Before this past Thursday, I’d never been to any kind of a convention before, let alone a comic convention. Of course, being a pop culture-obsessive living in the age of the Internet, it’s impossible to avoid coverage, so I had some idea of what to expect. But, really, once I stepped inside the behemoth that is the Jacob Javits Center for this year’s New York Comic Con, there was no amount of preparation that could’ve given me any sense of readiness for what I was about to immerse myself in.
Outside of Halloween parties, I’ve rarely found myself in an environment where I’d turn my head one way to see Harley Quinn and The Joker, turn the other way and see Deadpool, and then spin around entirely and see the cast of Stranger Things. But one feeling did resonate a little bit: A year ago, after much anticipation and build-up, I finally was able to lock in a trip to Tennessee, where I attended Bonnaroo. No people dressed up as anime, comics, film, and television characters there, but it did have a similar lifestyle. People who come year-after-year knowing what they do, how they do it. It’s not an event, it’s a way of life. Gregarious regulars would tell me a year ago to “Have a happy ‘Roo!”. This weekend, it was much of the same: I regularly heard the refrain, “Enjoy the rest of your Con, man!” only this time it wasn’t a Led Zeppelin fan waiting for Robert Plant to perform, but a man dressed in a Wolverine costume.
-- 00 --
It would take some getting used to, but, eventually, I did feel at home in the Javits Center, and a few other venues (Hammerstein Ballroom, Madison Square Garden) to which the event has now expanded. Relatively speaking, I managed to attend only fraction of what went into the grand scheme of it all. Given my bias to film and television, my leaning was toward those kinds of events, although I did check out the show floor (where numerous exhibits were held and hundreds of comic books were sold), and took a peek at “Artists Alley,” where comic illustrators showed off their expertise at the craft. It was an experience I surely won’t forget, and more highlights are below.
Jon Glaser Loves Gear
I had no idea what I was walking into for the very first Comic Con panel I ever attended. I know Jon Glaser’s name from Parks and Recreation, where he played Jeremy Jamm—who for my money, is up there with Seinfeld’s Newman for the greatest sitcom villain ever. I saw that the panel was for a show on TruTV called Jon Glaser Loves Gear, and I figured the show was some weird gear-reviewing show that had flown swiftly under my radar.
The panel, which was moderated by actress Amber Tamblyn and featured co-stars from the cast, revealed my suspicion to be kind of true, but with another ripple: Jon Glaser Loves Gear is actually cut from the same cloth as something like Curb Your Enthusiasm, where Glaser plays an obnoxious, alternate reality version of himself. Various times throughout the panel, Glaser counted down the crowd on a chant of “GEAAAAAR,” which becomes a regular refrain in the show. Glaser, the venerable John Hodgman, and the rest of the cast provided insight into the show and its debut on October 26th—including clips, answering audience questions, and providing all in attendance with some nice GEAR: a foot massage ball.
If there was one thing I wanted to get out of Comic Con, it was going to be attending the Stranger Things panel. Much of my Thursday was spent asking around, digging deep into what time I would have to arrive on Friday morning to assure my place in the Netflix hit’s 11:00 AM main stage event. Eventually, I was told to arrive at 8:00; early, sure, but I was committed. So after missing my 6:15 and 6:30 alarms Friday morning, I threw myself out of bed at 7:00, eventually rushing and arriving to the Javits center at 8:00 sharp only to be turned away until 9:00 by gate security. *shrug emoji* Luckily, when 9:00 came, I was still able to run downstairs to check in for the 11:00 panel, where I secured my spot, and waited for two hours among other fans.
When it came time for the panel, I was ready. I found myself a spot in the fourth row, and waited in tow for the panel, which would feature cast members David Harbour and Millie Bobbie Brown. Vulture TV Critic Matt Zoller Seitz moderated, while Harbour and Brown—who play Chief Hopper and Eleven, respectively—bantered with one another, and answered audience questions. They both hinted at their characters crossing paths for a stronger relationship in season two, while Brown repeatedly voiced her desire for Eleven to just speak up a little bit more often.
After the panel was over, because #YOLO, I went over to the Photo Ops booth—I also did not know what this meant—and I paid $65 for a Photo Op with David Harbour, who plays Chief Jim Hopper in Stranger Things. His character resonated with me throughout the series, and I felt was easily the series’ most fleshed out. He also spawned one of my new life mottos: “Mornings are for coffee and contemplation.” I actually met and took a photo with the actor three separate times—though I somehow managed to blink twice—before we had mutual success. We laughed as I left, promising that I wouldn’t be blinking again for the rest of the day.
On Saturday afternoon, I made my way over to The Theater at Madison Square Garden for Lionsgate’s hour-long panel. The first feature that was got the spotlight was next year’s reboot of ‘90s cult classic Power Rangers. Now, I’m someone that literally grew up on Power Rangers. I had VHS tapes, action figures, and the works. The crowd was going WILD for this, but I’m not sure I’m in just yet. With all five Power Rangers in attendance, an Elizabeth Banks off-site video message introduced a teaser trailer and the in-house crowd went crazy for it. But to me? Looked pretty generic. Looked like some generic high school, Breakfast Club, Spider-Man, Chronicle stuff, mixed with some generic superhero stuff, combined with a brief look at Banks as villain Rita Repulsa (which was easily the best part of the trailer). No glimpse yet of Bryan Cranston as mighty Zordon, or any gadgets or gear or anything like that. It’s just a teaser, so more will come before this hits screens in March 2017.
John Wick Chapter 2
The second half of Lionsgate’s panel was preceded by a forewarning: this panel would contain graphic violence and graphic language. Yep, sounds about right for John Wick. The first installment of the hitmen-based series was a sleeper hit back in 2014, and only caught expanded on its cult classic status in the years since. It’s heavily-choreographed fight scenes and wildly-stylizied action—“gun fu,” as they referred to it—is a sight to see. For this panel, we were first shown a behind-the-scenes sizzle reel of Chapter 2, which is set in Rome.
Following the reel, which heard the crowd go wild for titular star Keanu Reeves, newcomers Common and Ruby Rose, and a returning Ian McShane, the panel included McShane, Common, and Reeves, whose applause probably could’ve blown the roof off the building if it went on longer. Banter and fan excitement filled the time, and, eventually Reeves introduced another clip: a teaser trailer, which made the sequel look like just as much of a fun mess as the original. Each big-name actor was wildly lauded by the crowd as they appear on screen, but none more so than Laurence Fishburne, who showed up as what director Chad Stahelski called a “psuedo-allie”, completing a Matrix reunion. This one was fun, and the movie should get ever milliliter of your blood pumping.
My Sunday at NYCC was entirely made up of back-to-back-to-back TV panels held at the Hammerstein Ballroom. I didn’t know much of what I was walking into with the panel for FX’s new Marvel series Legion, outside of the fact that it was somewhat related to X-Men, and was run by the incredible Noah Hawley, who was in charge of the first two seasons of the same network’s amazing Fargo anthology series. He’ll be returning to his Coen Brothers “True Crime” series eventually, but first will come the supernatural Legion.
The panel began with a screening of the first half of the pilot, and I can confidently say that it’s the best superhero show I’ve ever seen, just from that chunk. Visually stunning, constantly gripping, and brilliantly acted, this is a show that I would be upset if it didn’t catch on in a big way. Dan Stevens plays the unstable titular character who may or may not have telekinetic abilities (although let’s be real… he does), while Aubrey Plaza and Fargo alum Rachel Keller steal scenes in supporting roles of their own. The show deals with mental illness in a very interesting and nuanced fashion, giving yet another reason why it’s not your usual superhero show. No reason to choose between style and substance here; Legion has got them both.
Following the sneak peak, we were treated to a panel featuring the entire cast and Hawley. Also present were producers Jeph Loeb–of Marvel Entertainment–and Lauren Shuler Donner–of the X-Men, who haven’t worked together yet on a project. This panel was a ton of fun and a lot of interesting nuggets were spilled–like Hawley naming a character “Syd Barrett” as a nod to Dark Side Of The Moon– with the cast and producers all contributing to my excitement rising more and more for something that I did not realize I would be quite so excited for. The precise debut date wasn’t given, but Legion is due early 2017.
Son of Zorn
I hadn’t yet seen Son of Zorn, which made it’s debut on FOX a few weeks ago, before I sat in for this panel, but as the Hammerstein Ballroom wasn’t clearing the room out and I didn’t have anywhere else to go, I figured I’d stick around for the live action/animation hybrid series’s panel while I waited for Westworld later that afternoon.
Son of Zorn is a hybrid live action/animation sitcom, which makes it immediately unlike anything else on television–Executive Producer Eric Appel made a mention of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, while people in my age group may think of Space Jam. It’s like that. We were treated to an advance screening of an upcoming episode, and while I admittedly hadn’t seen any other episodes, the one we were shown did have its moments. It wasn’t the best thing I’ve ever seen, but with Jason Sudeikiis voicing Zorn, a He-Man-esque warrior, it was eminently watchable. Cheryl Hines plays Zorn’s ex-wife, with Tim Meadows as her new husband and Johnny Pemberton as the titular Son of Zorn. It’s an extraordinarily funny cast, and all were on hand for the panel, which eventually opened up for an audience Q+A. The episode we saw was funny enough, the cast is obviously funny, and some upcoming guest stars include Nick Offerman and Fred Armisen. I’ll probably be checking this out again. Son of Zorn airs Sundays on FOX.
Side note: one member of the audience asked Cheryl Hines about the announced coming season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, and she said that it was about to begin shooting, and should be out sometime next year. Hallelujah!
The final event that I attended for the weekend was a screening of the second episode of HBO’s Westworld, along with a panel afterwards. After much anticipation–I wrote about Westworld before, in our Fall TV preview–the show from creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy and producer J.J. Abrams debuted last week. The production value is extremely high: the show is gorgeous to look at, its tense and thrilling, and the cast–including film mainstays such as Jeffrey Wright, Thandie Newton, Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden, Ed Harris, and Sir Anthony Hopkins–is flawless.
The show is such a high concept, crossing Sci-Fi and Western, and executed so well that I’ve immediately been obsessed with it. In a way, I feel like it’s got pieces of other films–Truman Show, Hunger Games, Groundhog Day– to name a few, crossed with Red Dead Redemption, a popular video game that Joy herself mentioned that she and Nolan, her husband, played as “research.” The panel, which included Nolan, Joy, Wright, and Newton, along with Jimmi Simpson and Ben Barnes, who make their first appearances in the series’s second episode, alluded to the video game element of it as well, evoking Grand Theft Auto. From robots to cowboys to Radiohead and Soundgarden player-pianos, Westworld is really not like anything else on television right now.
It was definitely a positive sign for HBO, as their last attempt at a big show Vinyl, was canceled after poor ratings and middling reviews. This, however, had a room full of howling fans, and the whole room was cheering at the conclusion of the second episode’s screening. I would say is definitely trending in the right direction. With megahit Game of Thrones nearing its end, the masters of premium cable are looking for their next big blockbuster, and with Westworld, they may now very well have found it. I’m not only intrigued, but I’m thrilled to see how it all plays out.
And, of course, for Comic Con, the fun came not necessarily in the events–though, I have to say, they were damn fun–but so often through the people. Below, have a look at some of the very best Cosplays I saw over the weekend at the Javits Center.