Last weekend marked the third-annual New York Comic-Con, the younger and smaller cousin to the original San Diego Comic-Con, which currently boasts attendance in the low six figures and recently celebrated its 38th year in operation. If you saw the episode of “Entourage” in which Drama finally relives his Viking Quest glory…yep, that’s the San Diego Comic-Con. (“VICTORY!”) The New York version, however, is gaining ground each year. The 2008 installment drew a crowd in the 65K range, including your dutiful Bullz-Eye correspondent, a complete and utter comic book novice.
Thanks to “Entourage,” the atmosphere, though overwhelming at first, was about what I expected: three packed convention floors filled with self-avowed nerds experiencing the equivalent of Christmas morning over the course of an April weekend.
About half of the official NYCC staff and volunteers and maybe a quarter of Comic-Con attendees dressed the part, decked out in full crime-fighting (or crime-causing) regalia; I was personally herded into and out of line by storm troopers on two separate occasions. The costuming was especially endearing among super-couples, though some of these were disconcertingly incongruous; I noticed one spot-on Wonder Woman conferencing with her boyfriend, Darth Vader, who it must be said looked much shorter in real life. (“Well, honey, we can find you somewhere to take your helmet off if you really want a hot dog.” Adorable!)
The top floor of Comic-Con, held this year in midtown Manhattan’s Javits Center, was reserved for rows upon rows of vendor booths, where everything from small comic book imprints and larger graphic novel publishing houses to toymakers and gaming system companies were represented. Amidst the ATMs and Starbucks, there were also booths reserved for the sale of rare back issue comics and graphic novels, as well as a wide section of tables set aside for hardcore fantasy gamers where, I can report, much Magic was gathered.
It was the downstairs IGN Theatre, however, where all the big-screen action took place. This over-full, dual-screen venue hosted the many panels designed to promote and preview forthcoming motion pictures based on familiar comic book heavy-hitters to a rabid, hyper-knowledgeable audience, and Bullz-Eye dropped in for a few of the highlights.
"Wanted" (releases June 27)
Russian director Timur Bekmanbetov (“Day Watch,” “Night Watch”) was essentially the entire “panel” for this new Angelina Jolie / James McAvoy super-assassin flick. Bekmambetov spoke engagingly in a pea-soup thick accent, confiding that, to him, “Wanted” was the continuation of the film series that brought him fame. He granted that “Wanted” is a totally different story than either film, but explained that the tone and spirit is the same. Later, responding to a question about why the heroes in his film wore no costumes, the director passionately defended the idea of letting his special characters be grounded to the earth. “In movies, if you see the man walking down the street in a long leather jacket, you know he’s an assassin.” The crowd golf-clapped approvingly. When Bekmanbetov previewed two lengthy clips from the film, the crowd roared, offering more than a few hell-yeahs in the process. Sadly, however, two of the five audience questions were unironic queries regarding Jolie’s real-life hotness versus her big screen Goddess image; the somewhat confused Behmambetov finally got the gist of the question and simply gave a well-received two thumbs up.
"The X-Files: I Want to Believe" (July 25)
Disappointing sub-title aside, this one also looks promising. That said, panel participants Chris Carter (creator) and Frank Spotnitz (writer) were exceedingly tight-lipped about the content of the second “X-Files” movie. Unanswered questions included interrogations about any appearance from the Lone Gunmen and the evolution of the long-frustrated Mulder-Scully romantic relationship. We did hear about the contributions of co-stars Amanda Peet and Xzibit, as well as news regarding a new line of “X-Files” comics from DC, which were unveiled the following day at the Con. The pair also screened a trailer to a good smattering of applause. The audience seemed less amused, however, by Carter and Spotnitz’s tongue-in-cheek suggestion of a steamy Mulder-Scully love scene. That is not something we joke about, gentlemen.
"Hellboy II: The Golden Army" (July 11)
By far, the best panel. Director Guillermo Del Toro is a force of nature and was in rare – and profane – form. Between the good-natured cursing, Del Toro oozed enthusiasm for both the budding “Hellboy” film franchise and the filmmaking process in total. He admitted that the “Hellboy II” shoot “took a toll on my gonads” and gave the heavy-set director “new stretch marks,” but from the looks of the extended trailer which was played for a rapturous audience, the physical toll was well worth it. “Hellboy II” appears to be subversive, wildly imagined, half-nuts…and completely awesome. To Del Toro’s left was the inspiration for it all: writer and artist Mike Mignola, who noted that the project was touch and go for some time, largely for financial reasons. Del Toro also spoke to the dollars issue, saying that though they really expanded the vision for the sequel, the budget only climbed from sixty-odd million to eighty-odd million, while the movies it will compete against at the box office this summer were financed for three or four times that number. Actors Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones and Luke Goss also participated in the panel, but even they seemed more than happy to cede the floor to the irreverent Mr. Del Toro. The director also revealed that he tapped “Family Guy” creator Seth McFarlane to play the voice of Johann Kraus. Meanwhile, the jazzed audience of fanboys and girls reserved their loudest cheers for the sly onstage reveal of eight to-scale new monster creations from the film. “So this is Comic-Con security,” explained Del Toro, to more roars.
"Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" (May 22)
LucasFilm liaison Steve Sansweet held court for the entire Indiana Jones program at Comic-Con, though he let loose with remarkably little new information about the soon-to-be-released film. His announcement that all three prior installments of the Indiana Jones series would be released as Special Edition DVDs on May 13 fell on bemused ears, since you would have been hard-pressed to find anyone in the crowd that was not well aware of that fact. The DVDs will also include a preview of “The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull,” however, for which Sansweet did show an extended trailer, but even this was light on new plot information and heavy on previews of stunts (many of them vehicular) to watch for. The one tidbit of new news might have been the preview of a new “spoiler”-filled book based on the somewhat turbulent making-of process of the new Indiana flick, as well as the screening of another trailer for serious-fans-only computer game, “Lego Indiana Jones.” And, yes, it looks exactly like you think it does.
"The Incredible Hulk" (June 13)
Move over, Ang Lee. There is a new, art-house-free Hulk on the way and, good God, does he look pissed. While the newer, bigger, louder Hulk is a kind of yin to Ang’s yang, panelists Louis Letterier (director), Gale Anne Hurd (producer) and Kevin Feige (President of Production for Marvel Studios) pointed out that they were not out to diminish Ang Lee’s 2003 version of the green giant’s tale, but were simply intent on moving the story in a direction more familiar to fans. After screening several jaw-dropping clips, the panelists brought out co-star and screen villain Tim Roth, who gamely received a few audience props for his work on “Pulp Fiction” and “Reservoir Dogs” before taking “Hulk” questions. He explained that he took the role for his kids and used the old comic books for acting preparation and inspiration. Later, after a question about the influence of the 1970s “Hulk” TV series, out came…Lou Ferrigno. Still enormous after all these years, it was Ferrigno, who makes a cameo in the new Hulk film version, that thrilled the crowd the most by leaning into the microphone and performing his most convincing “HULK SMASH!”