For those that are not avid attendees of San Diego Comic Con, the swirling maelstrom of all things nerd and pop culture, there is actually a satellite event run by the same company. Taking place at the Anaheim Convention Center, WonderCon as it’s called, is almost like a minified version of the voluminous monster that has become the annual SDCC. It features many of the same particulars: a large exhibition floor filled with products, celebrity guests, signings and activities, panels from TV shows and movies and let’s not forget enthusiastic cosplay. That’s right, of the many thousands on hand, at least a sizable percentage of the crowd comes clad in inventive costumes, some directly derived from films, shows and comics, others a bizarre hybrid of multiple characters.
Our first panel over the weekend was for the upcoming X-Men: Dark Phoenix, likely to be the last formal X-Men titled movie run by Fox independently as the company has only recently been fully incorporated into Disney’s Marvel Studios. The film’s director Simon Kinberg as well as cast members Sophie Turner, Evan Peters, Nicholas Hoult, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Alexandra Shipp and Tye Sheriden were introduced for a brief discussion on the movie. After the first part of the discussion with the cast two never-before-seen clips from the upcoming film are played for the capacity crowd on hand.
The first shows a deep space rescue mission that the main characters Jean Grey, Mystique, Quicksilver, Nightcrawler, Cyclops, Storm and Beast are undertaking to save some stranded astronauts. Professor Xavier quarterbacks from the mansion back on Earth while the team attempts to save the wayward crew before an apparent solar burst destroys their ship. We won’t go beyond that in terms of details here, as what happens next is the linchpin to the namesake of the movie.
The second clip features a showdown between Magneto and his current crop of evil mutants as they attempt to murder Jean Grey. Professor X, Nightcrawler and Storm attempt to stop them. Much of the discussion hints at numerous fatalities in the wake of the arrival of Dark Phoenix. On the inside of the building they are all approaching Jessica Chastain’s eerily pale-skinned character is poisoning Jean Grey’s mind. One thing is clear coming out of these clips, there will be a high body count in this X-Men movie. Expect loads of death.
On day two, Amazon’s own take on a superhero The Tick was present for an early afternoon panel. Before bringing out The Tick’s original creator Ben Edlund and the show’s cast, the panel is opened with the world premiere of the first episode of season 2. The great news here, is that the season opener for The Tick is funnier than the first season. Simply put, season one while compelling seemed to lack some of the madcap silliness and absurdity that the previous incarnations of The Tick were famous for. Here, The Tick, Arthur, Overkill and even Dot are left reeling after the events of the finale of season one. Each is grappling with the significant events in their own way.
Arthur is continuing to struggle with embracing being a superhero. Overkill is aimless without his ability to use lethal force. Even Arthur’s sister Dot has now become unable to live a regular life, desiring to fight directly against evil. She even experiences some form of pre-cognition, able to pick up on bad things in vivid detail seconds before they take place. The Tick is well…. enthusiastic as usual. And for some reason, molting.
Things are bizarre in a good way throughout, and the oddity makes for a ton of comedic hijinks. After the episode creator Edlund is brought out along with cast members Peter Serafinowicz, Valorie Curry, Griffin Newman, Scott Speiser and Brendan Hines for a short panel discussion. Not surprisingly, the cast is as fun-loving and offbeat as the show and The Tick character himself, each cracking jokes and inventing numerous moments of awkwardness that only lead to more jokes. Serafinowicz in general almost looks like The Tick in a natural resting state, seemingly puzzling out each thing spoken as if there’s some greater calling to justice behind each statement. Valorie Curry (Dot) keeps pace with the cast amidst the quips, looking sharp with her hair dyed bright red. Edlund indicated also there would be several more bizarre heroes and villains introduced this season including Flexon played by Steven Ogg and Sage the Super Numerary played by Clay Berry.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s panel started off on a somber note as Marvel TV impresario Jeph Loeb gave a loving nod to the recent demise of the legendary Stan Lee for all that he made possible for all of the Marvel universe of properties as well as A.O.S. Loeb first brought out showrunner Jed Whedon along with cast members Clark Gregg, Elizabeth Henstridge, Iain De Caestecker, Natalia Cordova-Buckley, Henry Simmons and Jeff Ward. As Henry Simmons came out and numerous female fans cheered incessantly he looked more than a little surprised at how infatuated they are to which Loeb quipped, “That’s what we all do too, stare at Henry endlessly.” Loeb apologized for Ming-Na Wen and Chloe Bennet not being able to make the panel, but indicated they were only not present because they were working on the show at this moment.
They then proceeded to play the world premiere episode of season six. The episode largely dealt with the cast being divided between one half working under Simmons’ character Mack’s leadership trying to protect Earth from the requisite unreal threats and the other half led by Chloe Bennet’s character Quake attempting to rescue Iain De Caestecker’s Fitz from hyperbolic sleep in deep space. The episode ends on the dramatic entry of some new permutation of Clark Gregg’s again deceased character Phil Coulson. It’s unclear how related the character is at all to the Phil Coulson fans have loved for years, but it appears to be some kind of alternative universe villainous nega Coulson up to no good.
Legendary superhero character Batman is now officially 80 years old. Yup, eight decades of the caped crusader have filled and re-filled the pop culture lexicon with more takes on the character than most people could ever truly imagine. Present for this panel were famous actress Lee Merriwether (who portrayed Catwoman in the original Adam West-starring Batman movie), Kevin Conroy (who has been voicing the character in cartoons and video games for over 27 years now), Diedrich Bader (who voiced the Dark Knight on the adaptation Batman: The Brave and the Bold), David Mazouz (who plays the young Bruce Wayne on TV’s Gotham), writer Grace Randolph, beloved comic artist Jim Lee and Roger Craig Smith (voice of Batman in the video game Batman: Arkham Origins). Each shared charming anecdotes of their experience first learning about the character and how they each first became involved with portraying or creating some portion of the Batman universe.
As a special gift to attendees, each person present was given a Batman keychain light that projected the bat signal as well as a cupcake with the Batman insignia decorated on the cookie top (the latter of which was because there wasn’t enough of a giant Batman cake that was wheeled in to give to all fans present). It was Lee Merriwether who stole the show here telling charming tales about her history with the franchise. First she explained how she first became aware of the character Batman after being given 20 cents by her father as a reward for pulling weeds from their garden. She explained how she bought one Superman comic and one Batman comic right away as each was only 10 cents a piece. Then, she told a heart warming story of her first time suited up to act alongside Adam West. She explained about how she felt nervous about her appearance conveying to West how she felt embarrassed and unattractive. West, the soul of chivalry gave her time to loosen her costume and then reassured her kindly that she looked beautiful. After heading out for their first scene together–a dance scene no less–he pulled her close and whispered in her ear, “You’re beautiful.” She regarded that she felt smooth, relaxed and comfortable after that. She tearfully concluded, “I loved that man.”
And lastly, Shazam concluded our Wonder Con experience with a panel at the Arena featuring stars Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel and Jack Dylan Grazer along with Director David F. Sandberg. This was largely a victory lap for everyone present as early press (a 93% score thus far on Rotten Tomatoes) has been largely positive. Zachary Levi, who up until recently was known mostly for his role on NBC series Chuck and a small role as Fandral in the Thor: The Dark World and Thor: Ragnarok movies, is clearly elated by this opportunity and for its imminent success. He cracks jokes with rapid-fire confidence and also seems fully comfortable with the questions of diehard fans and awkward dorks alike. There wasn’t much here that was truly newsworthy as far as info the public wasn’t already aware of, but after a fan indicated how happy he was during Q&A that Levi stood up for Brie Larson’s portrayal of Captain Marvel urging fans not to engage in negative commentary, fake reviews and online fighting, Levi did take the opportunity to proudly add, “That it’s about truth. And it’s our responsibility when we see something that’s not true to kindly point out when something is not true.”
All photos by Raymond Flotat