Comic be­lief

For­get the Os­cars – wear the right out­fit to Comic Con and you’ll be as much of a celebrity as the ac­tors, direc­tors and au­thors jostling for at­ten­tion with span­dex, lightsabers and Barack Obama. Liam Burke en­ters a world of fan­tasy made flesh Watch­men?

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Feature -

Achain­saw-wield­ing ma­niac claims his next tar­get, while the vic­tim’s friends cheer and take pho­tos; an over­weight Bat­man stands in a room of thou­sands to ask The Simp­sons’ cre­ator Matt Groen­ing where he gets his in­spi­ra­tion, while Ir­ish J1 stu­dents guard the en­trances.

Wel­come to Comic-Con In­ter­na­tional in San Diego, a sur­real and var­ied event that has grown into an es­sen­tial mar­ket­ing stop for any movie stu­dio or television net­work hop­ing to launch the next block­buster or raise a fol­low­ing for a cult show. Es­sen­tially, it’s Sun­dance, but with big­ger bud­gets and more lightsabers.

Among those hop­ing to tap into the un­der­ground cul­ture is Pixar. Its next film, Up, fol­lows a sep­tu­a­ge­nar­ian who floats his home, be­neath hun­dreds of coloured bal­loons, to Venezue­lan moun­tain­tops. From the footage on dis­play, it looks ev­ery bit as mag­i­cal as Wall-E. Star Wars com­pletes the process that be­gan with the pre­quels by be­com­ing fully com­puter-gen­er­ated with Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Ir­ish di­rec­tor John Moore be­gan his ca­reer di­rect­ing Sega Dream­cast com­mer­cials; now he has come full cir­cle with the com­puter-game adap­ta­tion Max Payne, star­ring Mark Wahlberg. Ig­nor­ing his po­ten­tially un­der­age au­di­ence, Moore de­scribed how he “kicked the shit out of the cam­era” to make a “kick-ass” film, and, on the ev­i­dence of the clips, the comic-con­ers didn’t dis­agree.

Comic con­ven­tions were once con­signed to dingy ball-rooms in low-rent ho­tels, but in a sum­mer in which The Dark Knight broke box­of­fice records, even the mam­moth San Diego Con­ven­tion Cen­tre wasn’t big enough to ac­com­mo­date the in­ter­est this cross­over ap­peal brought. Glas­ton­bury may have strug­gled to sell out, but Comic-Con quickly filled its 125,000 ca­pac­ity, with passes be­ing scalped on eBay for four times their orig­i­nal price.

So, what phan­tas­magor­i­cal sights can be seen down this rab­bit-hole of un­der­ground cul­ture?

Hol­ly­wood A-lis­ters brave the belly of the beast

Comic-con­ers are a bay­ing mob who tempt Hol­ly­wood stars into their midst with the prom­ise of fu­ture box-of­fice fi­delity, but are just as likely to tear them asun­der for any hos­tile ad­vances into their pre-marked ter­ri­tory. The most suc­cess­ful lion-tamers come pre­pared with never-be­fore-seen clips and fawn­ing praise. The none-too-sur­pris­ing “sur­prise guest” of the 20th Cen­tury Fox panel, Hugh Jack­man, be­gan with some Spring­stee­nesque crowd in­ter­ac­tion be­fore pre­mier­ing scenes from his solo su­per­hero ef­fort, X-Men Ori­gins: Wolver­ine.

Jack­man claimed the footage had been trun­dled straight from the cam­eras to the con­ven­tion, via a Qan­tas jet, but the high pol­ish of the clips sug­gested that this is an early trailer in the mak­ing. While there was lit­tle to dis­tin­guish this X-film from the pre­vi­ous mu­tant movies, the clip was met with deaf­en­ing ap­proval.

The same could not be said of Guy Ritchie’s latest mock­ney crime ca­per Rock­nrolla, star­ring Ger­ard But­ler. Clips from the film met an ap­a­thetic re­sponse, de­spite But­ler’s cache thanks to his role in 300; But­ler had to re­sort to throw­ing Her­shey’s choco­late to abate the dis­con­tented rab­ble. The panel for Kevin Smith’s latest com­edy, Zack and Miri Make a Porno was a breed­ing ground for off-colour anec­dote – un­sur­pris­ing, given that the group in­cluded hir­sute fun­ny­man Seth Ro­gen, fu­ture fic­tional first lady El­iz­a­beth Banks (Oliver Stone’sW), porn star Katie Morgan and ex-porn star Traci Lords. Zack and Miri’s star Justin Long ( Die Hard 4.0) fondly re­called leav­ing cin­ema’s cur­rent Su­per­man, Bran­don Routh, sick for weeks when, while un­der-the-weather, he planted

Barack Obama out­sells Won­der Wo­man but is still less pop­u­lar than Je­sus

The cen­tral thor­ough­fare of the con­ven­tion cen­tre is a 48,839-square-me­tre ex­hi­bi­tion hall. It is a bazaar of the bizarre where any­thing that can be branded with a TV show logo or su­per­hero shield is sold next to four­foot swords and fig­ure-hug­ging span­dex. One of this year’s more in­ter­est­ing of­fer­ings was a Barack Obama T-shirt, fea­tur­ing the Demo­cratic can­di­date in a clas­sic Su­per­man pose. This 50 per cent ny­lon trib­ute was not Obama’s only ap­pear­ance, with previews from The Simp­sons’ new se­ries show­ing Homer at­tempt­ing to vote elec­tron­i­cally for Obama, only to have his bal­lot logged for “Pres­i­dent” McCain, be­fore the vote-rig­ging ma­chine swal­lows him whole. Yet, on the ex­hi­bi­tion floor, the Obama-wear, al­though out­selling vin­tage Won­der Wo­man and Bat­man cloth­ing, was eclipsed by a T-shirt em­bla­zoned “Buddy Christ” – prov­ing there are some icons even the Illi­nois sen­a­tor can­not com­pete with.

Gay kisses more deadly to Su­per­man than Kryp­tonite

an im­pro­vised gay kiss on the man of steel.

The exclusive footage for Smith’s film, which in­cluded said crip­pling kiss, crack­led with the type of pop-cul­tural di­a­tribes typ­i­cal of the di­rec­tor’s past ef­forts Clerks and Dogma. Smith, though, has used ac­tors typ­i­cally found in di­rec­tor Judd Apa­tow’s ter­ri­tory, which could yield the lo­qua­cious di­rec­tor his big­gest box-of­fice cross­over hit yet.

Artemis Fowl holds its own against the Bionic Wo­man and Method Man

One-time Wex­ford school teacher Eoin Colfer, now an in­ter­na­tional best-sell­ing au­thor thanks to his Artemis Fowl books, brought his US book tour to Comic-Con. Colfer, who had more fans than his one-hour sign­ing ses­sion could ac­com­mo­date, shared floor space in the au­to­graph pavil­ion with an eclec­tic mix of cult favourites and B-movie stars, in­clud­ing

Bionic Wo­man Lind­say Wag­ner, rap­per Method Man, CHiPs stal­wart Erik Estrada and for­mer Tank Girl Lori Petty, whose empty line was an in­di­ca­tion of the con­se­quences of ap­pear­ing in a comic-book movie flop.

Af­fec­tion­ately de­scrib­ing the con­ven­tion as a “car­ni­val, where the peo­ple with­out the cos­tumes are the freaks”, Colfer said his next port of call was a din­ner with Jim Sheri­dan to dis­cuss the adap­ta­tion of the book.

Who watches the

Watch­men, the adap­ta­tion of the graphic novel lazily la­belled “comic books’ Cit­i­zen Kane”, has fi­nally be­gun the count­down to its March re­lease, and, judg­ing by the pun­gent fan ju­bi­la­tion fol­low­ing the screen­ing of early footage, there will be many watch­ing the Watch­men. How­ever, th­ese exclusive clips ap­pear more sugar cane than Charles Fos­ter; the eye-catch­ing vi­su­als, though whip­ping fan­boys into a sugar rush, seemed to lack any of the nu­tri­tional sub­stance of the source. Wield­ing the mega­phone was di­rec­tor Zack Sny­der, whose lim­ited vo­cab­u­lary of “su­per”, “awe­some” and then “su­per­awe­some” led Kevin Smith to com­ment, “Thank God your vi­su­als are so strong,” fur­ther fu­elling sus­pi­cions that Watch­men may not have the genre-redefin­ing im­pact of Alan Moore’s book.

Com­plex cos­tumes and 25-de­gree heat are a suf­fo­cat­ing mix

While the num­ber of at­ten­dees dressed in su­per­hero and sci-fi cos­tumes is lower than the con­ven­tion’s rep­u­ta­tion sug­gests, those that go the ex­tra mile do not ar­rive wrapped in bin­liner capes and tin foil (sorry, alu­minium) masks. Th­ese are ex­pertly-crafted out­fits and pros­thet­ics that could hold their own on a Hol­ly­wood sound stage. None­the­less, it is dis­con­cert­ing to have Heath Ledger’s lip­stick-smeared Joker gri­mace haunt the faces of count­less at­ten­dees, while Star Trek crew mem­bers boldly go to the pret­zel wagon. Many at­ten­dees dress in the kind type of re­veal­ing out­fit that dur­ing any other week­end would get them ar­rested or sec­tioned, but here it makes them mini-celebri­ties with more photo-ops than Paris Hil­ton.

One fam­ily of Ghost­busters, when asked why they did it, replied, with the sin­cer­ity of a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date: “For the kids.”

Clone wars: clock­wise from above, Ghost­busters size up Darth Vader; Cana­dian Chris Gunn as Bat­man; and Ir­ish au­thor Eoin Colfer signs copies of his hugely suc­cess­ful Artemis Fowl books at the con­ven­tion. Pho­to­graphs: De­nis Poroy/AP; Liam Burke

Liam Burke is the au­thor of The Pocket Es­sen­tial Su­per­hero Movies

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