WonderCon 2019 in Anaheim: Star Trek, superheroes, cosplay and wam-bam, thank you, Shazam!

Welcome to WonderCon 2019!

^ A panoramic view of the Dealer Hall; I think the guy in the aquamarine shirt is a ghost… (hehe).

Another WonderCon (my 6th now) comes to a close. Yes, in many ways it’s San Diego Comic Con Junior, but that’s part of its appeal for me; lots of ‘big ticket’ events (and a kick-ass dealer hall) with some of the charm and intimacy of the smaller conventions. The best of both worlds!

Outside the Anaheim convention center, it was all about (to quote Gomer Pyle) “Sha-zaaam, Sha-zaaaam!”

Rather than wordy anecdotes, it’s best if I simply let my pics and captions tell the story. It’s my hope that they can, if possible, convey at least some of the sheer nerdy joy that is WonderCon.

The new DC movie “Shazam” was on everyone’s mind this year; this was literally the first thing my wife and I saw as we entered the B-section of the A-B-C sectioned Dealer Hall (a lot smaller than San Diego Comic Con’s Dealer Hall, which goes on halfway through the alphabet. This is a screen-used costume worn by actor Zachary Levi in the film. There was a panel presentation for the film, somewhat mysteriously listed on the schedule as a “Warner/Legendary Studios Presentation.” The event, which I didn’t attend sadly, was held in the big Arena auditorium; which is far easier to navigate and get into than San Diego convention center’s infamous Hall H, where people literally camp out overnight (or longer) to attend their favorite panel presentations. You see NONE of that at WonderCon. Yes, there are lines at Anaheim, but you won’t spend all-day and all-night waiting in them. But my personal philosophy for conventions is, with few exceptions, I’d rather mingle and keep to a looser schedule than to spend too much time in line for large press-junket events (which you can usually watch on YouTube in a day or so). Just a personal preference.
While Marvel Studios was conspicuously absent at WonderCon (as they were from San Diego Comic Con the last two years), Marvel Comics’ influence was alive and well everywhere, as this 8 ft./2.4 m statue of “The Incredible Hulk” will attest. The Hulk (comics & TV series) was a favorite of mine as a kid; I used to read the large softback Marvel editions back in the 1970s, shortly before I discovered the TV show, which had a much more realistic bent to it. I had the great (though now bittersweet) privilege of briefly meeting the late Marvel godfather Stan Lee at a WonderCon signing event a few years ago. I got Lee’s autograph for a friend’s birthday. I always assumed there would be time to get one for myself later on, but of course, that’s impossible now. I comfort myself with the fact that I actually had the pleasure of meeting Stan Lee face-to-face, however briefly. It still feels plenty strange having a big convention without the presence of Stan Lee somewhere
Switching back to DC Comics, I wandered into the C-area of the Dealer Hall and stumbled across these beautiful replicas of the 1989 Tim Burton Batmobile (my favorite of all incarnations of Batman’s ride) and the 2011 movie incarnation of the Green Hornet’s 1960s vintage Lincoln. the Black Beauty. No offense to the Green Hornet or Kato, but that Batmobile captured and held my eye so strongly that I almost didn’t see the Lincoln at all…
Confession time: While I am a huge fan of the works of Steven Spielberg, especially “JAWS”, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “Jurassic Park”, his 1982 mega-hit “E.T” has always left me feeling a bit like the odd man out. In a summer that gave the world “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”, “Blade Runner” “Road Warrior” (aka Mad Max 2), “The Thing” and so many other legendary films, “E.T” was just never a favorite of mine. I found this space-age Christ story (complete with several children apostles and a resurrection) to be one of Spielberg’s lesser movies, especially compared to the far superior “Close Encounters…”, which handled the topic of aliens with a bit less schmaltz and more genuine awe. Nevertheless, I found this particular booth display to be kinda interesting, especially the eye holes in the ET mask (!). Many people (and their kids) were posing as Elliot on the bike, but I wanted a pic without a rider.
This is a booth I visit every year at WonderCon (and wish I had the money to make a purchase from) features the amazing carvings of thepumpkingeek.com artist Alex Wer. At left is his Freddie Mercury pumpkin (as a longtime fan of Queen, I am thrilled by the band’s resurgence in popularity due to the 2018 Oscar-winning film “Bohemian Rhapsody”). In addition to the “Holder’s Dominion” creation on the right, there were also carvings of Captain America, The Bride of Frankenstein and The Exorcist, among many others. Prices typically were around $150 for each custom-made work, which is a relative bargain, considering their photo-perfect quality, but I just didn’t have that kind of money on me, so I promised to try to get the word out. But someday baby…

Oh, and have I ever mentioned that Halloween is my absolute FAVORITE holiday on the entire calendar? No? Now I have.
For years, I’ve seen award-winning artist/illustrator Sergio Aragones at conventions and have wanted to get his autograph. This year, with a relatively light agenda, it was time. I didn’t want to make the mistake of waiting too long and missing the opportunity. MAD magazine was my bible growing up; my sisters and I eagerly read each issue every month, without fail. Aragones is still going strong in the industry, and has been working with MAD magazine since 1963 (that’s three years longer than I’ve been ALIVE!). Aragones has the longest career at MAD magazine, next to Al Jaffe. His non-MAD works have included the “Groo” and “Boogieman” series. He is legend. This pic was taken on Friday, Day One of the convention, and I was wearing my Fred Flintstone costume.
On Sunday, the final day of WonderCon, I participated in the annual Robert Heinlein Memorial Blood Drive. I first began participating last year as my (literal) way of giving something back for all the joy these conventions give to me. The kindly technician, Rebekah, actually recognized me from last year (despite the fact that I was not wearing my usual Fred Flintstone cosplay). When I saw her, she joked, “Where’s Fred?” Frankly, I was stunned that she’d recognized me, since I was wearing street clothes and glasses (take that, Clark Kent...). She and all of the staff at the Blood Drive were very kind and deserve a special shoutout for making all of us donors feel like real-life superheroes. The Robert Heinlein Blood Drive is now a WonderCon tradition for me, and I will continue to do so for as long as I qualify.
The always affable author/screenwriter/producer/director Marc Scott Zicree, author of “The Twilight Zone Companion”, many TV screenplays, and now creator/producer/director of “Space Command”, a privately-funded space series that he’s trying to sell to a broader market. He’s crowd-sourced the pilot, and is now working on raising funding to complete the rest of the first series and sell it to a distributor. I’d met and interviewed Zicree last August for this blog (he patiently afforded me a three-hour interview). He’s had a long and fascinating career in television, with experiences in Star Trek (Next Generation and Deep Space Nine), countless animated TV shows as well as the web series “Star Trek: New Voyages/Phase II” (the episode “World Enough and Time,” which he wrote and directed, starring George Takei). The first hour of “Space Command” is available to watch on YouTube and is really good; give it a try: www.youtube.com/watch?v=zv-tx3DdKSg
I wish Marc and his new crew at Space Command all the best. This project is a genuine labor of love for Zicree. He once described it to me as “pushing a boulder uphill” but that he’s also enjoyed every second of it. I cannot say enough nice things about this creative and kind human being.

The Panels.

While I didn’t spend too much time in panels, I did attend a few, and they were nice enough. My wife attended two of the ‘big ticket’ panels in the Anaheim Convention Center Arena stage, a large circular, multi-level venue in which there are almost no bad seats, unlike other big halls where the experience is diminished the further back you are forced to sit. My wife attended panels for Marvel’s latest X-Men movie, “Dark Phoenix”, starring Sophie Turner (“Jean Grey/Phoenix”) and Nicholas Hoult (“Beast”). The second event was for the new J.R.R. Tolkien biopic called “Tolkien”, which also starred Hoult in the title role.

Dark Phoenix panel: Producers Simon Kinberg, Hutch Parker, star Sophie Turner (aka “Sansa Stark” in my wife’s favorite TV series, “Game of Thrones”), Tye Sheridan (“Ready Player One”) Nicholas Hoult (who is also starring in “Tolkien”) and other members of the “Dark Phoenix” cast. My wife wasn’t too keen on seeing this movie (the X-Men movies have been cases of diminishing returns for us lately), but she attended to see star Sophie Turner, whom my wife is a fan of in “Game of Thrones.” My wife and I were also fond of Nicholas Hoult’s work in the zom-com “Warm Bodies” (2013) and as Hank/Beast in “X-Men: First Class” (2011), one of the better X-Men movies (in my opinion, of course).
Sophie Turner, a major star of both television and movies, has virtually grown up in front of audiences with her role of Sansa Stark on “Game of Thrones.” My wife (a major “Game of Thrones” fan) actually entered a lottery drawing before the convention to try to get her autograph, but sadly, didn’t get one. Here’s hoping someday. Sadly, I’m a little ignorant of Turner’s work, as I’ve only caught a few minutes of “X-Men: Apocalypse” but was quickly put off by it. It just didn’t hold my interest; no offense to the high-caliber of talent involved, including Turner, whom I hear is a marvelous actress.
“Tolkein” panel; director Dome Karukoski, costar Anthony Boyle, star Nicholas Hoult, Tom Glynn Carney and Patrick Gibson discuss the bonding between the cast, in their attempt to bring the story of famed fantasy author J.R.R Tolkien to life.
Nicholas Hoult is an actor I’ve admired in some films, including the zombie-comedy “Warm Bodies” (which my wife and I saw on Valentine’s Day about 6 years ago, of course…). He was also quite good as Hank McCoy (aka “Beast”) in “X-Men: First Class” (2011), one of my favorite of the X-Men film series (a series I’ve not kept up on, of late).

So while I didn’t attend the A-list panels, I did attend a few that were of personal interest to me, including a panel on the 10th anniversary of the Warner Archive Collection, a made-to-order DVD/blu-ray collectibles service which is now branching into streaming. The WAC specializes in hard-to-get titles from the Warner Studios archive, and I own a few of their pressings, including the Robert Altman-directed space drama “Countdown” (1968, starring James Caan and Robert Duvall). I also attended a few others, including two panels concerning “Star Trek: Discovery” (one was a discussion of the show’s writing, and another for the series’ visual effects) as well as a panel for the Women of Sci-Fi, which was easily my favorite, largely thanks to the terrific (and very funny) anecdotes of the panelists, two of whom I’d met previously.

Warner Archive 10th Anniversary Panel: moderator Gary Micreanu, with WAC archivists Matthew Patterson and D.W. Ferranti. They were joined by actor Michael Gray (original “Shazam”), voice actor Julie Nathanson (“Zeta Project”) & Jerry Beck. Nathanson (at the podium) told some great anecdotes about her first time at Comic Con (back in the early 2000s) promoting her “Zeta Project” cartoon, and meeting Mark Hamill (“Star Wars”). She was very funny.
A surprise guest at the WAC panel was actor Michael Gray, at the podium above (ignore the nameplate). Gray played teen superhero “Billy Batson” who would turn into a demigod by the utterance of the word “Shazam!” in the original 1970s TV version of “Shazam” (now being made into a feature film starring Zachary Levi). Gray was humbled by the restoration work done by the Warner archivists to the his 40-odd year old television series, which made it appear almost brand new by digitally restoring color, contrast and removing flecks of dirt and scratches from the source film materials. WAC does amazing work on their restorations, and while this panel may not have been everyone’s cuppa joe, I found it particularly interesting .
Chase Masterson (“Leeta” from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) hosted the “Disco Nights” panel, a discussion (and podcast) on the future of the Star Trek: Discovery CBS-All Access streaming series. Panelists included Ashley Miller (screenwriter for “Thor” and many other blockbuster movies), author Jeff Bond (entertainment critic and author of must-have books “The World of The Orville” and “Planet of the Apes: The Evolution” ), actress Alexandra August, and Trekmovie.com editor Anthony Pascale. This was the panel I missed the “Dark Phoenix” panel for, and I was happy to do so, as it was very humorous, frank and confirmed a lot of my own personal issues with Discovery. Chase put it best when she said that the series is often so busy “putting out brush fires” in its episodes that the actual stories being told are sometimes lost. Everyone on the panel agreed that, while the cast and production values of Discovery are first-rate, some of the writing issues with the show are pressing. Miller and Bond were very frank in their critiques, while the other panelists were perhaps a bit more forgiving. But overall, the consensus was that the show is simply too busy at times, often sacrificing meaning and depth for “brush fire” side-stories. Some characters, such as the late cyborg Airiam, Commander Owosekun, Commander Detmer and the newly resurrected Dr. Culber, are also left maddeningly underdeveloped as well. I felt somewhat vindicated in my own personal issues with this potentially great series. However, in the optimism characteristic of most Trek fans, I’m forever hoping that the series finds its stride someday, as I enjoy the well-acted characters as well as the gorgeous look of the show; Discovery is the best-looking Star Trek (series or movie) ever produced.
Star Trek: Discovery, Inside the Visual Effects panelists; Jason Zimmerman, FX artist/director Olatunde Osunsanmi, Ante Dekovic, & Stephen Pavelski. Overall, this was one of the panels that I probably could’ve missed, to be honest. Some lovely effects-clips from the series and some anecdotes about some ‘invisible’ shots (that audiences may not have been aware of changes to) were mildly interesting, but basically it comes down to everything being rendered in computers, which I find nowhere near as interesting as special effects shots that are achieved practically, with animatronics, miniatures or other more ‘old-school’ methods. Hearing the panelists go on about pre-visualization, texture-mapping, etc ad nauseam really wasn’t my thing. Overall, it was very dry stuff.

An interesting side note: I sat a few seats away from Trekspert author Larry Nemecek (“Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion” and Portal 47 podcaster) as well as Trekmovie.com editor Anthony Pascale, who took a pic of my “Stone Trek” cosplay (which I wore all-day Saturday) for Trekmovie.com’s Twitter account here:

I left this event with about 20 minutes to go in it in order to arrive early for my next scheduled panel…
The Women of Sci-Fi Panel; moderator Trish Hershberger, Gigi Edgley (“Farscape”), Jackie Dallas (“Stranger Things”), Michele Specht (“Star Trek Continues” “Star Trek Online”), Taryn O’Neill (actor/filmmaker). This was a terrific and lively panel… a total 180 from the rather dry panel that I’d just left. In addition to a many humorous stories of personal sci-fi fandom. Gigi Edgley confessed that pre-Farscape she wasn’t a huge sci-fi fan, but loved “Dark Crystal”, so she was overjoyed to be cast in Jim Henson’s “Farscape” series, which filmed in her native Australia. Edgley talked about taking her new baby to Stonehenge, where the baby (who’d been crying on the tour bus) immediately quieted down upon arrival, smiled and said, “Home.” Edgley joked that she’d given birth to a little alien!

Michele Specht (whom I’d met many times at various conventions) proudly waved her geek colors by talking about growing up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation, which somewhat prepared her to enter the Star Trek universe (the web series “Star Trek Continues” and the “Star Trek Online” game).
Sometime standup comedian Michele Specht giving my “Stone Trek” phaser the James Bond treatment. She once wielded it at another convention against her “Star Trek Continues” cast mates! I always look forward to seeing her at conventions whenever possible. Having attended several of her panels over the years, I can vouch that she is a class clown who always entertains her audience.

All of the panelists made great points made about representation in sci-fi and all entertainment, as well as getting away from the ‘tough lady’ trope. Most would like to see portrayals of sci-fi women who are more balanced and realistic, and not just stoic superhero types. Another fan asked a poignant question about trans-woman representation in film and media, which the panelists admitted was an ongoing challenge. Frankly, I thought that was the most thought-provoking question asked of the panelists, who were all very lively and entertaining. This was my favorite panel of the 3-day weekend.

My favorite part of the convention… the cosplay!

Cosplayers are, for me, the heart and soul of every sci-fi/fantasy fandom convention. They are responsible for most of the wild, Mardi Gras/Halloween atmosphere of these events and are reason enough to show up. Honestly, there are times I’d just as soon not attend any panels, simply pull up and chair, and watch the parades of wildly imaginative and creative cosplayers walk on by…

An absolutely kick-ass Freddie Mercury cosplayer! Giving Remi Malek a run for his money…
Speaking of Mercury’s Queen, these Porg cosplayers from “The Last Jedi” are just Porg Boys from a Porg Family… Bothan Rhapsody?
Two Silent Bobs, one Jay. Just in time for the new “Jay & Silent Bob” sequel, which is now shooting. My wife once met the real Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes at a convention in L.A. I’ve only sat behind Smith and his wife at an event back in 2006.
Two kindly cosplayers expertly recreated Larry Hagman’s “Major Tony Nelson” and Barbara Eden’s “Jeannie” from the iconic 1960s sitcom “I Dream Of Jeannie”; the Jeannie cosplayer told me that she crafted the bottle (as well as its budding plume of pink cotton ‘smoke’) herself! She looked very much like Eden as well.
The only cosplay I saw the entire three-day weekend from “The Orville”, a series which quickly won me over in its first season (after a dodgy pilot episode). Nice to see the Planetary Union had some representation at WonderCon!
Me (in my “Stone Trek” Flintstones/Star Trek mashup) posing with “Little Mermaid” cosplayers of Ariel and Ursula! They looked terrific!
Two versions of “Westworld” meet; a recreation of Yul Brynner’s black-clad gunman from the 1973 original film as well as a de-faced Delores, the gun-toting prairie girl robot-turned-revolutionary in the 2016 reimagined HBO series, one of the most intriguing new science fiction shows on the air. I hurriedly rushed down an ascending escalator (going the wrong direction!) just to get their photograph. I’d say it was worth the effort.
This little Star Wars cosplayer is hedging his bets on whichever side wins the Galactic Civil War…rebellion or Empire.
The first cosplayers I saw at the convention from Jordan Peele’s new thriller, “Us”; easily the best picture I’ve seen this year so far. I actually want to buy a pair of red mechanics’ coveralls and attempt this cosplay myself.
Free hugs from “It”’s Pennywise the clown. Any (brave) takers…??
A spot-on doppelgänger for the late Robin Williams as “Mork” (“Mork & Mindy”) and The Empire Strikes Back’s own “Lando Calrissian.” I first saw the Mork cosplayer in 2016 and was absolutely blown away by the resemblance between he and the late Williams.
I’ve met this creative Star Trek cosplayer at several events, and he is always in a new Trek outfit. This time, he wore Kirk’s blue outerwear from “Star Trek Beyond” (2016); my personal favorite of the Bad Robot Star Trek movies. I’ve posted his pic in this blog before, and I was flattered to hear that he reads it as well. I really need to get his name next time! If you’re reading this, my friend? Please feel free to leave your name (even just a first name, if that’s okay) in the comments section below, and I swear I will edit it back into this piece as soon as possible. You and your cosplay talents deserve a first-name mention.

Edit: Thank you, David Cheng! I appreciated your feedback.
The third “Us” cosplayer i saw had both the gold scissors and that wonderfully creepy smile! She nailed it.
A carnivalesque stilt-walker and a massive “Transformer” cosplayer wow the crowd and enthrall a little Batman. I’ve seen both of these stilt walkers at other conventions and, with their grace, they make it look almost effortless.
An absolutely amazing Doctor Octopus (“Doc Ock”), with his various mechanical arms, holds court with a group of SpiderMan cosplayers.

Personal log.

As readers of this site may know by now (or by reading the above), my wife and I don’t just watch cosplayers… we are cosplayers as well. My wife brought two of her creations to the convention.

My wildly inventive wife Jules, with her eBay Elayne look, in the lobby of our Marriott hotel.

On Friday morning, she applied green makeup (with sealer), green stockings, gloves, clothes and wig to transform herself into “eBay Elayne” from the animated feature “Wreck It Ralph 2: Ralph Breaks the Internet” (2018). Elayne ran the eBay portal seen in a literal representation of the internet, as seen in the film.

My wife, literally glowing in the dark in the Arena forum, during the Dark Phoenix panel.

Her face was so bright green that she (literally) glowed in the dark during her Arena event panels on Friday night! Her “eBay Elayne” featured in the Press Telegram, where she was briefly interviewed as well (https://www.presstelegram.com/2019/03/31/women-rule-in-these-wondercon-2019-cosplay-photos-from-the-anaheim-comic-convention/).

My wife as “Muriel” from “Courage the Cowardly Dog”, with her custom-made Courage stuffed animal that she made herself!

On Saturday, she opted for her slightly more conservative “Muriel” cosplay from the cartoon series, “Courage the Cowardly Dog”; she created this one for San Diego Comic Con last year, and wore it in a cosplay parade!

My “Stone Trek” mashup cosplay, which I first wore to the Las Vegas Star Trek convention two years ago (and at several other conventions since). People really seem to dig my handmade Stone Age phaser.

For myself, I go a lot simpler; on Friday, I wore my 10-year old cosplay of choice, Fred Flintstone (a bit of which you can see earlier in this post, with Sergio Arogones) and on Saturday, with two Star Trek panels to attend, I went with my equally comfortable “Stone Trek” Flintstones/Star Trek mashup, which got mentions on Trekcore.com’s Twitter account as well as bleedingcool.com (https://www.bleedingcool.com/2019/03/31/100-cosplay-wondercon-day-two-from-star-trek-flintstone-cheshire-cat-stormtrooper/ ).

My one ‘toy’ I bought at the convention; a Star Trek “Talosian” action figure from “The Cage” pilot episode (later incorporated into the 2 parter, “The Menagerie”). For $15, it was like getting back a lost piece of childhood. Why not?

Summing it up.

So ends another WonderCon of Anaheim, right across from Disneyland. While it seemed to me there were fewer ‘big ticket’ events and high-end celebrity autograph signings, I had just as much fun attending the smaller panels and seeing the amazingly creative cosplayers. The cosplayers truly make these events memorable for me, no matter who’s on the guest list. It was also nice to see a few familiar faces whom I’ve seen at other conventions, such as the empathetic Chase Masterson, the hilarious Michele Specht, and the always-affable Marc Scott Zicree. As odd as it may sound, it was also nice to participate in the Blood Drive for a 2nd year. One of the great lessons of science fiction stories like Star Trek (and Zicree’s Space Command) is that the future is both very diverse and thrives on acts of altruism…two lessons also gleaned from WonderCon, if you know where to look (and act).

Until next year…

9 Comments Add yours

  1. David Cheng says:

    Hi there, I’m the Star Trek cosplayer that you see at various cons. You asked for my name. It’s David Cheng, so now you can connect a name to the face, haha. Thank you for including photos of me in your blog. See you next time.

    1. Thanks David! Much appreciated. Hope to see you in Vegas! 😊🖖🏼

      My autocorrect kept turning you name into “Doug”; don’t ask…I think my Mac is getting as senile as its user.

  2. Paul Bowler says:

    What a great looking convention, you must’ve had an awesome time. This venue really seems to have something for everyone. Great statue of the Hulk, and nice to see my favourite Batmobile from the Tim Burton film as well! Brilliant cosplay as well, especially that Transformer Optimus Prime! Thanks for sharing all these great photos 🙂

    1. It is sincerely my pleasure.

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