The Big Con

Out of the basement and into the spotlight, Comic-Con 2007 is the place to be

What Coachella is to music and what Sundance is to corporate purchasing of independent films, Comic-Con International (informally known as "SDCC," for San Diego Comic Con) is to pop culture. Just as the geeks who played with Mego superhero dolls in the basement have gone on to be in charge of development at major movie studios, so too has the annual San Diego event evolved from 300 comic-book fans getting together in the basement of a hotel back in 1970 to an event with global reach that now sells out the nearly half-mile-long San Diego Convention Center, filling all of its 2.5 million square feet of exhibition space with genre fans from around the world. And lucky us, it's practically at our doorstep.

You don't even have to care a whit about comic books to enjoy the thing. If you like movies that are even vaguely fantasy, sci-fi, horror, or comedy; if you play video games; if you enjoy cartoons, adult-oriented or otherwise; if you collect toys, miniatures, or fantasy card games; if there's some cheesy TV show from the '70s you remember fondly and think no one else does; heck, even if you collect edged weapons, there's something here to please. Not to mention appearances by some of the biggest stars in the world, from cinematic celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger (who's most likely a little too busy to attend this year) to living legends Ray Harryhausen and Ray Bradbury.

People who have never been to Comic-Con have a number of misperceptions about the event. The old stereotype of a hall full of nerds in Spock ears who desperately need to get a life is mercifully dying out, but newbies still frequently underestimate the scope of the thing. Before you go, you check out the Weekly's Comic-Con Survival Guide.

Very few attendees can hold this pose. Photo courtsey of the San Diego Convention Center.
Very few attendees can hold this pose. Photo courtsey of the San Diego Convention Center.

I'll just wait here until you've read it. . . .

So, did you get all that? Think you can handle those simple instructions? Good—because there's a lot to see and do beginning July 25 and wrapping up on the 28th. Here's what's hot and happening for 2007:

MOVIES
Warner Bros. recently disappointed would-be attendees with the news that they're holding back the first look at Christopher Nolan's Batman: The Dark Knight until the Wizard World convention in Chicago. However, they have an ace in the hole for San Diego: the first official word on the long-in-development movie version of Alan Moore's Watchmen, considered by most to be one of the greatest (and most unfilmable) graphic novels of all time. Director Zack Snyder (300) is finally bringing Rorschach, Dr. Manhattan and co. to the big screen. WB will also be bringing along producer Joel Silver to discuss the Nicole Kidman Body Snatchers sorta-remake Invasion and give a glimpse of the Wachowski Brothers' live-action Speed Racer film.

Not to be outdone, Paramount plans on making some announcements about two long-dormant powerhouse franchises: Indiana Jones and Star Trek. The latter, a planned prequel/reboot, will be directed by J.J. Abrams, who'll have to explain to the crowd why Leonard Nimoy's in it but William Shatner isn't; you can also ask him about that mysterious monster-movie trailer of his that's been playing in front of Transformers. And it isn't all nostalgia: Paramount's also got Robert Zemeckis' 3-D, R-rated, animated epic Beowulf, and screenwriters Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary will be there (rumor has it there'll also be a secret screening sometime during the weekend). Then there's next year's big superhero movie Iron Man, directed by Jon Favreau and starring Robert Downey Jr. as the alcoholic superhero; both men will be there, but all we really want to know is whether or not Favreau got the rights to the Black Sabbath song because, c'mon, how can you not use that? No guest is officially scheduled for Indiana Jones, but "a few surprises" are promised. . . .

Lionsgate brings out fanboy fave Jessica Alba, who'll be promoting both the lame-looking Dane Cook comedy Good Luck Chuck and the remake of the Pang brothers' Thai horror movie The Eye, about a woman who sees ghosts following an eye transplant. And how do you follow a bodacious babe like Alba? Why, with a creepy old man, of course! Saw star Tobin Bell will offer cagey non-answers about how his Jigsaw character can appear in Saw IV if he's dead. It's been a tradition at the past two conventions to showcase the first deathtrap of each new Saw movie—expect that to continue.

Twentieth Century Fox seems more restrained than usual this year. The most recognizable product they'll have on hand is footage from the sequel to Alien Versus Predator, similarly and confusingly titled Aliens Versus Predator, in which the familiar monsters trash small-town America, this time with an R-rating that allows for more human victims, none of whom are actors you've heard of. Doug Liman's sci-fi action movie Jumper has had a troubled history of recasting and reshooting, but he'll hope to wow the crowd with what he has; some of the cast, possibly including Hayden Christensen and Samuel L. Jackson, are expected to show, as are cast and crew from The Dark Is Rising, based on Susan Cooper's fantasy novel series. Fox also has The Simpsons Movie, but that merits its own separate panel.

New Line has a couple of heavyweights to show. Clive Owen will be on hand to present the highly anticipated shoot-'em-up called, er, Shoot 'Em Up, and you just know someone will ask him why he refused to let NECA make a Sin City action figure of Dwight in his likeness. After that, there's The Golden Compass, the first in a proposed trilogy of Philip Pullman fantasy novel adaptations considered by many to be the "anti-Narnia." All we know is it has armored polar bears, which rock. Disney still has the actual Narnia, with a look at Prince Caspian, and a preview from Pixar's next cartoon, a robot adventure titled WALL.E.

Rob Zombie tends to be a bit of a blowhard in person, but when he shows off scenes from his Halloween remake at the Dimension Films panel, they should be quite a sight. In another scheduling incongruity, he's followed by Shawshank Redemption director Frank Darabont, currently hard at work on a new Stephen King adaptation: The Mist.

Universal genre divisions Rogue and Focus gave us Tom Lennon and Robert Ben Garant last year to promote Balls of Fury, and since it ended up not coming out yet, they're back again! Also showcased will be Doomsday, the latest from The Descent director Neil Marshall. As for Universal proper, they're giving us a new, more action-oriented Hulk movie with an all-new cast—Edward Norton (Bruce Banner), Liv Tyler (Betty Ross), Tim Roth (Abomination) and William Hurt (General Ross) will tell you all about it, alongside director Louis Leterrier (of the beautifully dumb Transporter 2).

There's something for everyone at the Sony panel, as Milla Jovovich and Josh Hartnett will promote Resident Evil: Extinction and 30 Days of Night, respectively. And even if you don't dig zombies or vampires, you may get a kick out of the Judd Apatow-produced comedy Superbad. The actors in it are way less sexy, but they'll make you laugh intentionally.

Comic-Con isn't just about the big studio extravaganzas, either: Stan Lee will discuss a new documentary about himself called True Believer; special-effects veteran Ray Harryhausen is back at it with the new Ares: God of War—undoubtedly inspired somewhat by the recent video game—and he'll also perform a feature-length live commentary track at a screening of his 1957 20 Million Miles to Earth; Adam Green brings horror heroes Robert "Freddy" Englund, Tony "Candyman" Todd and Kane "Jason" Hodder to promote his new slasher comedy Hatchet; George Romero talks about zombies and his new movie featuring them, Diary of the Dead; WB animation will screen the new direct-to-DVD Superman Doomsday in full, as will Marvel Studios with their new Dr. Strange animated feature; Joel Silver has a direct-to-DVD House on Haunted Hill sequel starring Jeffrey Combs; Ridley Scott will explain how his new "final cut" of Blade Runner differs from the previous versions; Kevin Smith will ramble on about whatever he feels like; and Troma Studios' Lloyd Kaufman finally has a new theatrical feature that's sure to offend, titled Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead.

TELEVISION
Lost, Heroes and Jericho are among the TV shows that were first screened at Comic-Con, and all three are back for more. After a maddening second season that seemed designed to torture its fans, Lost recovered this season both narratively and credibility-wise when creators Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse announced the series would have a definite end date. Badger them with all your pressing questions as they reveal Season 3 DVD extras and preview season 4, but don't expect any concrete answers. As for Heroes, the entire principal cast is going to preview their next season of superheroics. The post-nuke drama Jericho is only getting a second season because fans protested its mid-cliffhanger cancellation; Skeet Ulrich and Ashley Scott now have the chance to thank them all personally. Also back for more is The Boondocks animated series, season 2 of which is more highly anticipated since creator Aaron McGruder quit doing the daily comic. Making its long-overdue Comic-Con debut is 24, but sorry, you don't get Kiefer, just the executive producers. Proving that she loves you more than Jack Bauer, Sarah Silverman will be bringing the entire cast of her Comedy Central series in tow, but it's probably best not to bring the kids to that particular panel.

Vying for the title of Next Big Thing in genre TV, we have a few upstarts. Doctor Who spinoff Torchwood hasn't been easy to see in the U.S., but nerds have their ways and will welcome star John "Captain Jack" Barrowman. Kevin Smith directed the pilot of the new series Reaper, in which a 21-year-old (Bret Harrison) finds out his parents sold his soul to the devil (Twin Peaks' evil daddy Ray Wise), and now he must work for him as a bounty hunter.

300 queen Lena Headey steps into Linda Hamilton's shoes to take on Terminators in The Sarah Connor Chronicles; you can meet Lena and watch the complete pilot episode. Other pilots you can check out early include NBC's Chuck, executive produced by McG, in which an average Joe somehow downloads the entire CIA database into his brain; the newly remade Bionic Woman, from X-Filesproducer Glen Morgan; and Pushing Daisies, about a man who can resurrect the dead.

The Sci-Fi Channel plans a couple of rather dubious resurrections: Tin Man recasts The Wizard of Ozinto a futuristic landscape, with Zooey Deschanel as heroine "D.G.," while Smallville's Eric Johnson stars as the new Flash Gordon, sans awesome Brian May theme tune. Prepare yourself with a first look at each.

And let us not forget that Star Wars is also making the leap to your small screen. Where? When? How? Announcements are expected.

TOYS
Comic-Con-exclusive toys are a blessing for attendees—and torture for those who can't make it. This year sees a bunch of items to frustrate the far-away, most notably Art Asylum's Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan action figures. Fans around the country will be able to get Kirk, Spock and Khan, but only convention-goers can buy McCoy, Scotty, Sulu and Chekov. Did we mention each must be purchased at a different booth, and if you buy them all, you get an exclusive battle-injured Khan figure? Prepare the pitchforks, Trekkers.

Exclusives that seem to miss the point are ones you have to order online in advance, which completely rules out the impulse buyers. If you haven't already gotten the special "Vanishing" Bugs Bunny figure from DC Direct, it's too late now; ditto Sideshow Collectibles' 12-inch scale "holographic" Darth Sidious from Star Wars. Mattel typically holds raffles to allow only a limited number of customers per day to buy their exclusives, which this year include an albino version of Batman's enemy Man-Bat and two special Naruto figures.

Hasbro offers a new version of Rodimus Prime, hero of the original Transformers animated movie, along with special Star Wars figures based on artist Ralph McQuarrie's original concept designs for Obi-Wan and Yoda, an exclusive She-Hulk figure with removable attorney's outfit, and a special "pimp-daddy" color scheme for G.I. Joe enemy Destro.

There are too many others to list in the space we have, but they include a comic-styled Abe Sapien figure from Hellboy, battle-ravaged King Leonidas figure from 300, an action-figure-scaled mini-statue of He-Man in his classic cartoon color scheme, a fully articulated Elephant Swordsman figure from famed toy sculptors the Four Horsemen, and Mortal Kombat villain Goro.

Hasbro, Mattel, McFarlane Toys and Sideshow will also have several panels spotlighting their work and allowing collectors to yell at them over minutiae, but the most interesting company to watch will be the industry's very own version of an Ed Wood production, Shocker Toys. Widely derided in the toy-collecting community due to their ridiculous concepts (action figures designed to be worn on the shoulder like pirate parrots), frequent announcement of toy lines that never happen, awful prototypes, and the aggressive, bombastic behavior of company president Geoff Beckett, who's prone to threatening legal action against anyone who criticizes him, Shocker is asking for trouble by having a Q&A of their very own. Expect some of the most vicious geek sarcasm you've ever heard if you can make it to this one.

OTHER FUN STUFF
Saturday night is the Masquerade Ball, where the wildest costumes you didn't see on the convention floor compete for prizes. Watch it live in the upstairs ballroom, or via closed-circuit TV over free nachos in the adjacent pavilion.

Rosario Dawson may not have a new movie to promote, but she does have her own comic book, Occult Crimes Taskforce, and she's looking to promote it. Need we say more? But if hot chicks are more than you can handle, there are also useful seminars such as "How to Become an Internet Geek Super-Star," as well as a discussion of Internet fan sites featuring panelists such as Ain't-It-Cool's Drew "Moriarty" McWeeny and Bloody-Disgusting's Brad Miska.

"Disguised as Clark Kent: Jews, Comics and the Creation of the Superhero" investigates whether there's any significance to the fact that superheroes were created by Jews. Just don't tell Mad Max. Convention fave Neil Gaiman gets his own panel every year to talk about film, comics, music and everything else he somehow has a hand in, lucky bastard! The Jim Henson company will showcase new puppet stuff, J. Michael Straczynski shows off the new direct-to-DVD Babylon 5 movie, Team America/Killer Klowns puppeteers the Chiodo brothers show off their latest tricks, and animation historian Jerry Beck returns with a collection of the Worst Cartoons Ever! As always, the best way to wind down your convention experience is with Sunday's "Starship Smackdown," in which a panel of "experts" way geekier than you can imagine debate the results of a grand tournament pitting their all-time favorite fictional spaceships and robots against one another. As my little brother used to put it, "If him and him, if they fighted . . . who would win?"

You win if you attend even a fraction of all this good stuff. And if you can't make it, don't worry: We'll be blogging it for ya. With slideshows! Check out Navel Gazing starting July 25.

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