As usual, I viewed the San Diego Comic-Con’s 2015 edition as an opportunity to get a barometer on the next year in high-profile films, along with pop culture in general. Besides attending the convention in person, I waded through Twitter, online panel recaps, and videos of the various panels to pull together what I found to be the highlights.
Star Wars: Photos of the ‘legacy’ cast managed to find their way through to mainstream news sites as though it were the convention’s defining moment. Those who were at the convention might be surprised to learn that “Star Wars” was considered the broadest winner by entertainment pundits even if it didn’t have the buzz on the convention floor of some of the comic book-related media presentations. Although no new footage was shown, the first post-plane accident public appearance by Harrison Ford and the rest of the cast seemed to meet the expectations of many fans. The panel was smart in first starting with the creative staff, such as J.J. Abrams and Laurence Kasdan, the moving on to the new and then older cast members. At the end of the panel, everyone inside Hall H was invited to attend an outdoor San Diego Symphony concert where they were given free lightsabre toys and treated to a fireworks show at the concert’s conclusion.
Warner Bros: Warner Bros’s non-comics films on the panel, Guy Richie’s “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” and “Peter Pan” had star-studded, but brief appearances that ended up being overshadowed by the DC Comics film adaptations.
As if to announce his taking ownership of Saturday, Zach Snyder took a midnight drive around downtown San Diego in the new Batmobile. Snyder owned much of the Saturday convention buzz after showing an impressive nearly-four-minute-long trailer for “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Besides catching glimpses of Ben Affleck looking impressive as an older Batman, fans learned from Snyder such tidbits as his in-film universe the cities of Gotham and Metropolis were sister cities like Oakland and San Francisco.
Some sources reported a lukewarm response amongst mainstream viewers of the trailer at home, so take this win for Warner Bros. with a grain of salt.
The “Suicide Squad” cast appeared with such big names as Will Smith in attendance. It was really the trailer that had fans talking though. Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn basically owned it, with Jared Leto getting some nice shots in as the Joker at the end.
A Ben Affleck stand-alone Batman film written with DC’s Geof Johns was heavily rumored to be one of the panel’s big announcements but that announcement never happened.
Fox: “X-Men: Apocalypse” may have been the biggest movie that was promoted by Fox, but “Deadpool” seemed to steal the show with referential wisecracking and stylized violence. Sharp-eyed viewers caught Deadpool creator Rob Liefeld in the clips finally appearing to make his Hollywood dreams come true and Stan Lee bringing down the house as a strip club emcee. “Old Man Logan” was seemingly confirmed as the basis for the third “Wolverine” film while Bryan Singer also hinted at a Hugh Jackman cameo in “X-Men: Apocalypse.” There had been pre-convention rumors of Singer an “X-Men vs. Fantastic Four” joint film for 2018 but no such announcement was made during this presentation. Fox showed the final trailer for the new “Fantastic Four” film, but it was met with an unsurprisingly-tepid response.
Lion’s Gate: “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2” was the anchor of Thursday’s otherwise understated Hall H schedule. It was boosted by having Conan O’Brien as moderator and cross-promotion on Conan’s evening talk show with Jennifer Laurence appear at both the panel and on Conan’s show with her co-stars.
Epic Film Fans: The “Hateful Eight” eschewed the usual flashy special-effect-laden film presentation for something decidedly old-school. The film had Quentin Tarantino and cast member such as Kurt Russell on a panel where Tarantino revealed such tidbits as plans to release the film in the traditional old ‘roadshow’ manner at major theatres. The film had previously been announced as being shot for 70mm project and Tarantino discussed how the lenses used on the film were the same lenses used to shoot the 1959 film “Ben-Hur.” One shocker from Tarantino was news that composer Ennio Morricone scoring his first western in 40 years at the age of 86.
Ant-Man: Although Marvel had no formal panel, “Ant-Man” benefited from nice conversational buzz in the form of advance reviews. The film’s little (pun intended) presence included amusing tiny billboard signage, similar to what had been popping up in cities around the world since April.
Frank Miller, Chris Claremont, & John Byrne: Comics legend Frank Miller was inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame, along with the “X-Men” team of Chris Claremont and John Byrne and publisher Denis Kitchen. Byrne didn’t appear at the convention but did post positive remarks on his website’s forum area. Miller’s award was accepted by DC’s Jim Lee on his behalf amid growing concerns around Miller’s health.
Miller had been somewhat active on Twitter recently though, teasing information related to the third “Dark Knight” mini-series that was slated for release in fall 2015. “The Dark Knight Returns” inker Klaus Janson would be inking Andy Kubert’s pencils on that series and it would be written by Azzarello, although Scott Snyder was also confirmed as having some sort of involvement.
Legendary Pictures: Legendary Pictures featured Guillermo del Toro’s “Crimson Peak,” “Krampus” (a dark Santa Claus movie), and Duncan Jones’s “Warcraft.” Unfortunately, the “Crimson Peak” trailer only contained footage that was mostly previously-seen and the “Warcraft” materials left non-gamers baffled. “Warcraft” might have suddenly gone from an interesting curiosity based on Jones’s track record to a film of genuine concern.
Kevin Smith: Following the “Star Wars” panel probably seemed like a golden opportunity but the “Star Wars Concert for the Fans” turned that timing into Kevin Smith’s private nightmare. Unofficial reports claimed that only 22 of the 6500 “Star Wars” attendees inside Hall H remained behind and it took time for Smith’s eventual crowd of 2000 or so people to stream back into Hall H to see a trailer for Smith’s new film “Yoga Hosers.” This film would feature Smith’s daughter, Johnny Depp, and Depp’s daughter but Depp did not appear at the panel to give Smith some added firepower.
Game of Thrones: As usual, the panel was simply a recap celebration of the just-ended prior season in which the cast offered little to no clue regarding what might next happen with their characters. Author George R.R. Martin had previously cancelled his appearances at the convention with fan speculating that he was instead working on the finishing the sixth book in the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series.
Open Road Films: Bill Murray opened the convention with a bang by coming in from the rear of Hall H to promote the film “Rock the Kasbah.” Murray’s appearance actually seemed to overshadow the film’s promotion though, as all news covered focused on Murray instead of the film itself.
M. Night Shyamalan: Can this guy ever catch a break? M. Night’s new horror film “The Visit” has received good reviews and Deadline Hollywood gushed that his off-site panel at the Horton Grand Theatre was exceptionally well-done. Of course, with everything else happening at the convention the media coverage of that panel was somewhat lost in the shuffle.
Disney: Another year and another snub of Comic-Con by Disney. Just like last year, their D23 convention was looming in Anaheim in August.
Doctor Strange Fans: After getting shut out for any concrete “Doctor Strange” news at last year’s convention, fans of the character would have to wait until at least the Disney D23 convention for further news.
Sony Pictures: Sony and Screen Gems didn’t really have any of the big ‘names’ or properties that usually get attention, so it wasn’t a surprise that their first trailer for “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” seemed to fall between the cracks. The same was true for “Patient Zero,” a new film starring Matt Smith and Natalie Dormer. That pair had name recognition with convention-goers but pundits pointed to this panel as a prime example of zombie fatigue setting in at the convention.
Lesser Panels in General: While this wasn’t a rigorously-scientific observation, I was surprised to find my scheduled ‘favorites’ amongst the smaller panels was not as deep as in past years. This might be a fluke or a matter of familiarity with many panels simply repeating topics from past years.
Oddities & Miscellanea
Stan Lee: Stan Lee was back again after minor health issues forced him to cancel attending last year’s convention. As usual, he was treated like royalty. I happened to witness Stan’s visit to the Marvel booth on the convention floor and the crowd reaction to that appearance would have rivaled the fan reaction to virtually any film or television star. Stan did have various partnerships set up with different booths where he sold autographs or photos with him but at this point he is allowed to seemingly do whatever he wants.
Off-Site Attractions: These offerings seemed to be video game-heavy but they did include easily-visible promotions like stilt-walkers dressed as Uncle Sam with sharks bursting through their chests to promote “Sharknado 3.” The “Peanuts” film had an inflatable jumpy near Petco park that was criticized by some as not being very adult-friendly but who am I to judge?
Zombie Attack: The ‘Zombie Walk’ costumed walked through downtown San Diego was cancelled in 2015, seemingly a reaction to the hit-and-run auto accident that resulted in a female spectator being hit by a car that was being driven by a supposedly-panicked deaf man. That hit-and-run case was still not resolved a year later but it was scheduled to be heard in October 2015.
Chuck Palahniuk: The “Fight Club” author was at the convention on behalf of Dark Horse Comics and he appeared to be expanding a relationship that began with Dark Horse publishing his sequel to “Fight Club” in comic book form. He also referenced a new Dark Horse series that would be based on an unproduced television series idea that he had considered before realizing that production would require him to move to Los Angeles from his home in Oregon.
Cereal Box Collecting: I joked about this concept after seeing a dealer selling 1980s-era empty cereal boxes for $40-$55 price levels, but I warmed up to the dealer after he opened up on his collecting passion to my friends. It turned out that he ran his own Youtube cereal box review video blog and he had amusing stories about how keeping the boxes with cereal inside them would be a bad idea. In particular, they tended to acquire an odd smell and drew rodents, such as ants, that destroyed the boxes without successfully getting through the interior plastic bag to the actual cereal.
DC Animated Films: Bruce Timm announced a “Batman: The Killing Joke” animated adaptation that would cover Alan Moore’s classic graphic novel in the same spirt as the “Dark Night Returns” adaptations. Mark Hamill had previously expressed interest in reprising his classic voice work for the Joker if such an adaptation were to happen but Timm was not yet ready to announce that Hamill would be involved.
Lesser Television: Syfy’s big new mini-series “Childhood’s End” adapted Arthur C. Clarke’s classic novel. It has some fan favorites, such as Charles Dance hot off of his success on “Game of Thrones.”
“Ash vs. Evil Dead” held a panel outside of the usual big-media confines of Hall H or Ballroom 20, despite having both star Bruce Campbell and producer/director Sam Raimi in attendance. On a personal aside, a couple of friends (one wearing a Spider-Man shirt) and I ran into Raimi on Friday during a chance encounter downtown after dinner. He was pleasant and they were polite in what was a ballet-like brief identification and handshake encounter as all-parties were still in motion.
Comics Legends in Artist’s Alley: A trend continued with prominent comic figures from the 1970s and 1980s having tables in Artist’s Alley. Of particular interest to me were Marv Wolfman, Mike Zeck, Michael Golden, and Art Adams but there were many others in that area. Even in the periphery of the comics legends were interesting artists, like a toy mold creator whose firm had worked on Happy Meal and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle” toys amongst many others. A friend had a long chat with that artist after realizing that he had purchased an old figure earlier in the day that had its original mold on display.
Streaming: In the past, Comic-Con and media companies had resisted broadcasting panels or footage over the internet but that position appeared to be increasingly untenable. Use of handheld phone cameras to covertly record video has been an option over the past few years but this year felt like a tipping point with apps like Periscope make streaming easier than ever. The convention security simply couldn’t police thousands of attendees and all it took was for one decent video to be shot from the crowd. Comic-Con had announced a subscription video service with Lionsgate in early July and they need to figure out how to get that streaming service up yesterday.
Pundits again railed on the convention organizers about the mess that was the Hall H line, with fans reporting such problems as a cockroach frenzy, and streaming would presumably lessen the number of fans who are camping out as much as a full day in advance of the panel.
Exclusives: Last year, Chuck Rozanski threatened not to renew is massive Mile High Comics booth for 2015 after 42 years of attending but backed off of that threat and did attend this year. He had ranted in 2014 about ‘Convention Exclusive’ products killing the convention. Of course, he ended up joining that movement with selling his own variant versions of comics and reported strong sales at his booth.
Actual Comics News: The return of Vertigo Comics, the retired mature readers imprint at DC Comic, made a few headlines but most comic book news was announced in advance of the convention. It has become increasingly hard for comic book firms to avoid getting lost in the noise of the movie or television announcements.
Dealer Sales: The presence of comics was not visibly better or worse than in past years, but the buyer traffic was consistently being reported as being better than in the past two or three year. In particular, observations had the center of the convention hall being oddly crowded while the media portions of the hall were not as crowded as in recent years. With that broadening out of the crowds, the age ranges reported by dealers were also more diverse than in the past and younger buyers were making more purchases instead of only aging baby boomers.