Comic Con Revolution Returns!
While the COVID pandemic essentially cancelled last year for everyone (including myself), the sci-fi/comic book convention circuit has been slowly returning to something resembling normal (well, as ‘normal’ as we fans get, anyway). Just this year, I’ve already attended a couple of favorite conventions; the Las Vegas’ “55 Year Mission‘ convention in August, and the San Diego Comic Con Special Edition (a shortened, somewhat smaller version of the annual summer event) only a few weeks ago. While some have lamented the necessary mask mandates and required proofs of vaccination, I found that the indomitable fan spirit of conventions has endured, nevertheless. Last weekend, my wife and I, along with a few friends of ours, attended a local convention; Comic Con Revolution in Ontario, California, which is about a 20-odd minute drive for us by freeway. After last year’s cancellation of this 4 year-old event, this was the first in-person CCR since 2019, and it was a blast. In fact, I think it was my favorite CCR yet.
My wife and I went to the Ontario Convention Center a day early, on Friday, to pick up our badges ahead of the event. This is a little time-saving trick we’d learned in our 20 years or so of convention attendance. On Saturday, there was a little bit of confusion as to which lines were for attendees with badges vs. those who had yet to receive theirs, but the confusion was eventually settled, and we showed our proofs of vaccination (and IDs) to get inside. No long wait required.
Note: If you plan on attending almost any US-based convention anytime soon, just remember to bring either proof of vaccination (digital or paper) or, in lieu of that, a recent COVID negative test result taken within 48-72 hours of the event. You will also need your ID card/driver’s license, military ID or passport to match the name on your vaccination status/COVID test result.
Outside of the convention center, there was a gathering of famous car/vehicle replicas, some of them custom-made by local fan groups. There were vehicles from “Jurassic Park” (electric & gas-powered), KITT from the 1980s cheese-fest “Knight Rider,” Doc Brown’s DeLorean from “Back to the Future,” “Herbie the Love Bug” from the Disney movies, and more. I will leave a link to my Flickr page, with all 62 of my convention photos at the bottom of the column.
Once inside, the convention center itself was appropriately decked out for the holiday season, including ornaments hanging from the ceilings, as well as a large Christmas tree at the end of the main entrance hall–and yes, Santa Claus also made an appearance for the kids, too. I’m not sure if it was the holiday spirit, but Comic Con Revolution 2021 seemed especially kid-friendly this year, with two large upstairs rooms devoted exclusively to Laser Tag and Nerf War gaming. $3 got you a single game, but $10 got you all-day unlimited gaming. This is a very good idea for all conventions, in my opinion. Younger kids coming along for the day may not necessarily be as steeped in nostalgia as their parents–though there are generations of kids who are discovering a lot of this stuff anew for themselves, thanks to streaming services and YouTube. The unlimited game play gave some kids (and a couple adults) a nice place to let loose a bit.
For those who come to a comic book convention seeking actual comic books? Worry not. Unlike their diminishing presence at other Comic Cons, there were gobs of comic books to be found in the Dealer Hall of Comic Con Revolution, which is a lot smaller in scale than the dealer halls at Anaheim’s WonderCon or San Diego Comic Con but no less sincere in its desire to please. There were lots of nice books for sale, vintage and new, from professional sellers renting a booth or from private vendors doing the same. There were also many collectibles to be found as well. I myself purchased a reasonably priced, vintage set of “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” Kirk/Spock action figures (because I’m an adult, dammit). Lots of other toys, card sets, autographs, and other such goodies as well. Despite the smaller venue, I think even a Ferengi would be pleased…
My wife, as an artist herself, tends to get lost in the Artists’ Alley section of convention halls; the place where artists and authors sell original works or self-published books for attendees. Many of the artworks and books are truly amazing, and well worth a purchase. I bought a small artwork piece for a friend of ours, and my wife found a few nice holiday gifts as well. There were also vendors offering different kinds of wares, including a local maker of salsas and jellies, as well as local bladesmiths. I was also glad to see the return of the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology booth; a local Inland Empire museum in the city of Claremont which specializes in both dinosaur and early mammalian fossils. They had beautiful replicas of some of their more interesting specimens, and the inner dinosaur geek in me was eating it up (as was my friend’s ten year old). Someday I promise to spend a day at the museum and do a full column on the experience for anyone else who loves dinosaurs and prehistory.
In addition to the comic books, collectibles, and fan-made/sold wares, conventions are, of course, about meeting people. Yes, even in these COVID-scary times (and I am particularly skittish), these conventions still offer opportunities for meeting favorite authors, actors and people you’ve come to connect with online.
Rounding the corners of the dealer hall, I saw, almost by accident, Jackie Dallas, someone I first met at a panel at WonderCon 2019. During the pandemic, my Instagram algorithm suggested her as a potential follow, since I already followed mutual acquaintance Michele Specht, of “Star Trek Continues.” Over the last year or so, she & I exchanged occasional comments/jokes online. Then I read she was attending this convention as well. It was great to meet the person behind the posts. My wife enjoyed meeting her as well. Dallas’ acting career is on a rise, with guest-starring roles in “Stranger Things,” “13 Reasons Why,” “Fear the Walking Dead,” “Hawaii 5-0” as well as feature film roles. Having finally chatted with her in person, I wish Dallas and her career all the best. Check her out on Instagram and on Twitter @JaxDallas
I also met actor/comedian/writer Robert Wuhl, one of the stars of 1989’s “Batman”; the movie that was ALL the rage in my early 20s. I still remember seeing the movie several times theatrically and buying the collectibles. Also had the Prince/Danny Elfman soundtrack (on cassette, of course…so retro now), and later owned the movie on VHS and laserdisc (!). Wuhl played Gotham City reporter Alexander Knox, who works with photojournalist Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) to unravel the mystery of Bruce Wayne/Batman (Michael Keaton). The movie’s theme by Elfman still takes me back to that time of my life. Wuhl also costarred in “Bull Durham,” and “Good Morning, Vietnam” (another favorite of mine from the 1980s). In 1996, Wuhl also created the character (and series) “Arli$$”, playing the titular Arliss Michaels, a high-powered LA-based sports agent. The series ran until 2002. Wuhl looked very much as I remembered him from his Batman days, and I joked that “I’ll have what he’s having.” It was nice to meet the man behind Knox and so many other roles.
One of the great things about conventions is to meet and chat with faces you’ve seen many times on television and in movies….or even familiar voices. Coming back to the convention on Sunday (my wife & I had weekend tickets), my wife and I were both drawn to a panel for voice actors; specifically voice actors from the Bruce Timm-produced DC “Justice League” cartoons, also known as the “Timmverse”, featuring characters like “Batman,” “Superman,” “Wonder Woman,” and many others. I got my first taste of Bruce Timm’s “Batman: The Animated Series” back in 1992, and instantly fell in love with the show–a sophisticated noir mix of Tim Burton’s “Batman” with character designs and backgrounds right out of the 1940s Max Fleischer “Superman” cartoons. It was a visual feast which grew in popularity over the years, prompting feature films such as “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm” (1993), as well as animated “Superman” and “Wonder Woman” spinoff series/movies.
Behind the animation are the human voices who make the characters from these shows come alive, and this panel featured Susan Eisenberg (“Wonder Woman”), Bobby Costanzo (sleazy “Detective Bullock,” from “Batman”), Maria Canals-Barrera (“Hawkgirl” from “Superman”), George Newbern (“Superman”), Diane Pershing (“Poison Ivy” from “Batman) and Nicole Tom (“Supergirl”). The panel was moderated by Greg Price. During the panel, my great well of respect for vocal artists grew even greater as I listened to the talented folks onstage offering fascinating stories of acting only with their vocal chords and whatever personae they could channel from their rich imaginations. They also told stories of working with other great voice talents, such as the legendary Ed Asner (1929-1921) and Mark Hamill, who broke into animation fame when he voiced “The Joker” for the animated Batman series. His Joker quickly became a gold standard for the character.
One of the actors on the panel whose face seemed so familiar was Bobby Costanzo, prompting me to do a quick IMDb search of the name; sure enough, he was the face I’d remembered from “Saturday Night Fever,” “Total Recall,” “Dick Tracy,” “Die Hard 2,” “City Slickers,” as well as TV shows such as “Friends” (Joey’s father), “Seinfeld” and countless others. During the panel, he talked about playing Oscar Madison in a stage production of Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple”–a role I could see him fitting to a tee. Costanzo also told a hilarious story of voicing Katie Holmes’ vagina for an ultimately censored scene from Seth MacFarlane’s “Family Guy.” Despite Costanzo’s penchant for playing world-weary cops or shady crooks, I found him to be a genuine character–funny as hell, too. He’s fully aware of how he’s perceived, with his thick Brooklyn accent, and he’s found a wonderful niche for himself as a bonafide character actor. Deeply interesting guy.
Actor Dean Cain (“Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman”) was there as well. I used to love “Lois & Clark” back in the 1990s, but the actor’s toxic, down-punching comments on social media have (sadly) tainted my enjoyment of the show. Despite current California state health requirements for indoor mask-wearing during the COVID pandemic, Cain showed up sans mask for his autograph signing. Vaccinated patrons of the convention did occasionally take their masks off for brief photo ops, but from what I saw, Cain wasn’t wearing one at all during his autograph session. Having just attended a COVID-related funeral for a longtime friend of mine three weeks ago, I find Cain’s reckless behavior to be very insensitive to the health concerns of others, myself included. Moving on…
Now onto one of the best parts of any sci-fi/fantasy/horror/comics convention–the cosplay!
Making a Kid’s Day.
The $10 unlimited gaming really came in handy for our friend Kathy, who brought her son, Joshua. Both of them had also attended the Comic Con Revolution 2018 and Comic Con Revolution 2019; so, at age 10, little Joshua was already a convention veteran. This year, my wife and I helped them put together a Luke Skywalker costume as a Christmas gift (he’s a huge Star Wars fan), and he had the time of his life. After a rough week dealing with a medical issue, Joshua was all set to lose himself in a little fantasy, and he did.
Since this was Joshua’s third Comic Con Revolution, he came fully prepared to cosplay in a homemade Luke Skywalker costume that my wife and I helped his parents put together for him as a Christmas gift. We also bought him a new lightsaber (he wore out the other two!) for his birthday a few months ago. Right away, Joshua wanted to meet up with the “Ghostbusters” of the Los Angeles “Southland Ghostbusters,” a charity cosplay group much like the Star Wars’ inspired 501st stormtroopers, but with coveralls and proton packs! Joshua is a huge fan of Ghostbusters, and last time he saw these guys he was all decked out in matching attire as well (with a homemade proton pack). Right away, Ghostbuster Jeremy made Joshua feel like a million bucks by telling him a little-known ‘scientific fact’ that people born with J first names (in October) are always the best-looking and most successful. Jeremy also gifted Joshua with a beautiful “Ghostbusters Afterlife” poster, direct from Sony Pictures. Joshua just beamed beneath his mask. It was wonderful to see these fantasy heroes being so kind with a young fan who had a particularly difficult week. Needless to say, I donated to their charity, and they put Joshua in a drawing for a grand prize–which he won later that day (the grand prize was a collectible action figure of Ghostbuster Peter Venkman).
Joshua, still clad as young Luke Skywalker, also got a compliment from another attendee on his Luke costume and even got to pose, lightsaber in hand, with two other Jedi Knight cosplayers. He would also meet two separate Mandalorian cosplayers and other various Star Wars characters. I was hoping that we’d see one of the full-sized, radio-controlled R2-D2s that usually haunt sci-fi conventions, but none were to be found that day… probably snatched by greedy Jawas.
Note: Joshua also had Luke’s wraparound cloth boots in his mother’s car, but she wisely decided (for practicality and freedom of movement) to leave them there for now. It didn’t matter, since Joshua’s costume was unmistakable–wraparound boots or not.
The rest of the day Joshua spent playing unlimited Laser Tag and Nerf War, which was a real bargain at $10 for unlimited all-day play. Joshua summoned his best military leadership skills as he suddenly began using terms like “flanking” and “cover.” Made me laugh. He seemed so grown up as he corralled the younger kids under his ‘command.’ Later on, Joshua also got a chance to meet Santa Claus over by the huge, multistory Christmas tree at the end of the convention center’s main hallway. I don’t think the day could’ve gone any better for him.
Vicariously experiencing a good chunk of the convention through the eyes of a ten year-old boy, this ‘holiday season’ Comic Con Revolution quickly became my favorite as well.
Comic Con Revolution in Ontario, California is tentatively scheduled to return to SoCal in its regular month of May in 2022. Once again, I would ask readers to wear masks in public spaces and get fully vaccinated as soon as possible, as both make attending events like these much easier, not to mention they provide layers of protection against a deadly pandemic that’s already killed 803,000 Americans (and over 5 million people worldwide) as of this writing. Here’s hoping that with adequate safeguards in place and increased vaccinations, events like these can return to full strength someday. Take care and be safe!