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Comic Con Day 3: Comics, Pilots and an (Elderly) Illustrated Man

You know me by now, AV Club readers. You know I'm a TV guy. That's what I know. That's what I'm comfortable with. That's what I do, by and large. And when I decided to come to Comic-Con, the assignments I started taking were all TV-related because, well, that's what I know. So today after Lost, I was supposed to head over to Futurama, but Keith was able to catch it when he didn't think he would be able to, so that left me with a big, blank space in which to try and figure out something to do. And then I saw it. The big, general DC Universe panel. I, dear readers, was going to get comics-y.

I chose DC because I know Superman and Batman better than just about any other superheroes, and I know most of the other players tangentially. So when I sat down, I thought I would have a pretty good grip on which announcements were the big ones and which were the minor ones. Then, IMMEDIATELY, Dan DiDio, executive editor, said that since there had been a Superman panel and a Batman panel, neither character would be brought up much, if at all, in the ensuing panel. Furthermore, most of the really big revelations would be saved for the "Blackest Night" panel, which was to immediately follow and which I could not attend. Then everyone in the audience proceeded to cheer at the exact same level for literally every announcement, the return of literally every character, no matter how major or minor. I think the big announcement was Geoff Johns working on The Flash: Rebirth (at least, that's what everyone seemed most excited by, by a matter of degree), but it also could have been J. Michael Straczynski taking over The Brave and the Bold.

The rest of the panel consisted of DiDio taking us through a long series of newly announced titles, some of which had such obscure characters that he had to have the writers explain to many in the audience who they were except for the guy sitting next to me, who kept nodding at every announcement and saying, "Uh huh," as though checking off characters on a mental checklist of every possible corner of the DC Universe. After running through all of these titles (and you can see a perhaps more thorough recap from Newsarama here), the floor opened up to Q&A, and that seemed to mostly consist of DC fans talking about how Marvel should know that DC just wiped the floor with them and somesuch. The old DC vs. Marvel debates seem to have moved most of their vociferousness to the great video game console wars, but they still exist apparently.

I realize this is probably not what you're looking for in comics talk, but I'm the sort of person an event like this should be courting. I have a passing knowledge of most corners of the DC Universe, and I'm generally persuadable about things like following the Green Lantern or something. All-Star Superman was one of my favorite comics reads of the decade. I would like to know more about this sort of thing. But, instead, the two major comics companies seem devoted to onanism, to chasing the same fans around the same old corners over and over and over, while neglecting the casual fan or even the potential fan. I realize that saying this is nothing new, but sitting in on the first half of the DCU panel really drove the point home to me. I get that it's hard to do new things with these characters. I get that it's easier to fall back on continuities that have worked in the past. But it doesn't work for drawing anyone in. I caught the tail end of the Marvel Dark Reign panel before this, in fact, and while I had no clue what was going on there either, at least Joe Quesada had the good sense to bring a little kid up on stage and have him answer questions about what he wanted to be when he grew up. That I could follow.

I say that I only saw the first half of the panel because from there, I had to head to a screening of the pilot of V, as I was reliably informed Ballroom 20 was filling up and filling up fast Everyone says that Saturday is the worst day of the Con because it's so full of people. Because I had stood in a long line for Lost (at Hall H, where long lines are the order of the day) and then gone directly to the relatively sparsely attended DCU panel, I had no idea. When I got in the line for Ballroom 20, it was like something out of a Cecil B. DeMille film. At one point, Comic-Con made all of us go down a long flight of stairs and then back up it (which, if Comic-Con thinks we should lose weight, there are nicer ways of suggesting it) for no apparent reason. While I certainly got to know the people I was standing with in line really well (even the precocious little girl, who overcame my general reticence about kids at the Con by being really funny) and I enjoyed seeing the weird melange of Simpsons, Fringe, True Blood, V and forlorn Futurama fans that made up the line, its sheer disorganization and the massive numbers of people in it made it too hard to stand. Had I not been obligated to attend what was at its end, I probably wouldn't have put up with it. Particularly problematic were the clear Simpsons fans who were obviously there for the Simpsons panel but missed out on it because they were stuck behind a nation of millions of True Blood fans. There's gotta be a better way to do this, but I'm unable to think of one.

Since Keith already reviewed the V pilot in this space, I won't belabor his points here. I think we generally agree on things, though he seems slightly more high on the pilot than I am. I like the alien stuff in general, but the character development was a little rough (including not one but two scenes where a character tells another character that they're worried about that they just need to talk about what's bothering them when ALIENS ARE FALLING FROM THE SKY). Of course, this is just a preview version and not a final one, so things could change. The crowd seemed into the pilot, but not so much that they embraced it with any sort of fervor. They laughed in the right spots and were shocked in the right spots, however, so that's worth something. (And you can read more on this, if you care, here.)

From there, I had to attend two other pilot screenings of shows I wasn't particularly interested in. Before they began, though, I sat in on most of a Ray Bradbury panel in the same room, which was cool because, a.) Ray Bradbury is still alive and b.) he's at that age where he can say completely crazy things and people just think it's adorable. Today, for example, he talked about how specifically he remembers the flavor of his mother's breast milk, and we all just sort of went with it. (No, really!)

All joking aside, though, the Bradbury panel was one of the few to give me hope for the future of geek-manity. All of these people sitting in a room and hanging on the every word of one of our greatest science fiction writers, listening to him declaim about how the United States needs to let comics into the education process to interest kids in reading (he's going to write a letter to the president, which is sort of an old man thing to do but also adorable in a crotchety sort of way), made me think that this wasn't just all about movie studios giving people who grew up in the '80s yet another way to fetishize their childhoods. There are still people interested in the more literary and explicitly nerdy parts of geekdom. You just have to know where to look for them. And they were all hanging out with Ray Bradbury, apparently.

Anyway, the other two pilots were Human Target and The Vampire Diaries. Human Target played like gangbusters, and the panel went even better, thanks to a cast featuring genre favorites like Mark Valley, Chi McBride and Jackie Earle Haley. It helped that the pilot features a truly terrific action sequence, which takes a typical action sequence and handily rethinks it by moving it to a completely different locale than you're used to seeing it in. Also, there's a wonderfully gruesome disposal of a bad guy. The tone is roughly similar to Burn Notice, but it has a bit more grit to it, which isn't a bad thing. Again, it's not a final version, so I won't speak too definitively, but I liked what I saw. It's not too ambitious, but it has potential to be a solid actioner.

Finally, there was The Vampire Diaries, which screened in a half-full room that abruptly changed into the most crowded room I've been at at this Con once the True Blood panel let out and all of that show's fans wandered in. The tone of the screening quickly turned borderline savage as all of the people sitting in the room for the Watchmen director's cut screening coming later on that evening scoffed at the pilot's goofy presentation. There's an audience for this sort of thing at Comic-Con (and most of them seemed to be sitting up front), but any time you bring something like this here, you run the risk of making the haughty geeks roll their eyes at your attempts to placate them. I don't like The Vampire Diaries, but I'm not sure it deserved open hostility either. Then again, that was kind of awesome, so I'm on the fence.

Tomorrow: I'm just going to wander around a lot and try to hit some things that maybe sound interesting that I wouldn't normally check out due to the big mainstream announcements choking them out. Also, Doctor Who! If you have any other suggestions, put 'em down in comments.