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WonderCon 2012: Bigger Isn’t Always Better

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The success and popularity of Comic-Con International’s San Diego Comic Con, its flagship pop-culture convention, is a double-edged sword. The event has grown so massive over the years it has become a frustrating endeavor for many who attend and even more so for those who get shut out. CCI also runs the similar but smaller WonderCon whose usual home, San Francisco’s Moscone Center, is under going renovations. Rather than cancel it, CCI decided to head south and stage the 26th edition at the Anaheim Convention Center. With it being so close to me, I decided to attend my first WonderCon, eager to learn how the two conventions compared

Friday March 16

Not sure if it was in response to the programming or because it was a weekday, but I was surprised by the lack of attendance this day, though it was great for those of us who did show up. I had no problem obtaining seats for panels, easily finding a spot just before and even during them. Walking around the exhibit hall was a pleasure as there wasn’t San Diego’s usual massive throng of people filling the aisles making it difficult to browse. Here, a shopper could take time considering a purchase without the fear of something quickly selling out. I picked up a couple of cool T-shirts and three trade paperback collections listed at 50% off.

The first panel I attended was “Quick Draw!” where artists Mike Masallo, Floyd Norman, and Scott Shaw! participated in improv games in a drawing version of Whose Line Is It Anyway? It was an entertaining and also fascinating to see how quickly the artists’ minds and hands worked as lines and squiggles swiftly formed into identifiable objects.

While a number of film fans consider 1939 to be Hollywood’s Greatest Year, there are a few who would argue that year is 1982, which explains “It Was 30 Years Ago Today: Celebrating 1982 — Greatest Geek Year Ever!” Hard to believe one year saw the release of such memorable films as E.T. The Extraterrestrial, Blade Runner, The Thing, Poltergeist, and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which includes a remake and a sequel. (For those who say neither should be done, remember those titles.) Attendees got to watch trailers, which were outstanding on their own, after each panelist introduced a film and provided a little background about it.

I peeked into the “Making Animation History with The Last Unicorn” panel where a small but devoted group of fans learned about the film being remastered for a theatrical re-release in both 2D and 3D as well as other potential projects like a live-action version.

“Marvel: Amazing Spider-Man” gave a little bit of insight into what’s in store for the wall-crawler’s 50th anniversary. Not surprisingly, the panel, which included artist Humberto Ramos, had to deflect many questions from fans because there was only so much available to be revealed that day. This panel also had the most memorable attendee, a young man dressed like Mario with his mustache off to the side, forming sort of a mutton chop. Whenever he stepped up to the microphone, his sole intention appeared to be saying “Avengers!” in a high-pitched voice for reasons no one else comprehended. Not sure if he was being mischievous or if there was something wrong with him, but when scolded after his third moment in the spotlight by a WonderCon volunteer, he didn’t return.

At “Famous TV Theme Music” the panelists featured a good mix of composers with Charles Fox (The New Adventures of Wonder Woman, Love Boat, Happy Days), Wendy Melvoin & Lisa Coleman (Carnivale, Heroes), and Jeremy Zuckerman & Benjamin Wynn (Avatar the Last Airbender: The Legend of Korra). At the beginning of the panel, they talked about themes they enjoyed and the changes in what producers now look for in a theme.

“TV Horror Hosts” was a delight as it looked back at characters like Zacherley, Ghoulardi, Svengoolie, Bob Wilkins, and Elvira, who hosted local airings of horror and sci-fi movies. Interestingly enough, their demise was brought on by the advent of cable TV expanding the reach of broadcasters, which violated licensing agreements. Modern host Mr. Lobo was the moderator of the panel that included John Stanley (host of Creature Features, 1971-1984) and documentarian Tom Wyrsch.

Saturday March 17

Considering the amount of material they created for Saturday mornings, the Joe Ruby & Ken Spears panel seemed like a great way to start the day. They talked about working at Hanna Barbera and how they created Scooby-Doo, who was almost named Too Much, a term used by the youth of the time. Thankfully, someone, possibly Fred Silverman, was a Frank Sinatra fan and came up with a better idea. For those who found the diminutive Scrappy-Doo annoying, Ruby and Spears agree.

Ran into “Marvel Television” in progress. Head of Marvel Television Jeph Loeb showed some test footage from Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H, comprised of the Hulk, the Red Hulk, A-Bomb, She-Hulk, and Skaar. I hope there’s going to be stories to go along with the action and smashing of things. Ultimate Spider-Man has a very silly sense of humor, but it works. The character is young as is the show’s likely intended demo, but is offered a chance to be a better hero under the guidance of S.H.I.E.L.D. J. K. Simmons reprises the role of J. Jonah Jameson. The pilot was shown and I am looking forward to the series on April 1.

Saturday was the day movies made their presence known at WonderCon. The first 12 minutes of Sound of My Voice was shown. It’s about a young couple investigating a cult led by a woman claiming to be a time traveler. Two actors in character from the film addressed the audience as if pitching the cult. Since there was no reason to believe they were real, it grew annoying and pointless very quickly.

20th Century Fox presented the highlight of the day with Prometheus. After the impressive trailer, director Sir Ridley Scott along with cast members Charlize Theron and Michael Fassbender briefly talked about the film.

The gang promoting Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter followed. They began with a very bizarre clip allegedly featuring a sick Tim Burton unable to attend because he died. Then, there were clips of overly frenetic and slightly unbelievable action, which is Timur Bekmambetov style. I was unenthused by it, but then I didn’t care for Wanted.

Universal was up next and began with Snow White and the Huntsman. The direction and execution owing much to Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings as the fairy tale becomes an action film. Kristen Stewart plays Snow White and had to deal with multiple fans asking a similar question about what it was like playing the active character in contrast to the more passive Bella from Twilight. She appeared shy and understandably grew a tad frustrated having to repeat herself.

Peter Berg’s Battleship may as well be a Pearl Harbor sequel. Coming off as a complete mess, it possesses everything people hate about blockbusters. The film looks bad visually, with too much orange and teal, and has very annoying sound design, loud and pointless. Unfortunately, Rhianna’s character gets knocked around by an alien, which elicited awkward laughter due to her personal issues.

Lockout had one of the worst panels of the day. The moderator and star Maggie Grace droned on, having a conversation even they barely seemed interested in. I was disappointed neither moderator nor audience members when given the chance to ask questions pointed out the film is essentially Escape From New York set in outer space as Guy Pearce plays Snow, a jailed former agent who has to rescue the President’s daughter from a space prison in order to earn a pardon.

It was odd to hear the term “classic characters” and Resident Evil used together, but there were fans of this film franchise that cheered. Not sure why because the scenes shown from Resident Evil: Retribution 3D didn’t impress as the action looked poorly put together and forgettable.

Writer/director Rian Johnson’s Looper looked like an intriguing time-travel story starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a hitman. He works for a mob from the future that sends his assignments back to him, but things go awry when his future self (Bruce Willis) is to be executed.

The movie panels concluded with Amazing Spider-Man. Director Marc Webb and a producer had a good clip that worked with the crowd, even though all the post work wasn’t fully completed. The reboot showed that Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) might have a different fate than his comic book counterpart, so I am very curious to see it.

Sunday, March 18

“Tribute to the Legends: Kirby, Simon, Robinson, and Eisner” featured comic-book guys like Marv Wolfman and Len Wein, legends in their own right, singing the praises and telling stories about some of the giants of the business. The panel was woefully under attended, which seemed very odd because if it hadn’t been for these guys, there wouldn’t be a WonderCon. The lack of appreciation for the history of comics by attendees was surprising and disappointing. Especially when people were filing into to a much larger room to see Jim Lee. Not that he’s not deserving of a big audience, but will the next generation of comic-book readers be just as indifferent to him?

For some odd reason, the entire panel for “Cover Story: The Art of the Cover” leaned back in their chairs and refused to use the mikes. Combined with the loud hum from the projector, it made them very difficult to hear. The artists talked about their approaches to drawing and the business. I stayed long enough to Arthur Adams and Michael Golden discuss some past covers. Golden was a bit cranky when talking about the business in general, which may be warranted, but seemed a bit out of place.

“Spotlight on Marv Wolfman” found the man delivering an autobiographical monologue about his time in the comic business. I would have liked more Q&A so fans could interact and ask questions rather than just a run through his resume. It’s hard to “Stump Mark Waid” because he knows a stunning amount of Marvel /DC trivia like the name of Superdog Krypto’s grandfather and Matt Murdoch’s pretend brother made up to hide his Daredevil identity.

The best part of a convention is discovering new things to check, which I will be doing with the animated series Dan Vs., airing on The Hub. The creatives were an amusing bunch and already being a fan of Curtis Armstrong, Dave Foley, and Tom Kenny (all of whom provide vocal talents), it seemed like a show I needed to check out.

Overall, WonderCon was a very good convention. Though it might not have pulled in the big guests like Comic-Con or offered much activity in the evening, its smaller size allowed attendees more flexibility to see what they wanted without having to waste long patches of time standing in lines. I would definitely recommend it no matter where it takes place next year as I heard rumors it might stay in Anaheim.

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS