The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

There and Back Again: My SDCC 2014 Hall H Experience

Written by: Big Ross, CC2K Staff Writer

THE MADNESS IS IMMINENT. COMIC-CON IS UPON US. Whether or not you’re planning to head to Hall H this weekend, read about CC2K veteran Big Ross’s adventures in Comic-Con’s biggest room from last year.

We live in a cynical world.

– Jerry Maguire, Jerry Maguire, 1996




1. intense and eager enjoyment, interest, or approval.

We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.

– Cheshire Cat, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1865

The Buildup

This year I was absolutely determined to make it into Hall H for Saturday’s slate of panels. So much so that I resolved to do something I would have previously thought completely whacko. I took the Trolley downtown on Friday, backpack loaded with supplies, and I didn’t leave. Friday afternoon I marched myself to the south end of the convention center, found the end of the Hall H line down by the bay front, and officially punched my ticket as one of the crazies, fully prepared to spend all night in line to ensure entry into Hall H bright and early Saturday morning.

That Alice quote is making a bit more sense, isn’t it? (The others will too, I promise.)

San Diego Comic Con, or SDCC, or simply The Con, has become unimaginably big in recent years. I saw on the local news that the first SDCC back in the early 70s had 300 people attend. This year over 130,000 people from all over the world invaded downtown San Diego to celebrate all things pop culture. There are literally WAY more things happening than you could possibly be a part of. You have to strategically plan each day you attend, prepared to wait in  ridiculously long lines to see what you want to see, knowing that there is a chance you won’t make it in. And SDCC has grown to encompass so much more than comic books. Books, television shows, movies, video games, tabletop games, cosplay and more all fall under the SDCC umbrella these days. Some people spend all their time in the main exhibit hall finding items to add to their collection, others focus on the myriad smaller panels offering advice for aspiring comic book creators or amateur cosplayers, still others will happily wait for their chance to demo a new, upcoming video game, or get a comic signed by their favorite author, and then there are the Big 2. 

Ballroom 20 and Hall H. The two biggest rooms in the San Diego convention center, which host the biggest (and arguably most popular)  panels of the Con. I’ve made it into both in past years, and while some avoid them like zombie-infested shopping malls, I have to admit, I love them. Every year when the Con schedule is officially posted, they are the two rooms I HAVE to check. And when I saw the slate for Hall H on Saturday of this year, well just look at it. Great Odin’s Beard! LOOK AT IT!:

10:00 AM – Warner Bros. Pictures

12:25 PM – Legendary Pictures

1:30 PM – The Boxtrolls

2:50 PM – Frank Miller’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

4:10 PM – EW: Women Who Kick Ass

5:00 PM – Marvel Studios

8:00 PM – Warner Bros. Television & DC Entertainment: The Flash, Constantine, Arrow, and the World Premiere of Gotham

Suddenly I was Wayne Campbell thinking, “It will be mine, oh yes, it WILL be mine.”

Two potentially great panels to start the day, a panel I don’t care about (great for a bathroom break/food run), a panel on Women Who Kick Ass (can’t go wrong there), and then Marvel FREAKIN’ Studios!!!! That was what did it. I’d seen pictures from the year they assembled the cast of The Avengers and officially introduced them, saw video from the year RDJ Jr. danced his way through Hall H, and video from last year when Tom Hiddleston came on stage in character(!) as Loki. I wanted to be a part of that. I wanted to be in that room. And if it meant camping out in line all night, then so be it.

The Wait

Friday afternoon, after walking the main exhibit hall, buying a couple of sweet t shirts (Cap and Red Batman ;)), and sitting in a panel dedicated to what’s in store for the members of the Bat-family in DC Comics, I ventured outside into the unseasonable heat and humidity, and found the start of the Hall H line. Across the street from the convention center. And I started walking, following the line of people, turning once and then again as the line weaved down to the harbor. I found the end of the line, and like Clark Griswald chanting by that motel pool “this is crazy, this is crazy, this is CRAZY,” I dove in.

With the help of social media I had arranged to meet a couple of fellow like-minded geeks to camp out together. While I was waiting for them to show up, I introduced myself to the people in line around me. There was a group of five or six people, and it turns out they all met last year, and decided to band together. A Fellowship of the Con, if you will. They were like so many of the people who attend SDCC every year: fun, knowledgeable, nice, respectful geeks. A few hours in and they had welcomed me and my internet-found and real-world-met line buddies into their group. We spent Friday evening people-watching, snacking, hydrating, and discussing all things geek/pop culture. Comic books. Favorite television shows. Movies. What to expect, and what we were hoping for, in Hall H the next day. And I think it was like this all up and down that line of several thousand people.

Jerry Maguire was right. We really do live in a cynical world, and it’s incredibly easy to be cynical as a geek, or pop culture enthusiast or however you like to identify yourself (I like the label “geek”). It’s easy to say the era of giant summer blockbusters is unsustainable, or complain that all we get are sequels and prequels and remakes and reboots. It’s easy to go online and talk about how Warner Bros. Pictures and DC are doing it wrong, how Marvel Studios is doomed to fail sooner or later, and on and on and on. But sitting in line all that night and into early (so very early) the next morning, cynicism was the very last thing I was feeling. I think it was the last thing a lot of us in that line were feeling. What I felt, and what I sensed from that mass of people, was enthusiasm. Pure. Unadulterated. Genuine. Enthusiasm. 

The Payoff

If emotional orgasms are real (I googled the term and found an entry in Urban dictionary and several web pages dedicated to serious discussion of them), then I experienced several emotional orgasms throughout Saturday sitting in Hall H. I wasn’t the only one. Our little band of geeks not only survived the night, but made it into Hall H and snagged pretty decent seats. We settled in, all of us dedicated to staying in Hall H for the entire day, and waited for the first panel to start.

Warner Bros. Pictures brought the house down, or blew the roof off, or maybe both. First someone announced they were “going big”, and curtains along either side of Hall H pulled back from the main central screen, and they played some WB/SDCC opening fanfare. Then that same someone, I honestly can’t remember who they were, said this year they were going REALLY BIG, and the curtains drew back further to reveal the glorious sight at the top of this article.

Then Chris Hardwick came out and said “let’s just get this thing started”, and a crazy montage of concept art featuring characters from the Justice League fills Hall H ending with the official Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice logo and title appearing on the main screen. Cue Zack Snyder, who debuts some AMAZING footage from this movie. 

And the crowd went wild.

Then Snyder was joined by Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, AND Gal Gadot onstage as character posters for all three went up on the screens.

And the crowd went wild.

That sort of became a theme for the day.

WB followed up with phenomenal panels for Jupiter Ascending, Mad Max Fury Road, and The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies moderated by none other than STEPHEN COLBERT(!). Legendary was next with some hits (Godzilla 2 and the announcement of Rodan, Mothra, and Ghidorah, Guillermo del Toro and his latest film, a return to gothic horror called Crimson Peak, and the surprise tease of the return of King Kong in Skull Island) and misses (As Above So Below and Blackhat). The Boxtrolls panel was next, and as much as this was a running joke for the people in line for Hall H all that day and the previous night, Laika brought some amazing footage of their latest stop-motion animation movie, a followup to Coraline and ParaNorman. Then came Women who Kick Ass, presented by Entertainment Weekly. Some of the women in my group were worried this panel would turn into an uber-feminist bitchfest (I’m paraphrasing), but it was a pretty interesting panel. While I’m sure there were some in the audience wondering and complaining that this panel shouldn’t be in Hall H (or shouldn’t exist at all, judging by some of the tweets I read) I’m glad it was. It’s sad and more than a little frustrating that at the same Con where there are multiple panels aimed at and about females in all manner of pop culture, there are so many examples of women being sexually objectified (and I’m NOT just talking about cosplayers), but I digress.

And then came the Marvel Studios panel, arguably the thing most everyone was most excited for. They didn’t disappoint, bring all the major cast members and new director of Antman, and even showing some early footage, which may not actually make it into the final cut of the film and was just for Hall H, which looked fantastic. We also get a look at more great footage from the soon to be released Guardians of the Galaxy, which ended with a full frontal of Thanos. Then to the beat of Michael Jackson’s Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough Robert Downey Jr. led the ENTIRE cast of Avengers: Age of Ultron out onto the stage. There was a Q&A with moderator Chris Hardwick, and then some AMAZING, OUTSTANDING, MIND-BLOWING, ORGASMIC footage from the film. Oh, and at some point (I honestly can’t remember quite when this happened), RDJ Jr. said “we have a Thanos”, and James Brolin struts onstage with a mothafuckin’ INFINITY GAUNTLET on one hand(!!!). And if all that that wasn’t enough, this was followed by an announcement of Guardians of the Galaxy 2 with an official release date of 07/28/17 by way of a video from Chris Pratt and returning director James Gunn. 

The Aftermath

I could go into detail about the footage shown at these various panels, but those descriptions wouldn’t do justice to what I saw. You can read descriptions elsewhere, and even glimpse some surreptitiously obtained stills and/or video of this footage (if you can get to it before it’s taken down). That’s not the point of this article, and if I can get on a soapbox for just a sec, to be honest I don’t want you to see that footage. Not yet anyway. I camped out in line for 18 hours, *tried* to sleep on a concrete sidewalk, then sat for another 9 hours until I couldn’t feel my ass, and my legs forgot how to function. Excuse me if this sounds a little entitled or self-righteous or just plain whiny, but I feel like I, and the other 6500 or so people in that room, earned the privilege of seeing that footage, and it’s not something that just any ol’ Joe Schmuck sitting on their couch should get to see. Not until when (or if) the production companies involved want people to see it. Okay. End of rant. Promise. We still friends? Cool.

As the Marvel Studios panel ended, I realized I’d actually, maybe for the first time, experienced that cliched literary device of being slack-jawed. My mouth was literally hanging agape throughout most of the footage from Age of Ultron (when I wasn’t screaming, and whooping like a joyful idiot). A kid (I say “kid” but he was probably in his early 20s, FUCK I’m getting old) next to me kept exclaiming “Holy Shit!” in a tone several octaves higher than his normal speaking voice, and he actually tried to cover his own mouth while still exclaiming it like a broken record. It was absurd. I was absurd. The whole damn thing was absurd. Part of our collective reaction to all of these things we saw and heard was likely in part to delirium. A special combination of sleep deprivation, too little food and too much coffee. But it was, as hokey as this sounds, also magical.

San Diego Comic Con is over. The tweets have all been sent, and retweeted and favorited. Reports have been filed, footage described and leaked and taken down and posted elsewhere online. And we’ve already returned to that cynical world where we complain about Wonder Woman’s outfit being the wrong style or the wrong colors. DC didn’t do enough with the Justice League movie or announcing other cast members of Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice. Marvel should have announced more of their Phase 3 movies, or at least confirmed a Dr. Strange movie. On and on, complaint stacked upon complaint. But for a few precious hours, I was part of something special. Something magical, where cynicism was dead and enthusiasm ruled the day. I’m going to try and keep that feeling, hold on to it as long as I can. Because really, what have we got to complain about? We live in a world where these characters and comic books that we love so dearly, while once only living on grocery store spinner racks and in the hearts of the social outcasts, are now more popular than they’ve ever been, being brought to life in cinematic spectacles seen around the world. To quote a certain Scottish immortal, “It’s a kind of magic”, one I don’t want dispelled anytime soon.

Just for fun, here are the CC2K SDCC 2014 Hall H Awards, chosen by me, in categories thought up by me. Voted on also by me.

Biggest Surprise: Skull Island. There were plenty of rumors about DC and Marvel related announcements, but I guarantee NO ONE foresaw the return of King Kong.

Best Fan Q&A Interaction: Benedict Cumberbatch saying “button lady” in the voice of Smaug at a fan’s request.

Best Guest Appearance: James Brolin. When Robert Downey Jr. said “we have a Thanos”, and James Brolin walked onstage wielding an Infinity Gauntlet? Nerdgasm.

Biggest Guns: Chris Hemsworth (no contest, I mean, have you seen the man?)

Smallest Guns: Frank Miller (also no contest, I mean, have you seen the man?)

Best Hat: Frank Miller. He wore it like a boss.

Worst Individual Panel: As Above So Below. Just another found footage horror movie. Yawn.

Best Individual Panel: Avengers: Age of Ultron. The dancing. The assembled cast. James Spader thanking us for this place being “the weirdest place in the world”. The teaser footage. Guardians 2 announcement. GREAT ODIN’S BEARD! IT WAS GLORIOUS!

Best ComicCon Virgin: Paul Rudd. He was visibly giddy to be there. Just smiling the entire time.

Worst ComicCon Virgin: Michael Mann. I love Heat, and Mann is an incredible director, but he just fell flat.

Woman who Kicked the Most Ass: Katey Sagal: Peg Bundy. Veela. Gemma Teller Morrow. ‘Nuff said.

Best Moderator: Stephen Colbert. Chris Hardwick is always fantastic, but Colbert wins ComicCon.

Worst Moderator: Jessica Chobot. Not entirely her fault, she had some clunkers to work with, but she also just wasn’t that good.

Best Teaser Footage Shown: Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice. Dark and stormy night. Batman, in full TDKR armored Bat-suit, turns on Bat-signal to reveal Superman, hovering in the sky, eyes glowing red. Chills.

Worst Teaser Footage Shown: Blackhat. One of these things is not like the others, and it was Blackhat. Just plain boring. Also, Chris Hemsworth as Norse God of Thunder? Totally believable. Chris Hemsworth as MIT computer genius/hacker? I call Shenanigans.

Best Overall Panel: Warner Bros. Pictures. Everything that was shown on those giant, mega screens that nearly encircled those of us toward the front of Hall H was amazing. They invested heavily, and it paid off. In my mind, they were the big winner of SDCC/Hall H.

See ya next year!