On Saturday, July 22, visitors to the San Diego Convention Center could be forgiven for thinking they'd landed on another world, even if they ignored all the people in superhero costumes. The 2006 Comic Con International transformed the center's expansive exhibit space into what looked like a bustling Third World town square where the citizens came to barter for Heroclix figures, Ultraman DVDs, and back issues of The New Teen Titans instead of grain and meat. For four and a half days in July, the economy changes here as fans of comic books, science fiction, and all things cult and genre gather to search for collectibles and meet the stars and creators behind their interests. Meanwhile, those stars and creators try to keep that interest alive, touching base with the hardest of their hardcore followers and the press that inevitably follows them to San Diego each year. Big projects get announced. New toys get unveiled. Preview footage gets shown. Q&A sessions turn ugly. The need for comics, toys, and import-only anime overwhelms the need for quality food (or any food, unless you count the grim approximation of pizza served at food stands throughout the hall). It isn't quite a world turned upside down, but it does operate by different rules.

This was The A.V. Club's second year in a row at Comic Con. Last year, geek interests seemed on the verge of supplanting traditional mainstream culture. Timed, however accidentally, with the release of the new Harry Potter novel, and following the box-office dominance of Revenge Of The Sith, Batman Begins, and War Of The Worlds, plus the ascendance of Lost, Comic Con 2005 seemed like a victory celebration. This year, the underlying mood was more cautious. Superman Returns was greeted with warmth but little real enthusiasm from critics, fans, and the general public, anti-Lost grumbling began halfway through season two, the debut of the send-up My Super Ex-Girlfriend suggested that the superhero movie might be ossifying, and Kevin Smith's much-hyped Clerks II failed to crack the weekend box office's top five. Has geek culture peaked?


Maybe. But you wouldn't guess it from this con, where Nicolas Cage, Hilary Swank, and Samuel L. Jackson all appeared before crowds that early estimates numbered between 105,000 and 125,000. And unless Snakes On A Plane mania has been wildly underreported, there wasn't any one particular thing drawing them in this year.

It's tough for one person to single out highlights, since no matter where you go, a dozen things are happening somewhere else. Watching, say, Stan Lee gleefully repeat timeworn anecdotes could mean missing a chance to meet Rob Corddry, or catch Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat. Attending a panel on The Simpsons required skipping Robert Rodriguez's Grindhouse presentation (and a surprise appearance from Quentin Tarantino). Living with occasionally regrettable choices is part of the experience. For instance, fans who showed up for the Hood Of Horror panel to see star Snoop Dogg were told he was unavailable because he was "stuck in traffic."


Even good panels could go awry. The way Comic Con gives attendees direct access to creators and talent is one of its most appealing aspects and one of its most maddening; the traditional open-floor Q&A sessions can be cringe-inducing. For the record, Veronica Mars star Enrico Colantoni would rather be covered in poop than eat a small serving of poop, and Rosario Dawson will politely refuse to look at your screenplay even if you promise it contains "a really good role for you."

Dawson was on hand to promote a comic book she co-created—O.C.T.: Occult Crimes Taskforce. It features a character modeled after her, and Dawson made no bones about her desire to see it turned into a movie and game. She was smart to try to win this crowd over—probably too smart to miss the fact that the buzz around O.C.T. remained hushed at best. Why? Because it isn't bad, but it's all too familiar. It crosses elements of The X-Files and Men In Black with a straight-out-of-a-'70s-cop-show protagonist. It's a weak franchise foundation.


And that's the tricky part of using Comic Con as a promotional tool. The crowd sucks up hype, but spits it out just as quickly—it requires proof and discards pretenders. And yesterday's Bryan Singer is tomorrow's Brett Ratner. Among the major projects announced at, or just before the convention: A Spirit movie directed by Frank Miller, a comic to be co-written by Nicolas Cage and his son, a Hulk sequel with a new director, film versions of Doom Patrol and Deadman, and a possible Superman Returns sequel, though Bryan Singer made it clear that there's no deal in place yet. Hollywood's love affair with geekdom continues, at least for now. But even if the klieg lights fade, the beat will go on. However much buzz, say, the première of the NBC series Heroes generated, the heat on the floor had a lot more to do with new comics, I-can't-believed-they-turned-that-into-an-action-figure toy revelations, and whatever tough-to-describe, tougher-to-co-opt sub-sub-culture each individual attendee felt most passionate about. Whatever course entertainment fashion takes, geeks—whether clad in jeans and T-shirts or dressed up like robot cavemen—aren't going anywhere.