With the Republican National Convention taking place the same week, for the very first time, San Diego’s annual Comic-Con may not have been the most surreal event in America over the past few days.
Luckily, the spectacle here at Comic-Con is a lot more benign, while still offering plenty of unforgettable sights and sounds. This annual 10-ring circus of branding, entertainment news, open bars and comic books finds some 135,000 cartoonists, movie stars and cosplayers—and uncounted thousands more looky-loos—descending on San Diego’s balmy bayside streets to parade, cavort and talk about Harley Quinn.
Quinn is the inescapable queen of this year’s show, as a costume on the floor, on monstrous swag bags being lugged by tired attendees and in posters announcing the arrival of the Suicide Squad movie on August 5. While Harley has been one of the most popular characters in comics for several years, anticipation over the movie (and Margot Robbie’s winsomely insane portrayal) has whipped it into a frenzy. Some Hollywood experts expect a $100 million+ opening.
But Harley Quinn isn’t the only superheroic female on the scene at Comic-Con. DC’s best known superheroine, Wonder Woman, is celebrating her 75th anniversary with a costume display at the DC Comics booth, with both the 1970s Lynda Carter version and Gal Gadot’s rather more imposing revamp from the new Wonder Woman, which comes out next year. Wonder Woman’s invisible plane is also “on display”—a plastic contraption with a rather ‘40s vibe set up in a parking lot a few blocks from the convention, with people lining up to be photographed in a cockpit that resembles a clear plastic egg crate.
Not to be outdone, DC’s rival Marvel has unveiled 13-foot tall solid bronze statue of Captain America that weighs a literal ton. Depicting the Chris Evans version of the character, and the humble “I’m just a kid from Brooklyn” quote, the statue is slated to tour Brooklyn after its run at Comic-Con.
Marvel and DC’s dueling attractions are only a few of the “activations” that are generating long lines outside the convention center. Every dingy parking lot has been turned into an expensive marketing opportunity that whole departments spent months dreaming up. Take a walk down by the trolley tracks and you’ll find a South Park twentieth anniversary theme park. It celebrates the main characters as well as deep cuts like Lemmiwinks, Towelie and the Coon—plus a new video game and a new season starting in September. An art gallery nearby includes paintings by artist Ron English that re-imagine Cartman, Kyle and Stan in his own sinister style.
Mr. Robot, USA’s popular hacking drama, is rapidly growing a huge cult following, and the show has a 13-minute virtual reality flashback featuring hero Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek) and his living room. Viewers start in a real environment that morphs into a VR experience, to an unsetting effect that’s been drawing raves from those who braved the line to get in.
It’s impossible to go 10 feet around the San Diego Convention Center without hitting some kind of carnival or display. Giant balloons of the Powerpuff Girls float serenely over a reflecting pool; a lurid carnival celebrating Adult Swim beckons to the unsuspecting; FX has served up a VR adventure for American Horror Story, along with an infected Statue of Liberty from The Strain and Paddy’s Pub from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.
For those who prefer a real horror show to a VR one, History Channel has a “Viking Snake Pit” set up that includes a room full of actual snakes behind a glass wall. And on the off-chance anyone has any energy left after a day of slogging through Comic-Con, there’s a three-story rock climbing wall celebrating Son of Zorn, Fox’s new animated/live action hybrid about a cartoon barbarian who has to live in the real world. (Bojack Barbarian?)
Of course, whatever else happens Comic-Con 2016 will be known as The Year of Pokémon Go. While there are no pokestops inside the convention center, there are plenty among the hotels and avenues nearby, and no one has been stingy with lures, as the occasional pokemon shows up among legions of sandshrews and, oddly enough, ekans. A panel to discuss the international session is being held Sunday in the 6,000-seat Hall H. It’s expected to jam-packed.
Despite all the sound and fury, actual creators can also be found at Comic-Con. This year, authors Margaret Atwood and William Gibson are both promoting their recent forays into comics. For Gibson, author of Neuromancer, Comic-Con is basically his cyberpunk vision of the future brought to reality.
Asked how that feels while sitting at his publisher booth, Gibson observes, “Everyone here is so nice. It turned out not to be a dystopia after all.”