Friday, July 20, 2012

San Diego Comic Con 2012: Part I - Tuesday, Wednesday, & Thursday

It's been a week.  I'm still trying to digest the joy of my second Comic Con experience.  Is it possible that 2012 was superior to my very first excursion into Dork Mecca?  Yep.  It most certainly is.

And I don't say that lightly.  Especially considering the hassle it took to score a four day weekend pass for myself and only a Thursday & Sunday pass for my Wife.  And for my buddy Bryan.  And my other friend Darren had to cancel on the last minute, so the original power group of nerds that went last year was shattered.   However, my deep fear for this year was that I would be having a separate vacation from my wife and while I was holed up in Hall H on Friday & Saturday she would be lounging away in a crappy hotel room sulking...and resenting my Comic Con nirvana.  Turns out I had nothing to worry about.  We did not have separate vacations, we had one brilliantly dorky vacation that far surpassed the insane pleasures of last year.  Sorry Darren.

Learning from last year's experience, we decided to fly into San Diego on Tuesday rather than Wednesday.  This meant we did not have to race from the Airport to the Town & Country for badge pickup, and we could wander the streets of San Diego; take in a few sights and even participate in a few pre-Con entertainments.  Walking around the Gas Lamp we were able to see the construction of Comic Con.  The banners being raised.  The MaryJane's transformation into the SyFy restaurant.  The Elysium Bugatti spaceship hauled into place. The construction of the Revolution ferris wheel.  The raising of Comic Con reminds me of those epic Cecil D DeMille circus construction scenes from The Greatest Show On Earth.  I kept expecting Charlton Heston to be around the next corner, barking orders into a bullhorn.  And a sad clown-faced pistol packing Jimmy Stewart.

The Wife and I did our tour of the Convention Center, snapping photos at every little bit of Big Top activity, and eventually we just started strolling down Fifth Street.  Our first stop was the Chuck Jones Gallery where they were naturally exhibiting Super Hero art from the likes of Alex Ross & Jim Lee as well as celebrating the 100th Birthday of Chuck Jones.  Saw some great pieces from Mike Kungl, and if I had a few thousand dollars to spare I would have gladly snatched them up for the apartment.

And then just a couple blocks from there, DC Comics was showcasing their Darkness & Light exhibit as a means for drawing awareness towards their We Can Be Heroes charity.  ITMOD originally reported on the show HERE, but it really is a whole other thing to stand in front of Jim Lee's painted Batman or crouch down and stare into the action figure eyes of the Zebra Batman.  It was a nice reminder that before the great air conditioned trailers from Hollywood rolled south, Comic Con was (and should still be) a place to celebrate the four color form.  

On Wednesday, after picking Bryan up at the Airport, we all went back to Darkness & Light for another look around.  Not a massive showroom but there was plenty to see.  The place had a steady stream of people on both days, but it was never shoulder to shoulder.  Just a nice collection of enthusiasts snapping photos, talking the weird wild world of comics.  Serioiusly, Zebra Batman.  That's real.  That's bonkers.  That's silver age wonderful.  Check out The Brave & The Bold cartoon if you don't believe me.

Walking the streets of the Gas Lamp district, we randomly scored three free tickets to the Balboa Theater presentation of the Course of the Force.  I was completely unaware of what this organization was or what it was about, but free tickets and the promise of a Chris Hardwick appearance pricked up my wife's ears.  Apparently this was some kind of Lucasfilm, Nerdist, Make-A-Wish team up sponsoring a relay race (using a Lightsaber, obviously) from Santa Monico to San Diego.  Seemed like a good bit of fun and I wish I could have participated in the venuture, but sadly we were just there to witness Hardwick spin a few Star Wars jokes and witness the strange trilogy of white boy that is the Dan Band.  Seriously, have you heard of these guys?  It was quite a sight.  I know Bryan will never be the same.

After running & screaming from The Dan Band, we moseyed on over the to Reading Cinemas for the advanced Dredd screening.  The showing was not until 10 PM but the line had started forming by 4:30 so we queued up like good little 2000 AD nerds.  Well, the less said about this experience the better.  We waited over five hours, we were numbers 18, 19, & 20 in line but once the press showed up they took all the seats and the 300 + Fans lined up around the block of the theater were turned away.  I was amazed that we did not Nerd Riot but being the jovial fanboys that we were, there was just some serious bitching & whining and a whole heap of Tweet Rage.

But that's the amazing thing about Comic Con.  When all is said and done, if you don't love the experience of the line waiting or the potential for The Shut Out as much as the Con goodies themselves than you might as well not bother with any of it.  We're talking 150,000 nerds all gathered in one location.  You are not going to be able to see and do everything you want.  You will be disappointed.  Once you accept that, then you can move on and have some serious fun.  And that's what we all did.  Vented, shrugged, off to a late night Taco binge.

That being said, I gotta get my press badge situation sorted out for next year.

Thursday Morning.  The real Comic Con experience begins.  And The Wife was sure to do the Con up right.  In costume.  If you listened to the Philadelphia Comic Con Special of the After Movie Diner podcast than you already know my confused and awkward ideas about Cosplay.  As a dork growing up, Cosplay was just something you did not do.  That was for a different class of nerd.  A weirder nerd.  A more crafty nerd.  But over the years I've enjoyed snapping photos of the Cosplayers and the more strange and obscure the costume the better.  I guess The Wife got tired of me taking photos of others and wanted my camera's attention turned back on her.  So I stepped out of her way, and she let her freak flag fly.

The Monkee Man Arrived At Comic Con!

When you're navigating the herd of humanity that flows through the convention center you see a whole lot of Batmans, Supermans, Spider-Mans, 10th & 11th Doctors, Captain Mals, etc...But in that massive sea of pop art insanity there was only one Monkee Man.  My wife.  Awesome.  And she may have gotten a lot of smiles and a few people asked her for her photo, but only three other nerds in that kingdom knew what the hell she was celebrating.  And The Wife ate up each of those knowing encounters.  After an old Klingon said, "All right, The Monkees!" a smile beamed across her face unlike anything I'd seen before.  She was hooked.  And I now know that every year at Comic Con The Wife will be in costume.  But the challenge is to find something as equally dear to her heart and as equally obscure as that Monkee Man costume.  After all, she does not want to be inundated by photo requests like those poor Superman twins or old Black Panther.

Most of Thursday morning was spent running around the Exhibit Hall snapping photos of these wonderful Cosplayers as well as the various action figure prototypes trapped under glass.  It's incredibly hard for someone of my addictive personality to not spend all of my money at once, so I tried really hard to stay away from the Hasbro, Mattel, NECA, Mezco, Funko, Gentle Giant, and Sideshow Collectibles booths.  Soooooo many exclusives.

And people get hardcore about those exclusives.  They've just spent the hours of 4 AM - 10 AM waiting to breach the building and when the gates fall under their weight, the craven collectors charge to other monstrous line formations for the SDCC Exclusive Doctor Who Tin Tote set or the Avengers Helicarrier.  The starter pistol has just fired and you're already queuing up for another set of lines just to hand over cash for goods.  Incredible.

Don't get me wrong.  I had my own goals.  As people were scrambling to get to the Entertainment Earth line or the Mattel Booth, I was power dashing over to IDW publishing.  I wasn't going to blow my load first day, but I was going to acquire the SDCC Exclusive cover for Darwyn Cooke's The Score.  As you should all know by now, I'm a Richard Stark nut and I've been loving Cooke's Parker adaptations.  The Score is not one of my favorite Parker tales, but I cannot wait to see how this master craftsman handles the explosive heist.

Second on my Must List was the Gentle Giant Blade 2 Reaper Set.  That was a simple buy, but whereas the Cooke Exclusive had sold out by Friday, there were plenty of the Reapers left over by Sunday.  I guess people just don't appreciate a good non-sparkly monster vamp these days.  But more on that later.

Eventually you just have to get off the floor.  Hall H did not hold much interest for us that first day, but we all agreed that we wanted to get to the Expendables 2 panel.  It didn't start till 4 but if we wanted good seats we knew we had to suffer through some Disney mumbo jumbo and a little Jackie Chan.  Actually, we were kinda excited about Chan.  The man is a legend and the Drunken Master provided for some serious late night entertainment when I was in high school.  But really, it was all about just being in the same room with Conan The Barbarian.

Sure, it was fun to see Tim Burton.  I may not understand his brand of cinema these days, but Pee Wee's Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, Batman, and Ed Wood are still milestones in my early understanding of film.  His Frankenweenie looks kinda cute and I guess I enjoyed the original short-And hey, I'm always down for stop motion animation.  Wreck It Ralph looks cute with its video game nostalgia and even if I don't really have the love for these characters the way some do, I think I can appreciate this John C Reily outing in a Who Framed Roger Rabbit kinda way.

Sam Raimi's Oz The Great And Powerful?  Yeah, you still have a long way to go in winning my heart.  James Franco, Michelle Williams, and Mila Kunis are not a batch of actors I have any attachment towards.  And the trailer...

Oz The Great & Powerful looks a whole lot like Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, a CGI explosion fest of bright but flat design work.  I'm all for taking the story from the books and bringing out the weird but this just looks unimaginatively showy.  And Franco.  He's no Oz.  He feels soft.  I guess I could imagine Robert Downey Jr in the role, bringing a little punch and snark to it, but Franco feels like a maroon.

If the Disney panel offered up anything truly exciting it was The Lone Ranger trailer.  Armie Hammer looks great behind the mask and I loved seeing the train robbery shoot 'em up racing through Monument Valley.  The question is still Johnny Depp; with his bird-head and potential to Captain Jack all over the Wild Wild West.  I'm really pulling for this film and I want it to be a great big Summer Blockbuster Western...without werewolves.

The real show...The Expendables panel did not disappoint.  It opened with a sizzle reel detailing all the action highlights of Stallone's Rambo & Rocky filled career.  Sorry, no Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot call backs, but there was at least one explosion lifted from Tango & Cash and Cobra got some serious play as well.  So, I'm happy. Stallone came out first and he seemed to be beaming with excitement and the crowd just beamed right back.  And when he called out Terry Crews, Hall H exploded with applause and uproarious hoots and wails.  Crews gave us what we demanded, roaring from the top of the table, flexing his insane pectoral muscles.

And then it was time for the big man.  The lights dimmed.  On came another sizzle reel presented by IGN for their Action Hero Hall of Fame Award.  Check it out for yourself.  Commando.  Conan.  The Terminator.  Predator.  Eraser.  Last Action Hero.  Red Heat.  Batman & Robin.  It pretty much hits it all.  Sorry, no Junior.

The panel itself was a lot of fun.  Highlights being when Arnie fawned over Terry Crews exceptional muscle control, Stallone picking T2 as his favorite Arnie flick, Arnie picking the Rocky & Rambo franchises as his favorite Stallone flicks, Arnie telling the crowd that we should all see Stallone's paintings, Stallone being embarrassed about his paintings, and then Arnie going crazy with the fan service movie quoting.  "I'll Be Back,"  "It's Not A Tumah," "Crush Your Enemies and Hear the Lamentation of Their Women!" Terry Crews and Randy Couture got a few words in, but unfortunately Dolph had very little to say and not one question was ever directed to him.

The panel concluded with a clip from Expendables 2 and despite Simon West telling Total Film magazine that the film was going to be Rated R and Terry Crews saying at Comic Con that it was going to be "blood, guts, and all of that" the clip itself was almost bloodless.  A few baddies got shot in the head and there were sprays of CG blood, but most of the bangs were followed by clean, falling bodies.  Frankly, I want Rambo 4 levels of depravity from Ex2 and I just don't think we're going to get it.  That being said, I'm going to be first in line on August 17th.

After Sly & The Gang, we fled Hall H for the Extra's stage outside.  That provided for a lot of Convention Center escape over the weekend, when you needed a break from the crowd you could head over there to gawk at the Batmobiles...

...Or weird, strange, creepy, and awesome nerd debates...

...or random Paul Scheer & Rob Huebel stand up comedy!

We killed a couple hours, no sweat.  And finished the first official day at Comic Con with a Ballroom 20 screening of the Morgan Spurlock documentary.  The Wife & I had already watched it a few months back On Demand, but we couldn't pass up an opportunity to experience it with The Perfect Crowd.  Surprisingly, Ballroom 20 did not fill up for the event.  When you toss in the True Blood gang or the Dexter peeps, Ballroom 20 practically busts at the seams.  But with the Comic Con doc, we got great seats.  We were actually stuck right behind Holly Conrad and Skip Harvey, two of the doc's subjects.  I took great joy in watching them watch the film.  Holly's arc is a fascinating success story of Geek Done Good, but Skip's story has this sad bent of a geek struggling in a world he's not quite ready for; I know if it was me up there, Comic Con Episode IV would be a painful watch.

I'm curious to know how Morgan Spurlock's documentary plays to someone who has never attended the actual event.  Would my co-dork Matt give a damn about any of these stories?  We'll have to test that out one of these days.  But for me, and my wife, and my buddy Bryan, Comic Con Episode IV A Fan's Hope is a tremendous love letter to fandom.  The documentary explores the importance that us Dorks put on the objects of our desire, and it captures the value of Geek Love.  Fellow Comic Con fanatics will nod their heads, and raise their fists of pride towards the characters and images depicted in the film.  But will outsiders understand?  Probably not.  Of course, Morgan Spurlock did not make this film for outsiders.

Comic Con Episode IV - A Fan's Hope is an affirmation.  It tells us that it's okay to be the freak that you are.  It's totally "normal" to strap on the Master Cheif armor and parade your love out on the convention floor.  It's cool that you've tattooed Tatooine's wretched hive of scum and villainy on your ass.  That's the benefit of the documentary.  Good enough.

After a quick little panel discussion it was time for some serious sleep.  Friday was a big day, and we knew that the real crowds were starting to fly in from all corners of the globe.  No parties for us.  We had a 3:30 AM wakeup call.

To Be Continued....


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