2007: a Comic-Con Odyssey

Or, How I learned to stop worrying and love sleep deprivation, huge crowds and wonderful toys

This is the real ghost train.

San Diego, Wednesday night, July 25, downtown, after dark. All that's here is a smattering of oases of light, from cheap drugstores to greasy spoons offering a "really big Taco Plate" for $3.50. The streets, for now, are mostly empty, and those riding the trolley around you are dirty and old, with faces that bespeak hard work for too little pay . . . and judging by the content of their mouths, no dental insurance.

Later in the week, a Los Angeles Times reporter will be assaulted in this neighborhood.

The allegedly spooky rides at the OC Fair have been easily bested by reality here. But a dose of unreality is creeping in. Invaders with lanyards, many overweight with ponytails or goatees, rarely both. And on this ride, they're nitpicking the ending of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Good thing I read fast and got through it all the previous Saturday night. Like many a Comic-Con-goer, these folks don't seem to notice how loud they are, and they come up with elaborate nitpicks of which most wouldn't even conceive. But to go into detail here would be to spoil as badly as they do, and besides, tuning them out proved helpful to my sanity.

Two hours earlier, the 2007 San Diego Comic-Con opened its doors for Preview Night, and it appeared more or less exactly as it was in 2006. The obsessions may change—this year, Jon Favreau's Iron Man movie and Robert Zemeckis' new cinematic take on Beowulf are the major themes—but most of the booths are where we left them last year, and some, like the Sci-Fi Channel booth, look exactly the same.

No exciting costumes here today; they're not worth displaying for a mere two hours. Except for Star Wars video game character Scorch and his Republic Commando Clonetrooper buddies. Each costume is colored differently—this may be the only place where clones, rather ironically, don't look alike.

Some of the booths are subdued, hiding items to be announced later. Toy pickings are slimmer than one might hope. The DC Direct Catwoman doll I wanted for my birthday is nowhere to be had, so far, nor is a figure of Terry O'Quinn as Lost's John Locke that I didn't get when I had the chance. But there are the exclusive Star Trek figures to procure, spread out among four stands scattered throughout this half-mile hall.

With each one attained, I'm asked the same question: "Just one?"

Isn't that enough? Four of these, and $64 is out of the wallet. The fifth is a freebie, Genesis Khan, who is not in fact the long-lost brother of OC Weekly's Janine Kahn; just a toy resembling a bloody, bruised Ricardo Montalban. The game's not over.

Sideshow Collectibles are annoying, the way they make too few of their Star Wars dolls; but the prototype on display of "Snow Bunny" Padme is a thing of beauty, a dead-on Natalie Portman look-alike, something Hasbro has not managed in eight years. Hasbro wins some and loses some here—they're gonna show a new Indiana Jones figure later in the week, and Transformers are kicking butt. But Marvel Legends is a line being screwed up, and this is how you know: Every year for the past whenever, Marvel Legends—then made by Toy Biz, but now under Hasbro's purview—have been cash cows for the dealers. This year, prices are being slashed. Good time to fill the holes in your collection.

*     *     *

San Diego is decked out in relevant advertising—buses display ads for MGM's forthcoming slate of milking dead franchises even drier, with a fourth Species movie, a WarGamessequel and a Spaceballs animated series. Don't say John Candy would roll over in his grave—Candy had no shame in picking projects when he was alive. But since his character Barf was half-dog, he might roll over anyway. Coke machines are encased in Beowulf housings.

Thinking the trolleys stop at 10, I head for the motel early; even staying eight miles outside of town is not cheap come Con season. Turns out the trolleys are on a special later schedule.

But nothing near the Mission Valley motel is open, and supper was not to be had, unless you count Pringles from a vending machine and a bottle of Sprite.

Gas station—sign on the door says that it's locked, but come to the night window. Sign at the night window says only gas and cigarettes are sold through the night window. This needs to be confirmed.

"Only gas and cigarettes?"

"Yeah, only gas and cigarettes."

"I really need double-A batteries."

The man looks behind him, sees them. Picks them up.

"These are $6.35. But if you have $5 cash on you, we'll call it even."

"I do."

The trade is made. Then he sees the Comic-Con badge.

"Hey, can you hook me up with a free one of those?"

"Nahh, man, but just publish something online and say you're press."

"You can't get me one? I'm helping you out here."

"Can't. I arranged it weeks ago."

"Yeah, I feel you."

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