Comics

Anticipating Comic-Con '09

The San Diego Comic-Con starts on Wednesday with preview night. There will be plenty of pop-culture bliss to spread around to the 125,000 attendees, but actual comic books don't have nearly as much impact at the event as they once did.

Another Comic-Con gets going on Wednesday with preview night, San Diego's 40th. I love Comic-Con and this will be my seventh in a row. But even in the relatively brief time I've been attending, the event has changed a great deal. Despite retaining the name "Comic-Con", these days the convention bills itself as the largest pop-culture gathering in America. Comic books still have a presence, of course. Panels involving Marvel and DC's biggest titles can come close to filling the mid-sized 1,400-seat rooms, and occasionally a creator will build a big enough name for himself to hold court in the 3,000 or 4,000-seat rooms. But that's a rarity. Those rooms are mostly reserved for television shows these days.

Down on the main floor, several dozen retailers sell current graphic novels and individual issues, while an entire section of the floor is donated to dealers who trade in comic books from the golden (1930's, '40s) and silver ('50s, and '60s) ages. Individual comic publishers have booths on the floor, everything from the biggest (Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Image) to small press imprints you've probably never heard of. Not to mention artists' alley, where dozens of artists, some famous, some not, set up to sell their work, talk with fans, and create new sketches. But even on the massive main floor, the comic book people and the major tv and movie studios don't always get along. In the wake of Comic-Con 2008, Chuck Rozanski, who runs Mile High Comics, one of the largest dealers at the show (and in the United States, for that matter), had a long and fascinating column about the dealers being virtually ignored in favor of catering to the major film and television studios. Comic-Con PR man David Glanzer's take was that the same percentage of floor space is dedicated to comic books as in previous years. But if we're to take Rozanski at his word then clearly something that was once the lifeblood of the show is now more of an afterthought.

It's interesting to watch this process happen, in slow motion, over a period of years. Comic book movies are a big, big draw at Comic-Con, but comic books themselves, maybe not so much anymore. Has the event sacrificed its soul as Hollywood has taken an ever-greater interest? Rozanski seemed to think so last year, going so far as to utter the dreaded "sell-out" in his column. This year, since it's the 40th anniversary, Comic-Con will have daily panels with people who were there reminiscing about what the convention was like back in the '70s, '80s, '90s, and 2000's. But there will also be more television panels than ever, some for shows that are not even close to Comic-Con's target demographic.

In previous years, series like 24, Bones, and The Office snuck in amongst the sci-fi and fantasy. But those are programs with passionate fanbases and at least ancillary geek appeal. This year, there are panels for Burn Notice, Psych, Glee, and The Middle. Burn Notice I get- it's a cool action/spy show and it co-stars Comic-Con and B-movie legend Bruce Campbell, who will of course be in attendance. Psych isn't really even close to a genre show, but since the USA Network is already bringing Burn Notice, it seems like they thought they needed to bring something else along, too. It's telling that the latter two, though, are relegated to an offsite room at the new Hilton Bayfront hotel. Fox is clearly still working hard to build buzz for Glee, but a series about a show choir, even one populated with misfits and outcasts, doesn't really fit very well at Comic-Con. Most egregious, though, is ABC's The Middle, a middle-of-the-road family sitcom starring Patricia Heaton that may have the least appeal to the Comic-Con crowd of any event I've ever seen at the convention.

This struggle between the old Comic-Con and the modern Comic-Con is also evident in the evening programming schedule. The traditional Saturday night highlight of the convention is the Masquerade, where regular attendees sign up to be in the show, dressing in elaborate costumes and performing skits of wildly varying quality. The Masquerade fills the 4,000-seat Ballroom 20, and the convention even runs the live video feed of the event in several smaller rooms to accommodate overflow. But this year the convention is also hosting a Saturday night screening of Watchmen: The Director's Cut with director Zack Snyder in attendance to provide commentary and analysis. If there was ever a movie that fit right into Comic-Con's wheelhouse, it's Watchmen. This screening could easily fill the 6,500-seat Hall H, but instead it's being relegated to the 3,000-seat room. I'm betting there will literally be thousands of fans locked out of this event, but Comic-Con has never used Hall H for nighttime programming. I also imagine they're reluctant to admit that something besides the Masquerade may be the main draw on Saturday night this year. Of course, Warner Bros. themselves may also share some of the blame for the room choice, as Glanzer has been quoted saying that studios would often rather have hundreds of people shut out of a panel than risk their "talent" seeing empty seats in the room. Either way, this particular choice seems myopic of everyone involved.

Regardless, the 40th San Diego Comic-Con will fondly remember its past while, it seems, struggling mightily to not think too hard about what will happen after 2012, when the current contract with the city of San Diego runs out. Even if the Convention Center receives its proposed expansion and staves off the show's likely move to Las Vegas (trading beautiful west coast weather for scorching desert heat in the name of more space), I can't see comic books ever reclaiming their spot as the main focus of Comic-Con. Comics will always have a place at the convention, but that place seems to get a tiny bit smaller each year.

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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