Another year at Comic-Con, another set of lessons learned. Once again, I’m recapping the event with the top ten things I’ve learned from the convention during this year’s stay.
Overall, it was a great Con. A big improvement over last year’s. For one thing, Disney and Marvel came crawling back after abandoning San Diego in favor of their own expo last year. There was also some terrific scheduling, with the big TV and movie panels designated to rooms and time of day that felt appropriate, unlike last year. Here are some of the highlights.
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Many agreed that the winning attraction at Comic-Con was the interactive experience held in Petco Park throughout the convention to celebrate both the release of The Walking Dead #100 and the upcoming third season of the television show based on it. It confirmed Zombieland’s advice that in the case of a zombie apocalypse, cardio is extremely important. Dubbed “The Walking Dead Escape,” participants who pay $75 a head get the honor of being ushered in a group into the San Diego Padres’ ballpark, then forced to run away from a zombie horde (done up professionally by the KNB FX team that works on the show, so they’re not just mooks in face paint) through a grueling 45-minute obstacle course that spanned multiple levels.
You can watch plenty of videos of what the course looked like on YouTube, but it’s unlikely that any of them can capture the adrenaline rush of actually participating. Survivors, as participants were called, were required to sign a release form, told to wear gym clothes, and came out pretty banged up. I didn’t get the chance to join in on the fun, but two of my friends who went with me to the Con did it, and from what they’ve told me, it was no joke.
My friends entered the ballpark with 100 others, escorted by a FEMA staff trying to control a couple of zombies. Naturally, the zombies got loose, and men in military outfits started screaming at people to run. The fact that they weren’t really told anything beforehand was meant to add to the realism and stress level of the situation. My friends saw someone trip during the initial panic and got stepped on. After climbing, jumping, running and crawling their way through an obstacle course littered with zombies, they entered a dark decontamination zone, where more military people inspected them with blacklight (the zombies wore gloves laced with chemicals that react under blacklight). One of my two friends was grabbed by a soldier and pulled aside, then told that he was infected and that he had less than 5 seconds to try to run from them or the army guys will shoot him in the head.
My friends came out of the experience all smiles, but I could see the splotches of fake blood on their clothes, the sweat in their hair, and the red scrapes on their knees. Cardio is important.
Remember to always geek out safely
One of the biggest news to come out of the Con this year happened before it even started. Gisela Gagliardi, a 53-year-old Twilight fan from Kingston, NY was killed by a car on Tuesday outside the convention center while lining up for Hall H, the granddaddy of all rooms at Comic-Con, for Thursday’s Breaking Dawn - Part 2 panel, where Summit and the film’s cast members thanked the superfan’s support and offered their condolences to her friends and family.
Gagliardi had been camping in line for two days, bonding and interacting with other Twilight fans as she’d done in previous years. She was jaywalking in front of the convention center to return to her spot in line when she noticed the oncoming traffic and turned around. That’s when she tripped and fell right onto the path of the car that struck her in the head. Various sources say that Gagliardi was in a hurry to cross the street because Comic-Con officials were moving the line for a better configuration while she was temporarily away.
The incident shined a dark spotlight over the nature of fandom at Comic-Con and sparked debates over the safety of the Con’s infamously long lines. While it did nothing to derail the enthusiasm of others in attendance, the fallout was felt, and not just in the form of the tiny shrine I saw left on the Hall H line. I was involved in a brief snafu Friday morning when there was confusion as to which line is which and personally witnessed two irritated staffers shouting at each other over a line reconfiguring mistake that happened while they were trying to get people out of the street. No doubt that there were extra safety concerns after Gagliardi’s death.
Despite the frustration of my fellow nerds who were in line with me that day—including the young woman who was camped out in line long before me but found herself shafted when my line was moved ahead of hers and shouted “THIS IS BULLSHIT” at me while giving me the death glare like it was my doing—I’m sure they would agree with me that it was better than to have another tragedy take place.
Technology is awesome (again)
At the 2009 Comic-Con, Hall H made a welcome upgrade to its screens by switching two 4:3 screens at each side of the stage to a 16:9 one behind it, an upgrade I praised in my coverage of that year. On Saturday, the Warner Bros/Legendary Pictures joint panel upped the ante by surprising Hall H with another upgrade, although this time it was limited to their 2.5 hour panel only.
As we were waiting for it to start, all of a sudden two extra long screens pushed out from each side of the stage, as we all excitedly wondered what they were for. The left wing showed the WB logo, the right the Legendary logo. As the segments for each film began, the wings would act like animated banners. They showed the character sheets and background art during The Hobbit discussion, while The Campaign discussion had Will Ferrell’s character over a blue background on the left and Zack Galifianakis’ over red on the right. Pacific Rim utilized the screens best by displaying a loop of cool graphics and muted behind-the-scenes videos in various boxes as Guillermo del Toro and his cast were talking, like some kind of live Blu-ray menu.
It’s such a simple addition, but it made a memorable impression on everyone. One example of how going an extra mile in presentation paid off.
People still love kaijyus
This lesson is less of a surprise and more of a warm affirmation. Sure, who doesn't love Godzilla, but the idea of an American attempt at the Japanese icon doesn't exactly bring about fond memories. The reaction to Godzilla was interesting because, unless you've been following industry news (or read my Comic-Con preview, heh), its presence at the WB/Legendary panel was supposed to be a secret. The teaser itself was constructed to be a surprise. It played on the screen out of nowhere, without an intro, and built up to the reveal by showing various shots of black smoke and ruined skyscrapers as Robert Oppenheimer's famous “Trinity explosion” interview acted as the voiceover narration. "I am become death..." Cut to black. “...The destroyer of worlds.” Godzilla’s roar filled the room.
Hall H went ballistic.
The reaction was so comically huge that it cracked moderator Chris Hardwick up, who pointed out a particularly jubilant fan and commented, "I love watching grown men act like tweens in a Taylor Swift concert!"—he meant it as a compliment.
Beyond the G-Man, Hall H seemed genuinely excited also for Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim, the movie that takes the Japanese tradition of mechas and kaijyus and pits them against each other with the backing of a Hollywood budget. Del Toro promised, to the delight of all, that the movie will feature 9 kaijyus and 6-7 mechas.
Robert Downey, Jr is actually Tony Stark
The Marvel panel that followed WB, like an ambitious rival, did not want to be dwarfed, so they had their own surprise gimmicks in store. Theirs weren’t in the form of technical upgrades, though. Marvel had the crowd chomping at the bits through sheer performance. First with a surprise Edgar Wright appearance (who had spent the day tweeting about having to deal with the damp weather in London, that lying son of a bitch) to confirm that his long gestating Ant-Man movie is finally, honestly, for real this time, scout’s honor, seriously, promise, moving on with production—and he had the test footage to prove it.
Even better, though, is that when Edgar Wright left the stage and Kevin Feige started talking about Iron Man 3, Feige’s voice is suddenly drowned out by Luther Vandross blasting through the speakers. Robert Downey, Jr entered Hall H from the back (where the audience previously came in from) and boogied his way to the front and up the stage. Even better, Downey was in full Tony Stark threads, including an Iron Man glove.
We’ve known all the way back since the first film what perfect casting Downey as Stark is, but it seems that ever since he stepped into the role, Downey has siphoned Stark’s personality into his own. Every time he appears in Hall H, he acts more and more like Stark. No one doubted director Shane Black when he told the crowd: "The secret with Downey is that—and don't tell anybody this, this stays in this room—he is Tony Stark."