Without A Net

Pop culture from Southern California and beyond.

Comic-Con 2012 highlights: Schwarzenegger goes geek, Firefly not-quite-resurrected, 'Iron Man 3' fan love and way more

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For those who haven't been, San Diego Comic-Con is a massive pop culture behemoth that can intimidate even those who dare to brave its wilds (pro tip: SDCC for the experienced), but for those who do venture in, it offers some excellent rewards. Those include access to the stars, sneak peeks at the future of entertainment and the opportunity to be part of a community where at least someone else will love the thing that you love.

I present to you but a few of the highlights of the convention:

• Campers catch fire: Some fans are so eager to see the stars of their favorite thing that they're willing to camp out in line in order to assure their place in the room, and hopefully a decent spot after fighting the crowds of fellow enthusiasts to get inside. The Twilight fans set the standard for that for years, with Comic-Con taking note of it and usually making the Twilight panel the first big panel every year so the Twilight fans can see their heroes and get out of the way, but there seemed to be even bigger camping crowds this year. Beyond Twilight, big crowds of campers came out for "The Hobbit," "Iron Man 3," "Doctor Who" and the Firefly 10th anniversary panel.

The reason these lines are likely to become an even larger part of Comic-Con in the years to come: celebrities coming out to say hi to the campers. Joss Whedon of "Firefly," "Buffy," "Avengers" directing and other fame came out Thursday night to pay a visit to people camping out for the Firefly anniversary panel, signing autographs and sharing the wee hours with the hardcores. This could have been seen as just an isolated incident by a particularly fan-service oriented writer/director, but the next night, guess who showed up for fans camping out for "The Hobbit": Sir Ian McKellen. So, now it's a pattern, and don't be surprised to see fans camping out just in the hopes that one of their favorites will reward their loyalty at 3 a.m. They'll be able to justify getting an hour of sleep as the freight trains across the street pass with their little piece of Comic-Con intimacy.

Legendary lives up to legendary name: Movie companies try desperately to generate buzz and make an impact on the Comic-Con hordes, and the two most successful attempts at that were like Marvel's "Iron Man 3" panel and the Legendary/Warner Brothers preview of several of their upcoming films. The Legendary/Warner Brothers panel featured Guillermo del Toro's robots versus monsters flick "Pacific Rim," DC Comics' attempt to get a non-Batman franchise of the ground with "Man of Steel," the newest version of "Godzilla," Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis's political spoof "The Campaign" and the crown jewel, "The Hobbit."

The panel blew minds from the top by revealing a Hall H surprise: extended side screens revealed behind retractable curtains. Sadly, there was no ultra-widescreen footage to show, but the extra screens added a certain epic feel to the proceedings. Del Toro has an accent that moderator Chris Hardwick pointed out makes swear words charming, and he dropped a whole load of enthusiasm on the Hall H fans, as well as noting that the giant action footage being shown was being locked up after this showing until the end of the year.

Not all of their panels went quite so well — with "The Campaign" part of the panel being an unannounced surprised, fans didn't have many questions to ask the stars, and Zach Galifianakis seemed uncomfortable being put on the spot in a Q&A situation and ready to be anywhere but there. "Man of Steel" also ran into some roadblocks, with director Zack Snyder remaining tight lipped and not doing much to build excitement beyond showing the trailer twice.

Still, they brought it home in the end with "The Hobbit," though this may be slightly less exclusive than "Pacific Rim" given that director Peter Jackson himself was filming footage to use on an official blog to show fans what Comic-Con is like. It did include footage from both parts of the two-piece series, as well as several big chunks of footage and a surprise appearance from none other than Elijah Wood, Frodo himself.

SDCC 2012: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Panel

Robert Downey Jr. is so much cooler than you: Marvel delivered the razzle dazzle, announcing the subtitles of both the upcoming Captain American and Thor sequels, making the official announcement for the Guardians of the Galaxy sci-fi film that represents a departure into more obscure Marvel characters and featuring a guest appearance by director Edgar Wright, who brought footage of a screen test for an Ant Man film showing just how cool a fight can be when the hero can change sizes mid-battle.

But the moment that stands out in my mind and probably those of many of the other fans there is probably Robert Downey Jr. proving he's the coolest man alive with his suave entrance into Comic-Con's Hall H. As "Iron Man 3" was introduced, Luther Vandross's "Never Too Much" starts playing and Downey walks out from behind a curtain at the back of the giant hall and danced his way to the front, all while rocking an Iron Man glove. His opening questions to the fans: "How much do I love you?" And, of course: "How much do you love me?" You can watch the spectacle here:

Firefly not-quite-resurrected: I was one of the many who tried getting into the Firefly panel but did not, leading to many sad Firefly fans around the convention while that panel was going on. I did have a chance to catch up with the cast and creators at the press conference afterward, where they all expressed a great deal of sadness over not being able to do more with these characters. During the panel itself, actress Summer Glau, actor Nathan Fillion and creator Joss Whedon all teared up. The panel also dashed the hopes of many fans, as rumors of a new movie, new episodes of the show or some sort of Web series had been flying around the Con halls, but no such luck, though a special with footage from the panel is airing this November of the Science Channel.

Watch the panel here:

Governator goes geek: Our former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger made his Comic-Con debut to promote "the Expendables 2," alongside Sylvester Stallone and the other action hero luminaries seen in this film (though sadly, no Chuck Norris). Schwarzenegger awkwardly gushed about Terry Crews's muscles, complimenting him on his amazing muscle size and definition, combined with low body fat. He then made sure to explain to everyone that it wasn't a gay thing. Schwarzenegger and Stallone also took shots at each other in a way that seemed playful but like there was some legitimate competitive tension underneath, making fun of each other's lesser moneys (Stallone, when asked what his favorite Schwarzenegger movie was: "Junior") and bragging about which of them had killed more people on screen.

Larry King versus Optimus Prime: Larry King interviewed the voice of Optimus Prime. Yes, that Larry King. This is a thing that happened at Comic-Con. The story of how it transpired (thanks Huffington Post!) is about as surreal as you'd imagine, with King just as baffled as you'd expect him to be, having never heard of Comic-Con before coming down to interview Transformer voice Peter Cullen. (Also, reading the Huffington Post piece, the idea of Larry King having a father-in-law unsettles me.)

More brief Comic-Con thoughts:

• While it didn't get the attention of the Firefly anniversary, there was also a panel celebrating 20 years of Buffy. "Wait," you may say, "that show isn't that old, is it?!" No it is not! But you may recall the ill-fated movie, starring Kristy Swanson, Pee-Wee Herman and many others you'd be surprised to see in such a film! Swanson was initially announced for the panel but failed to show, but it did include an actor from the original movie, actors from the show (the highest profile probably being James Marsters, aka Spike) and writers from both the show and comic book. No Joss Whedon sightings here, but fans had fun remembering their favorite Buffy moments, leading into the annual Buffy musical episode singalong which closes the convention every year.

Buffy Turns 20 Tribute Video

• Comic-Con is bursting at the seams, with more of the convention spilling out into the normally sleepy city of San Diego than ever before. From Cartoon Network's "Adventure Time" taking over the local children's museum, to Warner Brothers and Extra setting up their own offsite stage complete with six Batmobiles, to "The Walking Dead" and Rod Zombie holding events at neighboring Petco Park, pretty soon we'll probably start having the convention's border ending in Mexico.

• Director Morgan Spurlock screened his Comic-Con documentary for the Con faithful after its theatrical release a few months ago, and I think the film does a wonderful job of capturing the feel of the con. My one quibble: all the fans followed in the movie have a goal of some sort, which makes for a better movie, but is maybe less like the common experience of the average fan at the convention. (Also, he cut out geek gods Nathan Fillion and Felicia Day, which, wait, what now?!)

• Kevin Smith offered a super inspiring Saturday night panel, doing his traditional end of Comic-Con Q&A. He held forth on topics including how and why people should create their own thing, why he hates critics, what an awful human being Bruce Willis is (while also framing his story as imaginary to avoid legal troubles) and more. He also moderated the DC Nation animated panel the next day, which is something I probably would have thought twice about given his propensity for foul language and the likelihood of kids being at that panel.

• "End of Watch" starring Jake Gyllenhaal comes from the writer and producer of "Training Day," but turns that film on its head. Rather than dirty cops, early footage seems to portray cops in this movie's world as Christ figures, talking about laying down their lives for their brothers.

I also had a chance to do extended interviews with Chuck and Josh from Stuff You Should Know, as well as the editor of Mad Magazine, so stay tuned for those in the weeks to come. You can also check out my coverage of Comic-Con on the Madeleine Brand Show and on Off-Ramp.

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