(Regular DHD readers know I don’t do geek. But frequent LA Weekly film reviewer and comic book expert Luke Y Thompson does. He spends all year waiting for Comic-Con and this time he’s covering it for me. Here’s his latest report.)

Preview Night
One of the things that struck me today in the main exhibit hall is that, despite record attendance, there isn’t much new under the sun so far. Sci-Fi channel still has that weird purple tube-shaped booth, there’s a giant Lego Batman, Hasbro’s booth continues to feature cool custom dioramas way better than anything they actually put into stores.

And all the new media attention (seriously, Entertainment Weekly is just now figuring out that Comic-Con is significant?) makes what ought to be a quick and easy registration process take forever. Herded into a line of pre-registered and non-pre-registered alike, those of us who had already been given a Mark of the Beast (yes, they do it with bar codes) were held up by those who waited until today. Nearly an hour standing outside in the sun. By the time I was done, it was time for a beer, since the hall wasn’t open yet. An $8.62 Stella Artois. Too much. But always fun to talk to bemused non-Con folk in hotel bars.

The big-deal movie product this year is clearly WATCHMEN and THE SPIRIT, exalted properties among comic fans, but chances are you aren’t so familiar with them. We’ll deal with both in more detail later; for now, know that WATCHMEN is the one with that trippy trailer you saw in front of THE DARK KNIGHT (Oh, you say you didn’t see the DARK KNIGHT? I doubt that very much). It involves superheroes in an alternate reality where their existence has changed the course of history, and the Cold War is getting hot. Main point here being that a signature vehicle from the film, known to fans as “Archie” (it’s named after Archimedes, Merlin’s pet owl in THE SWORD AND THE STONE) is here in the main hall. In the film, and the book, it’s the main mode of transportation for Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson), who’s basically like Batman but inspired by owls rather than bats, plus he’s retired and out of fighting shape.

(There is also some sort of one-man drilling vehicle from the upcoming G.I. JOE movie. It’s not very impressive.)

Archie the owl-ship is fully detailed inside and out, but DC Comics clearly don’t educate their pitch-people on the product: A guy on their P.A. beckoned fans to come see “the owl-spaceship from the new movie The Watchmen!” Sigh. Don’t screw up in front of comic geeks, because they will sense weakness. There’s no “the” in WATCHMEN, and Archie is an airship.

THE SPIRIT doesn’t have any vehicles, but the Lionsgate booth it occupies does generate fake snow flurries.

Mattel has a nice Castle Grayskull facade at its booth, sort-of life size, to advertise its latest attempt to relaunch the Masters of the Universe toy-line. Originally popular in the ’80s, spawning the He-Man cartoon and an underrated Dolph Lundgren movie (is there any other kind?), the line got a realaunch a few years back with a new cartoon, but kids didn’t take to it as much and older collectors complained they could never find them. In preparation for a new movie currently in development, mattel is trying to keep the characters alive via a direct-to-Internet line of expensive collector-oriented figures.

Good luck with that. Especially considering how it’s handling THE DARK KNIGHT collector toys. Retailing at $12.99 in stores if you can find them, these mini-likenesses of Heath Ledger and Christian Bale are fetching anywhere from $40 to $100 here at the Con. Some have theorized Mattel created an artificial shortage to cash in on Heath Ledger’s death, but I find that unlikely, as it’s a more elaborate plan than they seem capable of.

Crazy feeding frenzy for free cloth bags with a cartoon Wonder Woman on them.

Didn’t have time to check out the pilot of J.J. Abrams’ FRINGE, but a friend did, and described it as being a mystery show “like a cross between ALIAS and X-FILES.” He loved it, but said it was fairly sparsely attended.

No cool costumes so far — the best was an older fan dressed like Sean Connery as Indiana Jones’ dad. If you’re the right age, that’s probably the best-suited costume for you, and this guy was close.