Cosplay, Quantum Leap, and the Walking Dead: WonderCon 2023 wraps…

Welcome Back.

Once again, WonderCon has returned to Anaheim, California and with COVID restrictions pretty much gone now (though I still wear masks), things feel a bit more back to normal.  This year also saw a surprising championing of smaller or lesser-known movies and TV projects than in years’ past.  Instead of a DC or Marvel banner streaming across the front of the Anaheim Convention Center, there was a banner for “Knights of the Zodiac,” a US/Japanese coproduction action-fantasy being released this spring.  Not the usual Marvel, DC or Disney space-epic one typically expects to see plastered all over the convention site. 

The Anaheim Convention center is taking a break from its new role as “Starfleet Command Headquarters” in “Star Trek: Picard.”

I’m assuming (?) the bigger productions either didn’t have material ready for the convention, or they were saving their big guns for other events (such as Disney’s own D23 Expo, for example).  Either way, Disney’s influence was still keenly felt at the convention (fair enough, since Disneyland is right across the street), but there was also room for smaller projects to breathe, as well. 

The Dealer Hall.

The Dealer Hall is a sprawling multi-booth combination of carnival and bazaar, with merchants both professional and amateur renting spaces to sell their wares and entertain the crowds.  There are also actors offering their autographs to fans, as well.  The professional booths, like Funko Pop, Bandai, and the various comic book/graphic novel vendors compete openly with small press and fan-made items in a truly democratic marketplace. 

Panorama of the massive Dealer Hall.
Not as huge (or crowded) as its sister convention, San Diego Comic Con, but with many of the same booths and some unique offerings of its own.
The Bandai Namco booth, offering tons of merchandise based on Japanese anime and manga. Many of the booths gave small ‘tours’ of unique, glass-cased items as well.
Beam it on for size.
The Hero Within booth, offering custom Star Trek outerwear. Quite the coup for the cosplayer who wishes to “boldly go” out in their favorite era of Trek fashion…
In the Mouth of Madness.
The line to get into the Funko Funhouse was huge.
Easily the most popular exhibit in the Dealer Hall; you could hear whoops and screams from the patrons inside. Sadly, I did not partake, because I have less patience for long lines these days, and to be honest, I’m not really that into Funko, either.
“What about that blue one? We’ll take that one.”
The R2 Builders Club offer their wares to local Jawas.
Clockwise from upper left: A gray R2-unit and another that’s seen better days (love the “Aurabesh” graffiti). R2-D2 poses alongside “Wall-E” and an R2 with a “bad motivator.” BB-8 poses alongside a droid whose wheelie full of itself. “Chopper” from Star Wars: Rebels—if they gave awards for attitude, this little droid would have them all beat.

This year, the big winner for overall popularity was the Funko Funhouse; an exhibit that took my earlier carnival example to the Nth degree. Outside was a giant clown face as attendees formed a long snaking line through the side of the exhibit, patiently waiting their turn to try the rides (my understanding is that there were rides) and other activities inside.  I didn’t go in, largely because my patience for long lines is rapidly dissipating at my age, and I’m also not as big a fan of Funko vinyl figures anymore (I have a few, but I’m not much of a collector these days).  To those who do still collect and enjoy them?  I sincerely wish you could’ve been here this past weekend.

The Panels

On Friday evening of the convention, I managed to catch a pair of late evening panels, which were held ‘after hours’; the Dealer Hall closes at 7 pm, so the convention is a lot less crowded for these events, and security more actively escorts you to them to prevent stragglers later on, after the venue closes for the night.

Panel for “Most Extreme Ranking Challenge” (wish I’d caught the whole thing, because it was hilarious!).
In the lower photo, one of the panelists offered up his “Black Card” to give his answer. Again, this was a very funny panel, and I regret getting in on the middle of it.

The first panel was the “Most Extreme Ranking Challenge,” and it was moderated by Tyler McPhail.  Panelists included Diana Toshiko, Ana Mendoza, Lemar Harris, and Matthew Johnson.  Unfortunately we arrived late on this one, but got there in time for the hilarious “Worst Sidekick” challenge.  Panelist Harris jokingly had to “turn in (his) Black card” to cast his vote for Mike Pence, who, despite Harris’s personal revulsion for the man, ‘failed’ Trump during his desperate (and illegal) bid to reclaim the White House (a good sidekick always has the other guy’s back, of course…).  A surprising number of votes also came for “Grogu,” the creature formerly known as “Baby Yoda” in Disney’s “The Mandalorian”; the reason was the 50-year old alien baby’s wildly inconsistent use of his powers to help his ward, Mando, out of dangerous scraps.  Overall, the panel was hilarious, and I’d wished we’d seen the whole thing. 

Is Die Hard a Christmas Movie?
The overwhelming opinion of the panel (and audience) was “Yes, Virginia, Die Hard is very much a Christmas movie…” save for a handful of holdouts. My own two cents: “Die Hard” (1988) is absolutely a Christmas movie, and here’s why…

The next panel was “Yippee Ki-Yay or Nay? Is Die Hard a Christmas Movie?”  Well, longtime readers of this site may already be familiar with my own opinions on the subject, but the first-time convention panelists came largely from a Christian fan group, who were evenly split on the subject when the panel began, but eventually ended the discussion with only one “Nay” holdout remaining.  Given the fact that  I’ve devoted a column of my own to the topic, I chimed in on the discussion as well, along with other audience members, in the event’s less-structured Q&A format.  Also briefly discussed were whether or not “Gremlins” and “Batman Returns” qualify as Christmas movies.  My personal opinion: “Gremlins” does, as Christmas is central to its story, but “Batman Returns” does not, since Christmas was merely set dressing for a story that could’ve easily taken place at any other time during the year.

Into the Arena…

The exterior Arena just after sunset, with the alignment of a crescent moon and Venus in the upper middle of the frame. I didn’t plan this shot–just a happy accident.

On Saturday, typically the busiest day of the convention, I wanted very badly to cover the “Quantum Leap” panel (2022 version) that was being held in the Arena auditorium of the convention center.  However, to get a good seat—a struggle, even with a press pass—the strategy is typically to ‘squat’ through other events in order to see your event. This is something I’ve learned from my earliest days of attending conventions over twenty years ago (hard to remember a time when I didn’t go to conventions).  My wife had her own agenda at the con, and was going to Disneyland (across the street) with a friend later on, so I was on my own. 

Inside of the Arena auditorium at the Anaheim Convention Center; normally reserved for sporting events, this is the largest venue on site. It’s the “Hall H” of WonderCon. And for once, I sat right up front (thank you, press pass!).

Fortunately, as luck would have it, I made friends with a fellow press-badge attendee named Libya, who was waiting for the “Walking Dead” panels.  I saw her looking for a seat, and offered the empty one next to me, in the third row.  After sharing convention war stories (hers were far more interesting), we realized we had a lot in common. As the first panel dispersed, some of the earlier crowd left, and we both moved up to the front row!  My first time in the front row of the Arena.  It’s the conventioneering equivalent of having your economy-class plane ticket bumped up to first class—no heads in your way for photos, and no need to crane your neck looking at large monitors.  This was more like it…

“Legend of the White Dragon Panel,” with Aaron Schoenke (director), Sean Schoenke (producer), and Chris Jay (executive producer). The director and producers reminisced about their late star, Jason David Frank (1973-2022) who, sadly, took his own life after production wrapped.

The first panel was for “Legend of the White Dragon” (2023), and, to be frank, I expected it to be a waste of time.  “Legend of the White Dragon” is a crowd-funded, big screen continuation of the Power Rangers kids’ adventure series from the 1990s (which I have zero interest in).  That said, I found the panel surprisingly interesting, and even moving. The movie’s star, former “Green Power Ranger” actor Jason David Frank (1973-2022), tragically took his own life after the production wrapped last year.  The film’s director, Aaron Schoenke, wore dark sunglasses to hide tears whenever he spoke of his star, who was shown in clips and behind-the-scenes clowning around videos that endeared him to me (yes, me … a non-Power Rangers fan).  Other panelists included producer Sean Schoenke (Aaron’s father) and executive producer Chris Jay, a Power Rangers’ super-fan who lovingly teased his late star’s on-set shenanigans, as well.  Later, they invited Frank’s best friend up onto the stage, who called Frank’s daughter Jenna (who costars in the movie) for a live video chat with the audience.  It was a moving tribute to an action star who gave his all for one last shot to be seen as a genuine actor.  From the clips, he succeeded

Panel for the new Walking Dead spinoff, “The Walking Dead: Dead City” panel; moderated by Chris Hardwick (“The Talking Dead”), with producer/writer Eli Jorne, star/producer Lauren Cohan and costar Gaius Charles. Bottom Right: Lauren Cohan exits the stage, along with her fellow producer Eli Horne.

The next panel was for the new “The Walking Dead” spinoff series from AMC, “The Walking Dead: Dead City,” starring legacy actors (and now-producers) Lauren Cohan (“Maggie”), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (“Negan”), along with newcomer Gaius Charles (“Perlie”). The series will follow Maggie reluctantly agreeing to take baseball bat-wielding bad guy Negan up to a zombie-overrun New York City in search of her kidnapped son, Herschel (named after Maggie’s late father).  The panel was moderated by comedian and AMC’s “Talking Dead” after-show host, Chris Hardwick.  What surprised me most during the panel was learning that this new series was filmed in actual New York City locations, which were converted to their onscreen post-apocalyptic states using largely practical means—though writer/producer Eli Horne admits to copious amounts of CGI, as well.  

Note: Full disclosure: I used to be a big “Walking Dead” fan (the TV series and the original graphic novels), but I fell out of love with the show during late 2017, when Negan came in and brought an element of sadism and unnecessary brutality to the series that it seemed to revel in.  I know a lot’s changed since then, including Negan becoming a hero of sorts, but I’ve moved on. To those who still enjoy it, my opinion should not be taken as anything more than personal preference.  My reasons for quitting the show are here: “The Walking Dead”; where rigor mortis set in for me.

Once again moderated by Chris Hardwick, “Fear the Walking Dead” producers and cast gather for a panel on the show’s 8th & final season; producers Ian Goldberg, Michael Satrazemis, stars Kim Dickens, Jenna Elfman & Christine Evangelista. Dickens, Elfman and Evangelista wave goodbye as they exit the panel. Some of them stopped for photos and autographs as well.

The next panel, also moderated by Chris Hardwick, was for the 8th and final season of “Fear the Walking Dead” (2015-2023), which I also gave up on after a year or so (one can also take so many zombie apocalypses in one’s entertainment). The panelists included producers Ian Goldberg and Michael Satrazemis, along returning cast members Kim Dickens (“Madison”), Jenna Elfman (“June”) and Christine Evangelista (“Sherry”). Over the course of its eight seasons, the show has killed off several main characters, as its action has migrated from Los Angeles back to Savannah, Georgia, where the original series (and Robert Kirkman’s graphic novels) began.  TV comedy veteran Jenna Elfman, well-known for the 1990s sitcom “Dharma & Greg,” was asked during the Q&A if she had any challenges switching from comedy to drama, or whether she was ever inclined to add a touch more humor to her character; she answered in the affirmative to both.  The cast also offered teasing, non-spoiler clues about where their characters might end up. After the panel, the cast graciously hung around for a few minutes to pose for pictures before the next panel… 

The “Quantum Leap” (2022) panel; producers Martin Gero, Dean Georgaris and Deborah Pratt, along with stars Ernie Hudson, Raymond Lee, Caitlin Bassett, Nanrisa Lee, and Mason Alexander Park. In the lower two pics, you see the cast engaging in the old, time-honored convention tradition of taking your personalized name plate as you exit…

The next panel was the one I’d patiently waited for nearly the entire day; NBC/Peacock’s new reboot/sequel of Quantum Leap” a resurrection of the classic TV show which starred Scott Bakula and the late Dean Stockwell.  The new series continues some plot threads of the old, but with an all-new ensemble cast, instead of the original’s ‘dynamic duo.’ Quantum Leap 2022 sees Dr. Ben Song (Raymond Lee) taking an unscheduled leap back in time for mysterious reasons that are slowly revealed to his freshly-amnesiac self (a side-effect of ‘leaping‘), as well as the coordinators of the top-secret government time-travel project, which include Ben’s ‘guide’ and fiancée Addison Augustine (Caitlin Bassett), project leader “Magic” Williams (Ernie Hudson), computer AI specialist Ian Wright (Mason Alexander Park) and project security chief Jenn Chu (Nanrisa Lee). The series is being overseen by Martin Gero (who moderated the panel) and coproduced by Dean Georgaris and Deborah Pratt, who were also in attendance.  Pratt also coproduced the 1989-1993 original series, and she also voiced that show’s version of supercomputer/artificial intelligence “Ziggy” as well.  Ziggy is an element still used in the new series, though without Pratt’s voice (so far…). 

Clockwise from upper right: Series producer Deborah Pratt (also the voice of “Ziggy” in the original show), and “Magic”, actor Ernie Hudson. Ernie Hudson listens as Raymond Lee (“Ben Song”) talks about his preference to being surprised by whatever challenges the scripts have in store. Mason Alexander Park (“Ian”) and Nanrisa Lee (“Jenn”) listen to audience questions. Raymond Lee listens as Caitlin Bassett talks about her career in the Army, and in Intelligence. Her own background was successfully incorporated into her character, as well; acting was her dream career.

During the panel, some clips were shown from the penultimate episode of season one, while the cast teased some interesting hints about how the season finale will wrap up some plot threads while creating all-new ones, as well.  Producer Pratt also seemed unerringly optimistic that, at some point, original series star Scott Bakula could return (Bakula has made no public statement committing to the new series so far, only wishing the new cast luck).  Actor Ernie Hudson (“Ghostbusters”) half-joked that his character always seems to have no idea what’s going on; a sentiment partly shared with star Raymond Lee, who prefers to be surprised with each new script as it comes in (usually dictated by an exotic new wardrobe, such as a pencil skirt…).  Caitlin Bassett spoke of her US Army career, with several tours in Afghanistan and Qatar, as well as a stint in Army Intelligence (many fans thanked her for her service). With the help of a Disney new actors’ program, Bassett was able to pursue her lifelong passion for the craft (Quantum Leap is her first TV series).  

Going that extra leap.
Staying after the panel for a few minutes were cast members Mason Alexander Park and Caitlin Bassett, who were using what few minutes they had before the next panel to sign autographs and pose for fans’ selfies. I managed to get their autographs as well.

Actress Nanrisa Lee remarked that she’d like to see more of her character’s hinted-at wild side, while costar Mason Alexander Park joked that they’d love for their character to be shown just having a hobby that’s not work-related (Park’s father also worked for the government, with a specialty in computers).  Park also had much to say about their non-binary character’s representational importance, especially in today’s increasing hostile political climate for LGBTQ+ persons.  Several fans during the Q&A (and afterward) remarked that Ian is their favorite character of the series.  After the panel, most of the cast took their personalized name placeholders (a tradition at conventions), while cast members Park and Bassett graciously remained behind onstage for a few more minutes to pose for selfies with fans and sign autographs (they both signed my program as well). 

The Cosplay!

My favorite part of conventions is the colorful cosplay. The sheer imagination poured into these lovingly-detailed fan costumes is staggering.  I’ve seen many screen-used costumes up close, and all I can say is that these fan creations—made without the budget crunches or time-constraints of the film industry—sometimes exceed film/TV standards.  Let’s begin the show…

A brightly colored band of 23rd century-garbed Star Trek fans meet at one of the fan group meeting sites in Artist’s Alley.
Left to right: “Captain America” (he looked so right in the part!), “Frozone” (“The Incredibles”) and Gwen Stacey/SpiderWoman (“Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse”). Once again, Disney cosplay reigns supreme.
Disney cosplay continues with “Alice in Wonderland”‘s Mad Hatter and Red Queen. On the right is a gender-swapped “Little Mermaid” cast, with Queen Triton, Ursula and Ariel.
Disney cosplay was well-represented at WonderCon; a plus, since Disneyland was right across the street! We see (left to right) “Mando” (“The Mandalorian”), Anakin and Padme Skywalker (Star Wars Episodes I-III) and an affable Indiana Jones with his own variation of “Short Round.”
Left to right: An all-encompassing purple-headed chicken costume; I always admire cosplays that go the distance for their art. The dragon “H.R. Puff ‘N Stuff” from Sid & Marty Krofft’s 1970s same-named children’s show. The all-powerful “Jobu” from the Oscar-winning “Everything Everywhere All At Once” (2022).

Boomer’s Back!

While taking my stroll through the Dealer Hall, I once again saw actor Herb Jefferson Jr. (Lt. Boomer from 1978’s original version of “Battlestar Galactica”) and we enjoyed a nice chat over some stunts he’d done in the TV series “The Bionic Woman” (which I’m currently re-watching for a future retrospective).  In the scene, bionic woman Jamie Sommers hurls heavy laundry bags at Jefferson (playing a rare villain), who did the stunt himself.  Jefferson told me he often did his own stunts for multiple reasons—the prime of which was that he enjoyed doing them, but also because he took umbrage at seeing a “blonde, blue-eyed stuntman” in black makeup doing the job.  Often Jefferson would slyly recommend a Black stuntman—who would still get work as his double—while doing the actual stunt himself (he rode his own horses, did his own fights and many other such feats for the camera).  This was a story I’d never heard before, and it was fascinating

Actor Herb Jefferson Jr. (“Battlestar Galactica”) and I enjoyed a nice chat about stunt-work. I first met him almost 20 years ago, when he signed a Battlestar Galactica book from my childhood. He’s a terrific guy.

I’d first met Jefferson nearly 20 years ago at a convention in Pasadena, and he’s just as cool a guy now as he was then. Still fit, and wearing a Tuskegee Airmen jacket (commemorating the heroic, all-Black fighter pilot squadron of World War 2), Jefferson takes great pride in all of his work, which includes roles in TV shows like Rod Serling’s “The Night Gallery,” “Rich Man, Poor Man,” and “The Immortal,” as well as feature films like “Apollo 13” (1995). It’s always a pleasure to drop by and say ‘hi’ to him, whenever I get the chance.  If I were a filmmaker, I’d jump at the opportunity to work with him.

Summing It Up

Despite an unfortunate last-minute cancellation by actor Mark Jackson (“The Orville”) who was scheduled to be autographing at the convention, WonderCon 2023 greatly exceeded my expectations.  Of course, my favorite draws remain the same; the colorful cosplayers and the chance to meet and get some face-time with the celebrity guests…either purposefully, or by fortunate circumstances (the Quantum Leap cast’s impromptu signing/photo session, for example).  

A Samurai-themed Sith droid (lower left) decides to go easy on its servos and take the escalator, instead…

Less congested than San Diego Comic Con, WonderCon offers a bit more breathing room than other large-scale conventions. While my press pass didn’t exactly give me carte blanché at the event, it was still nice to meet and share war stories with another press attendee as well (thanks Libya!). This year’s focus on lesser-known, less franchise-ish projects was refreshing as well.  For those fans who live within reach of WonderCon, it is well worth the time, and it’s also great ‘practice’ for those who hope to tackle San Diego Comic Con someday–the Mt. Everest of fandom conventions.  

Until WonderCon 2024…

For anyone who’s interested, all 143 of my WonderCon 2023 photos can be seen via my Flickr page HERE.

All images: Author

10 Comments Add yours

  1. Julia says:

    You forgot to mention that your wife flipped out over getting Mason’s autograph. I loved them as Sandman’s Desire.

    1. Hahahaha! I tried to preserve your dignity…my mistake (hehe).

  2. Lorraine Fiel says:

    I very much enjoyed reading about your visit to Wondercon. I will never be able to go to any of these events since I don’t have the money or time to go and live too far away so reading about other people’s experiences will have to suffice.

    1. That is precisely why I do these kinds of stories; to vicariously deliver the experience of these events (in as much detail as possible) to readers who don’t have means or opportunities. Here’s hoping a nice convention comes your way, someday!

  3. Paul Bowler says:

    Brilliant post, really enjoyed reading about your visit to Wondercon. Awesome cosplay as well, especially those Star Trek outfits and fun to see all this eastromech droids as well – especially R5D4!

    1. Thanks Paul!

  4. scifimike70 says:

    Very attractive architecture in that place. Just the visual atmosphere I would appreciate at a great sci-fi convention. Thank you for sharing.

    1. You’re very welcome, Mike.
      And yes, it’s pretty clear why it was chosen as the new “Starfleet Command” in Star Trek: Picard. It has that 1960s-futurism, kind of like Seattle’s Space Needle, or Toronto’s CN Tower.

      1. scifimike70 says:

        1960s’ futurism indeed had a specific beauty to it. So had the 1970s’ until Alien and Blade Runner thanks to Ridley Scott had profoundly changed so much.

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