Preview Night is an appetizer before the four-day meal to those hungry and willing to take part. Ballroom 20 offered the world premiere of the television series Nikita. The gaming rooms were opened and the movie and anime rooms begin their programming. But the main highlight is access to the exhibition floor where dealers offer exclusives, so there’s a lot of running around and long lines. This is the first year they limited Preview Night capacity, but it still seems pretty busy. Got a good look at Odin’s throne and tried to scope out the deals for comics and trade that I would avail myself of towards the end of the convention.
In one of the oddest pop-culture moments of the Con, my friends and I went for a late-evening dinner at Lucha Libre Taco Shop, where unexpectedly competitive eater Joey Chestnut stopped in. I was thankful it was after I placed my order but found out it didn’t matter, as he was there to break the record for bacon-wrapped hot dogs by eating 30 of them. I know next to nothing about competitive eating, but I found Chestnut’s attempt rather odd since he was in town for a Mars Bar-eating competition held the following afternoon. Reports are that Chestnut ate all 30.
DANNY ELFMAN. In his first appearance at the convention, Elfman was on hand to announce an impressive 15-disc boxed set of his soundtracks for Tim Burton films due out before Christmas. Through an interview and questions from fans, Elfman revealed the Batman soundtrack was the toughest because of his dealings with producers; Igor Stravinsky and Bernard Herrmann were his influences; he was into science as a kid, and he is working on chamber and percussion pieces.
Not surprisingly, though more than expected, maybe because I always identified so much with growing up in Southern California, Oingo Boingo came up repeatedly. Elfman made clear there would never be a reunion because he hates rock reunions and the amount of damage already done to his ears kept it from being a viable option. Very telling to learn he identified with Nightmare Before Christmas‘ Jack Skellington because he too found himself bored and wanted new challenges away Oingo Boingo.
Elfman seemed uncomfortable with the overwhelming adulation he was greeted with, saying he was undeserving of it and dismissed being told he was a genius. I enjoy panels like this where the focus is more learning about an artist than it is commercial endeavor.
GAMERA THE INVINCIBLE. A surprisingly long line was forming for this panel as many who walked up were directed to end of a long line waiting to enter the room. August Ragone, author of Eiji Tsuburaya: Master Of Monsters, was very informative as he presented a series of slides featuring publicity and on-set photos in conjunction with Shout Factory’s release of Gamera titles on DVD.
BLU-RAY PRODUCERS 2010. The Digital Bits once again hosted a panel featuring Blu-ray featurette producers. Clips were shown from the Production Diaries on the extended cut of Rambo and Ridley Scott and his editor at work on Robin Hood. A director’s cut of the movie contains 20 more minutes and is paired with a bonus disc if bought at Target. Announcements were made about motion comics like Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men and Predators. Also coming are the complete Max Headroom, Devil’s Backbone, and the next Mystery Science Theatre 3000 set featuring Robot Monster, Bride of the Monster, Devil Doll, and Devil Fish, as well as a Gypsy figure
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: ABRAMS AND WHEDON. It was about a 90-minute wait to get into Hall H (Kudos to organizers for setting up tents this year but disappointed to hear there were open seats during the RED panel and line was halted.) for the pairing of two of the biggest creators of material Comic-Con attendees eat up: J. J. Abrams and Joss Whedon, with the former having obtained more mainstream success while the latter may have the most rabid fanbase going currently. Setting aside their repeated mentions of their mutual admiration, it was a more interesting conversation than expected as they discussed the current state and future business of television and film. Whedon officially revealed expected news that he is directing Avengers movie.
THE EXPENDABLES. Sylvester Stallone’s new movie is packed with action heroes and the clips do look impressive. Lots of fights, guns, and explosions. Terry Crews got things going when he leaped on a chair, ripped off his shirt, and began flexing his pectorals like his Old Spice pitchman. The cast in attendance shared injuries sustained during making of the film. Bruce Willis stopped in for a panel cameo, which gave Stallone a chance to talk about his movie cameo in a scene with another ’80s action hero.
SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD. Director Edgar Wright may have had the best panel to help spread the word. Before it began, the audience was given buttons and con-goers certainly love free stuff. Wright then held court with 13 cast members, including lead actor Michael Cera dressed as Captain America, and panel cameos by cohorts Nick Frost and Simon Pegg who do not appear in the movie. It was the most people I saw promoting a project during the whole Convention and may be an all-time record. What really got tongues wagging was a select button, which entitled the owner to a free showing of the movie in 45 minutes. Wright also announced there would be two free showings on Friday and Saturday. No doubt some of the rabid fans slept on sidewalk.
PENN + TELLER: 35 YEARS OF MAGIC & BS. The magicians were entertaining and profane as they talked about their careers and their current Showtime series Bullshit which demonstrates their libertarian views. They had a cool compliation tape of introductions from various shows.
After dinner, my wife and I stepped into the screening of the Doctor Who season finale, which was being shown two days before its BBC America broadcast, but since it was already running, we walked straight out.
On the way back to our hotel my wife and I decided to check out the Marriott, right next door to the convention center, which I have never explored in all my times attending the Convention. It was about 10pm and the screening room was running “The Devil in the Dark,” an episode of Star Trek:TOS, to about five people, two of which were surprisingly women. My wife hadn’t seen it so we stayed. The story and characters held up pretty good.
BATMAN: BRAVE & THE BOLD. The Cartoon Network series enters its final season with 13 new episodes and an announcement of a new Batman series. One of the delights of Comic-Con is seeing sneak previews, and this panel didn’t disappoint as those in attendance got to see Batman teamed with Bat Mite (voiced by Paul Reubens). It had a lot of humor, some of which the kids are sure to miss, and included a song, something the producers indicated there would be more of after the success of their “Musicmeister” episode.
MARVEL INTERACTIVE. Since there was no line, I stepped into this panel. They were promoting a MMO version of The Superhero Squad Show, the third installment in the Marvel vs. Capcom fighting game, and presented a teaser for the Thor game to tie-in with the movie. The fighting game had some great scenes of mayhem.
MARVEL ANIMATION. This was more of a game show than a panel as many copies of DVDs, video games, posters, cards, and buttons were handed out to contestants who answered trivia questions and those lucky enough in the audience. When they finally got to showing trailers, they showcased the next season of The Superhero Squad Show and new series such as Iron Man Anime on G4 in 2011 and The Avengers this fall on Disney XD, both have very good art.
PEANUTS 60TH ANNIVERSARY. Not just a tribute but attendees to this panel learned where the franchise is headed. Sure to make fans excited and anxious was the announcement of a new television special, Happiness Is A Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown. Andy Beall, an animator who worked for Pixar, is overseeing the project, which he says is a throwback to the first five Peanuts specials. It will be hand-drawn and marks the return of characters like Shermy and Violet. I found it very extremely odd that Beall stated they couldn’t afford the Vince Guaraldi music, so they are going with Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh who has done prolific soundtrack work, such as Pee-wee’s Playhouse and Rugrats.
Comic-Con is bursting at the seams with fascinating panels and it is impossible for those with multiple interests to take in everything. I had hoped to catch a bit of the SPOTLIGHT ON CHRIS CLAREMONT, a comic-book writer whose work I’ve enjoyed over the years. So, after about 20 minutes in the Peanuts panel, I left to go next door. Unfortunately I misread my program and the Spotlight didn’t begin for another 40 minutes and the room was full for MARVEL VS. CAPCOM. Security working the door for the Peanuts panel was telling people it was at capacity and they weren’t letting anyone in. Rather than quibble, I got in line for…
SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND. This STARZ cable show that is certainly a hit with its fans who enjoy the character’s soap-opera shenanigans and the physical exploits, ranging from the gladiator ring to the bedroom. There was talk of the upcoming season and the six-episode prequel. Andy Whitfield (Spartacus) was previously diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, postponing production on the second season. He has been declared cancer-free and many of the fans asking questions stated their well-wishes.
ADULT SWIM. Creators of Robot Chicken, The Venture Bros., and Metalocalypse showed trailers of their upcoming seasons and provided an hour of silliness as they interacted with each other and fans.Talk of a Robot Chicken/The Venture Bros. crossover had possibilites but seemed more like a goof.
ARCHER. Fans should have no fear of this series toning down the humor or insanity if the sneak preview of “Swiss Miss” is any indication. As much as people prefer to watch things in the comfort of their own home, I was reminded there’s something special about laughing with a couple hundred likeminded folks that augments an experience. The entire cast and creator Adam Reed were on hand to answer some odd questions from some odd folks.
WORST CARTOONS EVER. Jerry Beck was back with an assortment of cartoons that are so bad they are funny. There was exercise-leading Mighty Mr. Titan, mystery-solving Paddy the Pelican, and in a deviation from the usual set an animation test with a freaking-looking monkey marionette. While very bizarre and a fun to watch, its inclusion didn’t seem fair to the creators since they didn’t intend for it to be a cartoon as Beck fairly pointed out.
Back at my hotel, I arranged a screening of BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD. A review of the Blu-ray is soon to follow, but in brief I thought it was well-done story that branched from the infamous “A Death in the Family” story arc and had good art.
NICKOLODEON: SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS. This zany cartoon still appeals to children and adults. The staff has done a very good job of retaining the quality since creator Stephen Hillenburg, whose name is frequently mentioned during the panel, stopped acting as executive producer in 2004. A new episode was aired that was part of a small series entitled “Legends of Bikini Bottom.” It had a few laughs but I found it to be average. Amy Sedaris was an unrecognizable guest voice.
I sat through the LEVERAGE panel, a TNT series about con artists that has a devout following like everyone other show at Comic-Con, to get to THE VENTURE BROS. The creative team of Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer were joined by voice actors James Urbaniak (Dr. Thaddeus “Rusty” Venture and others) and Patrick Warburton (Brock Sampson). They showed an extended trailer for the upcoming half season and took a few questions. It’s always madcap and goofy when they hold a panel and this was no exception as Hammer went off on his obsession with Incognito starring Jason Patric.
This year I was determined to learn what goes on at the LITTLE LULU FAN GROUP, even with Comic-Con programmers moving it off site to the Marriott. Not sure what the turnout would be like, I stepped into the LOST PODCAST panel, which was full of fans who still love talking about the series. While it is a great attribute that Lost still has people thinking about it a couple of months after the series ended, I was surprised at the deference given to the panelists. They are fans just like everyone else and their opinions of what went on carry no more weight, yet they were being asked questions of which the answers only the creators would know. The young woman gave her impression of what sideways-Los Angeles, and while I am glad it works for her, it made no sense in the context of the series.
The room emptied out and a few of the regular Little Lulu fans streamed in. They seemed to know each other, and I was curious how they would respond to a stranger in their midst. Ed Buchman led the proceeding with an overview of the history of the character and her creators. More people arrived, and Buchman and his charming co-host Joan Appleton seemed overwhelmed and surprised as they ran out of handouts. There seemed to be a surprising amount of children until I noticed the haircut of a couple and discovered that the AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER FAN GROUP followed.
They then held their yearly story reading and asked for volunteers to read parts. They handed out scripts to the players and for everyone else to read along. Not paying attention, when it appeared there was one script left, an older gentleman and I raised our hands. The co-host, possibly in an effort to recruit young blood to the group, chose me. I could see the other guy was crestfallen. I felt bad and said he could have it, but the co-host said it was okay. I figured he probably had other scripts since they knew him. To my shock and horror, the script had a Post-It Note that read “Narrator 8.” I didn’t get the last script; I got the last part! “A Case of Green Toes” finds Little Lulu playing a prank on Tubby for stealing Mrs. Dingley’s pie. The guy who played Iggy gave the best performance and really got into his part.
Although it has always struck me as odd to see in the program guide over the years, this was the most charming panel I attended. Here, a group of like-minded individuals came together solely because of their shared appreciation of Little Lulu comics. This was the perfect example of why conventions like this began as opposed to grand marketing schemes that pass for panels. It was a real treat and an honor to take part in.
In complete contrast was DC SHOWCASE: ORIGINAL SHORT FILM COLLECTION. Short films starring minor comic-book characters like The Spectre have been and will be accompanying DC Universe releases. This panel was promoting a Blu-ray/DVD that will feature three of those short films as well as an exclusive to the disc, “Superman/Shazam!,” which comes off as a lame attempt to drain more money out of fans. I hope they won’t be surprised when it’s online and people are downloading/stealing it because they have no one to blame but themselves. They planned to show three shorts but there was some A/V trouble at the start. Panelists like Bruce Timm acted like jackasses, shouting at the men trying to fix it as if they couldn’t tell there was no sound. The tech guys kept their cool and fixed the problem when a return of expletives was warranted. The first short featured Jonah Hex and looked interesting but the delay kept me from seeing the whole thing as I had to get in line for Hall H.
I was hoping that if the 90-minute wait held, I’d get into the UNIVERSAL panel to see Paul and Cowboys & Aliens, but figured at the worst I would at least make the MARVEL STUDIOS panel. My plan didn’t account for some idiot poking another attendee in the eye over a seat. This threw the whole schedule out of whack. After waiting over three hours in line, I couldn’t take it any longer on what was ostensibly just going to be trailers and teasers, so I availed myself of the free Happy Hour back at hotel and cared little that the Avengers cast took the stage together.
Next up, was the FORCEY AWARDS voted on by a semi-secret collective of people in and out of the entertainment business that honors pop culture occurring between Comic-Cons: The winners this year were:
BEST MOVIE: BLACK DYNAMITE.
BEST COMIC: BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER.
BEST CD: BROKEN BELLS – BROKEN BELLS.
BEST OF TV: BREAKING BAD.
BEST OF THE WEB: NETFLIX.
BLAST FROM THE PAST – BEST REISSUE: CREEPY/EERIE HARDCOVER COLLECTION.
HALL OF FAME aka THE KIRBY: Artist FRANK FRAZETTA, superhero creator and comic book publisher STAN LEE, actor BILL MURRAY and PIXAR STUDIOS
Sunday is a different day for me. Not just because it’s shorter, but because I am joined by my nephew, who is now 11, and this year we were joined by another nephew, 14. We mainly hit the dealer’s room and let them soak in as much as they could. It’s a treat to see the event through their eyes.
Both were dressed like characters from Scott Pilgrim, so it was no surprise the first thing we hit was the Oni Press table so they could get Volume 6 in the series. We then wandered the floor and, if there was something that caught someone’s eye, we checked it out.
At the Marvel booth, leftover free comics from Free Comic Book Day were laid out and as the three of us partook; the Marvel people decided to hand out free Iron Man 2 tote bags. Free items always turn into a frenzy and we were trapped at the table. I yelled at people that if they let us out they could get closer. No one reacted so I grabbed the youngest nephew by the arm and plowed through.
After hitting a number of aisles and gathering a bunch of free goodies, we went to the only panel of the day which was MARVEL: SPIDER-MAN to see what was going to happen to the character in the future. It looks like a new Hobgoblin and a returning Scorpion will be on the scene soon, but the most exciting was a drawing that indicated Spidey doing a stint in the Fantastic Four.
We spent more time looking around the floor and I bought myself some things. I got an autographed copy of the first volume Usagi Yojimbo: Book 1 by Stan Sakai. I also found a great deal on Marvel Essential trade paperbacks, featuring black and white reprints of old issues. They normally run $15-$20 and I got them for $5 each.
Costume wearers seemed to be down this year, particularly on Star Wars Day. The Force was definitely not strong this year. The most-chosen outfit appeared to be the Mad Hatter from Tim Burton’s Alice.
By the end, I am always ready for it to be over, but never seem to get enough of it. If you plan to attend next year, be forewarned Four-Day tickets with Preview Night sold out before the Convention closed on Sunday. Hope to see you there.