What a weekend!
My wife and I (along with our friend/longtime-partner-in-crime Ali) spent last Friday afternoon through Sunday evening in the fair city of Anaheim (a half hour away at maximum warp and home of Disneyland) attending WonderCon. I’ve heard WonderCon described as ‘Comic Con Jr.’ It has many of the same elements that comprise Comic Con San Diego but packed into a smaller venue, and with a fraction of the crowd sizes (though this year’s crowd size definitely felt a bit beefier than usual). While I’m still decompressing a bit from the experience (hey, I’m an old man…sue me), I wanted to jot some of it down while it’s still fresh in my rusty old memory banks.
We got to our hotel (the Marriott Residence Inn, our favorite) on Friday afternoon and immediately made a beeline for the convention center’s main dealer hall. The dealer hall at WonderCon not only has tons of wonderfully geeky merchandise (comics, toys, games, collectibles, clothing, costumes, videos, etc) but also autographs, book signings, and other interesting event promotions. While I usually cosplay at WonderCon as Fred Flintstone, or in my more recent “Stone Trek” variation (a Flintstones/Star Trek mashup), I wanted to check out the dealer hall incognito this time, with my glasses on my face so that I might actually see for a change. I’d do cosplay on Saturday and Sunday; Friday was all about the stuff…
After seeing many of the same vendor booths I’d seen in previous years, one exhibit really caught my nerdy eye…
… the original bridge set pieces used in “Star Trek: The Next Generation”, some of which were also featured in the movie “Star Trek: Generations”. One of the booth attendees was part of the restoration project. He told me that these pieces had been unceremoniously thrown into Paramount’s backlot dumpsters after brief stints in Hollywood’s now-defunct Galaxy Museum (where I’d first seen them 22 years earlier) and at the similarly-defunct Las Vegas “Star Trek Experience”; which my wife and I had been to a few times (I still miss the food at Quark’s). The discarded pieces were recovered and lovingly restored, thanks to private donations from fans. The hope is to exhibit them in a proper museum someday.
After taking a few more closeup photos of the helm, tactical and counselor’s consoles (all of which are included in the Flickr link at the very bottom of this post), I came back the next morning (in my Stone Trek costume no less) to get a picture in Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s chair. I just had to ‘make it so’…
Another of the booths I enjoyed and want to give a shout-out to was the “Gaaays in Space” booth; a LGBTQ fan support group. They gave me a free swag bag (a very lightweight and surprisingly durable one, I might add), and I also bought a rainbow tribble keychain from them as well. May they live long and prosper!
On Saturday, my wife and I both decided to cosplay. I was in my Stone Trek getup, and she was dressed as the Halloween-costumed “Lucy” from the Peanuts’ classic cartoon, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”
She wore an impeccable mask that she’d made herself out of paper mache a few years ago. With her mask, black wig and pointy red hat she got quite a bit of well-deserved attention. My wife’s cosplay looked amazing.
After taking my Picard’s chair photo, the next things on my agenda for Saturday were a couple of panels that I wanted to attend in the large Arena auditorium (WonderCon’s equivalent of San Diego Comic Con’s infamous “Hall H”). The first panel was for Steven Spielberg’s latest virtual reality sci-fi film, “Ready Player One”…
… and the second was a screening of the first full episode of Netflix’s newly reimagined “Lost in Space” followed by a cast discussion afterward.
Despite the nosebleed seats directly under the balcony level, the main monitor in the Arena auditorium is large enough to make almost any seat in the Arena a decent seat. Many of my photos are taken directly off of the monitor, so I ask forgiveness in advance if some my little iPhone’s pics aren’t quite up to snuff.
To save an early seat (and to avoid the monstrous crowds that followed immediately after I got in), I decided to sit in on the last 20 or so minutes of the new anime-style Batman feature “Batman Ninja”; an exotic DC Comics/anime mashup that, despite having everything but the kitchen sink thrown into it, worked surprisingly well. All I could think of during the last minutes of the film was how much my wife would’ve loved to have seen this; but she was daunted by the long lines outside of the Arena that formed soon after I was seated. So I attended for both of us, as we often wind up doing for each other at conventions.
The version of “Batman Ninja” that we saw was an exceptionally well-done English language adaptation (unlike the Japanese-language trailer above) featuring impressive vocal talents, some of whom were on the panel as well. One of the writers for the American language version stressed that the version we saw was an adaptation and not merely a translation; since many of the Japanese jokes/references had no English/American equivalent. I was impressed that this DC-Japanese anime coproduction was blended so seamlessly.
After “Batman Ninja”, it was time for the “Ready Player One” panel. The panel opened with an extended version of the movie’s trailer and a tribute to the many iconic works of the legendary Steven Spielberg, with clips of JAWS, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T, Schindler’s List, Jurassic Park, etc. Many cast members of “Ready Player One” were in attendance, along with the original novel’s author (and co-screenwriter) Ernest Cline and co-scripter Zak Penn (“The Last Action Hero”). Cast members included Tye Sheridan (“X-Men Apocalypse”), Olivia Cooke (“Bates Motel”), Ben Mendelsohn (“Rogue One”), Lena Waithe (“Dear White People”), Philip Zhao and Win Morisaki.
Author Ernest Cline sounded as if he and I shared a childhood; both of us raised on a steady diet of Steven Spielberg & science fiction movies. Actor Ben Mendelsohn was clearly the joker of the cast; always ready with a witty quip. Before he’d speak, a smirk would form on his face, and you knew a wisecrack wouldn’t be far behind.
Then came the Netflix “Lost in Space” presentation. I’ve had a long, love-hate relationship with “Lost in Space”; it was a premise that seemed to work on paper (‘Space Family Robinson’), yet faltered in execution time and again. Even the ‘classic’ series was a bit hard to sit through in my older years, and I was always hoping that they’d get the mix right someday. The 1998 movie and the failed 2004 pilot didn’t quite deliver on the premise either.
After seeing the first episode of the Netflix adaptation, I think they have finally made it work. Without giving too much away (the entire first season is available for steaming on Netflix on April 13th), I will say that the new show has a tone somewhere closer to the 2003 remake of “Battlestar Galactica” or “Star Trek: Discovery” rather than the cornier, campy 1965 original. The new ‘Space Family Robinson’ is a bit more fallible. They are no longer the stalwart paragons of wholesomeness and virtue that they were in the old TV series. Will Robinson (Max Jenkins) is no longer a fearless boy scout (as was Billy Mumy’s version), but rather a vulnerable, frightened little boy; though he retains the core character’s intelligence. His sisters Penny (Mina Sundwall) and Judy (Taylor Russell) engage in more sibling rivalry than we’ve previously seen. Judy is following her physician mother’s trajectory, while kid sister Penny is of a more poetic, literary bent. Parents Maureen (Molly Parker) and John Robinson (Toby Stephens) are depicted as a married couple struggling to do the right things for their family. Sometimes they don’t succeed, and that’s refreshing to see. These are basically good people, but in very trying circumstances. They’re a lot more relatable now.
While the tone of the first episode was that of a tense survival epic, the introduction of the Robot (now an alien artificial intelligence) and a female “Dr. Smith” (played by the brilliant Parker Posey) promise a shift in that balance very soon, and I can’t wait. Posey’s “Dr. Smith” is less overtly villainous, and more of an opportunistic, Gaius Baltar-type survivor. Major Don West (Ignacio Serricchio), seen only in the last moments with “Dr. Smith” (there’s a reason for the quotation marks) is the only member of the cast who didn’t really have enough screen time in the pilot to properly register as a character. I assume that will change as the episodes progress.
All of the cast of the show were in attendance. Parker Posey told a childhood anecdote about watching the original “Lost in Space” through early morning reruns as a child in the 1970s. She said she’d wake up early in the morning and wait for the end-of-broadcast-day static to clear for the opening of the show (younger readers will have NO idea what us oldsters mean by this). Will Jenkins was also very impressive; an articulate young man whose family does charity circus performances. Ignacio Serricchio, while receiving the least screen time in the pilot episode, certainly made up for it during the panel with his self-described inability to keep quiet. He was a character. All in all, it was an entertaining presentation, and an engaging cast discussion afterward.
I was mildly curious about Netflix’s “Lost in Space” before; now I’m genuinely looking forward to seeing the rest of Season 1 after April 13th (future binge-watching, here I come…).
After sitting on our backsides for three and a half hours through two and a half panels, my friend Ali and I hoisted out of our nosebleed seats in the Arena auditorium and managed to get into the last half hour or so of the “Star Trek: Discovery” panel upstairs in the all-new Room 200A (this was a new addition to the Anaheim convention center and caused a bit of confusion for some…).
The panel focused on the creative team behind the scenes of the show, and included makeup maestro/conceptualist Glenn Hetrick, costumer Gersha Phillips, producers Gretchen Berg, Aaron Habert, composer Jeff Russo and others. I’d met Hetrick (who is also a judge on the SyFy FX makeup competition series, Face-Off) last year in Vegas, and I’m a huge admirer of his work. Phillips’ costumes for the series are also very impressive.
The panel was moderated by Mary Chieffo, who plays the Klingon “L’Rell” on the series, and with whom I had a nice greet-and-meet with in Las Vegas last summer at the annual Star Trek convention.
Though we missed roughly half the panel, we (luckily) arrived just in time for a clip of the upcoming 2nd season, which featured…
….the return of the mirror-universe Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), living out her days on the Klingon homeward Kronos, making a living running an exotic brothel/club of some kind. She is approached by a mysterious man pretending to be a Trill. Georgiou immediately tags him as an imposter, and he comes clean; he is a member of the mysterious shadow organization known as ‘Section 31’; previously seen in “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” and “Enterprise.” He makes the frustrated Georgiou an offer to join the rogue organization…and she accepts.
Great stuff! The actor playing the clip’s mysterious S31 operative character, Alan Van Sprang, then joined the last moments of the panel as well. His character’s name is “Leland.”
During the Q&A afterward, an audience member told Mary Chieffo how the show really impacted her life by reaching out so strongly to the LGBTQ community with its depictions of openly gay characters (Stamets and Culber, as well as the bisexual mirror-Georgiou). Chieffo was moved to tears by the young woman’s earnest admission.
After the panel ended, I (still in my “Stone Trek” costume) made my way back to the dealer hall, where I met and got an autograph/photo with Cas Anvar, from “The Expanse.” Anvar plays Mars-born freighter pilot-turned-ace “Alex Kamal.” He also played a Romulan in the final two episodes of the brilliant “Star Trek Continues” online fan film series.
I also managed to see actor/writer/producer/musician/anime voice-artist Vic Mignogna once again. Mignogna is the human engine behind the brilliant fan series “Star Trek Continues” , and is currently starring in and producing the independent, Indigogo-funded short film, “When The Train Stops”, which promises to be a “Twilight Zone”-style story. I’m very much looking forward to that film as well. I’ve met Mignogna on several occasions, and I greatly admire his work.
After that, my arthritis began to give me a real ass-kicking, so I went back to the hotel to crash (and gulp down some Motrin).
The following day was Sunday, final day of the WonderCon weekend. I didn’t have a lot on my agenda that day, so I put on my regular Fred Flintstone costume (the original TV version; not the “Stone Trek” mashup). My plan was to take in one last round of the dealer hall and lots more cosplay pics.
As I walked through the second level of the convention center (trying to accrue more steps on my Fitbit), I noticed that the annual WonderCon Blood Drive was in progress. So with nothing on my immediate agenda, I made the decision to donate. I appeared to be the only cosplayer in the room at that time, and a WonderCon event staff photographer took a none-too-flattering picture of my middle-aged, flabby self lying on the table in my caveman tunic, needle in arm. I didn’t mind really; if it bothered me, I wouldn’t cosplay, right? The staff at the blood drive seemed so grateful for donations that I decided to do this every year, so long as I’m eligible. Donating blood was a convention first for me, but not a last.
The rest of my time was spent observing cosplay all over the convention site. I love cosplay; both participating as well as simply observing.
Here’s a sampling of some the many cosplay pics that I gathered over the weekend; the rest, of course, are in the Flickr link at the bottom of the post.
… and speaking of “Jebus”, something else happened as I exited the convention for the day.
There were, of course, the usual crowds of fundamentalist religious protesters outside the convention entrance/exits. Ordinarily I’d say live-and-let-live; worship a bag of turnips if you like. But these people (and I use the term loosely) starting using their megaphones to bully patrons as they walked to and from the convention center. This is the dark side of free speech. Unfortunately they were strategically placed by the only nearby entrance into the convention, so passing them was unavoidable.
For me, their own joylessness and lack of imagination is usually punishment enough for the toxicity they spew into the local atmosphere. However, as I walked by in my Fred Flintstone costume, they decided to single me out for derision as well. Normally I couldn’t care less what these joyless losers have to say. Maybe it was that I’d just given blood, but my tolerance for bulls#!t was slightly lower than normal. So I, along with several young people, returned fire with some trolling of our own. The girl beside me borrowed Fred Flintstone’s classic catchphrase and yelled back at them, “Fred says ‘Yabba Dabba f–k you’!” I laughed, and joined in. When one of the mirthless creeps asked me how old I was, I replied with a raised middle finger and a heartfelt ‘none of your f–king business.’ I also proceeded to wiggle my rotund, Fred Flintstone-costumed ass in their direction. Not my proudest moment, granted, but it felt somewhat cathartic. I’ve seen these joyless losers try their damndest to ruin conventions, and on that particular day (Palm Sunday, no less), I’d had enough. I try not to get political on this blog, but these people are NOT true Christians. They are joyless, humorless, miserable cultists who are so blatantly jealous of people celebrating diversity and creation that it literally drives them insane. They are so out of touch with anything resembling fun that it is simply too much for them. Here’s hoping they get lives of their own someday, or just find happiness in creating something for themselves rather than just jeering/mocking others for their own joie de vivre.
While it’s true that I loathe and despise them, I pity them as well.
Anyway, that somewhat sour note ended the otherwise exuberant weekend of WonderCon. This blog can’t tell the entire story, but I hope that my photos in the Flickr link below do the rest.
Up next for us is Comic Con Revolution, in Ontario California (a smaller, local convention with a lot of fan spirit) and, of course, San Diego Comic Con. As long as I’m able, I will do my best to blog all about it.