Nearly a week has passed since I left the land of make-believe and booze. After arriving at San Diego Comic-Con on the Tuesday before the event began, I stuck around until late in the day the following Sunday to squeeze every drop of nerd juice out of the con fruit. (Note to self: Never, ever use the phrase “nerd juice” again.)
The point being is that, for six nights, I happily lived in a sea of capes and famous faces, open bars and platters full of tasty sliders, panels and press room swag and exclusives. And it is only now, as I finally return to a state of semi-sobriety, a balanced diet and regular sleep schedule, I am able to reflect on the highlights of my Comic-Con week.
A far better writer than I would attempt to channel Hunter S. Thompson to relay the trippy ride or, because it is SDCC, a far better nerd writer might appropriately try to channel gonzo-zombie Thompson. Instead, I’ll just relay an abridged version of my day-by-day experiences in Bat(man) country.
I touch down in San Diego early in the day. It is quiet as con artwork and installations start to pop up around the city. From my hotel room I can see the "Ender’s Game" experience being constructed, and the convention center is across the way from me. People are trickling in and out of the city. There is a crackling energy around the Gaslamp District and the message is clear: Prepare to ride out the oncoming storm of pop culture or get out now. It really does remind me of the hurricane parties I saw on the news while growing up in Florida.
That night, the Course of the Force party at Hard Rock Hotel’s Float closes the Make-A-Wish charity relay but kicks off the con festivities. Cosplay is in full force and Chris Hardwick, Ashley Eckstein, Wilmer Valderrama mingle with stormtroopers, bounty hunters, Jedi and the “Star Wars” assortment of scum and villainy. Well, villainy and heartwarming stories, I suppose. Hardwick tells of a young boy who received a wish from the foundation but gave it up to benefit others.
The cheeseburger sliders kick ass.
My plan to sleep in fails miserably as I am still on East Coast time. I toss and turn before finally getting up to look out my hotel window and see a lot more foot traffic at the convention center. Things are picking up, and the "Ender’s Game" thing still looks to be coming together. I find myself rooting for those guys to get it done. Also, because I’m 11 stories above them, I feel like a kaiju that could reach down and eat them like bugs.
But there is another kaiju in town meaner than me: Godzilla.
The Godzilla Experience
First off, how cool is it that we collectively know what a kaiju is now? Thanks Guillermo. But the big atomic lizard has one of the best presences in San Diego thanks to the Godzilla Experience by Legendary Pictures, based on the May 2014 movie. A large building in the Gaslamp District has an image of a massive tail, as if it is passing by. Inside are props from previous “Godzilla” films – including the awesome Millennium Suit – and a recreated Tokyo street. This appears to be a world already used to Godzilla. A team of soldiers begin to evacuate the crowd of con-goers from the street and we’re eventually rushed to a simulated floor of a skyscraper in the midst of a giant monster rampage. From inside this office building high above the Tokyo streets we are treated to two solid, appetite-whetting glimpses at Godzilla. And this ain’t Matthew Broderick’s monster but a creature worthy of a Blue Oyster Cult song. Read more about the Godzilla Experience here.
After picking up badges fairly quickly, I head to the Marriott Marina Hotel for a DC Collectibles event before Preview Night began.
Geoff Johns with Aquman Scribblenaut
DC Collectibles Event
What would normally be a spacious hotel room with a balcony sporting a great view of the marina becomes a cramped room with a great view as journalists gather to catch new goodies from DC’s toy line. Eight 2.5” vinyl Scribblenauts Unmasked are unveiled, including goodies like camouflage Aquaman, Nightmare Batman, gold Superman and a mock-up of the game’s hero Maxwell as a Green Lantern. The word is the game really does have every character from the DC-verse in it, and even Geoff Johns said at the event that he’d been stumped.
Speaking of Johns, he digs the Greg Capullo Batman figures, which included Bats, Nightwing and Talon. He also picks up the 11.25” resin Cyborg statue on display and brings it close to me to show off the detail. He is in love with this thing, and excited to get one for his own desk. For me, the best collectible unveiled was the Batman Black and White Joker from “Death of a Family.” Creepy and beautiful, it looks like you can peel Joker’s skin mask right off his face.
And the Bombshell Black Canary by Ant Lucia is incredibly sexy and irresistible.
Preview Night begins and I am all about covering as much of the floor as I can before my days are absorbed with interviews.
I obtain cool swag like a toy car from Legendary Pictures and hop in line for photo opps with Predator at the anniversary Blu-ray booth. My face is scanned for an action figure – of Predator holding my decapitated head and spine as a prize. Mom will be so proud. I swing through the “Adventure Time” Ice King palace for a free button.
But my eye is on some toy purchases.
Hasbro’s Boba Fett action figure set with Han Solo in carbonite is my top goal. The con exclusive comes from the “Star Wars: The Black Series” toy line and comes in a sleek, black packaging. Inside is the bounty hunter as he appeared in “The Empire Strikes Back” with attachable rifle, blaster and jet pack (along with cool little schematics of each). Next to his figure is chunk of frozen Solo. The price is a very cool $45. I can't resist the urge to give a Boba cosplayer high-five at the Hasbro booth.
My other pursuit is the Mattel Batusi set from the Adam West 1966 "Batman" series. The figure of Batman is packaged with his fingers at his eyes, in a classic pose from the Batusi dance, and he is set in a vintage TV-style box and positioned with wobbly cardboard dancers. The best part? The sound chip that plays music and quotes from West himself. This con exclusive sold for $30.
After picking up toys my night ends with drinks at Syfy’s "Defiance" café. The takeover of the Hard Rock Hotel restaurant transports me to a future terraformed earth with pretty extensive alien designs, and a menu that features multiple languages from alien species. Luckily the beer is familiar to this modern earthling.
There is more than meets the eye to my breakfast at JSix Restaurant. Hasbro hosts a Transformers meal to offer a sneak peek at their Construct-Bots. Along with dishes containing eggs, oatmeal and pancakes are large bowls filled with Transformer skeletons, heads and limbs. The new toys allow you to construct and customize individual bots, and then switch them out as you see fit. Bumblebee’s head looks good on a purple Decepticon body. Just saying. The Construct-Bots are a natural “where has this been all my life?” evolution to the Transformers line, and hit shelves Aug. 1. Read more about the breakfast here.
My afternoon is all about the paranormal.
At the Hilton Bayfront, I head to the Indigo Ballroom for a panel and look at “Ghost Ghirls,” the Jack Black-produced Web series for Yahoo! starring (and created by) Amanda Lund and Maria Blasucci. The show revolves around two female ghost hunters who often get it more wrong than right. In addition to Black and the stars (who tried to exorcise the ballroom from Jason Ritter's ghost), the panel also included director Jeremy Konner of “Drunk History.” The creators said they were inspired by shows such as “Ghost Adventures” and even include a scene in the episode they showed dedicated to investigator Zak Bagans.
Next up I head to “The X-Files” panel at the convention center, where David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson reunite on stage to talk about … well, largely about sex. You can read more about that here.
McManus gives the black
Take the Black Stout tasting
Fighting White Walkers, defending The Wall and just generally being a sword-wielding bastard can make a person develop a wicked thirst, so it was a relief when I stopped into the Wired Café for a taste of Brewery Ommegang’s “Take The Black Stout.” The beer is the second to be specially developed by the Cooperstown, N.Y. brewery for HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” The first, Iron Throne Ale, was a light blonde that worked well for both casual and dedicated beer drinkers.
The Take The Black Stout, however, is a bolder flavor and is definitely a true stout. At 7% ABV, it is deep black and brewed with Northern Brewer hops, Midnight wheat, roasted barley and chocolate malt along with licorice root and star anise. Like the beautifully designed label for Iron Throne Ale, which featured the throne with gold highlights, the stout’s bottle is emblazoned with the sacred Weirwood tree where the Night's Watch take their oath.
The beer is served up at a special "GoT" themed bar straight out of Westeros and planted by the Omni’s pool deck at the Wired Café. It is served up by Ommegang’s own Mike McManus, a dude who knows his brews. When the blonde ale came out he was excited, but says he is really stoked to get the stout in front of people when it becomes available this September.
L-R: Sagers, Schlozman, Kenemore, Brooks, James, Voytek, Mogk
Zombies in Pop Culture panel
After chatting about White Walkers and Night’s Watch over beer, I head back to the convention center to talk more about the living dead. Hosted by author and “Talking Dead” expert Matt Mogk of the Zombie Research Society, the panel includes “World War Z” and “Zombie Survival Guide” author Max Brooks; “The Zombie Autopsies” author and Harvard psychiatrist Steven Schlozman, M.D.; “Zombie, Ohio” and “ZEO” author Scott Kenemore; Neuroscientist Bradley Voytek; “Daily Dead” journalist Jonathan James and yours truly.
This is a group of zombie experts I’m humbled to join, and honored to call friends. And the best part about us gathering together is that we have a chance to geek out with a room full of fellow zombie fans. Our conversations go beyond “best zombie kills” and, because the audience is pretty savvy, we manage to discuss the scary side effects of zombie culture (we are not advising people to stock up on guns, create and arsenal and gun down their zombified neighbors!).
At the end of the night I find myself continuing the conversation about zombies, and aliens, with Simon Pegg who is promoting his new collaboration with Edgar Wright, “The World’s End.” This is the first of many Pegg interactions throughout the weekend, but the message from this conversation is clear: George A. Romero deserves a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Balfour, Copeland, Ferguson
The day begins with lunch at Nobu with the cast of Syfy’s “Haven.” Technically this is meant to be an interview over food, but it devolves into a fun, informal conversation with a tightly-knit cast. The series, loosely based on Stephen King’s Hard Case Crime book “The Colorado Kid,” is in production for its fourth season and the cast arrived in San Diego straight from the set.
Eric Balfour even admits he was wearing clothes from his character Duke’s wardrobe. After a big season-ending cliffhanger Emily Rose emphasizes how much she thinks the show has hit a stride, and that the fan base around “Haven” had really coalesced at the con. Former wrestler Adam Copeland, who plays Dwight, says there are more dark days ahead for his character, but that he is still getting used to the perks of acting on a show compared to wrestling. Instead of arranging his own travel, he says that it is kind of nice to be picked up for a ride to set.
Also at the lunch is Colin Ferguson, who moves to “Haven” after leading Syfy’s “Eureka.” Ferguson says his character will have a season-long arc as a mysterious figure from Audrey’s (Rose) past. Ferguson, who served as a moderator for the show’s panel, also noted he has been happily astonished to see Syfy grow into a force at Comic-Con. Towards the end of lunch we joke Balfour, Copeland and Ferguson could be a reunited boy band -- and the above pic was snapped.
The night ends with the “Kick-Ass 2” party hosted by Playboy, and with drinks by Patron. The tunes of Weezer at “The Walking Dead” party next door merge with the house music here, and the vibe is of a giant carnival rave complete with a bungee attraction. Along with a hot dog stand, there is a Patron popsicle cart and a T-shirt screen printing area where I picked up a “Kick-Ass” Playboy Bunny tee. The surreal moment comes after I had my face spray painted with a super hero mask and find myself in a conversation with Ray Park. I am a poser with face-paint talking to Snake Eyes, or at least the real martial arts expert who played him.
I encounter Pegg again. We chat about "The World's End" screening from earlier in the evening. It is a normal conversation until I remember the face-painted mask and awkwardly call it out. He's a champ about it, and agrees to take a fan pic of us in super hero poses. I consider walking away in shame.
Breakfast at The World’s End
There comes a moment at Comic-Con when one’s body realizes it needs sleep and food, but has not been receiving enough of either. This moment hits somewhere in the middle of a casual conversation with Simon Pegg and a group of journalists at the Hard Rock Hotel.
As I shovel hashbrowns, eggs, way too much bacon, and eventually fruit into my maw, Pegg admits that he’s weary from the con. He candidly says that it is tiring to pose for pictures constantly and needs time to decompress. The con is work for him, but he isn’t complaining. There is no lack of competition for “The World’s End” at Comic-Con, but it is regardless the movie that keeps emerging in conversations. Bill Paxton even called it “F---ing awesome” at the previous night’s screening. Director Alfonso Cuaron also gives his thumbs-up.
Edgar Wright and eventually Nick Frost make their way over to the table as well. It is a relaxed chat and Nick reveals that he and Pegg text constantly throughout the day, but not about important things. He says they joked for an entire flight imagining an attendant who would politely, but relentlessly, offer them tea. If one were to expect a character like Ed from “Shaun of the Dead” with Frost, you’d be shocked to discover a pretty quiet, but very funny, guy who you at times must strain to hear but laugh when you catch what he says.
Being Human panel
Without much time to spare, I head to the convention center to moderate another zombie panel, this one sponsored by Crown Publishing. This time it is again with Matt Mogk, along with authors Peter Stenson, S.G. Browne, Nick Cole, Alan Averill and Rick Yancey. Max Brooks make a cameo in the back of the room to heckle, jokingly, the “World War Z” movie. He is in and out so fast that no one, including myself at first, realizes who it is. Cannibalism is a recurring theme to this panel. Yancey, as the alien apocalypse guy, gets the most laughs every time he acts astounded at all his weird zombie cohorts.
I remain in mod-mode for Syfy’s “Being Human” panel for the show adapted from the British series. The panel at the Indigo Ballroom in the Hilton Bayfront included stars Sam Witwer, Sam Huntington, Meaghan Rath, Kristen Hager and showrunner Anna Fricke. I had questions but this is the kind of group you just want to sit back and observe as they enjoy one another’s company.
Since the show had just begun filming its fourth season the Monday prior to the con, there isn’t any footage to show aside from a recap of the previous season. Still, it is easily one of the most fun, and funniest, panels I’ve witnessed. Witwer crawls onto the stage under the panelist table, and he and Huntington utilize the room’s large TV screen to create a Godzilla-eating-victim scene. Rath, who had turned into a supernatural zombie last season, queries how anyone could not make out with a model of themselves. And when an audience member with Huntington’s daughter’s named asks a question, the cast theorizes she might be from the future – and then transitions into a discussion about Maury Povich guests’ “You are (not) the father” dances.
Batman checks into Bates
Bates Motel/The Hollywood Reporter party
Somehow my goatee manages to make me look somewhat important. Somehow I am able to get into this party, despite the fact that there is a long line and people are told they would not be admitted. And once inside, somehow I manage to squeeze through the crowds and obtain a drink with a glowing ice cube. This was the most packed party I hit while at the con, but it is also one of the most anticipated.
The party is perfectly decorated to look as if Norman and Mother had overtaken a San Diego club. A mini-motel room is even set up for photos, and family potraits lined the walls. A “Weed Room” offers brownies (just chocolate, folks) and there is a series of motel doors framed by hanging keys.
It all looks gorgeous, but I don’t stay long before checking out. The need for oxygen and personal space makes me head towards the exit. From there it was back to the Hard Rock Defiance Café for a snack and nightcap before heading to bed.
Doctor and Companion
My only responsibility on Sunday is to pack up bags of swag, check out of my hotel and hit the "Doctor Who" panel. As a dedicated Whovian, this was a great finale for my Comic-Con. You can read about it here.
But once I cleared out of Hall H, I am back on the convention floor since Wednesday. I take lots of pics with cosplayers and actually get a chance to buy comics. Yes, there are comics here. The areas around the big boys like AMC, Marvel, DC, etc are swarming with people, but the artist alleys are thankfully (and tragically) roomy. There is enough space to move, but also converse with creators. I save most of my money for these Sunday visits. I buy the books that will probably be tomorrow’s blockbusters.
Then I hit the road and bid farewell to another San Diego Comic-Con. I am in a cab on the way out of town when a guy in a Batman costume jaywalks and makes us hit the brakes hard. The cabbie curses at the guy from the driver-side window, but I just love that it is my final moment of the event. Justice doesn’t wait for a crosswalk, and that Batman fan can’t wait to get to the con.