The 2014 edition of San Diego Comic-Con, the mecca for hundreds of thousands of pop culture fans every year, starts Wednesday night and runs through Sunday. Here's a look at this year's highlights.
DC vs. Marvel: Film
Marvel has proven itself to be a dominant force in film, with their in-house studio producing the biggest film of all time with "The Avengers" — but now they're moving into dicier territory. Sure, they'll have the Avengers sequel "Age of Ultron" out next year, which seems like a safe bet, but they've also got "Guardians of the Galaxy" hitting in August featuring characters fans have a lot less familiarity with.
Marvel also let it be known that they have movies set for 2017-2019, so announcements about those are likely forthcoming at this year's Comic-Con. Meanwhile, DC is jumping into the water of a multi-movie continuity, using "Man of Steel" sequel "Batman v Superman" as a prequel for a Justice League movie. Fans have been buzzing that they may follow in Marvel's footsteps when they brought the whole Avengers cast on stage and bring out the Justice League cast, including team members yet to be announced.
DC vs. Marvel: Television
DC seems to have a bit of an advantage in television, with sustained success in live-action TV for years while Marvel's big splash, "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," initially proved less successful with fans. It has a significantly larger audience, but faces higher expectations being on a larger network.
This fall, DC is spreading out with Batman TV series "Gotham" on Fox, horror show "Constantine" on NBC and another CW show, "The Flash," joining "Arrow." Marvel's adding "Agent Carter" midseason, a period piece, and is beating DC to another venue: Online. They're doing a series of Netflix shows, starting with "Daredevil," with hopes that they can achieve the same kind of cult fandom that "Arrow" and its social media-friendly star Stephen Amell has achieved.
It's unlikely that all these shows (plus DC show "iZombie" at midseason) will stick, so the studios will be trying to get buzz building at Comic-Con to keep these shows on the air. Several of these shows will be making their public debuts at Comic-Con, so watch Twitter for some instant reactions to this fall's pilots.
Diversity in comics
Marvel made a multimedia splash recently, announcing a new female Thor and an African-American Captain America on "The View" and "The Colbert Report." Other than giving Comic-Con cosplayers some new costumes they needed to put together on a quick turnaround, it's an effort by Marvel to reach new audiences.
It's an ongoing struggle for the comic book industry, which has been in a steady decline — with the exception of similar media attention-grabbing events — for many years, with the movies not proving the panacea some in comics hoped, as they haven't led to increased sales. Only one book has consistently been selling above 100,000 copies in recent sales figures — Batman — and it's long been said that if it weren't for the movies, TV shows and other merchandise, Marvel corporate parent Disney and DC corporate parent Time Warner would strongly consider shuttering these divisions.
Comic-Con is a place that's embraced diversity, with gender-swapping cosplayers and numerous panels looking at ways to bring comics to new audiences. Comic-Con's female attendance is up, so that's one major opportunity for the comic book industry, and creators will continue trying to pitch their titles to female fans, as well as other minorities.
The continuing golden age of television
While comic books — or at least comic book characters — are still a major part of Comic-Con, the top two panels at the convention come from the TV world. Those are "Game of Thrones" and "The Walking Dead."
Comic-Con is the place where their creators get to hold court to adoring masses, with George R.R. Martin and Robert Kirkman acting as pop culture raconteurs while fans listen intently for any morsels of news that come dripping from their lips.
Even shows that don't seem like natural fits for the geek audience try to make an impact because they know how influential the convention can be, with everything from thrillers like "24", "The Blacklist" and "Hannibal" to genre shows like "Sleepy Hollow" and "Teen Wolf" show fans footage and make their case for why everyone should care.
75 years of the Caped Crusader
Batman is everywhere on this schedule, with panels with creators, screenings of a new animated film, the stars of the '60s Batman TV show promoting the show coming to home video and the debut of Bats' new origin TV show, "Gotham."
Batman first appeared in 1939, and this marks his 75th anniversary. DC Comics is celebrating with Batman Day on the Wednesday of Comic-Con, along with numerous panels looking back while also trying to look forward to how to keep the character vital for another 75 years. The Christopher Nolan movies were popular, but dark, and not exactly a way to introduce kids to Batman — the new movie Batman played by Ben Affleck looks similarly brooding, so getting that next generation to latch on remains a task ahead of DC Comics.
Image Comics goes big
While superheroes don't have the same comic book panache as they once did, a comic company that often goes beyond capes is on the way up — Image Comics. The Walking Dead has become a hit TV show, their comic Saga has become a go-to for fans looking to turn non-comics fan on to comic books and they've continued to expand into other areas.
The company doesn't have the same sort of shared universe as DC and Marvel, but all their titles are creator-owned, meaning those creators have the freedom to try some new things that they can't at DC or Marvel — and it looks to be meeting with a lot of success.
They're doing their Image Expo event for press and some fans on the Wednesday of Comic-Con, which has a history of breaking big news stories with major creators doing books for the company. They'll also have a presence throughout the convention as they try to nip at the more traditional publishers' heels.
It may be Image's greatest success since they made an initial splash in the '90s, and they're doing it with fewer superheroes this time.
Other points of interest
- Comic-Con is a place for comics and the associated characters, as well as other forms of pop culture, but it's also a home for geeks, so one that may be a more natural fit than it seems at first is NASA's Next Giant Leap. The panel will include Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin talking with other panelists about NASA's future plans, including their efforts to get a man to Mars.
- There were some galactic, time-traveling snubs — despite launching a new season in August, no "Doctor Who" panel is coming to this year's Comic-Con. Same for "Sherlock," leaving Benedict Cumberbatch's legions of fans wanting. But bigger than that, no Disney panel, which means no "Star Wars: Episode VII" — the infamously secretive J.J. Abrams is keeping that one mostly under wraps for a bit longer.
- It's been true for a few years now, but more than ever, you don't need a Comic-Con ticket to enjoy the weekend in San Diego thanks to all of the offsite events. Nerd HQ, run by former "Chuck" star Zachary Levi, is taking over Petco Park and holding their own panels, with proceeds going to charity — though you have to pay for each one. Chris Hardwick's Nerdist.com is holding giant laser tag matches, "Gotham" has a zip line, "Sleepy Hollow" is putting fans into a virtual reality Oculus Rift simulation and there are dozens and dozens more events happening for fans to wet their geek whistles.
- A lot of fans may be looking to enjoy those offsite events thanks to how difficult it can be to get into the big panels onsite. While 125,000 fans attend each year, the biggest room at the convention, Hall H, only holds 6,500 people — meaning a lot of sad "Game of Thrones" and Marvel movie fans. Comic-Con is taking steps to try to ease at least a small amount of the pressure by instituting a wristband system for Hall H and showing replays of the biggest panels in near real-time — minus any footage that's being shown — in a playback room.