Yesterday while sifting through the last bit of Comic Con panels and interviews, I came across this vlog from Beyond The Trailer’s Grace Randolph. Here, have a look:
I don’t say this to pick on Randolph, but her video condensed everything that bugged me about the aura of entitlement that has grown to surround Comic Con and which manifested strongly this year after Saturday in Hall H, when no major announcements were made by Warner Brothers/DC or Marvel. I’m just using Randolph’s video because she clearly articulates a number of issues that I think fans are going to have to get straight with before next year’s Comic Con.
First, the idea of “winning” or “losing” Comic Con is ludicrous. I understand the human impulse to categorize and quantify everything, but Hall H does not matter. It’s a fun weekend for nerd enthusiasts of comic books, superheroes, and genre entertainment to come together and scream with delight as they get to be the first to see new images/footage from upcoming movies and TV shows, and see panels and discussions with the creators and stars of those properties. But Hall H does not matter at all when it comes to a film’s box office. So you “won” Comic Con—congratulations, you’re the toughest poodle.
And let’s be clear—I agree with everything Randolph says about DC and Marvel. DC had a legit surprise (Zack Snyder and the principal cast of Batman vs. Superman), a legit reveal (the new Wonder Woman poster), and first-look footage of Batman and Superman staring at each other in the rain (some weak-ass shit). DC definitely came with both barrels loaded, primed and ready to go. Marvel, on the other hand, was clearly off their game. Something obviously fell through for them, as evidenced by their panel starting nearly twenty minutes late.
But they didn’t do any more or less than they’ve done in previous years. They had a couple Q&As, they showed some great footage—I’m all over Michael Douglas’s sneering chiding of superheroes as destructive idiots in the Ant-Man test reel and the Age of Ultron footage was FUCKING AWESOME. There was no “Loki moment”, but they did bring out Josh Brolin to introduce him as Thanos, and RDJ was being RDJ throughout, so all in all it was a pretty standard Marvel panel. Did they make announcements most of us expected? No, but that stuff isn’t guaranteed anyway, so it’s not like they broke a promise.
Again, what happens in Hall H has no relevance to anything outside Hall H. It’s just a big nerd block party where some people get to look at some trailers. Which brings me to my second point—no, the studios should not release footage during or just after Comic Con.
In the last few years, studios have gotten a lot better about allowing panel videos to be posted on the internet in a timely fashion. If you’re not attending Comic Con, you can still watch pretty much everything that’s happening, from Hall H to Ballroom 20 to some of the smaller Q&As and discussions. Not too long ago, the convention actively killed the wifi signal in Hall H to prevent people from live-tweeting panels, so they’re definitely doing better on that front. But the footage should still be off-limits. If they were posting it online within hours or days of the convention, why would anyone bother going? If you’re not attending Comic Con, I’m sorry, you’re not going to see the footage. The footage is the reward for attending Comic Con.
But this brings us around to the issue Randolph highlights at the end of her video: Comic Con has probably gotten too big. The pressure on studios to deliver surprises and big announcements has grown exponentially as fans have started camping out for twenty-four hours or more just to get into Hall H. 2014 may be our come to Jesus moment—guys, it might not be worth camping out for Hall H. Comic Con is not an industry event, it’s a fan convention. If you’re looking for an info dump about upcoming releases, look to CinemaCon, the annual meeting of studios and the National Association of Theaters Owners, in which studios plug their upcoming slates in order to get theater chains to carry their movies.
Comic Con is not CinemaCon. Comic Con is about creators connecting with fans, and studios do not owe anything beyond delivering creators to their fans. I cannot stress this enough—studios do not owe us a litany of future releases. SOMETIMES, a studio may have stuff in development they’re prepared to talk about in some capacity—if so, great. But a lot of the time, they won’t have that on tap because all they’re trying to do for Comic Con is get some first-look footage together and bring actors and creators to San Diego.
And that is a HUGE undertaking. Presenting at Comic Con is expensive, and because Hall H does not matter, increasingly studios are not willing to overspend. I mentioned in this in my preview last week—the last few years, studios have been steadily pulling back, cutting down the expenses of doing a big showy reveal for a movie that might just tank upon its release (see also: Sucker Punch). This year, it looked to me like the culmination of that draw down. Every panel seemed scaled back, and the situation with bringing talent to San Diego has gotten to the point that actors emailed, disgruntled, that their hotel rooms weren’t being comped. That points to how severely studios have cut back on their Comic Con expenditures.
So Randolph makes a good point when she says that if you care about titles that belong to Disney, like Star Wars and the Marvel films, you might be better off going to their biennial in-house convention, D23. Star Wars Episode VII will probably have some presence at Comic Con next year, but I won’t be surprised at all if Disney saves their really good stuff for D23 in August. What happened this year in re: lack of surprises, big reveals, and announcements, might be the standard going forward. I think studios will be assessing this week whether or not they want to brazen it out and essentially “retrain” people to expect less fireworks, or if they just say fuck it and start spending like crazy again. Given the awful shape several studios are in, I’m betting it’s the former.
One thing I do disagree with Randolph on—severely—is the issue of the floor displays set up by the studios. The floor displays this year were great. WB/DC had a display of Batsuits through the ages to mark Batman’s 75th anniversary and also included part of Ben Affleck’s new suit, Legendary had interactive displays for Pacific Rim and the upcoming Crimson Peak, and Marvel built their usual museum-ish display of props, which went beyond “just Ant-Man’s helmet”—they also had Captain America’s shattered shield and the Mark 1 Ultron robot from The Avengers: Age of Ultron. And that “little signing” they had was with THE ENTIRE CAST OF THE AVENGERS 2. This is probably the only time the entire cast will be in one place, available to fans, for autographs and selfies. This is the very heart of Comic Con—fans interacting with the people who bring the things they love to life. This is what it’s about, and Marvel delivered on that in a huge way.
Randolph’s frustration is palpable, and is shared by a wider community—there was a lot of bitching about disappointment after Hall H concluded Saturday night, and most of it was from entertainment reporters and film writers. I wonder how many people that were actually inside Hall H felt that way. Watch any panel video, and listen to the enthusiastic cheering that goes on, unabated, all day. They cheered hard for Batman and Superman at the beginning of the day, and they cheered hard for the Avengers at the end, and they cheered hard for everything in between. If you were at Comic Con and you were disappointed, please let me know, because it seems like, by and large, the fans in attendance were happy.
But if you’re a writer waiting for information that you can repackage into articles and videos for your audience, most of whom are not at Comic Con, I can understand the frustration. Your job is harder when the studios don’t play that game, and this year, pretty much none of them played. All you’re left with is discussing footage you haven’t seen (if you didn’t attend), or reposting blurry bootlegged cellphone photos of said footage. It would be so much easier if there were nice, neat information dumps from each studio followed by crisp HQ trailers that can be embedded online. But that isn’t Comic Con—again, that’s CinemaCon.
Comic Con is for the people who are actually sitting in Hall H, the footage screened is their reward for putting up with long lines and not being able to leave their seat all day. It’s about those diehard nerds connecting with—maybe even getting a chance to meet—the people who create the geekery they love. It’s about stuffing swag bags with free crap from vendors on the convention floor, squeezing into Hall H or Ballroom 20 or Room 6 Whatever to see a panel discussing why science fiction matters or debating the best comic book villains of all time or seeing footage from the latest superhero movie that’s still in production. It’s not about creating news items for people to recycle online or appeasing a digital horde who isn’t there. Ultimately, at the end of the day, Comic Con is just a bunch of excitable nerds, sitting in a room together, being excited. And the nerds in the room this year seemed pretty excited.