This year, for virtually the first time since Marvel Studios has been a thing — when they sprung Iron Man onto the world — the home of The Avengers skipped the San Diego Comic Con, the acknowledged focal point of the pop culture buzz-o-sphere. The reasoning was that with Avengers: Age of Ultron behind them, and Ant-Man mere weeks from release — and production just under way on Captain America: Civil War — Marvel had nothing to show. That may have been the truth, but there was also the fact that Disney — who bought Marvel in 2009 — was throwing their own convention a month down the road.
So at Disney’s D23 Expo — held in Anaheim, CA and named after the year Walt Disney founded his studio — Marvel gave the fans what they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) at Comic-Con. They teased Doctor Strange, the mystical, magical, cosmic adventure starring Benedict Cumberbatch, with an aggressively edited design montage. More importantly, Marvel showed a first look at Civil War with footage that had Chris Evans’ Captain America facing off against Crossbones (Frank Grillo), Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man meeting Cap for the first time, a fleeting look at Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther, and the drawing of lines between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers (“Sometimes, I want to punch you in your perfect teeth.”).
Sitting through the two-hour panel in which Disney showed off their live-action slate up through 2017 — Star Wars stuff, first looks of The Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast, Pirates of the Caribbean, Pete’s Dragon, Alice Through the Looking Glass, etc. — to a room packed with 8,000 people, one thing became clear: With their own convention, Disney doesn’t need San Diego. And they’re not the only ones.
Last December, Sony threw a fan convention in Las Vegas called the PlayStation Experience which, for all intents and purposes, was a mini E3 without having to compete with anyone for eyeballs. Star Wars fans can gather for Celebration, as they did this year in Anaheim, and be greeted by J.J. Abrams and his shiny new cast. Even Lego and WWE have their own conventions. We are entering an age where these gatherings don’t need to be big-tent affairs, catering to nerds of every stripe. They can narrowcast to specific audiences and still pull in massive attendance numbers and, what’s more, get to drop all the news they want to share to a partisan crowd.
The news from Disney’s live-action department, if you’re interested, is as follows:
- Disney is building two “Star Wars areas” at Disneyland and DisneyWorld.
- Orlando Bloom is rejoining Johnny Depp for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.
- Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow is taking on Star Wars: Episode IX.
- Johnny Depp will now show up in character as Captain Jack Sparrow for corporate events.
But for me, the real news was that giant brands don’t need comic-cons anymore. They’ll still truck out their wares when it suits them, to be sure, but they’ve figured out how to control the message, the media and the method in ways they never could before. And charge each person for a ticket.