The new star of “Doctor Who” made her fashion show runway debut at Comic-Con in San Diego, surprising a crowd gathered to see the latest from the Her Universe brand. (July 20)
SAN DIEGO – Comic-Con is the Super Bowl of superheroes, the Triple Crown of geekdom, the World Cup of nerdery where fans of, well, most everything turn out to immerse themselves in four days of pop-culture madness.
The entertainment world is much different than it was a decade ago when I attended my first Comic-Con, back when “Twilight” was a juggernaut and there was no such thing as an official Marvel Cinematic Universe. Toxic fandom has infected a lot of what geeks love (“Star Wars,” DC superhero films), and I wondered if it would make what is a haven for like-minded people instead a huge downer.
As it turned out, it wasn’t Superman or Spider-Man but a bunch of wonder women who saved the day.
Negativity has reared an ugly head on social media, as what once used to be niche has gone mainstream. People yell at each other online about whether Luke Skywalker is really worthy of being Luke Skywalker anymore after turning his back on the good guys of the Resistance in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” As it’s grown progressively worse, maybe people wouldn’t want to spend as much sweaty, way-too-close-for-comfort time with their fellow nerds. I questioned with friends whether geek culture needed to die to live again.
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Last Wednesday night, though, I knew Comic-Con would be just fine when the convention center floor was crowded enough that a Captain America cosplayer nailed me extremely hard in the funny bone with his very well-made shield. He didn’t mean to, obviously – I wasn’t dressed as Iron Man – but that’s Comic-Con: We all love this stuff and we’ll deal with the Homeric obstacles along the way.
Comic-Con is not being able to move. Comic-Con is waiting 30 or 45 minutes for a cup of coffee. Comic-Con is waiting in line to wait in another line – it’s like Disney World, but instead of running into Mickey Mouse, there’s a gender-swapped Rey and Kylo Ren hanging with a bunch of red-frocked Handmaids. You deal, and once you get to a space where you can breathe, you watch the “Shazam” trailer another five times on your phone.
While more than 125,000 fellow attendees pack San Diego every year for the spectacle, it didn’t feel as big this time around. Marvel, “Star Wars” and “Game of Thrones” all stayed home, so the love was spread around to smaller panels and among much of the town. Taco Bell had a futuristic pop-up restaurant and menu inspired by “Demolition Man,” and there were impressive lines to get into a mockup of NBC’s “The Good Place,” where actors used show-approved cursing like “forking” and “bullshirt.”
A change has come, though: This year’s Comic-Con was awesomely female. It was the first in the post-Weinstein Time’s Up and #MeToo era, and there seemed to be a general feeling that the event should be a positive safe place more than ever for women and children. (And, boy, there were a lot of kids – a sign that fandom will stick around when it’s a shared love between generations.)
There were way more female hosts for the A-list Hall H panels than in any year in my memory. Until this year, Chris Hardwick had been the go-to for these gigs because Hollywood seems to think he’s king of the nerds. But when sexual-abuse allegations arose, he was yanked and instead we got some smart and funny women. Aisha Tyler was fantastic with Comic-Con’s biggest panel, the very showy two-hour Warner Bros. extravaganza, while “Walking Dead” superfan Yvette Nicole Brown was an absolute gem every time she showed up.
Jamie Lee Curtis honored the USA gymnastics victims at “Halloween.” “Supergirl” is getting TV’s first transgender superhero. Everybody was kind of in awe of Nicole Kidman at “Aquaman.” But the queen of Comic-Con 2018 was Jodie Whittaker, the effervescent new star of “Doctor Who,” who won the proverbial Iron Throne by being her happy-to-be-here self. She was a walking, talking, time-traveling example of the genre world stripping off some pesky patriarchy.
There was also a definite political undercurrent. “Supernatural” star Misha Collins drew a rousing ovation when a fan asked him which monster the show should take on and he said President Trump, while the administration also took a few jabs during the “Fantastic Beasts” presentation, where actors came up with impeachment spells. Calls for voting registration were frequent, from celebrities like Collins and Luke Perry to volunteers manning registration stations on the convention floor.
As good as it was, Comic-Con always has its strangeness, too. Everybody had some side eye when Johnny Depp ranted about Muggles in character as his villainous wizard Gellert Grindelwald on the same studio panel that also included Depp’s ex-wife and “Aquaman” star Amber Heard, who accused him of domestic violence. The fan question-and-answer sessions are almost always trainwrecks, although every so often an adorable kid dressed up as Deadpool makes it worth it.
Perhaps fandom isn’t that broken. If we can convene in San Diego once a year and brave long lines, celebrity weirdness and the occasional errant shield for four days, Comic-Con – and nerds on the whole – might just be OK for a while.
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