Looking over the schedule before heading to Comic-Con today, I noticed something odd: Today's panels seemed to be largely about comics. Oh sure, Hall H—the immense facility that's home to the big movie presentations–was playing host to a panel with footage from the Keanu Reeves-starring remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still and the adaptation of Stephanie Meyer's teen-vampire novel Twilight. But the focus was largely elsewhere. The day was due to end with big, company-spanning panels from Marvel and DC. Both were preceded by panels with names like "Spotlight On Eddie Campbell" and "Superman's 70th Anniversary." While Comic-Con has elsewhere sought to expand its reach this year by embracing projects like The Pineapple Express and Tropic Thunder—I'm supposed to be seeing both tomorrow—and playing host to a panel dedicated to The Office, today was largely about the core audience that made the con what it was in the first place.
10:35 A.M.: You know how you can tell when something has gone from being popular to being a phenomenon? When young fans start making their own T-shirts dedicated to it. I share a trolley ride this morning with two pre-teen girls, both wearing homemade Twilight T-shirts saying "Bite me!" and "4-Ever Team Edward." For anyone not familiar with Twilight, you might want to get ready. It's due to be a movie this December, at which point it will reach at least High School Musical-level ubiquity.
10:55 A.M.: I'm too late to make it to a panel featuring Stan Lee and Grant Morrison talking about… Well, I'm not sure. I don't feel too bad. Two years ago, I saw Stan Lee on a Spider-Man panel during which a fan complained about a storyline in which Spider-Man had his eye ripped out during a fight. Lee, who apparently was a few months behind on his famous co-creation's adventures, asked, "What the hell are you talking about?" then turned to the current Marvel writers and asked, "You ripped Spider-Man's eye out?" Could anything top that? I have my doubts.
Instead, I hit the convention floor, which seems to be calmer than last night. Which isn't to say it's not crowded. Figuring that if I'm going to buy any art, I might as well hit Artist's Alley now, I head to one of the floor's far corners. Artist's Alley is where established talents, up-and-coming artists, and everyone in between hangs out, meets fans, sells original art, and occasionally creates commissioned sketches. Legendary writer and artist Al Feldstein, who worked for E.C. Comics and later for Mad Magazine and now paints nature scenes, sketches quietly while avoiding eye contact. Behind him, Bryan Hitch of Ultimates fame entertains a flock of fans. I greet Todd Klein, the best letterer in the business, and purchase a print he created from an original piece by Neil Gaiman. It's the last significant purchase I'll make in a day otherwise taken up with panel after panel.
On the floor, I spot the first of what will turn out to be many Heath Ledger-model Jokers. (Really, all you need is some green hair-dye, pancake make-up, lipstick, and ill-fitting clothes.) This one's a woman, which makes the effect even more unsettling for some reason.
11:40 A.M.: I'm in line for a panel dedicated to Doctor Who. I fell in love with the revived Doctor Who a few years ago. The show's a phenomenon in the UK, but a cult hit here. It feels like there's only a few hundred Who fans in the States, but all of us are in line for a panel that promises to feature departing show-runner Russell T. Davies–who revived the show after over a decade of lean years–and incoming show-runner Steven Moffatt, a fan favorite who's written some of the series' most mindbending episodes.
That proves to be only half-right, as Davies didn't make the trip. Moffatt, however, proves charming enough for two show-runners. Already a huge name in British television thanks to hits like Coupling, Moffatt still seems humbled by the chance to write for the show he grew up loving. Recalling how his mother would threaten not to let him watch Doctor Who as punishment, he now reckons that he must be "the best-behaved boy in the whole country," given that he gets to call the show's shots.
2:20 P.M.: After a break for lunch, I hit the floor again, where I spot another disturbing Joker, this one a mohawked kid of not more than 4. I kill a little time talking to some book publicists.
3:00 P.M.: Back to panels again, this one an hour dedicated to Ed Brubaker, the first-rate writer who made headlines for his "Death Of Captain America" storyline. He's still the writer for Captain America, even though the original Cap remains dead. He's also writing Daredevil, an X-Men book, and the noir series Criminal, a self-professed labor of love. (I can't recommend Criminal highly enough.) Despite the dour tone of most of his books, Brubaker is a lively, engaging guy, which helps patch over some inherent awkwardness stemming from the unexpected absence of a moderator. Brubaker cuts directly to questions from the audience.
3:35 P.M.: I bolt the Brubaker panel a little early to make an all-star lineup dedicated to talent from the Golden and Silver Ages of comics. This includes Feldstein, Mad fold-in artist Al Jaffee, Larry Leiber (the artist-writer brother of Stan Lee), and Jerry Robinson, an early Batman artist who probably created The Joker. (Accounts vary, as they so often do in stories from the early days of comic books.) It's cool to see so many justly famous talents together, but the 90-minute session quickly collapses into familiar stories told in familiar ways. I find myself wondering what Robinson thinks of all the young people dressed up as his creation. Is he proud or disturbed by it?
4:45 P.M.: It's time for "Mondo Marvel," a panel long on bonhomie and short on major announcements. A Marvel newcomer (unless my memory fails), Kevin Grevioux, the writer and occasional actor best known as the screenwriter for Underworld, announces a project called Adam: The Legend Of The Blue Marvel, about a black superhero in the '60s who hides his race. Neat idea. Hopefully he can pull it off.
And that's pretty much it. Marvel has, by and large, been drawing raves from fans for the past year or so. The Marvel audience is respectful but challenging to the panelists. It's a weird contrast to…
6:00 P.M.: … the "DC Nation" panel. Over the past year, fan reaction to the direction taken by many DC books has been contentious. That's not unusual for comic-book fandom, but the extremity of the response to the poorly received crossover series Countdown and the directions taken by books like The Flash has been unusually harsh. A month or so back, rumors of DC Executive Editor Dan DiDio's imminent departure even got picked up by sources like Nikki Finke's Deadline Hollywood Daily site. Turns out there was nothing to them, and DiDio, perhaps emboldened by a renewed contract, was as charismatic and unapologetic as ever.
DiDio didn't have too many new projects to announce. The most notable concerned a three-issue Batman miniseries written by comics-loving film director Kevin Smith, who joined the panel and joked about the perennial lateness of his past comics projects. After Smith left, DiDio turned to the audience, who delivered some of the most softball questions I heard all day. Internet bravado faded into effusive praise. Maybe the doubters just stayed away. Maybe comic-book fans were just swept up in the good feelings of a day given over almost entirely to them.