Written by Steve Geise
Every attendee of the sprawling San Diego Comic-Con has a unique experience, from focusing on the numerous film and TV panels, or seeking out smaller and more niche panels, or shopping the massive exhibit floor, or even enjoying the increasingly sizable offerings outside of the convention. While much digital ink has been spilled over the past few days breathlessly extolling the happenings at this year’s Con, my fondest memories are as follows:
10. Free book handouts. Without even trying, I ended up with three free novels from the assorted publishers in attendance. Two of them also got autographed, including a Star Wars book. It’s always great fun to happen by free handouts in progress, and even better when those handouts are complete products, not just samples. Thanks to the publishers for trying to get us comic book nerds to read books without pictures.
9. Stumbling across the cast of Lost Girl signing at the Funimation booth. One of my not-so-guilty TV pleasures is this Canadian sci-fi import that’s the closest thing to Buffy the Vampire Slayer currently on the air. I’ve seen their Comic-Con panels the last two years so didn’t go out of my way to hit it this year, especially since star Anna Silk couldn’t make the trek, but I was still thrilled to see three other stars of the show signing at their US DVD distributor’s booth.
8. Incredible exclusive footage from the film Gravity. By now you may have seen the trailer from Alfonso Cuaron’s upcoming space film starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock. You’ve seen nothing. Cuaron took the stage in Hall H along with Bullock and introduced an extended and unbroken scene that revealed completely breathtaking footage that left me spellbound and desperate for more. If you’ve seen Children of Men and you recall his two uninterrupted action shots there, you’ll have some idea of what to expect here, but amplified to an amazing degree. My head hurt just thinking about how they planned and executed the shot that finds Clooney and Bullock and the camera spinning through space in a deadly dance with hurtling space debris.
7. Buying a one-of-a-kind Beastlie. My very first stop during Wednesday’s Preview Night was the Beastlies booth. Nope, not LEGO or Hasbro for their nearly impossible to get toy exclusives, or the movie studio booths for their handouts, but a Small Press table devoted to handmade cute little clay monsters. Why? Because I’d seen a sneak peek at one of the larger offerings in the days leading up to the Con and was determined to make it mine before anyone else got the chance. Mission accomplished! The table was completely sold out by early in the day Saturday, and most of the larger pieces got snapped up Wednesday night while I was standing there, making this almost certainly the most successful Con ever for this talented creator. It’s great to see the Con continuing to make space for indie artists, in direct opposition to the bad rap they’ve wrongfully acquired as soulless corporate sellouts.
6. Scoring a free Pacific Rim/Gipsy Danger t-shirt from the Legendary booth. Handouts have become increasingly hard to land over the years, apparently due to larger crowds and lower studio budgets, so when I happened to stumble across a line forming near the Legendary booth and heard someone mention it was for Pacific Rim t-shirts, I dropped any other immediate plans and gladly waited about 15 minutes for the presumed payoff. The resulting shirt is one of the best freebies I’ve seen, and came with a toy car as well that served as a nice handout to a neighborhood kid upon my return home. Thanks, Legendary!
5. Kids comic artwork taking the stage. The Con continues to program scores of small panels off the beaten path for those willing to find them, including ones on Sundays geared toward kids. This year I had the pleasure of taking my daughter to a panel about creating kids comics, where three industry pros talked about the basics of constructing comics while the audience was provided with paper and pencils to practice making their own. At the end of the panel, the moderator invited kids up to show off their work on an overhead projector, with all of the panelists offering encouragement to the participants. As a 20-year attendee of the Con, it was an entirely new thrill for me to see my own child onstage discussing her creation, with the legendary Comic-Con wall backdrop behind her making for some awesome photographic memories.
4. Advance screening of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. pilot episode. I’m still not entirely sold on the show, but it was a visceral thrill when Joss Whedon announced that we’d be watching the entire pilot. The episode contains the Whedonesque humor we’ve come to expect in his productions, with funny exchanges about the definition of S.H.I.E.L.D. and a sly homage to a Marvel comic book among others, but even with its decent cast, I’m left wondering how sustainable it is in the long term. I got a bad sense of Heroes déjà vu, and felt like a reveal at the end was a bit of a ridiculous jump-the-shark moment, but I’ll give it a few episodes to find its footing.
3. Tom Cruise hamming it up for the Comic-Con crowd. Cruise and Emily Blunt were there with director Doug Liman to promote their upcoming film Edge of Tomorrow, and while I wasn’t sold on the film and could quickly see why Liman is frequently branded as difficult, Cruise was entirely entertaining. Immediately after appearing onstage, he announced that he had something in common with moderator Chris Hardwick before belting out the opening of the chorus of “I Wanna Know What Love Is”, leading Hardwick to trade off lines with him back and forth as they attempted to out-Stacee Jaxx each other. Turns out they had both played the role in Rock of Ages productions. At the end of the panel, as the group gathered to allow press photos, Hardwick rushed over from his podium to photo bomb them, leading Cruise to return the favor, throwing Hardwick into the group and rushing behind them to put rabbit ears on him. Pure hokum, but also hilarious to see one of the biggest movie stars in the world do a photo bomb. Also, I realized later that I’d just seen Cruise. In San Diego. The location for much of Top Gun. Nice one, Maverick.
2. Advance screening of the premiere episode of The Legend of Korra Book Two. I absolutely adore this animated series, the continuation of the Avatar: The Last Airbender saga, and with no previous news about a launch date for the second season or its contents, I was chomping at the bit for any crumbs they might throw us at this panel. After debuting an enchanting sizzle reel with scenes from the upcoming season and discussing the production, the creators announced we’d be treated to the premiere episode, which I discussed at length here during the Con.
1. The Batman/Superman movie reveal. Talk about a masterful reveal. At the end of the overlong Warner Brothers/Legendary panel, moderator Chris Hardwick announced (and showed us) that he’d just been handed a hastily scrawled note that Zach Snyder was there and wanted to address us, although he claimed he didn’t know why. Snyder strolled onto stage, thanked the crowd for supporting Man of Steel before announcing that a sequel had been green-lit, then said he wanted to read something but decided to use somebody with a better voice and called actor Harry Lennix out onstage. Lennix put on an authoritative voice and read lines that were instantly recognizable to comic book fans as directly out of Frank Miller’s legendary miniseries, The Dark Knight Returns. Those lines find Batman telling Superman to remember the one man (Batman) who beat him, setting off an immediate tremor in the audience that led to a full thermonuclear explosion when the lights dimmed and the joined Batman and Superman logos were displayed on screen. That was it, there was no further explanation or discussion, just lights out, drop the mic, and exit the stage. I’ve witnessed tons of amazing moments in Hall H over the years, but this one might just take the cake as the greatest of all time. Simply amazing. Although the news had leaked through various media sources earlier in the day, it was still a complete surprise to most in attendance thanks to the wireless black hole that is the San Diego Convention Center and surrounding area, so while that lack of reliable connectivity continues to be my biggest gripe about the Con, it worked out well to preserve my surprise in this extremely special case.