The geek mecca of San Diego Comic-Con kicked off Wednesday night, but its celebration of popular culture ramps up with the headline events Friday and Saturday.
This year, there aren't as many big movie panels as fans are used to seeing. Nothing appears to be driving fans to the fever pitch of events like last year's "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" panel, which concluded with a live concert offsite.
While Disney subsidiary Marvel still has a Comic-Con panel this year, they didn't bring the focused panels of last year — nothing for this holiday season's "Star Wars: Rogue One." Disney has been focused more on its own conventions, D23 and Star Wars Celebration. With this year's Star Wars Celebration just a week before Comic-Con, the company didn't appear to care much about bringing their latest to a different audience.
"They get so much more coverage for their material, and I think that we're seeing studios and networks get a little bit more savvy. There's so much noise coming out of Comic-Con," Rotten Tomatoes Editor-In-Chief Matt Atchity tells KPCC. "As an audience, we only have the attention span to really pay attention to five or six, maybe, big developments."
That means that news is still made at Comic-Con — but the studios and networks are the ones controlling that news. Atchity says that that's led to Rotten Tomatoes pulling back in how much it covers Comic-Con.
"Six, seven years ago, you could go, and you could get every star from every movie to come by. You could get video with all of them, and you could mine a fair amount of good web traffic, or a good amount of interest out of your audience base. But now the studios and networks have figured out they can go directly to fans on their own," Atchity says.
As TV has been growing in critical acclaim, many shows have been trying to fill in the gap left by movies. "Game of Thrones" and "The Walking Dead" have been particularly adept at connecting with the same geek audience that serves as Comic-Con's lifeblood.
"We're really seeing Hall H, which is the big hall, where the studios have really exclusively shown movies — five or six years ago — is now half TV," Atchity says.
One panel on its way up: the one for USA's "Mr. Robot." A lack of enthusiasm during the panel before it seemed to indicate a large portion of the crowd waiting through that panel for "Mr. Robot," as Comic-Con doesn't clear panels between rooms. There was also little turnover in between panels, with most of the crowd's butts locked in their seats.
"For the last 10 or so years, there's always something that kind of steps up to take that spot, and it's always something really cool, too. It just may not get as big headlines," Shawn Marshall with fan site Parks and Cons tells KPCC.
The host of the "Mr. Robot" panel, self-made king nerd Chris Hardwick (who hosts many of Comic-Con's other panels), commented that he could see the panel making the transition from the already large room it was in this year to Hall H next time.
One of the other big early surprises to come out of Comic-Con: Luc Besson's sci-fi movie "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets," scheduled for next year but relatively unknown thus far. Besson directed "The Fifth Element," but his last film "Lucy" failed to make the impact of his previous successes. The first footage of "Valerian" debuted Thursday and showed the kind of inventiveness, excitement and originality that keeps fans coming back to Comic-Con.
Fans and critics quickly reacted, spreading the word and building the hype train that keeps studios coming back to Comic-Con too.
"I think the coolest thing about Comic-Con is it's so much work to do everything, from literally worrying about getting a badge for the next year, which starts the day after Comic-Con of this year — but it makes everything so sweet, when you get it," Marshall says. "As much as we love the D23 Expos or Star Wars Celebration, none of them have that campus feeling, where you can walk blocks away and it just feels like you're part of a community that's all kind of focused on a singular kind of pop culture moment."
Another sweet piece of classic Comic-Con is Saturday night's Marvel Studios movie panel.
"Watch the Marvel panel," Atchity says. "I think [studio head] Kevin Feige's going to come out, and he's going to give us some really interesting breaking news. I don't know what it's going to be, but I would expect some really interesting announcements, kind of about that third wave of Marvel movies that's coming."
Of course, Marshall says, movie studios' move away from Comic-Con has left more room for excitement on the comic book front. DC Comics in particular seems to be capitalizing on the moment, with the rollout of its Rebirth return to core principles in its main titles, along with the launch of the new Young Animal line run by former My Chemical Romance singer Gerard Way.
More than 45 years in, Comic-Con will likely be around for a long time to come — so long as the gathering can offer something special to a live audience and community of comic lovers.