Another Comic-Con is in the rearview mirror. But before we start discussing the highs and lows of this year's show, an introduction is in order, since some of you may have noticed the new byline on Geek Beat this week.
I'm ridiculously excited about taking over this column from my talented predecessor, Chris Clow, who left some big (Hulk-sized?) shoes to fill. In order to avoid any confusion, though, you should know that I am neither a character from The Land of the Lost nor a former suspect in the Zodiac killings. (That last part is especially important if you want to avoid awkward conversations in the future.) No, I'm the other Rick Marshall – the one who served as a nerd in residence for various online and on-air news outlets over the last decade or so, including MTV, IFC and Wizard, to name a few.
Now that we've got that out of the way, let's get to the Comic-Con talk...
This is one of the few years I haven't made the trip to San Diego for Comic-Con, and the experience of keeping up with the convention from the opposite coast was enlightening, to say the least.
As I discovered this year, though, covering Comic-Con from 2,700 miles away actually put me more in the know with what's happening in San Diego than I've ever been before. It offered me a uniquely different, big-picture perspective on the big news than I'm accustomed to and – more importantly – some idea of how it's being received elsewhere.
Here are some of the show's biggest hits and misses as I saw them, as well as a few observations from a Comic-Con veteran who discovered that the best way to know what's happening at the show may be to not be there at all.
1. Marvel won the battle, but Warner Bros. may win the war.
When it comes to panels and announcements, Marvel Studios has proven time and time again that it knows better than anyone else how to “win” at the Comic-Con game. From the very first confirmation that The Avengers was in the works years ago to this year's big reveal of the entire Guardians of the Galaxy cast and the title of The Avengers sequel, Marvel has reigned as king of the San Diego convention.
By and large, this year continued that trend, with Marvel's day-ending Saturday panel seeming to snuff any lingering excitement over Warner Bros.' earlier announcement that the Man of Steel sequel would finally bring Superman and Batman together on the same screen. Whether it was the early leak of the Superman/Batman news hours hours before the Warner Bros. panel that dulled the announcement or (as some of my colleagues suggested) fans' frustration that such a team-up has taken this long to happen, there was relatively little online chatter about Superman and Batman to be found after the news was made official. The world – or at least the nerdy corner of it that I play in – had shrugged its shoulders and moved on, it seemed.
Or had it?
The following afternoon, my wife and I had lunch with a friend who very well may be the polar opposite of the typical Comic-Con attendee. As someone who might very well confuse Green Lantern with the frozen-vegetable spokesman Green Giant, she's one of the last people I'd expect to have any awareness of (let alone interest in) the goings-on at Comic-Con.
That's why I nearly spit out my coffee when she asked, “So there's going to be a Superman and Batman movie, huh?”
After I got over the initial shock of hearing her suddenly speak my language, it dawned on me that her question offered irrefutable proof of Warner's victory in a much greater battle than the one fought at Comic-Con. Given how much online buzz favored Marvel's big announcements over Warner's superhero team-up, it was also a stark reminder that no matter how much “professional geeks” like myself want to believe ourselves the gate keepers of geekery, some things are bigger than all of us.
2. Are we living in a post-YA world?
There wasn't any Twilight movie this year to force the coexistence of two otherwise mutually exclusive fandoms, but Comic-Con certainly wasn't suffering a young-adult drought. The show hosted a trio of major movie projects for the YA crowd (as well as a few lesser known adaptations), but with the exception of the second film in the The Hunger Games franchise, they failed to generate even a small amount of buzz outside San Diego. Even online chatter about The Hunger Games: Catching Fire was limited to the announcement of a new trailer released during the convention, then a relative quiet on the front lines.
Didn't realize that movies based on the phenomenally successful The Mortal Instruments and Divergent novels had a presence at the show? Judging by the conspicuous lack of excitement from friends and colleagues of mine deeply rooted in the YA world, you probably weren't alone.
3. When all else fails, go gimmick!
Several upcoming movies benefitted in big ways from clever gimmicks at this year's show, with Godzilla and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 chief among them. Both films already had some decent buzz built up ahead of the convention, but Legendary Pictures' interactive “Godzilla Encounter” exhibit turned the level of anticipation to 11 for next year's big-budget film based on the kaiju classic. At one point Wednesday evening, it seemed as if every journalist in San Diego was simultaneously raving about the “Godzilla Experience.” Even more importantly, however, was the fact that the exhibit seemed to continue generating online buzz throughout the show among people who weren't getting paid to be there.
On the other side of the gimmick spectrum, Andrew Garfield's decision to show up in costume and conduct his portion of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 panel in character as Spidey was a far less time-consuming (and expensive) gimmick that left everyone talking about it long after the panel was over. It's the sort of stunt that runs the risk of being hokey, but in the hands of a talented actor like Garfield, it became the added value at Comic-Con that got everyone buzzing about The Amazing Spider-Man sequel.
(Oh, and it's worth noting that Tom Hiddleston's in-character appearance as Loki during the Marvel Studios panel probably would have had a similar effect, though it was swallowed up by the news that followed it. The lesson there? A big surprise beats a great gimmick every time.)
4. Are we calling it “The Marvel Method” yet?
It was interesting to see Fox take cues from Marvel Studios in promoting X-Men: Days of Future Past at this year's Comic-Con. While the two studios have kept things relatively amicable in their division of Marvel characters thus far, the owners of the X-Men franchise seemed to follow Marvel's blueprint this year with some success.
In past years, Marvel has made a tradition out of revealing important props from its upcoming films at its booth in the convention center – with the Infinity Gauntlet and various iterations of Iron Man's armor being some of the more recent, memorable examples. (Captain America's motorcycle was this year's showpiece.) This year, Fox took a page from the Marvel playbook by debuting the heads of the Sentinel robots from X-Men: Days of Future Past on the show floor. It's the sort of thing that could've been held back for the official Days of Future Past panel, but instead it kick-started the hype machine and kept it purring all the way through the weekend.
Of course, it helped that – much like Marvel has done in the past – Fox also had the foresight to save something big for the panel itself.
Like the show-winning moment when the Avengers cast first assembled on stage in 2010, Fox managed to wrangle an impressive number of X-Men cast members for its Saturday Days of Future Past panel. The end result was a lineup that rivaled (and possibly exceeded) that 2010 moment, with everyone from Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen to Michael Fassbender, Halle Berry and Ellen Page gathering onstage together. It was such a long line, in fact, that there were some online complaints from people who had trouble getting the long line of actors properly framed within their cameras.
5. Wherefore art thou, other stuff?
I'll confess to being a little disappointed with the lack of tangible content from films like 300: Rise of an Empire, RoboCop and Riddick to emerge from the show. One disadvantage to covering the show remotely is the inability to wander by a studio's booth and see some of the never-before-seen footage that's looped on monitors there. While it's a poor substitute for attending panels, it's still better than reading descriptions of footage in most cases. Here's hoping we see more of these films – as well as projects like I, Frankenstein and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which also sparked some online buzz during the show – in the coming weeks.
And there you have it, folks: a brief look back at this year's Comic-Con, and my debut as your friendly neighborhood Geek Beat columnist. As always, this column is intended to be a conversation, so be sure to leave a comment with your thoughts on what I've discussed here. I'm looking forward to talking geeky with you here on Movies.com, so come back next week.
Rick Marshall is an award-winning writer and editor whose work can be found at Movies.com, as well as MTV News, Fandango, Digital Trends, IFC.com, and various other online, print, and on-air news outlets. He's been called a “Professional Geek” by ABC News and Spike TV, and is still not quite sure how he ended up writing (and talking) about comics, video games, and movies for a living. His personal blog can be found at MindPollution.org, and you can find him on Twitter as @RickMarshall.