Comic-Con Offers an Unmatched Kaleidoscope of Sci-fi / Fantasy / Superhero Pop Culture

There was a spectacular display of goods from almost every pop culture property one could think of all in one place, making Comic-Con feel like a cross between Christmas and Halloween (as well as Black Friday).

The ever popular Comic-Con International convention seems to get more crowded and difficult to navigate each year. But that clearly isn’t deterring the hordes of pop culture fanatics that continue to annually descend on San Diego for a chance to glimpse their favorite TV and movie stars, see previews of upcoming films and mingle with like-minded devotees.

Evidence that Comic-Con is outgrowing the massive San Diego Convention Center was abundant, yet spirits still seemed high across the board. A mind-boggling number of fans were waiting overnight in line on Thursday and Friday for the precious Hall H programs to see previews and panels from AMC’s The Walking Dead, HBO’s Game of Thrones, 20th Century Fox, Warner Brothers Pictures, the Sin City sequel and Marvel Studios. The dedication exhibited by these fans was severe, although spending all that time in line didn’t look like much fun. The 6,000-person capacity Hall H is clearly too small to handle the masses anymore.

A similar tale played out over the course of the weekend with massive lines throughout the convention center for the most popular panels. The sprawling convention floor showroom meanwhile became troublesome to navigate as well, with attendees jockeying to check out the wares from more than 1,000 vendors. But there was a spectacular display of goods from almost every pop culture property one could think of all in one place, making Comic-Con feel like a cross between Christmas and Halloween (as well as Black Friday). There were also several chances to win big prizes, such as a life size “Han Solo in carbonite” from Sideshow Collectibles that would look great in any bounty hunter’s living room.

The MTV Fanfest outside of Petco Park on Thursday night had similar issues. It was allegedly open to “all badgeholders”, yet capacity was limited by over-demand just like the panels at the convention center. The Fanfest took place from 7 to 11 pm, with Linkin Park playing a headlining concert in the 10 pm hour. But entry was closed off by 8 pm, necessitating the creative use of Jedi mind tricks to get in if you weren’t an early bird. Fans then had to sit through a set from mediocre rapper G-Eazy before the main event, and how he got on the bill remains puzzling. But the time and effort was ultimately worth it to see Linkin Park crank it up, a far more satisfying experience than the mere DJ set from Rob Zombie at the 2012 Fanfest. The band delivered a short but powerful set, mixing in some strong new material with older classics. It would be great if Comic-Con had more musical programming in the future, as there are many rockers who are big comic book and sci-fi fans that could make for appropriate tie-ins.

Similar difficulties were present for the Archer screening and panel in the Indigo ballroom at the Hilton on Friday, with a huge line stretching outside the hotel in hopes of seeing the cast of F/X’s uniquely irreverent animated spy show. Jedi mind tricks were again needed to win the day to navigate entry just in time to see the upcoming season six premiere screening. The screening featured a special scene just for Comic-Con viewers with an “Ahoy San Diegans” greeting from Agent Archer, who was holding an “Archer Vice” garage sale on his boat. All of the main cast members were on hand for the panel afterward, with Aisha Tyler again proving the most charismatic and saying that Comic-Con is her favorite time of year. Co-executive producer Casey Willis referenced the many guests from the past season and confirmed that the incomparable Christian Slater will be back in season six. Fans were also rewarded with a swag ticket for an Archer t-shirt and sunglasses.

A “50 Years of Star Trek” panel was disappointingly dull and could have been much better if the speakers had shown clips of the scenes they were referencing when they spoke of what made the legendary TV series stand out to them. A related panel for the 15th anniversary of 1999’s cult classic film Free Enterprise fared better. Producers of the film premiered a promo video for a Kickstarter project to fund a new TV series based on the endearing film, in which none other than William Shatner served as a sort of guardian angel for a pair of aspiring Trekkie filmmakers.

Writer/producer Mark Altman said the film was largely inspired by Woody Allen’s Play It Again Sam, inserting Shatner for Humphrey Bogart. But Shatner apparently wasn’t thrilled with the original script, saying that it was too reverential and that he wanted his character to be more flawed, which helped create the final script. Altman said the new show will maintain the DNA of the film and include celebrity guest appearances ala Curb Your Enthusiasm and Entourage. Info cards were also passed out for the newly ongoing web series Star Trek Continues, in which a new cast portrays the last two years of the U.S.S. Enterprise’s original five-year mission.

The actual comic book panels rarely compare with the film and TV panels and this proved true again with a panel for the new comic book from Boom Studios based on John Carpenter’s mid-’80s classic Big Trouble in Little China. Writer Eric Powell didn’t seem to have a lot to say, although he did relate a meeting with Carpenter in which they agreed that the comic book would have to remain centered around protagonist Jack Burton and his truck the Pork Chop Express. Powell also noted that Carpenter was super laid back with no Hollywood pretentiousness.

But at least half the fun of Comic-Con for many seems to be just taking in the scene, both in the exhibit hall and outside the convention center around San Diego’s adjacent Gaslamp district. The cosplay action can’t be beat, with devoted fans wearing elaborate costumes of their favorite characters for highly entertaining people watching. There were also a number of interactive installations outside across the street from the convention center that were open to the general public to provide memorable moments and keepsakes.

X-Men fans could visit Norton’s Project-X installation and create a video inserting themselves into an X-Men promo based off the latest film in the series, X-Men: Days of Future Past. “The Sin City Experience at Petco Park” was another highlight, with vintage hot rods and swag giveaways from Suicide Girls dressed as babes from the film promoting the upcoming sequel, Frank Miller’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. This included a chance to pose in front of a green screen and get a photo as a character from the Sin City landscape, which was certainly more fun than waiting in line for another panel. “The Walking Dead Escape” was back as well, with ticket-buying fans able to run a genuinely surreal and grueling zombie apocalypse obstacle course in Petco Park.

Surreal moments can occur at any time during the Comic-Con weekend, which is another part of the event’s attraction. Marketing promoters of the new Sharknado 2 film were loitering across the street from the convention center with signs that made them look like picketers. Cognitive dissonance occurred when genuine protesters for Palestinian freedom marched into the same area, suddenly making it look like a battle between Palestine and Sharknado.

The Her Universe fashion show provided another unique moment, with cosplay fans packing the ballroom at the Hyatt for a stylish sci-fi/fantasy fashion show from a slew of mostly Southern California designers. Her Universe founder Ashley Eckstein MC’d the event in a dazzling silver dress while models paraded down the runway wearing elaborate outfits in tribute to fashions from the worlds of Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and other popular films. Cozday Clothing was in on the action as well, throwing a party that featured more Star Wars-themed ladies clothing along with a free-flowing craft beer bar. Funimation threw a party to promote their new video games and rewarded attendees with both free drinks and glow-bling. The Chuck Jones Gallery also held a festive gathering, where fans enjoyed craft beers while perusing spectacularly vivid artwork including Looney Tunes, Marvel and DC superheroes and Star Wars rebel alliance recruitment posters.

Fans’ mileage will vary at Comic-Con, depending on their patience and obsession levels. The variety of programming options also creates an infinite array of potential experiences. “A famous Vulcan proverb says ‘Infinite diversity in infinite combinations’ and that for me is what Comic-Con continues to represent today,” wrote Comic-Con’s director of marketing and public relations David Glanzer in the 2014 Souvenir Book and that sentiment sums it up as well as any. The diversity of the sci-fi/fantasy/superhero pop culture landscape is a sight to behold and Comic-Con certainly does offer an unmatched kaleidoscope of it.