Comic-Con Recap: Confab Falls Short On Surprises, Hits High Notes With Fandom & Activations


It’s been about 72 hours since Comic-Con has concluded. As fanboys and fangirls hang up their cosplay capes and various superhero accouterment and start to prep for next year ( all hotels for 2019 are probably booked at this point), I reflect on this year’s confab. There were a lot of highs and a few lows, but despite all of the high-octane commercialization and ads taking over San Diego’s Gaslamp district, this year’s Chris Hardwick-less Con felt very much more for the fans than it has in the past years. As for the TV and film side of things, the Con definitely delivered on teasing and giving plenty of non-answers when it came to news.

With Marvel, Disney, Pixar, and HBO absent from this year’s confab, it seemed like there would be a gaping hole in the presentations in the major hubs of Comic-Con like Hall H and Ballroom 20. Actually, I wouldn’t say it was a gaping hole. It was more like an empty seat at the table. But that doesn’t mean we weren’t treated to some fantastic exclusive footage and trailers.

Before Marvel and DC movies were made, there was always a rivalry between the two comic book powerhouses when, in fact, there is plenty of room in the world for both universes. Even so, people LOVE to argue about who has the better franchise. If you stood in one of the many lines at Comic-Con, it is guaranteed that you would hear at least one heated debate between cosplayers about how the Justice League movie isn’t as bad as everyone says it is or how the Marvel Cinematic Universe is overrated. Seriously, the arguments can get intense.

The rise of the comic book movie has led to an explosion on the big screen and has bled into television. At this rate, we will be seeing superheroes of all forms in entertainment until the apocalypse strikes. That said, I would be remiss to say that Warner Bros’ DC universe became the hot ticket of Comic-Con while Marvel is waiting in the wings to unleash all their news, trailers and footage come D23 in 2019.

The Warner Bros. presentation quenched Hall H’s thirst for comic book movie fare, giving us trailers for Aquaman and footage of Wonder Woman 1984. They even treated us with bonus footage from Aquaman where we got to see Academy Award-winning actress Nicole Kidman wield a trident against a bunch of bad guys. At the moment, I knew that this was the movie for me.

But the standout of the Warner Bros. DCEU slate was Shazam! With a Guinness in his hand, Zachary Levi stepped out on to the dais in Hall H and charmed the crowd with his humor and general presence. He was joined by director David F. Sandberg and co-stars Jack Dylan Grazer and Asher Angel to unveil the first trailer for the movie — which was an utter delight. Filled with comedy, action and Easter Eggs that only hardcore DC fans could make out, the self-aware Shazam! is going to be the Ant-Man — or maybe Deadpoool — of the DCEU.

The panels in the coveted Hall H delivered exactly what they needed — which is great. But it can also be a tad disappointing for those who have sat in there in years past. Comedian and actress Aisha Tyler, who moderated all two hours of the WB panel (by the way, she did a spectacular job) said it best when she joked, “I love Comic-Con…so full of non-answers.” And that couldn’t be more evident for this year’s event.

Normally, there are huge exciting reveals that come out of the various Hall H panels, but this year there wasn’t much of that. Marvel was a master of that as they were known for giving Earth-shattering news that would make the crowd go wild. Last year’s Infinity War footage drove the fans crazy and the announcement of Michelle Pfeiffer joining the cast of Ant-Man and the Wasp was a huge deal. Even on the Fox side, Noah Hawley revealed he was developing a Doctor Doom movie during last year’s Legion panel. And then there was the official unveiling of Brie Larson as Captain Marvel — which was a peak moment. This year, the biggest news and surprises to come out of Hall H were the trailers, but not much else. Sure, Johnny Depp came out to surprise everyone in character during the Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald panel, but there was an awkward hush that came over the audience when he recited his soliloquy. The level of surprise was initially there but died down fast. Maybe it was because of the headline-making baggage that he is carrying around. Also, I can only imagine the level of awkwardness backstage considering his ex, actress Amber Heard, was also at the WB panel for Aquaman. 

Although every panel attended was fun, I didn’t feel that level of off-the-charts excitement and surprise once during the Con. The closest was during the Brooklyn Nine-Nine panel (which I will get into later). New Line’s annual ScareDiego served up some thrills with footage from It: Chapter 2, The Nun and The Curse of La Llorona — but no huge shocking news. When Universal presented Glass and Halloween, I was hoping there would be a big surprise to accompany the incredible footage — but there was nothing. Paramount hyped up Bumblebee in the most extraordinary way — so much that it is the first Transformers movie that I am legitimately excited for. I was hoping that maybe Tom Cruise would stop by to give us something from Mission: Impossible – Fallout, but nada. With Fox, it was fantastic to see the cast and footage of Shane Black’s Predator reboot — but as a bonafide X-nerd, I was sad that they didn’t give us a peek at Dark Phoenix or New Mutants. There was also a panel for the new Super Duper Cut of Deadpool 2 coming out on Blu-ray and I was praying to the Gods for some news on the X-Force movie…but alas, I was left empty handed.

Sony presented us some webslinging footage from Venom and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse. For the latter, we got to see the first look at the different Spider-People from other dimensions including Spider-Man Noir (voiced by Nicolas Cage) and the hilarious Spider-Ham (voiced by John Mulaney). Sony delivered the goods when it came to satisfying our Spidey senses and from what I understand, the studio was planning on giving us a surprise. James Gunn had been teasing his appearance during the Sony slot in Hall H but pulled out of the confab after his scandal hit.

There was also a lack of surprising excitement on the TV side as well. The Arrow-verse came out in full force and besides a couple of casting announcements, nothing revelatory came out of their panels. Same goes for Riverdale, Supernatural and a lot of Comic-Con standards. Despite not receiving loads of breaking news, the confab treated fans to sneak peeks of a lot of new shows including Magnum P.I., Castle Rock, Deadly Class, Manifest, Charmed, and others. And how could we forget about the Breaking Bad reunion? It was clear that TV outweighed film at this year’s Con.

If anything, this year’s Comic-Con taught us to keep our expectations for film and TV news at bay and just let our fanboy/girl flag fly.

Speaking of, fans have always been fuel for Comic-Con and it seemed more so this year than in the past couple of years — and it was definitely felt during the Brooklyn Nine-Nine panel.

As soon as the cast and creators from the show walked on to the dais in the Indigo Ballroom, the crowd went crazy. They stood on their feet and gave them an uproarious ovation that I normally see in Marvel and/or DC properties — but this wasn’t just a comedy cop show. It was a comedy cop show saved by fans. There was a genuine excitement from the fans and the cast on stage to thank the fans and the Twitter campaign that helped save the show which was canceled on Fox and immediately found a new home at NBC.

And even though there wasn’t an official Star Wars movie presence, there were plenty of fans cosplaying as characters from the Disney-Lucasfilm franchise — particularly Rose Tico, one of the first featured female characters of color in the Star Wars universe. But this wasn’t just an instance of ordinary cosplay. Fans rallied around the character played by Kelly Marie Tran at a #RallyForRose meet-up organized by the fan site Nerds of Color. In full Rose attire, the campaign was to show support and love for the actress who left Instagram after being bullied on social media.

The fandom, as always, ran rampant in the Gaslamp district and beyond in the form of activations and immersive experiences. The term “activation” puzzled me because it sounded like some sort of process to enter a cult. But little did I know it is a way for fans and consumers to interact with a brand through experiences. So, yes, it is kind of a cult.

There were too many of these to count that it is overwhelming. The lines wrapped around the block for each of these activations made me think it is impossible to experience each and every one of them — but I’m sure there are many out there that did because the scope, scale, and uncanny detail of all of a lot of these activations were mind-boggling. As an added bonus, you didn’t have to have a Comic-Con badge to get activated.

NBC’s The Good Place had a presence with a set-up replicating the neighborhood on the show. The Purge movies and its forthcoming series had a tongue-in-cheek Party City-esque pop up shop called “Purge City” to help prep you for the annual purge with emergency candles, masks, and energy drinks.

Other show-centric activations included a 60,000 square foot space for Amazon’s Jack Ryan which included a combo of VR and physical attractions that have you train just like Jack Ryan. For a little bit more of a creepy scare, Hulu had a replica of a bed and breakfast from Castle Rock.

Brands like DC introduced their first-of-its-kind digital subscription service DC Universe. The activation allowed fans to experience the new one-stop-shop service of DC movies, original TV shows, and comics. FireTV had a “Fast Forward to the Future” activation which, as the title entails, allowed attendees to experience the future of television and the full Fire TV portfolio, including the new Fire TV Cube. Fans could also “escape” into shows including The Good Place, Jack Ryan, and Game of Thrones. The latter makes up for HBO’s absence from the Con.

Syfy had a huge presence with a karaoke bus and a human claw machine and FX set up shop on the Bayfront with installations from Legion, American Horror Story, Mayans M.C., Archer, and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

As always, this year’s Comic-Con was quite an adventure. There wasn’t any jaw-dropping news, but with all the new trailers, footage, panels, cosplayers, exclusive merchandise, and, of course, comics, there was plenty to gawk at. Amidst all the madness, it felt like a return to fandom form for the confab.

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