An Attempt to Explain the Utterly Inexplicable San Diego Comic-Con


There are certain traditions that have snuck into our popular culture so quietly and casually that we don’t stop to think how ridiculous they are, and the San Diego Comic-Con (which concluded Sunday) is one of them. Just try explaining it sometime to someone who doesn’t know anything about comic conventions or blockbuster marketing: “Oh, well, it’s a big gathering for fans of comic books and genre films and television and basically all of the expensive things that Hollywood does. They all pack into a California convention center in July — some of them in costume as their favorite characters — and wait in ridiculously long lines so they can go into giant convention halls and geek out over things that haven’t come out yet, but which they think will be cool.”

“That seems odd,” your blissfully unaware companion might reply, sensibly. “But once they’re in there, they at least get to see these movies before anyone else?”

“Ah, no. Not as such. But they get to see trailers for them before anyone else! A couple of hours before anyone else, at least. And they get to go to panels, where the directors and actors and so on talk about the thing that hasn’t come out yet.”

“OK, so let me see if I’ve got this straight: people pay good money and put themselves through great personal discomfort so they can smash themselves into a convention hall, where they are shown a commercial for a movie, and then they sit and listen to people sell them the movie?”

“Yes. A movie which, by the way, they already want to see, hence the whole standing-in-the-line-and-crowding-into-the-thing-with-the-people business.”

“Wow. Such exploitation of fandom in the name of naked hucksterism must make them furious! Do they riot?”

“Um, no. They pretty much cheer everything they see and everything the people say.”

“How peculiar. Well, are they at least privy to exciting bits of news about these films they haven’t seen yet?”

“Oh, absolutely! For example, there was a Warner Brothers panel, with all kinds of stuff about Batman v. Superman.”

“Ah! I’ve heard about that movie! There was a whole controversy, wasn’t there, where all of these comic fans were upset about Ben Affleck playing Batman, right? That must’ve been awkward! What did he say to them?”

“Uh, well, nothing, actually. Neither he nor Henry Cavill, who plays Superman, was allowed to speak.”

“Seriously? Who did the talking?”

“The director, Zack Snyder.”

“Zack Snyder? They let fucking Sucker Punch talk, but not the guy who directed Argo?”

“Careful there, your knowledge of Mr. Snyder’s spotty filmography might very well give away that this entire ‘conversation’ is a single writer’s construct.”

“Right-o, sorry. So did they get to see a trailer for that movie?”

“Hardly — it’s not coming out until summer of 2016.”

“Are you fucking kidding me? They’re already banging the drum for a movie that’s two years off? And what the hell’s taking them so long to make it — this is Batman vs. Superman, not War and Peace.”

“Uh, it’s Batman v. Superman, not Batman vs. Superman.”

“Oh, seriously, bite me. So no trailer?”

“No, no trailer, but they did unveil the first image of Gal Gadot in costume as Wonder Woman. It was a big deal! According to Variety, it was one of the Con’s biggest moments on Twitter, and the photo was retweeted over 7,000 times.”

“Nothing you just said makes any sense. Twitter went crazy over a picture of Wonder Woman? Was it even a cool picture?”

“Eh, not really. Kinda just looked like Xena, Warrior Princess. But still — it’s the first image of Snyder’s Wonder Woman! And first is a very big deal at Comic-Con — these super-fans get to see these trailers and concept art and posters first, and hear the announcements first. Sometimes only by a few minutes, because all the entertainment sites have people there, and everything is all over the Internet right away, but still.”

“Hang on, so the entertainment press just covers this dog-and-pony show without any skepticism whatsoever? The studios are just doing sales pitches, and the news sites turn around and just report it?”

“Well, yeah. I mean, it’s news!”

“Is it?”

“Sure! And they announced some new movies this year, as well.”

“Yeah, like what?”

“Well, they’re gonna do another Godzilla movie. And the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel will be out in July of 2017. And—”

“Wait, they haven’t even released the first one yet!”

“Dude, Marvel is a brand. The theatrical release is just a formality. In fact, Marvel has already staked out dates through 2018.”

“Seriously? For which movies?”

“No one knows! Doesn’t matter! They’re Marvel movies! We’ll all go see them!”

“Okay, so did anyone announce any movies at this Comic-Con thing that weren’t sequels?”

“Absolutely! Legendary Pictures announced Skull Island . It’s a King Kong origin story!”

“King Kong’s origins? Who gives a shit?”

“No, that’s what popular culture is now! We have a handful of basic touchstones, and we just want riffs off of them — sequels, remakes, reboots, prequels, spin-offs, etc. And then we want to hear everything about their production: every casting rumor, every key decision, what they’ll be based on, what new direction they’ll take from the previous iteration (dark and gritty is always welcome!), what the characters will look like (and we may have complaints if they look different!). We want to see concept art and clips and trailers the second they’re available — though if you want to tease us for a couple of days with ‘15-second teasers’ of their teasers and trailers (commercials for commercials, basically), that’s cool too. And then we’ll obsessively deconstruct those teasers and trailers, and rave or complain about them (maybe both!) at length online. And we’ll count down the days until its release, and we’ll buy tickets to the first show we can, the night before it comes out! And then we’ll go see it, and probably be disappointed — because really, what could possibly live up to literally years of hype? — and we’ll dismiss it on Twitter and in comments sections, and forget about it as soon as we leave the theater, but that won’t matter, because there will be another over-hyped movie out soon enough!”

“That sounds horribly depressing.”

“Does it? It shouldn’t! It’s fun! It’s fan engagement! It’s geek culture! And San Diego Comic-Con is our Super Bowl!”

“Well, look, I don’t want to slam geek culture — everybody’s passionate about something. I guess it just seems like, the more I hear about it, the more I think geek culture deserves a better Super Bowl than this nakedly transparent shill-fest. I hope everybody had a good time, but from the outside looking in, it kind of sounds like this thing encapsulates everything that’s wrong with modern mainstream movie-making.”

“Fictional naïve conversation partner, you’ve proven surprisingly insightful about this entire sham. It’s almost as though I suspected all of these things, but was afraid to say them myself, lest I be deemed some kind of a killjoy.”

“There, there. Have a hankie. Dry your eyes. Nothing a stiff drink and a Buffy marathon won’t cure.”

“Thanks, pretend friend. Only you truly understand me.”

And scene.