San Diego Comic-Con 2021 Analysis

This won’t be a conventional report, as San Diego Comic-Con is again not having a conventional year.  The COVID-19 pandemic continued into its second summer.  A lot had occurred since last summer with vaccines seeming to come out of nowhere and, at least in the United State, bring about a certain tepid return to normalcy.

Comic book conventions indeed returned to in-person attendance but the numbers of guests attending and the numbers of actual attendees didn’t yet seem to be on the scale of a traditional San Diego convention.

The decision to again go only virtual in 2021 was made months back and never reversed as was the case in some other summer fair or festival cancellations nationwide.

People might recall that the convention’s 2020 offerings were limited and many of the big-name events or news came via later company-controlled virtual events, like the Warner Media ‘Fandome’ event.  What was left for San Diego had been a few notable Hollywood productions, such as “Bill & Ted Face the Music” and some of the usual suspects who do annual panels at the convention.

In the middle of months of lockdowns and a certain ‘lost summer,’ that virtual convention was a nice distraction for 2020.  Come summer 2021 though, many fans had Zoom fatigue and what had seemed special or unique for a weekend in 2020 felt less inspired this year.

Yet again, all of the panels were pre-recorded/pre-edited and the lack of interactivity led to no real engagement or urgency related to the panels.

As such, my coverage of this year’s convention will be brief.  There were a few things that were worth reporting though, so please allow me to highlight a few things that caught my attention.

Unmasking Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins

This might as well have been an electronic press kit (EPK) item for the future home video releases (and surely will be) but it was at least thoughtfully produced.  This was perhaps the highest-profile film bothering with Comic-Con this year and it was mostly a last-second victory lap since the film was about to come out a couple of days later.  Marvel Comics writer and ‘modern’ Joe originator Larry Hama had a nice place of prominence.  Unfortunately for the film, its fate was already sort of set with leaning-negative reviews and a box office that was not impressive even by COVID-19 standards.

Kevin Smith & Netflix’s “Masters of the Universe: Revelations”

After a couple of years of hype, this quasi-sequel to the 1980s cartoon series debuted on Netflix the same weekend that Smith held a victory lap panel of his own.  The results were well-regarded by critics and attacked by trolls online – certainly an unusual position for Smith in comparison to many of his past works.

Overstreet: Licensed Comics

An odd panel in that people probably associate the Overstreet name with price guides.  In this case, the topic was licensed comics, mostly of a somewhat older nature.  Some key items discussed were (briefly) the legendary Carl Barks ‘duck’ comics for Disney (predecessor of the “Ducktales” television series) and things like artist Alex Toth’s involvement in Zorro and “Star Trek.”  “Star Wars” was discussed as well although, strange enough, the only really modern thing discussed was “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”  “Action Man” – a “G.I. Joe” derivative in the U.K. – also had a fair amount of unexpected discussion.

Stan Sakai and the Usagi Chronicles

Fans got a look at the still-TBD-release-date Netflix animated series “Samurai Rabbit: The Usagi Chronicles” with Usagi creator Stan Sakai.  The show appeared to feature a new version of Usagi in the future 26th century, seemingly separate from the “Space Usagai” concept.  What was shared looked interesting – a mix of 3D animation with apparently some 2D traditional animation flashbacks – although it remained odd to me why this entirely new Usagai approach was dreamed up for the show rather than adapting Sakai’s existing vast body of work.

The Incredible Impact of Dungeons & Dragons on Culture

A relevant, if under-discussed topic, has long been the impact of Gary Gygax and “Dungeons & Dragons” on pop culture.  This panel discussed some of the trickle-down over the past 40 or so years.  It notably included Luke Gygax, one of Gary’s children.  “Eureka” co-creator Andrew Cosby was on the panel and mentioned working on new live-action television show based on “Dungeons & Dragons,” with that show apparently different than a movie that had seemingly been casting in recent months.

Garbage Pail Kids: Yuck-tastic Books and More

When I was a little kid, Garbage Pail Kids had a hot moment for a few years in the mid-to-late 1980s.  It was somewhat brilliantly marketed as an over-the-top collecting card line with images of kids doing antics that would likely bother parents (besides the collectability of having names of characters that kids would seek out).  Would it surprise you that Art Spiegelman (of “Maus” fame) was the creator?  It actually sort of made sense given the underground-ish or even comix vibe to the cards.

This panel was mostly about pushing books that had been authored by R.L. Stine.  I was not aware of the books but they seemed to be catching on.  The notion that there were not ‘generations’ of Garbage Pail Kids fans (the new generation completely unaware of the cards being a parody of the then-popular Cabbage Patch Kid dolls) made me feel old.

Stan Lee, Marvel, and Rolling Stone: 50th Anniversary

This panel looked at a notable turning point in the marketing of both Marvel and the ‘character’ of Stan Lee.  In 1971, Rolling Stone was a hip magazine and Lee managed to land a cover story for Marvel, with the writer being a recent secretary-turned-Rolling-Stone-writer.  He was in full showman mode and the panel credited with the continued push to make Marvel ‘hip’ and something that into the 1970s wasn’t just for little kids.  Besides having Lee in mega-Lee mode, the article also gave an interesting snapshot look at the Marvel offices/bullpen of the era.  It is a collectible issue of the magazine now but it’s worth digging around online for the content.

Batman: The Long Halloween

DC’s animated film library got even larger with a two-part release of an adaptation of “Batman: The Long Halloween” from original creators Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale.  The first part came out in June 2021 and this Comic-Con panel was used to hype the second part, coming in late July 2021.  Reaction to the first part had been positive and one assumed that the DC animation train of success would keep rolling.

Kevin Eastman Studios Panel

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have had a hot last few months with the hit mini-series “The Last Ronin” featuring a “The Dark Knight Returns”-esque take on the turtles.  Part of the reason for the success?  It brought back original Turtles creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird.  As a Turtles fan from the original cartoon/Playmates era, this looked really compelling.

Todd McFarlane Takes over the Universe!

McFarlane was a standout of last year’s virtual Comic-Con, with a tour of his toy studios and some guests talking up a documentary on him that Syfy ran last summer.

This year’s appearance by McFarlane was kind of a ‘lite’ version of what he covered a year ago.  Yes, there are a lot of toys coming, both for Spawn but especially for DC Comics characters.  Yes, the promise of a ‘Spawn Expanded Universe’ with a broad line of titles featuring Spawn in different eras was finally coming to press after a pandemic boom in comics ales had motivated McFarlane to cash in (better late than never?).

As usual, the biggest question was probably the status of the “Spawn” movie and McFarlane again side-stepped it… or at least kept the carrot out there for fans.  The latest supposed push on a Spawn Movie dated back to McFarlane’s announcement of a partnership with Blumhouse at the 2017 Comic-Con.  Since then, it’s been stuck in development hell and every year has been some sort of inch forward/inch back with reconfigurations announced.  This year’s main news was talk of a new script and first draft delivery from some hyped-but-secret writers coming soon.  Beyond that, Hollywood was supposedly (yes, supposedly) abuzz with excitement over the Spawn Expanded Universe potential.

Terry Moore

I have not read Moore’s work since he wrapped up his epic “Strangers in Paradise,” but I’ve always found his annual spotlight panels to be interesting.  I’m not sure how he’s maintained a personal update tradition with the convention but it’s been interesting to track his annual progress.  This year he did mention finding some traction with streaming options for some of his more-recent work but “Strangers in Paradise” had little in the way of Hollywood updates.

In Conversation with Alex Ross: The Alex Ross Marvel Comics

While Alex Ross has had a prominent presence at Comic-Con over the years, it has mostly been in the form of his art booth selling prints or originals and his actual presence on panels, appearance, etc. has been limited.  So, it was nice to get an update from him directly in an interview format regarding what he’d been doing for Marvel of late.  Apparently had had been commissioned to make a mural for Marvel’s new office and that project ended up also getting used to sell a new poster book that had debuted this past April.

The Annual Jack Kirby Tribute Panel

I liked that Walter Simonson was involved in this year’s panel but he was mostly quiet with host Mark Evanier giving much of the attention (and fawning) panelist Paul Levitz.  Levitz was a well-regarded by many Comic-Con ‘insiders’ for his running of DC Comics in the 1980s-2000s but (perhaps inevitably) has his detractors.  For yet another year, the 1970s ‘New Gods’ period of Kirby’s work again was a primary focus.

Tidings from Middle-earth: LOTR on Amazon Prime

There continue to be crazy reports of how much the upcoming “Lord of the Rings” television series is costing Amazon.  While Peter Jackson didn’t appear to be involved with the series – a topic that has been danced around since April 2018 without a firm answer – the series did start film in Auckland, New Zealand back in February of 2020.  The story had long been confirmed as being set in Middle Earth’s ‘Second Age’ but details remained sparse and this panel didn’t spill much in the way of new beans.

Robotech: The New Beginning

My annual punishment is to check in on the state of “Robotech” and then get disappointed in the light news aside from (as I learned last year) a strangely robust toy line output.  This year did bring with it talk of the original 1980s television series getting a Blu-Ray release and HD streaming availability – this was somewhat a surprise given that most 1980s animated shows don’t have proper film elements available for such a project (or it is simply too expensive to justify proper transfer from them) but “Robotech” seemed to benefit from its Japanese animation roots in that regard.  The transfer is coming from the 16mm print that was available from Japan.

It wouldn’t have been 2021 without mention of an ‘NFT’ and Robotech didn’t disappoint, shilling ‘digital collectibles’ alongside some books and figures.

Unlike in past years, absolutely no update was given on any sort of film development news.  Whatever deal with Sony Pictures had previously been established was either dead or not worth talking about.

Eisner Awards

For the first time in my life, I actually personally knew someone who was nominated for an Eisner award.  I think that Neil Cohn was as surprised as I was (maybe more so?) that he was nominated for his book “WHO UNDERSTANDS COMICS? Questioning the Universality of Visual Language Comprehension.”  Unfortunately, he didn’t win (this time) but, as they say, it’s an honor to be nominated.


I’m guessing that I speak for everyone in saying that I hope that 2022 sees a return to the convention norms.  As with other aspects of life, there will probably be changes to the convention norms of the future.  That said, the idea of fans gathering (maybe in limited numbers, maybe not) and that related energy remains a goal that we can look forward to, hopefully sooner than later.

D.S. Christensen
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