So let’s get things straight. I am not a hall H kinda gal, so no, I did not get to see, hear, touch, breathe the air from or otherwise schmooze with Tom Cruise.
With that out of the way, let’s move along to the Con Report.
With so many stories coming to a close (GoT, Avengers, TWD, Supernatural, Preacher…) the frenetic edge was off the overall show this year. Lines for the various experiences were long, as always, but everything moved, everything flowed and, sooner or later, you got to where you needed to be.
Comics and Print Media
Comic books will always be the soul of this event and preview night remains the best time to go if you want to browse the show floor and pick up specials. Artists like Bill Sinkevitch often have special or free signature pricing this first night, everyone is rested, the crowds are comparatively light.
The con is, I think, poorer for the loss of some of big golden age dealers like Bud Plant, but there are still plenty of retailers showcasing not only their classic grab-bags and boxes of low-priced starter comics for the curious, but special gems and slabbed collectible editions.
With industry giants like Neal Adams and Alex Ross attending under their own umbrellas and publishers like Dark Horse, Titan and IDW making sure their talent makes the rounds, there is almost always an opportunity to get a selfie or a signature that will give ones collection a little added sparkle.
Over the past few years, traditional book publishers have begun to expand their presence on the show floor as well. Where the “book aisle” used to be a place you headed to escape the press of Jim Lee or William Shatner fans lining up for a signature, now they are garnering massive crowds in their own right.
Randall Monroe, Delilah Dawson, Wes Chu, Jonathan Maberry and Erin Morganstern were just a few of the authors in residence to promote their new works, participating in panels and signing books.
“Activations” have become a big thing in recent years, and this year was no different. What may have started out as a way for companies to participate even when they couldn’t secure space on the show floor has now become a core part of the con-going experience. As the con has grown, the whole of the Gaslamp and adjacent properties have taken on the job of picking up the overspill.
Amazon Prime had a sizeable parking lot this year that they fenced in and used to showcase its upcoming season of new genre shows; the Expanse (saved from SyFy’s always brutal cancellation list), The Boys (because when supers get popular, everyone starts in with the anti-supers), and Carnival Row (addressing the great fairy immigration/invasion).
Fox again splashed ink and paint all over downtown with its Animation Domination, featuring Bob’s Burgers and the Simpsons while Mary Jane’s (which has been skinned-over in the past for various SyFy properties) became the Interdimensional Hole of Pancakes for the event (and the pancakes were indeed worth the line).
It’s a shame this one didn’t make it onto the show floor, but one of the late Stan Lee’s last creations, “Alliances” made it’s appearance at a “secret activation” down one of the side-streets.
The interesting thing is that these experiences are taking the pressure off the show floor. As the upstarts want bigger, more immersive experiences for their fans, moving to the hotel ballrooms and taking over empty lots and restaurants is making way for the new, without doing away with the old.
The Activations also have the benefit of being less-stringent about requiring a show-badge to get in. This allows the “new media” companies to reach an ancillary audience. People who might not be aggressive or hardcore enough to make it into the show itself, but who are accompanying friends and family still have a way to participate. Its an excellent strategy, getting the double whammy of serious genre culture fans and the more casual audience at the same time.
As I mentioned back at the start of the article, I’m far less interested in bringing my sleeping bag and braving Hall H these days. Hall H is HUGE and unless you’re willing to settle down for a proper all-nighter, you’re going to find yourself too far back in the room to even see the panelists. But, the younger, slightly more rabid fannish me was all over that action once upon a time. So if you managed to get yourself into Hall H this year (or any other year) to see your favorites, you deserve every signature and selfie with a star that you can get!
Hall H Day One (Thursday)
Thursday was a bit of a mixed bag. First up was the reveal of Terminator: Dark Fate, marking the return of Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Edward Furlong to the franchise that put them on the map. Following close on the heels of this was a surprise announcement/reveal featuring Tom Cruise to show off the Top Gun sequel that San Diego has been rooting for for just over 30 years.
Thursday’s programming also gave us the 20th Anniversary of Batman Beyond, a rundown on the upcoming slate of Marvel Games coming up, reveals for Agents of Shield and a panel/Q&A for the new streaming series for His Dark Materials (reliable sources spotted Lin Manuel-Miranda gadding about the con and generally delighting people wherever he popped up).
Hall H Day Two (Friday)
Friday is where the Big Dogs start showing up, Hall H covered writing for Avengers: Endgame and a long talk with the Russo Brothers. The soon-to-be-wrapped-up Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead sucked the brains out of the middle of the day before we got to see the reveal for Netflix’s new series “The Witcher” (based on the videogame which is in turn based on a series of Polish novels).
Since we’ve tipped over into my home turf here, I’ll point out that Gwent (derived from The Witcher videogame) has been the addiction of choice for many gamers since they broke it out into a standalone product.
Next up were reveals and panels for Netflix’s new “The Dark Crystal” prequel series followed by a rather rowdy Game of Thrones Q&A Session and wrapped up with reveals for the soon-to-wrap up Preacher (based on the comics by Ennis and Dillon).
Hall H Day Three (Saturday)
Saturday, well Saturday is simply madness. The one hour wait to get into the Interdimensional Hole of Pancakes turned into a multi-hour wait in line just to put your name on the list. Every major studio has their panels and reveals placed back to back but, as always, Hall H is where they put the shows with the biggest possible audiences (because you could fit an entire army in there and still have room for cake).
So of course, we begin with Star Trek. The one hour block by CBS covered their upcoming animated series “Below Decks” and trotted out the indomitable Patrick Stewart, Jeri Ryan and Brent Spiner alongside the rest of the new ensemble cast to introduce the latest live-action show “Picard”. No real word on the Section 31 show in development and with two seasons under their belt and season 3 just beginning filming, Discovery is now an established property, rather than the Big New Shiny, so Picard carried the day.
Next up was reveals for the third season of Westworld which, to be honest, I am looking forward to because I’m curious about the kind of f-d up sci-fi society that would allow a place like Westworld to go on existing. Following that was the 20th Annual Animation Show of Shows, an hours worth of women who kick ass in the industry by Entertainment Weekly and then the Big Reveals by Marvel for Phase Four.
Natalie Portman was vindicated and anointed the Mighty Thor by Taika Waititi in the announcements for Thor 4: Love and Thunder. Black Widow shows off some killer moves and BLADE makes a return to the silver screen. Based on the comic books by Marv Wolfman (*waves* HI MARV!) and previously played by Wesley Snipes, the titular character will now be played by the Oscar Winning Mahershala Ali.
Then, at the close of the day, Kevin Smith takes over and Reboots Hall H. Which, lets face it, after all that marketing splash could probably need a good rebooting.
Hall H Day Four
Sunday is a whole different day. The con quiets down, the lines get a little shorter and even Hall H starts to take on a reasonable tone. First up we had the Q&A panel for Supernatural, another long-running property wrapping up this year, followed closely by another featuring the cast and crew of Riverdale. Mayans MC was up next and then, at the close of the day, we get the only 50th Anniversary event scheduled for Hall H, The ComicCon 50 trailer park.
I’m tired just going back and reading through all that.
Panels and Presentations
ComicCon’s always had a wealth of information for the creative type. If you want to break into writing for film, if you want to get a job in comics or television, if you want to know the best way to get smoke to come out of your magic suit of armor, ComicCon probably has a panel of experts you can ask.
For the past few years we have been seeing more and more panels exploring the growing depth of media creators. Artists and illustrators, writers, sound engineers and producers are coming from an ever-broader swath of humanity these days and with the advent of the Internet it has become easier for fans to find that one perfect story, that one perfect idea that connects with who they are.
GAMES OF ALL FLAVORS
I am always up for a good game. Whether it be something more traditional like D&D or Settlers of Catan or one of the new range of AR/VR experiences, SDCC has been expanding the number and types of games available each year. It’s for playing games, even for resend it or you go all places spaces in the mezzanine. Hard-core Niantic-AR players have already noted that there is a lot of overlap between the locations of PokéStops in the Pokémon Go game and the Towers, Inns and Greenhouses in the new Harry Potter game. Somehow, though, Warner Bros. managed to sock a Harry Potter: Wizards Unite tower into their booth right in the middle of the show (and if you’ve tried to get cellular signal while in the middle of the show floor, you can understand just how much of a feat this is).
Up in the mezzanine level meeting rooms, the more traditional style of games reigned supreme with mini-tournaments for CCG’s running on various days and an entire room taken over by computers for some good ‘ol LAN action.
Offsite, over in the Marriot Marquis, Nintendo took over an entire floor to promote it’s upcoming “Dragonball Z: World” and lines to give it a whirl still topped three hours on Saturday.
This year felt light on the cosplay side of things. In the past there have been hundreds of people in various forms of super-suits strolling up and down in front of the convention center, but with the new rules about closing that street to everyone who does not have a badge, they have been much more scattered. You can reliably find them downtown and on the show floor in smaller quantities than a few years ago. The quality of the costumes and the creativity involved continues to rise, however. This year had fewer “supersize” suits, most costumes seemed chosen as much to facilitate participation in the con as they were to showcase a favorite character.
ANIME and FILM
The anime portion of the continues to grow and evolve, taking over four ballrooms at the Marriot Marquis and running episodes from various shows for a good solid 13 hours every day, so if you were looking to discover something new, I can guarantee you’d find it there. The Film Festival took over Ballroom 6 and included programs on developing different filmic styles ranging from your classic action-adventure to the somewhat more tightly constrained documentary.
This year the San Diego Comic Con signed a commitment with the City of San Diego to keep the Con local through 2024, so while the Con may have been slightly more subdued this year than in the past, I think it is safe to say that we are still in the golden-age for pop media culture. The aggressive expansion into other local venues has made a significant impact on the foot traffic in recent years, making the con-going experience more pleasant for everyone involved. While it remains to be seen if companies like Marvel (post-Endgame) will continue to fuel a massive influx of new fans in the future, there are still more than enough stories contained in this event to satisfy fans of every stripe.