Ten Lessons Learned at the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con

Lessons from Maisie Williams, virgins, and that one guy from Teen Wolf

Hard to believe that this was my TENTH Comic-Con this year. I was barely legal when I went the first time, and now look at me. The overall impression here is that for a milestone year, it’s a fairly standard one. No really huge surprises compared to last year’s bombshell announcement of Batman v Superman, no Tom Hiddleston and Andrew Garfield showing up in costume and in character.

That’s not to say it wasn’t an eventful Comic-Con, and definitely not to say that there weren’t new lessons to learn. Here are the ten things I took away from San Diego.


1. No, not everyone reads YA books

If you follow the news on teeny bopper actors and their movies, you’ve probably heard the news by now that actor Dylan O’Brien accidentally spoiled a major death from his movie The Maze Runner while promoting it during the 20th Century Fox panel. This alone isn’t that bad, really. It was an honest slip that came out because he was answering a fan question. The shooting-himself-in-the-foot moment came afterward, when the panel quickly tried to ignore it and move on to another topic, only for O’Brien to get weirdly defensive and steer the conversation back to the spoiler, insisting that it’s not really a spoiler because it’s in the book the movie’s based on, anyway. Again this could have been a flimsy but technically true argument, had he not then directly asked the crowd if they’d read the book and what sounded like twenty people out of six thousand clapped. Awkward moment when you’ve been selling the movie as an adaptation of a “bestseller.”


2. But a lot of people read A Song of Ice and Fire

Unlike the people in The Maze Runner audience, a very large portion of the Game of Thrones fans are book readers, and they can be pretty vocal about it. At Friday’s panel, a lot of the questions came from book readers, and it’s understandable why: Season 4 probably had some of the biggest changes from the books yet, and even added information that surpassed the books, which blew a lot of book readers’ minds (and angered quite a few).

Problem is, the panel was organized by HBO, so obviously producers D.B. Weiss and David Benioff refused to address the questions in fear of spoiling the show, and things got even more awkward when one clueless fan asked George R.R. Martin if he wanted people to stop watching the show until the rest of the books come out in order to preserve a “pure experience,” which Martin obviously said no to and mediated the divide by saying “the book is the book and the show is the show.” You could tell that moderator Craig Ferguson—who admitted that he had not read the books—got annoyed at the book readers and kept jokingly shaking his fist at them and asking for them to be stabbed. At one point, Ferguson point blank asked the book readers in the audience if they consider themselves to be superior to show-fans like him.


3. Q&As in Hall H are dwindling

Unfortunately, that kind of thing might be the reason why we’re seeing less and less time for audience questions during panels now, leaving most of the questions to moderators that can be controlled by the studios. Even the ones that include the fans usually only have time for 4 or 5 people at most. This isn’t the case with most Comic-Con panels, of course, just the high-profile ones in Hall H. Two years ago, Marvel let audience members ask the Iron Man 3 cast questions and WB did the same for Man of Steel to introduce Henry Cavill, but this year neither made any time for whatever reason. Batman v Superman bizarrely flew Cavill, Ben Affleck, and Gal Gadot in, but didn’t let them say a single word.

Photo by Stephen Moehle/Artboiled

Is it because they were afraid that someone would make a snide comment about Batfleck, or bring up Gadot’s trashy pro-Israel Facebook post from the day before? Who knows. Maybe they just didn’t feel like talking.

I miss past years when half of a movie’s panel would be dedicated to fan questions, making time for 10 or 15 of them. Yes, stupid and uncomfortable questions do come up because of this, but that’s what made Hall H panels so great and set it apart from press junkets. One of my favorite memories of Comic-Con is from my first year going there: an extremely neurotic fan at the V For Vendetta panel telling a confused Natalie Portman all about his chronic back pain and conversion to Judaism. Man, I miss those moments.


4. At least we still have the sex jokes

It started with Evangeline Lilly calling Paul Rudd a “Comic-Con virgin,” which led to an audience member shouting for Rudd to pop his cherry and some jokey banter between Rudd and Chris Hardwick about his “first time.” Hardwick then asked Michael Douglas the same question, and Douglas took it a bit too far by quipping, “I’ve popped a lot of cherries.” Oof. Kevin Feige joined in a bit later, pointing out the double entendre when Hardwick asked him if being able to reveal things in Hall H feels like a release for him. “Release? Popping cherries? This is a family event, Chris!” Feige joked, to which Hardwick replied, “That’s how families get made.”

Earlier at The Hobbit panel, we also got to hear Orlando Bloom and Luke Evans engage in some dick jokes, when they were asked who the better archer is between Legolas and Bard the Bowman. “[Evans] has a bigger bow and arrow, but I’m a better shot,” said Bloom cockily.


5. It pays to advertise

One of the biggest surprises of the Con was the Interstellar panel, which brought with it Matthew McConaughey and Christopher Nolan. Paramount refrained from disclosing what movies they were bringing with them on the program in order to keep their slate a surprise, so their appearance was unexpected, especially since Nolan never showed up for any of his superhero movies in previous years. The problem with this is that, if you don’t already have a loyal built-in audience for your studio like Warner Bros, Marvel, or Pixar, you’re not going to be that interesting to the average attendee who may or may not even know what upcoming movies are yours. That’s what happened Thursday when the Paramount timeslot drew a non-existent line, with people easily walking into the famously hard to get into Hall H mere minutes before the panel started. A beloved Academy Award-winning movie star and the man who made The Dark Knight trilogy came out to a room that was 1/4 empty at Comic-Con.

Now, even at three quarters capacity, Hall H is nothing to scoff at. That’s still almost 5,000 people who created quite the Twitter buzz. In relative terms, though, we’re talking about a director who has the most name recognition since, I dunno, Peter Jackson; and was involved in 5 of the biggest blockbusters in recent memory. If they had dropped his name on the schedule, there’s little doubt that there would have been buzz about the lines to get in that could have trickled down to Paramount’s other movies.


6. Backhanded compliments can be slobbery too

In all my years sitting through movie panels, I’ve gotten used to the sight of stars being showered with praise by their directors and/or fellow stars, but none seemed as slobbery as Joe Hill and director Alexandre Aja’s constant praising of Daniel Radcliffe throughout the Horns panel. They were impressed by him. So impressed. Why this stood out was partly because it was just the three of them, but also because their attempts to give him sincere compliments sounded backhanded for the most part. Aja and Hill repeatedly told the crowd that we are going to be very surprised by how good Radcliffe’s performance in the movie is. Very, very surprised.

Asked about the decision to cast Radcliffe, Aja made it very clear that the studio signed him on before Woman in Black came out, so of course Aja thought it wasn’t a good idea since he only knew the actor as Harry Potter. But maaan, wasn’t he wrong! Aja even nodded his head enthusiastically when he said this, like he still couldn’t believe it. All the while, Radcliffe’s sitting between them blushing and going, aw thanks guys, I’m glad I cleared the low bar you set.


7. Oculus Rift is taking off, at least in marketing

Virtual reality is the hot new thing now. Several studios turned to Oculus Rift at the Con to promote their movies or TV shows, and they all seemed to impress. Sleepy Hollow and Game of Thrones both recreated a virtual slice of their fictional towns for fans to enter using the tech. Hollow allowed you to be chased and killed by the headless horseman in a graveyard, while Thrones let you climb The Wall. 20th Century Fox went further, building a Cerebro replica that used Oculus Rift to let you do what Professor X does and find mutants in the crowd. The one that won people over the most was the Pacific Rim one, which gave you a three-minute experience of being inside a Jaeger’s head while fighting a kaiju alongside Charlie Hunnam.

Into the Storm gets biggest points for going all out, though, by putting their Oculus Rift machine simulating a tornado inside a glass cage where they actually use twin fans to blow powerful winds at you.

Photo by Maddy Boesen/Artboiled


8. How to fill Edgar Wright’s shoes

Not surprising anyone, when the new Ant-Man director Peyton Reed was introduced to the stage, cheers were scarce. The crowd knew about the Edgar Wright brouhaha surrounding the film and were reluctant to accept this substitute. Cognizant to this wave of skepticism, a chunk of the panel was just about affirming Reed’s geek cred. This past San Diego Comic-Con, he revealed, was his twentieth(!) time attending. He also brought with him an old poster for his high school band where he drew all the band members as superheroes and he cast himself, the drummer, as Ant-Man. “He didn’t tell us this until we hired him,” said studio head Kevin Feige. Reed has been a lifelong Ant-Man fan, probably more of one than Wright, and wants to do right by the character.

But is geek cred enough to replace a fan favorite like Wright? No matter. Reed had put together a scene just for the audience, starting with dialogue between Rudd and Douglas about why Rudd’s Scott Lang is better than the “goddamn superheroes” that Douglas’ Hank Pym is clearly not a fan of. By the end of the clip, showing Ant-Man escaping through a small vent, the crowd was cheering Reed’s handiwork.


9. You can continue a film in comics

Both David Fincher and Quentin Tarantino were at the Con, but not for movies. Instead, they were promoting the sequels to their movies being done in comic book form. Fincher is not actually involved in Fight Club 2, but of course was there to celebrate its legacy, which is being continued by Chuck Palahniuk himself through a miniseries from Dark Horse Comics. Asked why this medium, Palahniuk theorized that comic book art (especially one such as artist Cameron Stewart’s clean lines) creates a distancing effect that allows him to go really gross or brutal without turning off the audience the way filming them would.

Meanwhile, Tarantino co-wrote the upcoming Django/Zorro comic with Zorro writer Matt Wagner, and was completely enthusiastic in that Tarantino way about all the avenues this opens up to telling the backstories or further adventures of larger-than-life characters like Bill. Stories that he would otherwise have no interest revisiting on film. In the case of Django, for example, Tarantino said he never planned on making a sequel, but did envision a series if paperback novels chronicling Django’s further adventures, so he saw the opportunity to turn him into a character in the Dynamite Comics universe alongside Zorro and the Lone Ranger to be too good to pass up.

Ever since Disney bought Marvel and Lucasfilm, it was inevitable that we were going to see Marvel publish Star Wars comics, and they finally announced three series set between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back officially at Comic-Con. Unlike the past few decades of Star Wars comics, which existed in a state of licensing canon limbo, Marvel has the advantage of being able to say that yes, these comics are truly a continuation of the movies they now share a parent company with.


10. Maybe we shouldn’t cheer a 12-year-old committing murder

I watched the season four premiere of Game of Thrones at a bar packed with fellow fans. In the closing moments, when Arya taunted a downed man with mockery and slowly slid her sword into his neck, the whole bar erupted in a giant cheer. Even then, I felt myself cringing a bit, because as satisfying as it was for her character, the show clearly meant I’m for it to be a disturbing scene, too, with the way it focused on Arya’s emotionless expression as her victim does a death gurgle.

It’s a relief to know that Maisie Williams shares that trepidation. During the “Women Who Kick Ass” panel, the moderator asked the panelists their favorite kickass moments, and Williams responded with a reminder that although that scene was a kickass moment for her to play, it was also not supposed to be a good thing for a 12-year-old girl to go through. “We all like to brush that aside,” she said. “But you can’t live your life like that and be okay in the head.”

Photo by Stephen Moehle/Artboiled