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Comic Con Day 1: Astro Boys and Middlemen

Part of the joy of Comic Con is that there’s always something going on. That’s also part of the terror. Whatever you’re looking at, no matter how cool, there’s always the chance that something cooler’s going on the other side of the convention center. The solution: Just give up trying to take it all in and choose your events wisely.

With that in mind, I started out the day with a panel offering a sneak peak at Astro Boy, an adaptation of manga pioneer Osamu Tezuka’s classic comic book that was later turned into a beloved cartoon. The 2009 Astro Boy comes from Imagi Studios, the animation house best known for the CG Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles adaptation from a couple of years ago. Director David Bowers, a veteran of Aardman, producer Maryann Garger, and voice stars Freddie Highmore and Kristen Bell all showed up for the panel, with Bell, unsurprisingly, getting the biggest cheers.

The footage shown looked cool and funny, with action interrupted by gags that wouldn’t be out of place in Chicken Run. (That only sounds awkward.) It also bore a much stronger resemblance to Pixar than its anime origins. I was half-hoping for something that would meld the Astro Boy look to modern CG animation. This doesn’t look quite so daring. But it does look fun.

The movie will no doubt become inescapable when it comes out this fall. The Middleman was all too escapable when it aired on ABC Family last summer, but next door it drew a wildly enthusiastic crowd for a full-cast table read of what would have been the series’ season finale, “The Doomsday Armageddon Apocalypse,” if ABC Family didn’t pull the plug before it could be shot. But the cult the series picked up—a cult sure to grow with the recent release of its single truncated season on DVD—showed up in full force.

There’s no introduction and no Q&A after the session but no absence of warmth from the crowd. Middleman co-creator and executive producer Javier Grillo-Marxuach provided lively description of the action and the cast threw themselves into the performance of a typically fast-paced, pop-culture-reference-laden script, particularly co-lead Matt Keeslar and the ubiquitous Mark Sheppard as his nemesis. This may be the end of the line for The Middleman as a TV show—it’s continuing as a comic—but it’s heartwarming that Comic Con remains a place where such misfit orphans can find a home, if only for a final hour.