Monday, August 1, 2011

Geeks Only: A Mega-Sized Recap of My COMIC-CON 2011 Adventure!


- It's been a crazy month or two for me. Not only have things been nuts at work, but I moved to a new apartment (down the street from my old place in Burbank - but bigger!), had my parents in town from Connecticut, and, well, in general, it's just been, well ... a lot. But that's why this year's trip to the San Diego Comic-Con - my fifth! - was so much fun and such a welcome reprieve. This year, I really needed to get away. I needed the mental and spiritual lift that you get from leaving town for a little while, that you get from being out and about and spending time surrounded by people filled with passion and creativity. This year's show may not have had some of the high-profile movie reveals as previous years, but for me, it was just as fun and fulfilling as ever. Because although Hollywood types love to analyze the show and its role as a marketing vehicle for movies and television, that isn't really what the show is about at all. It's funny, I recently read a blog post from someone who went to Comic-Con for the first time this year, via her role as some sort of Hollywood assistant / wannabe - and her impression of Comic-Con was that it was just a place for parties, networking, and deal-making. Now that, my friends, is a cynical and misguided soul. Because sure, there are parties, and sure, the show is a great place to network ... but ultimately, to me, it's a place to let your geek flag fly. It's a place to celebrate that aforementioned passion and creativity, to celebrate writers and artists and directors. To celebrate great stories and characters. And that's why I really don't care all that much to what extent Hollywood officially supports Comic-Con going forward. The writers, artists, actors, and directors who want to be there, who have the passion for it, will go. And we the fans (and I'll always be a fan), will be spared the suits and the actors and directors who show up only because they're forced to. For me, the show is a place where the cynicism that pervades Hollywood is thrown out in favor of sheer love for movies, TV, and comics. The less the show is infected with the usual BS, the better. But that magic is something that will be there regardless of how many Hollywood parties are thrown in San Diego. That promise of renewal of the creative spirit, the chance to geek out with friends and strangers - that's what Comic-C0n is all about.


- Anyways, rants aside ... this year's show was, as always, a great time. As mentioned though, work has been crazy lately, and the week prior to the show was particularly insane. So, when the G-Man and I left for SD last Thursday morning, I was running on little sleep and a bit unsure of how I'd hold up throughout the day. Luckily, the sheer adrenaline rush of anticipation kept me awake and semi-energized, and the sounds of the Tron Legacy Remixed soundtrack CD got me in the proper mindscape. Eventually, and even a little ahead of schedule, we arrived at the Hampton Court Inn in downtown San Diego, checked in, and got on the local shuttle to the convention center.

- As always, the area around downtown SD was crazy, packed to the brim with people and, even on Thursday, teeming with activity. There were company reps giving out flyers or free stuff, people in costume, and all sorts of randomoddity going on around us (like a brigade of people in WILFRED costumes marching towards the convention center. After picking up our badges, the G-Man and I headed straight towards the Con's famous HALL H - the huge, cavernous room where the show's biggest panels are held. We hightailed it over expecting the monstrous lines of previous years, but were shocked - shocked! - to find that there literally WAS NO LINE. We walked right into Hall H without any wait whatsoever.

Why was this the case? Well, I had been betting that that morning's Twilight panel would work in our advantage, with all of the Twihards emptying out of the hall after that panel was through. But, I still anticipated a big line for that afternoon's round of panels, which included a much buzzed-about 20th Century Fox movie panel. Overall though, I think the lack of lines at Hall H this year were refelctive of a couple of things. One was that this year's show lacked that one "must-see" event that every single con-goer *had* to see. In previous years, we've had panels for Watchmen, Avatar, The Avengers, and Green Lantern - all holy grails of geekdom. Even things like last year's Scott Pilgrim had a huge amount of grassroots support and buzz (even if that didn't translate to box office gold). This year, there just wasn't that same sort of big-event movie that caused people to line up early in the morning to get a coveted seat in Hall H. This, in turn, combined with the fact that, if anything, the huge, must-see attractions this year were actually TV shows, not movies. Comic-Con's other big hall, Ballroom 20, was easily the home of the show's biggest lines this year, with much buzzed-about shows like Game of Thrones, True Blood, and The Walking Dead commanding the Con's biggest crowds, and generating lines that practically extended into the Pacific Ocean. The balance of power definitely shifted from film to TV at this year's show. Part of that is thanks to super high-quality, super geek-friendly shows like Game of Thrones. And part of that is the absence of some of the big movie studios from the show - with neither Disney, Paramount, or Warner Bros. holding panels specifically for their movies (though smaller production studios like Legendary and Relativity, in response, held their own panels for the first time ever). So in the past, the smaller movies got huge exposure in Hall H by virtue of being wedged between the huge panels for Marvel or Disney. This year, without such anchors, Hall H felt a bit emptier than usual.

- But hey, that made for a pretty pleasant and breezy experience for us on Thursday, and one that was filled with some nice Hall H surprises. In fact, we walked into Hall H a little earlier than we had anticipated, and who was there on stage but PEE WEE HERMAN? Not advertised for any panel, it seemed like Pee Wee had simply come out to thank fans and just take some questions for the audience. Random, but cool.

- Next up was one of those great, out-of-left-field panels that ended up being seriously awesome. It was a panel for two films coming from indie studio FILMDISTRICT. Rather than presenting each film individually, the panel got the talent behind both films on stage at once, which resulted in a really interesting back and forth. Especially given that the panel included the great GUILLERMO DEL TORO, who to me, was this year's official King of Comic-Con. The man was everywhere this year, and, on every panel he participated in, he was passionate, hilarious, honest, and insightful - churning out classic quotes at a ridiculously rapid rate. Del Toro was at this panel to promote his upcoming indie horror movie DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK, which looked like a really cool creature feature in the vein of a Gremlins. One of the movie's stars, Mr. Memento himslef GUY PIERCE, was there to talk up the film, which Guillermo wrote and produced (though it was directed by newcomer Troy Nixon). Meanwhile, up-and-coming director NICHOLAS REFN was one hand to talk about his new movie DRIVE, which has a great cast and looks like a super-badass, gritty, noir-ish, Pulp Fiction-esque crime flick. CARRIE MULLIGAN and the great RON PERLMAN were both there to help promote the film (which also stars Ryan Gosling). Anyways, the setup of the panel allowed for some great back and forth between Del Toro and Refn on the world of filmmaking, Hollywood politics, etc. - and both movies shown looked kickass from the trailers and scenes we saw. Guillermo really was the man of the hour though - despite a bad back that almost prevented him from coming to SD, he was animated and engaging, and reestablished himself as one of the true Good Guys in film - a real inspiration both creatively and personally. Awesome.

- After this was the big FOX film panel - the one that I had been really anticipating due to the rumors that we'd get a first glimpse at Ridley Scott's psuedo-prequel to Alien, Prometheus - a movie that had the chance to be one of *the* big reveals of this year's show. First though, out came panel moderator DAMON LINDELOFF - he of Lost fame - to start things off. And sure enough, Lindeloff got things started by talking PROMETHEUS. He brought out star CHARLIZE THERON, and then, finally, showed some of the first footage from the film.

Prometheus, to me, looked great - but I still have no real idea what the movie is, exactly. Most of the scenes we glimpsed were more about aesthetics than plot. But in that regard, the movie looked awesome from a visual perspective - very Alien-esque - grim n' gritty yet sleek interiors, claustophobic space ships, and very sci-fi-ish costumes and space-suits - all very much in that classic, H.R. Giger mold. The clips didn't tell us much about the story, but they all had that sense of impending dread and fear that made Alien a classic. And, what little hints we did get pointed to a plotline that treads similar territory to Alien - people poking their noses where they probably shouldn't, and in doing so, awakening some very scary things. In any case, I am dying to see more on Prometheus. I do think it's a little strange though that they are being so ambiguous about whther or not the movie relates to Alien or takes place in the same universe. Why hide this? I am worried that all the mystery and vagueness could hurt the movie's box-office in the long-run. Certainly, the ambiguity about what the film is likely hurt the number of people that made their wayto Hall H to see the panel. Because you can bet that if this was simply called "Alien Origins" or something, the place would have been packed. I was also a little surprised by Charlize Theron's assertion that she had issues with the initital script she read, but that once she came onboard she worked with Lindeloff and Scott to make it better. I don't know, that just sounds a little fishy to me. At the end of the day though, Scott is a visual storyteller, and I think the main draw of this film is going to be the visuals, not the script.

In any case, RIDLEY SCOTT himself was present in the hall via a live video feed from Iceland, where he was still shooting the movie. You could tell that he was in quite the location, standing on a snow-covered mountain range. And with him was the star of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo movies, NOOMI RAPACE, who seemed very genuine, committed to giving her all to the film (sounds like a very physical, very demanding role). It was definitely cool hearing live from Ridley Scott though, even if it was via video feed. As the intro video that introduced Prometheus reminded us, the man is a master of sci-fi and adventure movie-making, the man behind such classics as Blade Runner, Alien, and Gladiator.

After the Prometheus portion of the panel, Lindeloff introduced director ANDREW NICHOLS, the writer of The Truman Show and the man behind Gattaca, to talk about his new movie, IN TIME. We then got some bigtime starpower, as JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE and AMANDA SEYFRIED came out to talk about the film. I give Timberlake credit, he talked a good game, and referenced movies like Die Hard and The Fugitive as inspirations for his man-on-the-run role in this one. And hey, seeing Seyfried in person was pretty cool - I have, afterall, been a fan since her days on the late great Veronica Mars. As for the movie - it looked interesting, VERY high-concept sci-fi. The film takes place in a future where time is used as currency, where your alotted time expires once you hit age 25, and life can only be prolonged if you've purchased additional time. But, since the aging process stops at 25, 100 year olds look identical to 30 year olds - meaning that in this world, Olivia Wilde plays Timberlake's mom. I like movies with big ideas like this, so I am definitely curious about In Time.

Finally, we got a segment on RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Given that the movie is out shortly, I wasn't quite sure what would be shown to us to really get the crowd pumped. But I have to say, the movie is shaping up nicely, from the looks of things. ANDY SERKIS came out and spoke about the mo-cap process that went into bringing the movie's main chimp, Ceaser, to life. Serkis, the man behind Gollum and King Kong, is a really cool guy who is clearly an actor's actor, who literally transforms himself into all manner of creatures to bring to life the CGI creatures he lends his performance to. But man, Apes looks like it could be somewhat epic, and one scene in particular, in which an enraged Ceaser rushes to protect his keeper, John Lithgow, was even sorta chill-inducing.

- The next panel in Hall H was centered around the one and only ROBERT RODRIGUEZ. The director of El Mariachi, From Dusk 'Til Dawn, Spy Kids, and Machete was on hand to talk about upcoming projects that he's working on. While RR didn't have anything in any advanced stage to show - ie no true trailers or footage, he did have some *very* intriguing announcements. For one, he mentioned that he's in preproduction on not one but two Machete sequels, the second of which is set in space (!!!). For another, he announced that he has purchased the rights to spearhead a new HEAVY METAL movie. Now, there's been talk of a new HM for ages, but it sounds like Rodriguez is 100% committed to making it happen this time, and is busy recruiting some top talent to be a part of the film. He also mentioned that he'll do a contest for fan submissions, similar to what was done with Grindhouse (and eventually led to the creation of Hobo With a Shotgun). RR even brought out Kevin Eastman, publisher of Heavy Metal (and co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!), who talked enthusiastically about the project. RR then had another cool announcement for the Hall H crowd. He brought out the son of the late, great FRANK FRAZETTA, and announced that he is working with the Frazetta estate to bring the master artist's work to bigger-than-ever prominence in pop-culture. To that end, RR would be helping to open and curate a Frazetta museum in Austin, TX - featuring original Frazetta paintings that hadn't been seen by the public in 40 years. In addition, RR is developing a feature film based on the works of Frazetta, in the vein of the animated 80's film Fire & Ice. But, this new movie would be much more sophisticated, using new digital painting techniques to capture the look and feel of Frazetta's work. A reel was shown that demonstrated the technique, and the results were pretty awe-inspiring. If you don't know Frazetta, his work was iconic - he painted incredible scenes of swords and sorcery fantasy, creating some of the most well-known images of characters like Conan The Barbarian, and influencing generations of artists - in comic books, movie posters, etc. Suffice it to say, a Rodriguez-directed movie based on Frazetta's work would be positively epic. As an added bonus, RR brought 10 of Frazetta's most famous original paintings to SD to be shown in a gallery at the Hard Rock Hotel. I immediately made a mental note to go and check 'em out.

- The last Hall H panel of the day was a surefire crowd-pleaser - a meeting of the minds between two of the biggest forces in geekdom today, directors Jon Favreau and Guillermo Del Toro. The panel, sponsored by Entertainment Weekly as part of their "Visionaires" series, was the kind of thing that Comic-Con should do more of - panels that aren't about promoting anything specifically, but just great discussions between big names in entertainment on any variety of topics, with a chance for fan questions and interaction. As great as movie previews and panels filled with stars can be, I like these sorts of panels because they allow for more free-flowing, stimulating dialogue, and more honesty, when the directors or stars aren't in full-on marketing mode. So yeah, this was a great panel. Guillermo again stole the show with his gusto and passion and endlessly-quotable rants. He talked about being an outsider in the Hollywood system and about just being a "crazy mother$#%#er" in general. Favreau too had some interesting insights into the studio process, though you could tell he was feeling the burn a bit from the pre-release Cowboys & Aliens machine. You could definitely see the difference in the two men, as Guillermo is an iconoclast who doesn't like to compromise, but who wins people over with the sheer power of his artistic vision and passion. Favreau is more of a company man - willing to take on out-there, fanboy-friendly properties and try to make them more palatable for mainstream audiences. That said, he certainly has an intense loyalty to the Comic-Con crowd, and he really seems to credit the fanboys and fangirls with the early buzz around Iron Man - the movie that helped propel him to the A-list. He's definitely a dedicated, hard-working type of guy, though he does seem a little worn down by what was seemingly a crazy process in getting Cowboys & Aliens made. And then, his involvement on Disney's upcoming Magic Kingdom also sort of seems like a huge project that he is still very much figuring out how to tackle. In contrast, Guillermo Del Toro was basically born to direct The Haunted Mansion. The guy is obsessed with the famous Disney attraction, going so far as to have a home modeled after it, which he calls "Bleak House." Apparently, a coffee table book is coming out that shows Guillermo's funhouse of an abode in all of its tricked-out, super-themed detail. I came away from the panel super-excited about Haunted Mansion though, and also very intrigued by Pacific Rim, Guillermo's next directorial project that sounds like a crazy action film involving giant Lovecraftian monsters. But man, I would sign up for a lecture series given by Del Toro in a second. The guy is just a fountain of knowledge - a true expert on film history and an encyclopedia of info on sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. Quite simply, he's the man.

- And, well, that was the end of Day 1 at the show. But, it was certainly not the end of Day 1 in San Diego, not by a longshot. After the Del Toro / Favreau panel, we walked down to the Gaslamp district across from the convention center. On a normal weekend, the Gaslamp is a hub of activity and nightlife, but during Comic-Con, it's pure insanity! There are street performers, giveaways, people in costume, and all sorts of random and wacky promotional spaces. This year, there was a whole art gallery dedicated to CONAN O'BRIEN and his superhero alter ego The Flaming C. There was a garage full of Marvel Comics-themed monster trucks. A SEGA lounge and play area. The Tinfish restaurant was themed after various NBC shows, including the upcoming, fairytale fantasy GRIMM. And, as has been tradition for the last few years, a large diner inside the Hard Rock Hotel was transformed into CAFE DIEM - a Syfy-themed restaurant, with a complete menu of food themed off of shows like Eureka, Ghost Hunters, and WWE Smackdown. The grub at Cafe Diem is always pretty good, if a bit overpriced to capitalize on the Comic-Con crowds - but I mean, how can you go to Comic-Con and NOT eat at an entire Syfy-themed diner? So go there once again we did, and we even met up with my old BU buddy, the one and only Aksel C., along the way. The three of us enjoyed some delicious diner food (okay, Aksel had some weird salad contraption that he made up on the spot ... vintage Aksel), and were therefore recharged after a long morning and afternoon.

- We capped off the night with a very special event - an exclusive Comic-Con screening of ATTACK THE BLOCK. I had entered my name in an online contest to win tickets, and somehow, I ended up scoring two passes to the event, which saw director Joe Cornish, star John Boyega, and producer / generally awesome person Edgar Wright in attendance. The movie rocked (see my recent review for the full low-down), and it's always great to see one of the great geek directors - Edgar Wright, responsible for some little films like Shawn of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World - hold court. And that, that was the end of Day 1 in San Diego.


- Well, I knew that Friday ... well, if I didn't sleep in on Friday, I'd be zapped of energy for the rest of the weekend. So I slept nice and late Friday morning, recharged the ol' batteries, and then set out for another day of Comic-Con adventure. First, I met with the G-Man (who awoke early to rome the show floor in search of swag), and we got in line for the Frank Frazetta exhibit that Robert Rodrguez had mentioned the day before. We were told that you needed a special pass to go into the exhibit, in a gallery in the Hard Rock Hotel - but it seemed like ultimately you just had to wait in line. The whole scene outside the hotel was crazy, because in the same general area, people were lining up for a Jon Favreau signing. We waited in line for a bit longer than I'd hoped, but we finally got in and got to get up close and personal with the awe-inspiring paintings of Mr. Frazetta, including an iconic portrait of Conan (the Barbarian, not O'Brien), and the legendary "Death Dealer" painting, arguably Frazetta's signature work. Then, we wandered around a bit in search of a lunch spot, and stumbled into The Broken Yolk - a charming diner that fit the bill to a T, and that made a mean waffle. One cool thing about San Diego during Comic-Con - the fact that so many of the local restaurants get totally decked out for the show, with special menus, decorations, waiters wearing superhero T-shirts, etc. You have to wonder if any other city would go to such lengths to get into the Comic-Con spirit. At the Broken Yolk, they went all out with special menus, wall decorations, etc. - sweet!

- After lunch / brunch, we headed back to the convention center and made our way towards one of the big hot spots of this year's show, the area where DC COMICS was holding its numerous panels. This year, of course, DC was the source of much speculation and controversy, thanks to their announcement that, come September, they'd be rebooting their entire line of comic books - with a revamped continuity, huge story and character changes, and with 52 new comic launches, each with a new issue #1 (yep, even venerable institutions like Action and Detective). To that end, the DC panels at this year's Con were a lot of fun - lots of angry questions from fans, who were riled up about everything from changes to beloved characters to a perceived lack of diversity in characters and creators. One emotional woman dressed as Batgirl reportedly showed up at numerous DC panels, each time accusing the panelists of not having enough strong female characters, or female creators, at the company. Sometimes, the comic book panels at SDCC can feel a little dry compared to the bright lights and big stars of the movie and TV panels, but man, there was definitely some electricity this year with all of the shakeups at DC.

This was also evident in the long lines. We got in line about an hour early for DC's SUPERMAN panel, and just barely made it into the room. Lots of people didn't end up getting in to that or the subsequent Justice League panel - a sign that interest was very strong in DC this year. Now, the Superman panel had a star-studded lineup of big name creators - GRANT MORRISON and J. MICHAEL STRACZYNSKI chief among them. Morrison is always a fascinating guy to hear speak - he is one of the true mad geniuses of comics, and even if I don't love the changes being forced upon Supes, it'll be hard to resist checking out what Morrison has in store for his upcoming Action Comics #1. Meanwhile, JMS talked up the sequel to the NY Times best-selling Superman: Earth 2. It sounded like another emo-teen-soap version of Superman - not something that particularly interests me, but whatever. Surprisingly though, the fan questions never dove too deep into all of the questions surrounding the relaunch. In this new continuity, Superman and Lois Lane were never married, for example. Um, whoah - what? And yet, supposedly some of the big events in Superman's history - like his "death" at the hands of Doomsday, *did* still happen in the revised timeline. So ... how does that work? Personally, I am a traditionalist when it comes to Superman - I like the old-school costume and like him as the classic, iconic hero. I don't really see why he needs a ton of updating - just tell good stories. I can already tell that the new costume looks cool when drawn by Jim Lee, but I see where it could look goofy when others with a less-slick style take a crack at it. We shall see. Definitely a very interesting panel though, and, for me, it's always a thrill to hear the great Grant Morrison hold court.

The second DC panel we caught was around the revamped JUSTICE LEAGUE. This was a panel full of huge names, as the new JLA comic book is set to be written by one of comics' biggest names - GEOFF JOHNS, and drawn by the legendary JIM LEE. Johns was also there to talk Green Lantern and Aquaman, which he'll also be taking a crack at in September. In addition, the panel had a bunch of other talent who will be contributing to other, related titles come September. For example, you had DAN JURGENS (the man who killed Superman), who's writing the new Justice League International series, and Philip Tan, who's drawing a new Hawkman series. Again, there were lots of questions from fans concerned about changes, diversity, how decades of stories might possibly be squeezed into the new five-year timeline, etc. DC has a lot of prominent talent who tend to be men of few words, so there weren't necessarilly a ton of revealing answers. But, just being in the room with fellow fans and soaking up the energy was a lot of fun. And hey, it's Comic-Con, and to me that means making time to get back to basics and celebrate the artform of comics!

- At this point, my goal was to attend a special panel being held to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the 1960's BATMAN TV show. There was a panel being held that was set to reunite Adam West, Burt Ward, and Julie Newmar, to discuss the show, review favorite clips, etc. Here is an example of where Comic-Con sometimes drops the ball. I mean, this is a beloved show that has multiple generations of fans. Everyone loves Adam West, and a guy like him is practically royalty at Comic-Con. So, why was this sure-to-be-popular panel relegated to one of the convention's smallest rooms? We ended up not getting into the panel despite lining up an hour early, so, yeah ... holy disappointments, Batman! Of course, these types of epic fails are par for the course at Comic-Con, but still - give Adam West Hall H, I say! I think he could fill it. So once we admitted defeat, we decided to walk the convention floor for a bit and get some good photo ops.

- After a bit of floor-walking, I met up with Heather S. and her boyfriend to hit up the evening screening of DC's latest animated movie adaptation - BATMAN: YEAR ONE. Heather was already in the big Ballroom 20 from previous panels, so I had to get in line by my lonesome. Good thing that I got in line when I did, because I just barely made it in to the packed room. I did though, and the moment was sweet. Because I have to admit, the panel for the screening was comprised of some big names. Not only was legendary animator BRUCE TIMM there along with his DC animation colleagues, but so were stars Katie Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica), Ben MacKenzie (The OC, Southland) and yes - the man who is perhaps the best actor currently on television - BRYAN CRANSTON. As a longtime Malcom in the Middle fan, and a current Breaking Bad super-fan, it was awesome to see Mr. Cranston in person. And man, he did a bang-up job in the film voicing Commisioner Gordon. It's funny, too, because I think he could kill it doing a live-action Commish as well - he's got the right look, for sure. But, we all watched the movie together - and it was a lot of fun seeing it with such a jacked-up crowd. The film was an extremely faithful adaptation of Frank Miller's classic comic book, and while it wasn't anything mind-blowing, it definitely retained the gritty atmosphere and noir-ish feel of the comic. The Q&A afterwords was a lot of fun though, with very lively banter between the leads, particularly Sackhoff and Cranston. Some interesting announcements also came out of the panel, including the fact that DC is working on a two-part animated adaptation of Frank Miller's dystopian classic, THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS.

After the screening, the three of us grabbed a late dinner (at one of my favorite downtown SD spots - Sloppy Joeys), and then wandered around the Gaslamp for a bit. It was a great time, and I was definitely charged up for the day ahead.


- Saturday was an oddly quiet day at SDCC. Typically, Saturday is the busiest, most insane day of the show, with at least one or two marquee panels in Hall H. But again, a lot of the attention was on TV -- and that was evident when we arrived at the convention center. We walked over to the Indigo Ballroom at the nearby Marriott, where a lot of the show's big TV panels are now held, to see see what our odds were of getting into that afternoon's COMMUNITY panel. As we wound our way through the line, I was shocked to see that the line extended down the beach as far as the eye could see. There was no chance of us getting in to see Community, let alone anything in Indigo that day.

- And yet, we walked past Hall H, and there was, again, absolutely no line. Shocked, we waltzed in just in time for a panel on THE IMMORTALS, a new, highly-stylized action film based on Greek myth. Directed by Tarsem Singh, who did movies like The Cell and the Fall, the movie looks pretty amazing from a visual standpoint - like 300 on crack. We were treated to some positively badass action sequences, and some footage that was quite eye-popping - definitely putting the movie on my radar as a potential must-see. That said, the panel for the film was a bit strange. Tarsem Singh was very animated and interesting, and Frieda Pinto of Slumdog Millionaire charmed the crowd, but the rest of the cast all seemed a bit bored and out of it. I expect that from someone like Stephen Dorff, who just seemed super hungover. But I was really hoping for a standout appearance from panelist and star HENRY CAVILL, aka the man who will soon be Superman. To me, there's something special about being chosen to play Superman, and I think it's the responsibility of the man playing him to show a certain reverance for the legacy of the character and the iconography that he's tasked with bringing to life. There wasn't a lot of talk about Superman: Man of Steel on the panel, but I was really hoping to get some kind of inspiring / reassuring words from Cavill that would put him in a truly "super" light. I guess I'll chalk up his relative quietness to this being his first Comic-Con, but dude - next year I expect you to come with guns blazing and give the fans a true Comic-Con moment.

- We then left Hall H to get in line for one of my most-anticipated panels, that being the panel for the best sci-fi on TV today ... FRINGE. The line for Ballroom 20 was long, but we got there very early so were in good shape. We even suffered through eating cardboard-like convention pizza so that we could eat while in line. Funnily enough though, I actually didn't want to be *too* early to get in line, because right before the Fringe panel was a panel for THE VAMPIRE DIARIES. No offense to anyone who's into it, but it's just not my thing, and I was weary of being in a giant room filled with screeching teenaged girls (I know, I probably just set myself up for some smart-assed joke, but oh well ...). Of course, as fate would have it, we *just* made the cut for Vampire Diaries. I feel bad - there was probably some diehard VD fan behind us who went home crying due to not getting into the panel, but hey, them's the breaks. At the least, we'd be in prime position to get great seats for Fringe. And so, I sat in the back of Ballroom 20, half-listening to the show's good-looking stars talk about all the soap-opera-y drama that had unfolded over the previous season. And I cringed as girls literally just SCREAMED every time Ian Somerholder said a word. Damn, that guy has it good.

And I guess this is as good a time as any to go off on the tangent of: is this sort of teen girl demo good or bad for Comic-Con? I don't know, I really don't. I mean, being in Ballroom 20 for Vampire Diaries, it was literally like being at a different show altogether. It was like being at a boy-band concert or something. And I wonder whether these girls would have any interest in reading a comic book or getting into any harder, purer forms of geekery. Typically I'd say yes - that getting noobs to Comic-Con is ultimately win-win, as it broadens the appeal of the show and serves as a gateway towards the really good stuff. At the same time though, there's now enough semi or non-geeky stuff at Comic-Con that one could go to the show and spend the whole time checking out panels for things like Vampire Diaries, Twilight, Glee, The Big Bang Theory, Family Guy, and Dorothy of Oz. I guess that's fine, I just don't want all of those things spotlighted *at the expense* of other, cooler, more legit things. I mean, there are other places where a show like Glee can do fan outreach ... I'd like to see panels like that one go away in favor of more cool spotlights, free-for-all discussions, cast reunions, screenings things like that. I mean, there's now a viewing party around the musical episode of Buffy that's held every year. Why not do a group screening of other classic TV episodes or movies, with talent present, etc.? An X-Files reunion, perhaps? Maybe next year - 2012 - the year the aliens are set to invade!

- Speaking of which, after Vampire Diaries emptied out, we moved up towards the front of Ballroom 20 in preparation for the FRINGE panel. Honestly, I am such a fanboy for Fringe that I was thrilled just to be sitting so close to the likes of Lance Reddick, Jasika Nicole, Joshua Jackson, Anna Torv, and yes, the great JOHN NOBLE. The applause from the fans as each of these actors walked up to the stage was huge, and Noble in particular got a thunderous ovation. And deservedly so ... not only is he amazing on the show as Dr. Walter Bishop, but, geez, he is apparently the coolest guy ever in real life. Noble kicked things off by issuing a heartfelt speech to the gathered fans, thanking them for their support. And throughout the panel, he was animated, funny, gracious, and insightful. How this man has not been Emmy-nominated, I have no idea, but his absence from the Emmys is, to me, a black mark on the whole awards show. Anyways, the big tease at the panel was that Joshua Jackson didn't initially show up with the other cast members, and since his character was written out of existence on the show, the producers joked that the search had begun for a replacement. We were then treated to a pretty amusing video of people like Danny Pudi, Jeff Probst, and numerous others auditioning for a part on Fringe. Eventually, Joshua Jackson came on stage incognito, dressed as one of the show's mysterious Observers. There was a lot of joking around and comraderie on stage, and so, even if there wasn't much if anything revealed about Season 4, it was still a really fun panel. And the cast seemed genuinely appreciative of the fans, which was cool. Noble, Jackson - all seemed in good spirits. And yeah, Anna Torv probably melted the hearts of at least a few fanboys, adding credence to the idea of her character, Olivia Dunham, being the modern-day Agent Scully - the thinking man's sex symbol. I only wish we had been shown SOME kind of teaser for the new season. Oh well - can't wait for FRINGE to return in the Fall. And I'm glad that after a few years of missing the Fringe panel, we finally were there, front and center, at this year's show.

- After the Fringe panel, we checked in on Hall H ... nope, still no line! So we again walked in just as the Dorothy of Oz panel was wrapping up. I had little interest in the animated Oz musical, until I looked on stage and realized that PATRICK STEWART was there. My god! How is he not in more movies? How is he not in *every* movie? I may not be a full-fledged trekkie, but man, is there any TV character ever with more gravitas than Captain Picard? Okay, Jack Bauer. But still ...

- Anyways, the real reason we went back to Hall H was to catch the annual KEVIN SMITH panel. It's funny, because years ago this was just another panel at Comic-Con. But now, Smith regularly goes on speaking tours and charges some obscene amount of money to get in. So seeing him for free at Comic-Con? Not a bad deal. That said ... whoah. Smith was hilarious in his annual panel, no doubt. But he also seemed a little ... off? He just seemed to be rambling big-time, answering audience questions with half-hour rants, that repeatedly led to him plugging his podcasts and such over and over and over again. It's always fun to see Smith speak, but I think he really lost the crowd for a while there, just seeming to be lost in his own mind, speaking in a circular sort of manner that was neither here nor there. Still, there were some great nuggets of hilarity during the panel. One great moment came when Smith played a scene from his latest, independently-distributed movie, RED STATE. The clip was preceded by a hilarious text crawl that gushed about how awesome The Dark Knight Rises would be. It was super-funny, and to be honest, one of the funniest pieces of writing I've seen from Smith in a while. It's funny because a fan asked him whether he'd ever consider writing scripts for others to direct, and Smith seemed a bit lukewarm to the idea. It's too bad ... even if Smith is content to smoke weed and do podcasts these days, I still credit him with being a huge influence on me personally with movies like Clerks and Mallrats. And, as far as Comic-Con goes, I think Smith was a legit pioneer in his day - a guy who helped make geek culture mainstream and cool. I do feel like it's a shame that, after his next movie, he plans to call it quits in terms of the film biz. But if he's that uninspired to make more movies, then hey, get while the getting's good. He can tell a good story though, and I will say that after a lot of aimless rambling for much of the panel, Smith redeemed himself with a hilarious closing story about his dealings with the Westboro Baptist Church. The story - both profound and vulgar - was vintage Smith, and had the crowd crying with laughter. I'm glad that Smith was able to emerge from his cloudy haze long enough to tell it. So yeah, it was a really fun panel overall, and hey, seeing Smith has become somewhat of a Comic-Con (or "Com-ee-Con", as he calls it) tradition. And we were even joined by my friend Samantha L. for the panel as an added bonus.

- After the panel, we hit up the Marriott hotel to cash in a prize voucher we'd gotten at the Fringe panel. Turns out all it was good for was a lousy luggage tag! WTF. Not cool - I wanted a T-shirt! (although on Friday, I did snag a limited edition, official Comic-Con T, featuring a Jim Lee rendering of the JLA - not too shabby, especially considering that they were sold out by Sunday! I also got a sweet Batman T with the customized red-and-black Bat-logo from the Flashpoint comic book series - pretty badass.) From there, we went back to the hotel for a bit before heading out to downtown. One annual tradition in San Diego is to eat at TGI Fridays. Why? Because somehow, LA is completely lacking in TGI Fridays, and so SD is a rare opportunity to indulge in some delicious Fridays grub. But, this was no ordinary dinner, because we were lucky to be joined by the one-and-only KC, and her friends. Now, this is when Comic-Con magic happened. Because two years ago, while waiting in a ginormous line for Hall H, KC, G-Man, and I randomly met this crazy dude from Norway who looks like Dooley from King of the Hill (complete with mohawk-ponytail), has an obsession with Superman (he has a giant statue of Supes in his house) and who, disturbingly, has a a number of seemingly unhealthy proclivities that I won't go into here. Suffice it to say, this man had been built up to be a legend in our minds - an icon of Comic-Con that we never dared to dream that we'd see again. And yet, just as I was joking to KC that seeing this Norwegian enigma again would be the final ingredient towards a perfect night ... who should boisterously walk into Fridays but Cousin Sven himself (I just thought the name suits him)!!! Yes, the Norwegian wunderkind graced us with his presence (it turns out that he and KC have actually kept in touch all this time), and at that moment, our level of sheer jubilation was cranked up to eleven. Here I was, with good friends, at TGI Fridays, reunited with the mythical, insane, mohawked Norwegian dude 0 talking about robots and zombies and other geeky stuff - at the San Diego Comic-Con! For this moment, my friends, life was good, and I was officially in my happy place.

- After a great dinner filled with hilarious moments and good conversation, I ventured off on my own to play the part of Hollywood bigshot. Because yes, I had one and only one ticket to Syfy's annual Comic-Con party, which is a very private, very swanky affair. Held on the rooftop of the Solimar hotel in downtown SD, the party is comprised of a mixture of industry folks (execs, clients, etc.), press, and celebrities. This year's celeb contingent was a bit lacking compared to year's past (perhaps having something to do with the competing Entertainment Weekly party down the street), but there were a couple people that piqued my interest, including geek-queen Felicia Day. The problem with these types of events though is that everyone sort of stands around and tries to look cool, and everything is pretty buttoned-down and formal - so it's hard to just approach people or meet new people. And acting like a fan and asking for pictures or autographs, well, that would come off as a severe breach of Hollywood party etiquette. Still, I'm glad I made an appearance, if for no other reason than to say I went. But when I think of this swanky Hollywood party and the relative awkwardness of just standing there, pretending that I have somewhere to be or someone to talk to, versus the good times I'd had only hours earlier with my friends (and crazy Norwegian dude), I'd choose TGI Fridays any day of the week. Of course, one day I plan to attend one of these swanky parties in the role of token VIP celeb, and hang out with my friends who will, by then, also be huge deals. But until then, I'm good with nerd-talk and chicken sandwiches.

I will say this though: running into "industry folk" at Comic-Con is often a momentary downer. Nothing personal, but there's nothing worse than talking to people who a.) look down on Comic-Con attendees for some reason, b.) think they are entitled to cut in lines or get special access to events, or c.) are not particularly passionate about anything at the show, and view the whole thing as an annoying obligation. I mean, look, as much as I appreciate the big-time feel and cool events that Hollywood brings to Comic-Con, I also don't like some of the Hollywood attitude that comes with it. Comic-Con is by and for fans, and is all about egalitarianism - no special treatment for anyone. And that's how it should be. That said, I couldn't help but laugh as I ambled up to the Syfy party check-in and saw all manner of wannabes desperately trying to get in. What was this, a club on Sunset? So I did have a moment of smug satisfaction when I flashed my ID and was ushered right in to the swanky hallway of the Solimar. Take that, D-list-celebrity-whose-name-*should*-have-been-on-the-list-but-*wasn't!* In ya' face! Danny Baram from Bloomfield, CT has ya' beat.

- I will also say though, and I'm not sure why this is ... but it seems like every year I go to San Diego, there's a higher percentage of d-bags walking the streets of the Gaslamp. It's funny, because four or five years ago, you'd go to the restaurants and bars in downtown at night, and a huge percentage of the people out and about would be from the Comic-Con crowd - everyone still proudly wearing their badges as they ate, drank, and got down with their bad selves. You'd walk into The Whiskey Girl or the Blarney Stone and it was Geeks' Night Out. Lately though, perhaps thanks to an increase in late-night programming at the show, and/or more fan-specific gatherings, screenings, and other events around town, you don't see as many Con-goers just hanging out in the Gaslamp late at night. And yet, the "regular" crowd hanging around just seems ultra-obnoxious and unfriendly, much more so even than at your average LA or Hollywood haunt. I've heard about and read about numerous instances from this past year alone where there seemed to be some tension brewing between Con-goers and unsavory locals. Now, friends have told me that the Gaslamp, under normal circumstances, tends to be known for attracting this sort of after-hours scumbaggery, and that most of the cool kids tend to stay away from it more often than not. Still, every year the area seems more and more overrun by the d-bags. It's like animals in a zoo that eventually become normalized to being around humans - the d-bags have become increasingly unfazed by the hordes of geeks that flood their city each year. I guess the natural reaction would be for Comic-Con to begin holding even MORE after-hours events and official parties. I mean, why not? What if one night of the Con, Hall H was retrofitted into a giant party space, for SDCC badge-holders only? I say do it, because other parts of SD seem to be getting a bit less friendly these last few years.

- I ended up staying at the Syfy party a bit later than I had intended, and ultimately ended up boarding a late-night shuttle bus back to the hotel, passing by a mini-village of fangirls camping out for the next morning's Dr. Who panel. What is it with women and Dr. Who? Who knows. But I do know that on that bus, I had the most random conversation ever with this glasses-wearing, long-haird ubergeek type, who responded to everything I said with a wide-eyed reply of "indeeeeeed." And yet, for all his nerdiness, he'd never even read The Walking Dead. Lame. It's a classic illustration of Nerd vs. Geek. Nerds are just awkward and weird. Geeks can be awesome, cool, and disarmingly good-looking (ahem) ... we just happen to have really amazing taste in pop-culture.


- Sunday is always the most laid-back day of SDCC, but this year, there was definitely a sense that, yeah, this thing was going to the limit, baby. With TV shows with huge cult followings, like Dr. Who, occupying Hall H though, there was a lot of hustle-and-bustle going on around the convention. The G-Man and I walked around the show floor, as is tradition, and it's something that, increasingly, is my favorite part of the convention. It's great to check out all of the random artists and small-press publishers who've taken the time to set up a booth at the show. And, especially since I recently moved into a new apartment, I was on the lookout for any good (n' cheap) art for the new place. I found one guy who drew famous movie scenes, and once I realized he had prints from The Big Lebowski, I couldn't resist purchasing a couple of pieces, which are now proudly hung on my wall at home. I also picked up a super sweet drawing of Zatanna, done by Dead@17 creator Josh Howard. Also now hanging on my wall at home. All in all, there were all kinds of cool things to see on the show floor this year - from great cosplay costumes, to roving R2-D2 robots, to the Suicide Girls, returned after a one-year banishment.

- I did, however, make time for one final panel Sunday afternoon, and it was a spotlight on one of my new favorite writer/artists, JEFF LEMIRE. Lemire has been doing absolutely incredible work on the ongoing series SWEET TOOTH, which to me has nicely filled the gap left by the endings of acclaimed mature-readers series like Y: The Last Man. It's a badass post-apocalyptic series that's weird, unpredictable, and gripping, and it might just be the best series on the stands today. Lemire's also been dabbling with some more mainstream DC Comics of late, currently finishing up a well-received run on Superboy, and has relaunches of Frankenstein and Animal Man coming in September. It was interesting to hear Lemire talk about his work, and I look forward to reading more from him in the future.

- After the Lemire panel, we did one last pass of the show floor, soaking in the atmosphere and checking out the scene one last time before heading out. We grabbed some pizza, and then walked over to a big outdoor mall in downtown. There, we met up with the Axe-Man and another friend of his, and took in a showing of CAPTAIN AMERICA. I loved the movie (see my review, posted a few days back), and it was a fitting way to cap off another successful Con. Eventually, we retrieved our luggage from the hotel and set out on the long journey back to LA.

- I returned home tired, exhausted even. And yet, I felt full. Especially having come off of a grueling couple of weeks at work and in life in general, this year's Comic-Con adventure was exactly what I needed to refocus my energies and regain some perspective on things. It was another epic adventure, and I can't wait to do it again.

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