorable moment of the panel came when a young Green Lantern fan, probably about 6 or 7 years old, asked Ryan Reynolds what it was like to recite the Green Lantern Oath. Reynolds smiled, and then proceeded to perfectly recite the legendary oath with pitch-perfect superhero tone. "In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight ...". The look on the kid's face was absolutely priceless - he was in total awe. And then, the kid flashed his fist toward Reynolds, showing the Green Lantern ring he proudly wore on his finger. Reynolds then raised his fist, revealing that he, too, was wearing his GL power ring. The kid's jaw dropped to the floor as the crowd cheered and collectively "awwed." In that moment, Reynolds completely won over the crowd and went a long way towards convincing us all that he would make a damn fine Hal Jordan. We shall see. The movie still has a lot to prove, but I'll remain cautiously optimistic. If the film is in fact faithful to Johns' creative vision, it could indeed be a true interstellar epic.

- The next portion of the WB panel was devoted to Harry Potter. I enjoy the Potter films but I'm definitely not a fanatic. To me, the movies don't hold up as truly *great* films on their own merit. Recent entries have come close, and hey, the final two parts look like they could be pretty amazing. The new extended trailer shown at Comic-Con looked pretty fantastic, no doubt. Only Tom Felton from the cast showed up to address the crowd of Potter fanatics, but he seemed pretty cool and genuinely appreciative of and humbled by the warm response.

- Finally, the last portion of the WB panel belonged to Zack Snyder and his new movie, SUCKER PUNCH. Zack brought out the leading ladies of his new surreal action pic, which looks like a cross between Inception, a live-action Japanese anime, 300, and Kill Bill. Onstage were the likes of Jena Malone, Abbie Cornish, Emily Browning, and Vanessa Hudgens, as well as the iconic stunner Carla Gugino, who owned the stage like a classic film star-slash-pinup model of a bygone era. Snyder seemed to be a bit all over the place in trying to describe the film, but, luckily, the footage shown spoke for itself. Visually stunning action scenes were the highlight of the kickass trailer, on par with those of 300 and Watchmen in terms of sheer sensory overload. Snyder is always the master of cutting an epic trailer together, and Sucker Punch was no exception. As Led Zeppellin's classic "When the Levees Break" throbbed in the background, we saw giant mecha fights, fast and furious swordplay, burlesque dance numbers, surreal dream scenes, and lots and lots of girls kicking ridiculous amounts of ass. Yikes.

- Next was a panel for LET ME IN, the American remake of the acclaimed Swedish vampire film Let the Right One In. I was a big fan of that film, and like many I had to wonder what the point was in remaking such a recent and already-excellent film. Luckily, what was shown at Comic-Con looked excellent. Director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) seems to be fairly faithful to the original novel as well as the Swedish film, while also adapting things for a new audience and changing things up a bit. Still, Reeve's version seems to maintain the moody ambiance and eerie foreboding of the Swedish film, which is awesome. And man, how great is Chloe Moretz? The pint-sized actress best known as Hitgirl from Kickass just seems to have so much raw talent and presence, I think she'll be around for a long time to come. As the lead character in Let Me In - the ancient vampire trapped in a young girl's body, Moretz seems poised once again to be a scene-stealer. Plus, Richard Jenkins is in this as the vampire's devoted manservant, and the scenes shown with him were scary, weird, and flat-out intense. I still question why exactly this remake needs to happen, but luckily, it seems to be in excellent hands. I'll be looking forward to checking out Let Me In, no question.
- I'll admit, somewhere in the back of my mind I wanted to bolt from Hall H and take my chances trying to get into the Fringe panel in one of the big upstairs ballrooms. But, seeing how insane the lines had been all weekend, it only made sense to stay put in Hall H and wait things out until the Marvel panel that was set to cap off the evening. It turned out to be an excellent decision, as the last set of panels in Hall H on Saturday turned out to be pretty memorable and kickass. That said, sometimes things can surprise you. Take the panel for RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE in the afternoon. I love the Resident Evil games, but have never seen any of the films and wa under the impression that they were all fairly mediocre. And most likely, they are. But, the Resident Evil panel was a ton of fun, largely thanks to the fact that, as it turns out, Mila Jovovich is freaking awesome. Mila's star shone brightly at the panel - she was funny, smart, witty, charismatic, appreciative of the fans, genuinely excited about the movie, looked great, and yeah, I think every guy sitting in that panel on Saturday likely fell in love with her just a bit. The great thing about an actress like Mila, as well as her co-star Ali Larter, is that they both seemed totally in their element at Comic-Con and in Resident Evil. Both are unapologetic about starring in a B action movie, and both seem to just enjoy the the fact that they are lucky enough to get paid to go out and kill pretend zombies for a living. Awesome. I came away from the show a HUGE fan of both of these actresses, as both just radiated excitement and likability (Mila especially though -- when she started geeking out about how the film's cameras were the same ones that James Cameron used for Avatar, made from space-shuttle technology, you could practically hear the collective hearts of the audience melting in sync). Director Paul W.S. Anderson was there, and hey, even if he's known as a somewhat dicey director, he at least seemed like a cool guy. Also on stage was Wentworth Miller of Prison Break, who was super quiet and seemed sort of uncomfortable. Being a huge PB fan, I'd love to see Miller take off as an action star in film. But geez, the guy could stand to be a little more enthusiastic about things. Anyways, the clips from the movie looked fun if not cheesy, with some videogame-like monster battles that were pretty entertaining to watch - and the 3D looked pretty impressive thanks to the hi-tech cameras being used. Maybe, just maybe, I'll have to check out the earlier films, if only to support Mila J. If nothing else, the panel gave me a huge urge to go back and finally finish Resident Evil 5 on the PS3, which I put aside a while back and never got back into. Ah, zombie-killin'. Got to love it.

- The next panel in Hall H was basically just an uber-long reel of trailers, some in 3D and some in plain old 2D. Basically, this was a chance for people to get up, grab food, and go to the bathroom. It turns out it was also a chance for someone in the audience to STAB SOMEONE IN THE EYE WITH A PEN, thus turning all of Hall H into a crime scene. WTF! A few minutes into the trailer reel, I went out to grab some food, came back, and scarfed down my rubbery personal pizza as I watched the crowd collectively boo M. Night Shyamalan when his name came up in the trailer for Devil. Later, feeling thirsty, I went outside again to grab a Diet Coke. As I walked through Hall H to the adjoining concessions area, I saw a lot of commotion towards the back of the room. What was going on? I figured it was just the usual Comic-Con shennanigans and walked off to grab my soda. But, when I went to reenter the hall, police had blocked off the entrance - nobody was getting back in yet. A hundred or so people who had left to grab food were stranded outside, as panic grew inside the hall. I kept hearing rumors that someone was stabbed, but, come on - that seemed absurd. But, people outside were whipping out their iPhones and showing that the stabbing thing was already being reported on the web. Okay ... We ended up standing outside for a good 40 minutes or so, and while it was nice bonding with my fellow Hall H'ers, things did get pretty tense for a bit, especially since no one was able to guarantee us that we'd even get back inside. Luckily, things eventually cleared up, and we were let back in as the Universal Pictures panel kicked off -- after the long, stabbing incident-induced delay. And one more note on the whole stabbing thing: it is kind of funny in its own absurdist way, yes, but also definitely not representative of the Comic-Con crowd, which tends to be one of the friendliest groups of people you'll find. One of the best things about the show is always all of the random people eager to say hello and share their stories. I think it's partly why everyone was in such disbelief that someone would actually get violent arguing over seats. But hey, it's definitely fodder for many a funny Wolverine claws or Harry Potter wand joke.

- I think the Universal panel flew under a lot of people's radar prior to Comic-Con, overshadowed on Saturday by the big WB and Marvel panels. But, hot damn if Universal didn't come close to stealing the show from the more hyped-up panels. Obviously, most of us knew little to nothing about the two movies at the panel - PAUL and COWBOYS & ALIENS - prior to the show. But, by the time the panel ended, I think both movies shot up to the top of most fans' must-see lists.

PAUL looks absolutely hilarious, and it was pretty staggering to see almost all of the movie's man cast sitting together on-stage, as it was a veritable all-star team of comedy talent. We had Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jason Bateman, Seth Rogen, Sigourney Weaver, Jeffrey Tambor, Bill Hader, and Joe LoTruglio all up onstage, along with director Greg Mottolla (Superbad). Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) are veritable Comic-Con royalty, as is Sigourney, so the ovations for them were predictably rapturous. Plus, the movie is partially set AT Comic-Con. It was definitely playing to the right audience, but it also helped that the trailer shown was incredibly funny. The movie is about too geeky friends (Pegg and Frost) who befriend a foul-mouthed alien (voiced by Rogen), who's on the run from the FBI and looking to get home. Shaun of the Dead meets E.T.? Yes, please. I've heard rumblings about this one for a while, but I am now 100% sold. Can't wait for PAUL.

The crowd was hot after the Paul part of the panel, but oh man, business was about to pick up. Jon Favreau came out to talk up COWBOYS & ALIENS, and he was the only one advertised for the panel, so I don't think most of us were initially expecting much. But, as soon as Favreau made a rockstar-like entrance to AC/DC's "Back in Black," a buzz filled the room and you could tell that we were, perhaps, about to witness something special. Favreau became a Comic-Con king with his now-classic presentations for Iron Man and Iron Man 2, so I think it quickly began to sink in that this is a guy who always brings his A-game to the big dance. And bring it he did. Favreau played coy at first, saying that the film was so early in production that he wasn't able to secure any footage or get any of the cast to come down to the show. But hey, Favs has earned enough goodwill that you know what, that might have been enough to make the Hall H crowd happy. But, Favs proceeded to blow the roof off the joint. He hinted that he *was* able to wrangle up one or two cast members for the show. He introduced Daniel Craig - James Bond! And the crowd went wild. Next was Olivia Wylde. Sam Rockwell! The buzz was building to uncontainable levels. If those three were there, could it mean ...? It did! Favreau introduced a guy who we "just might know," HARRISON FORD. The floodgates opened and out came Han Solo, Indiana Jones, a true movie icon - Mr. Harrison freaking Ford. The crowd rose to its feet to applaud their hero, giving him a standing O that lasted a good couple of minutes. It was, without a doubt, a true Comic-Con moment for the ages. This was, afterall, Ford's first EVER appearance at the show. Ford was led out to the stage in handcuffs, perhaps a nod to his usual reluctance to appear at these sorts of events. But man, even the usually stoic Ford couldn't help but beam and smile as thousands of his fans showed their appreciation for his storied career. I had chills, no question. It didn't stop there though. Favreau teased that he did in fact some footage to show us. In fact, even though production had only commenced weeks ago, he had made sure that the first scene he filmed was something truly kickass so that he could show it off at Comic-Con. And kickass it was! Favreau showed a trio of scenes that felt like vintage 80's Spielberg - shot on film, larger than life and iconic, and yet brimming with a sense of awe and wonder. We saw Daniel Craig face off with a badass Clancy Brown. We saw a showdown in an Old West town square. And then, we saw the alien invasion, as hi-tech laser-fire reigned down on unsuspecting cowboys. The whole thing just felt awesome. I was worried the movie might be jokey or cartoonish, but it was anything but. It felt like a legit adventure movie full of larger than life heroes and villains, tons of action, and brimming with atmsophere. Again, I am sold, and I cannot wait to see this movie on the big screen. Cowboys & Aliens FTW.
- Thanks to Jon Favreau, Harrison Ford, and the awesomeness of Cowboys, Hall H was already at a fever pitch going into the mighty MARVEL panel. People were hyped up and ready to be wowed, and Marvel, as usual, gave the people what they wanted. Marvel has become the main attraction each year at Comic-Con, and hey, I'm down with that. It's fitting to me that the star of the show is a company with such a deep legacy in comics and pop culture (and it's why I want DC to step it up a notch - it's time for them to have the same buzz at Comic-Con that Marvel has enjoyed). Marvel's panel kicked off with Kevin Feige of Marvel Studios bringing out the cast and crew of CAPTAIN AMERICA - director Joe Johnston, along with stars Chris Evans (Cap) and Hugo Weaving (the Red Skull). A short teaser was shown to get things going - it was short on substance, but definitely set the mood for the movie. We saw all sorts of old WW2 newsreel footage cut with shots of the Captain America shield and insignia. We then got a quick flash of Cap in costume posing and then throwing his shield directly towards the audience. It was very, very brief, but also, well, pretty sweet. Later on, Johnston and co. took a risk and showed us early footage that they had literally shot mere days earlier - it was so fresh that it still had timecode on it. But, the footage was tantalizing in that it teased that Hugo Weaving will likely make one hell of a villain for the film. We saw Weaving in pre-Skull mode, back when he was simply an evil bastard of a Nazi commander. Weaving leads a squad of Nazi's into an ancient Norse tomb, where the keeper of the crypt warns them that the object inside the tomb is not meant to be possessed by ordinary men. "It is not for an ordinary man" glowers Weaving. He opens the tomb and pulls out an artifact - a crystal cube - a COSMIC CUBE, if you will. A light flashes from the cube as Weaving's eyes widen. Okay, now THAT was cool. It hinted that the film will have a pulpy, adventure serial, Indiana Jones-like vibe befitting Cap's WWII-era comic book roots. Honestly, my biggest doubt about the movie is still Chris Evans. Watching him on the panel, he just gave off that laidback, surfer-dude vibe that was hard to reconcile with the authoritative, old-school man's man type of aesthetic you want from Captain America. I'm just not sure how that casting decision will work out. But we shall see. If nothing else, we know that Weaving will most likely rock. Nontheless, I think the panel gave the audience some cause for optimism, and it worked well as the warm-up to the main event ...
- ... that being THOR. I was already pretty excited for Thor going into the Marvel panel, but the presentation got me uber-hyped. Kevin Feige brought out directer Kenneth Branagh, along with stars Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Natalie Portman (who got a huge, rockstar ovation), Kat Dennings, Tom Hiddleston (playing Loki) and Clark Gregg (the SHIELD agent from Iron Man 2, who crosses over into this one and The Avengers). To start with, Hemsworth just plain looks the part. He's a huge, pale, blonde dude and he seems like he can legitimately act as well. In some of the footage we saw, he was going toe to toe with Anthony friggin' Hopkins and holding his own. Good choice, Marvel. I think Branagh was also the right man for the job. The guy's Shakespearian background is perfect for a fantasy-epic like Thor, and I think that this one is going to be a bit different from other Marvel movies in that it will be truly epic, truly, well ... Shakespearian. At the same time, Branagh seems open to integrating Thor into the larger Marvel movie universe, and some of the scenes we saw showed some of the continuity that's being established between this film and Iron Man and The Avengers. But man, the trailer for THOR looked flat-out awesome. I've seen some criticism online, but not sure where it's coming from. The footage, to me, knocked it out of the park. Asgard looked great, Loki looked menacing and awesome, Hemsworth looked like, well, Thor, and Anthony Hopkins brought the pain - and the gravitas - as elder god Odin. I mean, I replayed Hopkins' already-iconic speech to Hemsworth in my mind over and over -- "In the name of my father, and his father before him ... I cast you out!" This was epic, Lord of the Rings-style speech-making here, with Hopkins in full-on scenery-chewing mode (and in a movie like Thor, would you want it any other way?). The trailer seemed to convincingly show that the film will be able to seamlessly transition from the fantasy world of Asgard into the more grounded world of the mainstream Marvel U, as emphasized by a great little epilogue scene in which a bunch of SHIELD agents confront a giant, steampunkish robot out in the desert. "What is this, one of Stark's?" someone asks. In fact, it is not. The otherworldly mechanical creature opens up to reveal a flaming interior, unleashing a giant orgy of flame from its arms onto the agents. This. Was. Badass. I don't know, again, I'm not sure where the skepticism is coming from. I feel like THOR has a ton of potential, and yeah, I'm psyched.

Of course, this was not the end of the MARVEL panel, as we then got the moment that everyone had been anticipating: the reveal of THE AVENGERS. A teaser played on the screen - something about how "when a threat rises to great for one hero alone to tackle, the world's greatest superheroes must join forces to fight the ultimate evil." ... well, something like that. We got The AVENGERS logo on-screen, and the crowd went wild. And then, Samuel L. Jackson himself - aka Nick Fury - walked onstage to a huge ovation. Sam brought Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth back onstage, and then introduced Robert Downey Jr., who walked out to a huge, huge round of cheers. RDJ took the mic and did a vintage RDJ rant, asking if anyone had been stabbed lately, and ruminating on the craziness of Inception. He said that Inception might just have been the most ambitious movie ever made. That is ... until The Avengers. The crowd erupted, as Downey introduced Scarlett Johansson - The Black Widow, Jeremy Renner - newly announced as Hawkeye, and Mark Ruffallo - the new Bruce Banner / The Incredible Hulk. RDJ then brought out the movie's writer/director, Joss Whedon. Whedon gave thanks to the crowd and promised to do his best, despite being nervous and anxious about tackling the project. Onstage, all of the cast members posed for the photo op of all photo ops -- the AVENGERS had assembled at Comic-Con! Yeah, it was a true geek-out moment, and proof that Marvel has become the master of the movie hype machine. The Avengers is still a long ways away, and yet, the foundation has been put in place. The fanboys are already salivating. It's going to be big, packed with starpower, and most likely epic - a fanboy dream taken from page to screen. We'll see if the movie delivers, but hey, for now, it still lives in that geeky part of the brain that dares to dream of what might be and what could be. And with that, our day in Hall H came to a close.
- Due to the whole stabbing incident, it was pretty late by the time we actually left Hall H - close to 8 pm. We definitely didn't have the willpower or desire to hang around for the Kevin Smith panel that was set to close out the night. We did however, walk over to the nearby Marriot to try to cash in our tickets from the various Hall H panels, which gave us access to cool swag like free T-shirts and whatnot. Of course, the fulfillment room closed at 8, and so a mini-riot was forming outside, as a bunch of geeks set to fly out of San Diego that night or early the next morning were fuming that they wouldn't be able to get their free Captain America T-shirt. It was quite a sight - lots of nerd-rage, but after a little while we decided to pick up our swag the next day. We were, afterall, really hungry. And so, we met up with Diane for dinner at one of my favorite downtown SD haunts, Sloppy Joey's. Kim H eventually met up with us as well, and we had a very nice, long, leisurely dinner after a long day at the convention. We had contemplated one more night of hitting the town, but after a night-capping stop for ice cream at Ghirardelli's (where I ran into Erin M from work), we decided to call it a night. We went back to the hotel and rested up for one last day in SD.

- Sunday at Comic-Con is by far the quitest day in terms of big panels, so it's usually the best time to walk the floor one last time and possibly buy some heavily-discounted merchandise from the retailers on the floor. As is customary, I spent a while browsing through the comics and 50% off graphic novels for sale, making a couple of key purchases for very low prices. We walked through all the big studio booths, as well as a lot of the smaller booths belonging to indie comics publishers, web comix guys, etc. Eventually, we met up with KC for a bit and said our goodbyes, and then stopped into one last panel - a DC panel that included an impressive lineup of artists and writers talking about their current projects, from former DC Publisher Paul Levitz to up-and-comers like Nicola Scott, Tony Bedard, and JT Krull. (As an aside, we also caught the tail-end of a Spiderman panel while waiting for the DC panel to begin. The Spiderman panel included a very special panelist -- Spiderman! Turns out he's a fan of the current comics ...).

- After the DC panel, we exited the convention center and once again met up with Diane for some lunch at TGI Fridays. I know, not very exciting, in theory. But, the sad truth is that here in LA, there are very few Fridays, and none in my immediate vicinity in Burbank. So, I actually get kind of psyched to go there when I come across one in, say, downtown San Diego. So, we ate lunch, walked back to our hotel, checked out, and hopped into the G-mobile to head off into the great blue yonder ... Tired but satisfied and full on pop-culture craziness, we drove back to LA after yet another successful San Diego Comic-Con adventure.


- A lot of people I talk to still think that Comic-Con is, well, a sausagefest. Totally not the case. I think Twilight may have opened the floodgates, to a degree, but the fact is that at this year's show it honestly felt like there were as many, if not more, girls there than guys. You could sense it in all the panels too -- lots of fangirl screams for popular actors and such, and the fangirl-friendly films and TV shows, like Scott Pilgrim, Harry Potter, True Blood, and Supernatural produced some of the longest lines and most rabid reactions at this year's show. There were geek girls everywhere - Geek Girl Podcasts, Geek Girl Tweet-Ups, Geek Girl panels. One sure sign that the women were taking over: while in Hall H, during the session where random trailers were playing, a trailer for Never Let Me Go played, and I was sure it would be greeted by boo's from the audience. Afterall, a period romance about upper crust British teens? That's not a Comic-Con movie, right? Well, it got a hearty round of applause and cheers. I guess I understand ... it basically looks like Twilight sans vampires. But it was a sure sign that fangirls, and girls in general, are now as big a part of the show as the guys.

- Speaking of which, not only is there a girl power movement at Comic-Con, but there's also definitely a youth movement. Sure, there are still the crusty old stalwarts who've dutifully trekked to San Diego since the 70's. But there are also more teens at the show than ever. And these kids have their own vocabulary and pop culture universe, filled with animation and anime and manga and all kinds of stuff that as a 27 year old I already feel slightly out of the loop on. My main concern: are these kids still reading any good, old-fashioned comics? Let's hope so. Then again, I think that as long as there is alienated and angst-ridden youth, copies of Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, Alan Moore's Watchmen, etc. will still be bought at Borders and consumed in low-lit bedrooms across the country.

- The comics guys do need to step it up a bit though. I talked about this before, but DC, Marvel, Image, etc. need to come to Comic-Con with a little more swagger and flair. Show fans that comics are awesome - that to get the best stories about Batman, Spiderman, zombies, or vampires, you can turn to comics. Tease big storylines, have great, visual presentations, treat the writers and artists like rock stars. Too many of the comic book panels at Comic-Con are dry, sort of boring affairs. Step it up!

- Has geekiness gotten too mainstream? I ask because, man, there are definitely an increasing number of casual pop-culture fans at Comic-Con who seem to be there more to check out the scene than anything else. That's cool, but it's also sad when you have to really search just to find some crazy-hardcore fans in tricked-out cosplay costumes of obscure comic book characters. I don't think I saw a single decent Zatanna at this year's show, for crying out loud. I love that Comic-Con has become more mainstream, but you also can't help but lament the decreasing number of insane costume-clad crazies and hardcore comics fans at the show.

- Also notable at this year's show was the steady presence of protesters from the Westboro Baptist Church, who marched around outside the convention center claiming that the geeks were going to hell for worshipping false gods and such (if only there were hardcore geeks who prayed to Jack Kirby's New Gods or something -- all hail Darkseid!). The protests were obviously ridiculous, but the upside was that the fanboys came out in full force to stage anti-protest protests of their own. It was awesome. The signs that the anti-protesters came up with ("God Hates Humans" - carried by a guy dressed like Bender) were hilarious and brilliant, and it was a rousing show of human spirit and comraderie among a group of people that tends to be filled with individuals who are unique, yes, but also smart, curious, open-minded, and decent. I think the Westboro Baptist Church has more important things to worry about than people who find inspiration in larger-than-life, do-gooding heroes. Ya' know?

- So what were the most buzzed-about things at Comic-Con? Here are my Top 1o lists:


1.) Thor

2.) Cowboys & Aliens

3.) Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

4.) Tron Legacy

5.) The Avengers

6.) Green Lantern

7.) Captain America

8.) Sucker Punch

9.) Pirates of the Carribean 4 / The Haunted Mansion

10.) Paul
Special Mention: THE EXPENDABLES


1.) The Walking Dead

2.) True Blood

3.) Chuck

4.) Fringe

5.) The Event

6.) Futurama

7.) Community

8.) Nikita

9.) Dexter

10.) Smallville (hey, Clark will actually put on the Superman suit this year!)


1.) The Walking Dead

2.) Batman, Inc.

3.) Wonder Woman (new costume - with pants!)

4.) Scott Pilgrim

5.) Invincible

6.) Fables

7.) Brightest Day

8.) Green Lantern

9.) Spiderman: Big Time

10.) Batman & Robin

And there you have it - another Comic-Con complete. See you next year, nerds.

No comments:

Post a Comment