— From the pages of FLL Issue #27 • Feature Lineart by Marcus Hall / Colored by Chris Ruch
FAITHFUL READERS, IT’S TIME I CAME CLEAN: I LIVE A DOUBLE LIFE.
By day, I am mild-mannered journalist Brent Urmey, combing the cornfields and city streets of Lancaster for the latest stories to publish between these pages. But at the end of the day, when I hang up my hat and put my tablet to sleep, the transformation occurs. On my chest appears a t-shirt emblazoned with an obscure movie reference. A mighty video game controller materializes in my hands. I’m suddenly filled with an insatiable craving for science fiction, superheroes, and board games that take longer to explain than to play. I become…
The Incredible Geek.
Perhaps “geek” seems like a derisive label, but it’s not one that I’m ashamed of. In my dictionary (which may have arrived in a cereal box), a geek is someone who is passionate about something—be it comic books, theatre, or Russian ventriloquism. Sure, we might become overly zealous when discussing whether Han shot first, which Batman was the best, or how Kirk would defeat Picard (with…many…dramatic pauses), but it’s only because we’re so invested in the stories we love.
The truth of this can be seen at any Comic Convention. If ever there was a place where unashamed, passionate geeks could gather together and revel in their fandom without fear of judgment, it’s at a Comic Con. There, the geek flags fly with pride, and the uncostumed are in the minority. And yet, until this year, I’d never attended one—I thought I wouldn’t fit in, that I was too… normal. So it was with excitement, and a little bit of trepidation, that I embarked on my very first Con adventure: the 2013 Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con.
ENTER THE CON
Philadelphia, “The City of Brotherly Love,” is a city known for its fans. Or—let’s be honest—a city notorious for its fans. In the past, Philly fans have made headlines for booing Santa Claus and cheering opponents’ injuries, so they’ve developed something of a bad reputation. But once you get away from the sports stadiums, it’s a whole different ballgame. The fandom that congregates at Philadelphia Comic Con would never throw snowballs at Santa…unless he tried to cut in line, that is. Then the Power Gloves come off.
After consulting some Con veterans, I decided to attend as Clark Kent, the secret identity of Superman. It seemed appropriate for two reasons:
1) Actors Brandon Routh (“Superman Returns”) and Dean Cain (Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman) were among the celebrity guests;
2) I would be a journalist, dressed as a superhero, dressed as a journalist.
Stepping into the Philadelphia Convention Center, I unbuttoned my shirt to reveal the “S” beneath and adjusted my hat and glasses—I’d opted for the Classic Clark look, à la Christopher Reeve. When a group of wizards and Stormtroopers joined me on the escalator, I knew I was in the right place. We rode up to a huge room where thousands of people were rubbing elbows (and wings, and tentacles, and robotic appendages…) while they waited for the Convention floor to open.
Although my press badge permitted me to bypass the endless entrance queue, I didn’t go in right away— there was already so much to see. As the line grew, universes collided for crossover photo ops, mock battles spilled into the aisles, and an entire team of Ghostbusters swept the room for ectoplasm (good news, I’m clean!). To my left, Darth Vader was force-choking a Doctor Who Muppet; to my right, Zombie Gumby poked fun at a group of Japanese anime characters. The intense atmosphere of camaraderie, of kinship even, surprised me. It was like a geeked out family reunion; a place “where everybody knows your [character’s] name.”
THE CONVENTION FLOOR
As large as the registration room was, the main hall dwarfed it. A sea of vendors stretched out from the entrance and formed a vast marketplace of fantasy props and collectibles. Fans lined up to buy sonic screwdrivers and pixelated pickaxes, Jedi hoodies and Trekkie robes, and everything else that geek dreams are made of. For those on a quest for true love (or experiencing pon farr) there was even a selection of colognes—several inspired by Star Trek and one inspired by comic book icon Stan Lee. Whether the scent was authentic, I cannot say; his bodyguards didn’t let me get close enough to do a scratch-and-sniff test.
Halfway down the hall, Artist Alley cut through the vendor booths like a lightsaber through butter. Those tables were reserved for the writers, artists, letterers, colorists, and assorted creative types who collaborate to bring comics to life. Some were well-established, others just aspiring, but the quality and variety of art on display could have rivaled any gallery. I stopped to speak with Michael Golden, co-creator of the X-Men character Rogue, who shared his views on the art of storytelling; later, I discussed the art of 90s cartoons with illustrator and cartoonist Kevin Bolk.
There were two indie comics that really hooked me on their concepts: Healed and Potential. One was a twist on the over-saturated zombie genre, the other a twist on the over-saturated superhero genre. Healed looks at what would happen if, instead of a worldwide epidemic, there was a sudden worldwide healing—and all of the problems that would follow. Potential tells the story of a boy who always dreamt of superpowers— but was absent on the day that all of his classmates were exposed to power-imbuing radiation.
The back third of the room was designated for celebrity autographs and photo opportunities. Right up front was The Incredible Hulk himself, Lou Ferrigno, grinning and shaking puny hands. A few feet away, I spotted Giancarlo Esposito, Breaking Bad’s kingpin of drugs and fried chicken. Ray Park, better known as Darth Maul (and unrecognizable without the red and black makeup), demonstrated martial arts in front of his booth, and TV’s Hercules, Kevin Sorbo, flexed for his fans. The lines for Summer Glau and Jewel Staite were already wrapping around in hypnotic spirals. I was fortunate enough to shake hands with Brandon Routh (later, I would interview him) and my admiration grew when he personally chased down a fan just to embellish his autograph.
Nearby, I heard someone leading a sizable crowd in a chant that closed with a massive, “YEAH!” Sporting green highlights in his spiked-up hair, it was Jason David Frank, MMA fighter and Green Power Ranger (he later became the White Power Ranger—please note that’s the White Power Ranger and not the White Power Ranger). He may not have been the biggest star of the Con, but he was by far the biggest personality. It seemed like he was everywhere—signing autographs, doing a Meet & Greet with fans, leading a karate class, judging the costume contest, and even starting a jump-kick duel. The man was tireless. A few minutes later, he rallied his audience for another battle cry: “IT’S MORPHIN’ TIME!” they thundered.
Q&A SESSIONS: CAPTAIN KIRK AND THE FONZ
An important tent-pole of any Comic Convention is the programming, which usually includes panel discussions and Q&A sessions with the biggest celebrities in attendance.
I started off the morning at William Shatner’s Q&A. The Star Trek legend quickly endeared himself to the crowd with a story about his dog Starbuck (aww) being castrated (eww) and how he, Captain James T. Kirk, had boldly hand-delivered the results to the breeding lab. Fans lined up to ask questions about everything from his prank war with Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock) to his unique musical pursuits and writing career. Shatner announced that he’ll soon be releasing his fourth studio album, “Ponder the Mystery,” which will likely go where no music has gone before.
Henry Winkler, best known as “The Fonz,” spent the least time talking about himself except to note (in jest?) that he was wearing chiffon underwear. He even devoted a portion of his Q&A to speaking about dyslexia and children’s reading programs. For every question that a fan asked him, he asked them three about themselves and seemed genuinely interested in the answers, even as the moderator tried to hurry him along. A woman with tears in her eyes told him how, as a child, she had looked up to him as a surrogate dad. “It was my pleasure, dear,” he replied. “Now go to your room.”
When it was my turn, I asked Henry what it was like to work on the same show (Arrested Development) first with network television and then, 7 years later, with Netflix. “There’s no difference,” he said. “Acting is acting is acting. They just used more technology.” He explained that the new season of the show, exclusive to Netflix, relied heavily on green screens to get around the actors’ scheduling issues.
THE WALKING DEAD
Predictably, the two most-attended panels were for The Walking Dead and the Firefly/ Serenity partial reunion. Because they were back to back, many fans had to choose one or the other—if they got in at all.
Arguably the most popular show on cable right now (this year’s season finale drew a record 12.4 million viewers), The Walking Dead has raised the bar both for scripted television and horror serials in general. Representing the cast were three of the show’s most troubled characters, “Shane” (Jon Bernthal), “Darryl” (Norman Reedus), and “Merle” (Michael Rooker). Before any of them could make an appearance, however, a boy in zombie makeup stole the show. He ran up on stage, commandeered a microphone, and promptly clammed up. The moderator played right along, improvising questions for the boy.
Michael Rooker was the first to make his entrance, rocking a close-cropped Mohawk and all of Merle’s swagger— but thankfully none of the character’s abrasiveness and racism. The moderator, who was African-American, never missed an opportunity to remind him of it, though.[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””] [Spoiler Alert] One fan asked if Rooker would have changed anything about Merle’s death. He responded with a firm, “No,” but the moderator quipped: “Maybe you coulda got killed by some black people.” The room erupted in laughter. [End Spoilers][/pullquote]
“On a scale from one to ten,” asked a small boy in a sheriff’s hat, “how badass would you rate yourself?” Rooker grinned devilishly. “I can only go up to 10?”
Soon, Rooker tagged out to Bernthal, who was asked about the show and whether he was single, and then he tagged out to Norman Reedus, and that’s when the questions started getting weird.
• “Will you look through my photography portfolio?” With an audience of several thousand people, Reedus proceeded to look through a folder of photographs.
• “I brought this stuffed monkey for you.”
• “Will you sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to my friend?”
• “Will you hold me in your arms like you held baby Ass-Kicker?” Norman shrugged, “Okay,” and the girl leapt into his arms.
For a show that didn’t get a full season and wasn’t even completely aired, Firefly has developed a massive cult following, which at least earned it the follow-up film, Serenity. Fans still hold out hope that the brilliant space-western will get a second chance someday, especially now that Netflix has resurrected Arrested Development and established a precedent.
The question, of course, was asked during the panel: “Will the show ever come back?”
Each of the cast members—Adam Baldwin, Gina Torres, Summer Glau, and Jewel Staite—was adamant that if Joss Whedon called, they would drop everything. But then Adam shared something poignant that Joss had said to him: “Firefly is like this city on a hill: It’s beautiful, and we’re all part of it, but it would be really risky to try and do it again, to live up to what’s been created.”
The rest of the panel was mostly a mix of on-set stories and out-of-control innuendo. The audience sang “Happy Birthday” to Jewel a day early, and Adam explained to his co-stars what a crankshaft was. One fan asked them to play their cell phone ringtones—Adam’s blasted Led Zeppelin, Gina’s grooved with a disco tune, and Summer claimed hers was always on vibrate.
“How often does the fame go to your head?” asked a bold fan.
“We’re all just normal people, bro,” replied Jewel. “We floss. Sometimes, we forget to floss.”
“Go get me a sandwich,” said Adam.
CLARK KENT INTERVIEWS SUPERMAN
In the world of comic books, almost anything can happen (and it usually does). Nevertheless, it isn’t often that a superhero and his own secret identity cross paths—Batman and Bruce Wayne can’t exactly take a stroll to the Gotham City Ice Cream Shoppe. But just this once, Clark Kent interviewed Superman.
As Brandon Routh and I crossed the convention floor, his entourage formed a protective circle around us. “My first experience going to Comic Con was Wizard World in San Francisco, where we released the first trailer for “Superman Returns” back in 2006,” he told me. “Everybody clapped. It was pretty awesome!” He’s not upset that they recast Superman for the latest movie—that’s just something you accept with certain roles, like James Bond or Doctor Who. “The biggest thing is respecting the character and the legacy of Superman,” Brandon said. “Henry’s a great actor—I’m sure he’ll do a nice job.”
In 2010, Routh appeared in Edgar Wright’s “Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World” as Todd Ingram, an Evil Ex-Boyfriend with vegan superpowers. Imagine if Superman had been raised in a villain’s country club instead of a farmhouse—that’s Todd. “It was great fun to be able to do something totally different, the opposite end of the spectrum, and to be sort of crazy and outlandish,” said Brandon. “It was a blast.” Asked whether he preferred playing a bad guy, he answered, “Villains are interesting because you have to find what’s turned them…but I like the good guy most.” His grin was full of heroic charm. “I like to save the day.”
It’s fun to put on a mask and cape and step outside of yourself for a little while, but eventually you have to climb back into the phone booth and answer the panicky call of the real world, who wants to know where you are and how soon you’ll be home and can you pick up bread and milk while you’re out?
I was sad to leave Comic Con, to leave behind the Super Marios and the Time Lords, the X-Men and the Klingons, the Browncoats and the Daleks, and especially the lumbering Lego Batman who couldn’t see where he was going. It was disappointing to walk into a room and not be surrounded by people wearing weird, crazy costumes—just normal people, wearing normal clothes, talking about work and sports.
But then again, how many of those “normal” people live a double life like me? How many of them hide their passions and wear a mask in public? How many of them are closet geeks?
I hope it’s a lot. And I hope you’re one of us.