Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
It’s that time of year again! Anne and I spent this weekend at Wizard World Chicago in scenic Rosemont, IL, where we generally had a blast surrounded by fellow fans of comics and genre TV/movies even though parts of it resemble hard work and our feet feel battle-damaged after three days of endless walking, standing, lining up, shuffling forward in cattle-call formation, and scurrying toward exciting people and things.
Tonight’s episode: the miniseries finale! The panels we saw! The comics-related pros I met! Some light whining, but not too much! And more!
Days before we stepped foot inside Illinois, Wizard World Chicago made headlines in advance with the disconcerting news that a gun dealership had purchased booth space inside Hall A. Some time later, follow-up reports claimed the folks at DS Arms would only be selling prop armaments, nothing real or explosive or requiring licenses or against the show’s own no-actual-weapons policy. I anticipated a modicum of protest drama upon arrival, maybe even the opportunity to take photos like a real comics journalist. I’m not sure if I was relieved or disappointed when the Chicago Tribune reported that WWC booted them from the premises shortly after opening on Thursday. My chance to take photos of a real live controversy evaporated.
(Anyone who’s attending Dragon*Con next weekend will have the chance to see some of their weapons and volunteers on site as part of an armory exhibit. Heidi MacDonald at The Beat has confirmed DS Arms won’t have an official vendor booth, but they’ll have a presence in other, less overtly labeled ways.)
Our three-day Wizard World Chicago weekend had its occasional snags, none of them related to gunpowder but at least one of them involving destructive forces: a severe thunderstorm that, combined with the eternal Chicago road construction, brought traffic to a standstill on the last leg of our usual three-hour drive to Rosemont on Friday.
To forestall another potential disaster, before heading over to the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center we first ate lunch at the McDonald’s down the street so we could avoid con food for the rest of the day. We’d also been forewarned that on Thursday the bridge connecting the main parking garage to the convention center had been closed off as a security decision, forcing all attendees to enter through the same ground-level doors and submit to bag searches and handheld metal detectors. Fortunately a quick online check-in told us WWC and the center had reversed that inconvenience and reopened all the skywalks, but staffed them with separate security teams. Given the increasingly disheartening headlines we’ve been seeing throughout 2016 regarding tragedies at public gatherings, it was hard to complain. And to their credit, their searches were pretty much the opposite of invasive.
(Almost to a fault. I wasn’t told to empty my pockets, so whenever the detectors got a ping from my car keys, instead of asking me to empty them, they just asked me what was in my pockets and trusted my answer. I guess it’s nice to know I have such a reassuring demeanor and no compelling reason to sneak a tiny handgun inside.)
Artists Alley was among our first stops on Friday. In my mind its artisans and dealers broke down roughly as follows:
Longtime MCC readers will note the majority of this list doesn’t match my shopping patterns. I stopped at so few tables on Friday afternoon that I insisted on a second walkthrough on Sunday before we left, just in case we’d missed something awesome. I made sure to include the two farthest rows that were squashed against each other next to a pair of forgotten bathrooms, all of them forming a sort of forlorn, abandoned colony. The encore didn’t make a wide difference.
Regardless, the following creators successfully sold me new reading materials that I look forward to consuming in the future:
* Russell Lissau, one of the few regulars who now recognizes us on sight because we keep meeting again and again at these Chicago shows. His self-published Omega Comics are available both in print and digitally through comiXology.
* Steve Horton, whose creator-owned works include Amala’s Blade at Dark Horse Comics and the now-in-progress science fiction saga Satellite Falling at IDW. Featuring art by Steve Thompson, the latter was unquestionably the best-looking comic I saw at the show.
That’s regrettably, virtually it (save a few trivial tidbits and the ending photo) for our Wizard World Chicago 2016 experience as it related to the medium of comic books and/or graphic storytelling. Of the comics-related panels on the schedule, most were tutorials for aspiring writers or artists, while several others focused on diversity in the medium and/or the fandom. I get the reasons for their existence and presumable popularity, but we attended none of these.
Early Friday, we made time for one autograph over in the actors’ section in Hall G: William Sadler, whom you’ve seen in things. He’s been the President of the United States of America in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Iron Man 3), the Grim Reaper (Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey), an ex-military mass murderer (Die Hard 2), a greedy fireman turned treasure hunter (I was among the few who paid to see 1992’s Trespass in theaters), a future covert-ops manipulator (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), a loving father killed off in the pilot (Hawaii Five-O), and more more more.
We also attended his Friday afternoon Q&A, which was enjoyable except for the fifteen or twenty minutes of excruciating annoyance when some bottom-feeder pulled a fire alarm in the conference center that rang and rang and rang and rang and rang AND RANG AND RANG AND RANG AND RANG AND RANG till someone finally showed up to shut it off.
There was also that awkward moment when one fan cosplayer approached the microphone in the middle of the room and, while asking his question, thought it was a smart idea to raise his prop gun and point it at Sadler on stage. Sadler recognized it for what it was and quickly tossed in a word of assurance to the WWC security guys who were visibly tensing up at that exact awkward moment.
Otherwise, interesting panel with a cheerful guest, though he had to pause a moment when someone named Julie called his phone while he was talking. Random sample Q&A tidbits:
* Childhood likes include old Fantastic Four comics and the TV show Combat
* A wartime trench scene from the Tales from the Crypt pilot had to be abandoned for a while because someone thought it was a smart idea to construct it entirely from fresh, genuine, authentically pungent farm manure
* Thinks Kinsey is among his most underrated films and heaped praise upon director Bill Condon
* Was once a standup comic; knew music before he became an actor, well enough to write the Bogus Journey “Reaper Rap” himself as well as a couple of songs for the UPN series Roswell, in which he was the town sheriff
* Next appearance will be in an episode of the upcoming Epix series Berlin Station
The next panel in the same room had been completely off my radar till we saw it listed on the sign outside: a special screening of Amazon’s pilot for a proposed reboot of The Tick. I was a fan of the original New England Comics version way back when and was excited to learn creator Ben Edlund would be hosting the screening and doing a short Q&A afterward with a couple of the show’s stars.
About that pilot: the new Tick is Peter Serafinowicz, best known as Simon Pegg’s stodgy, short-lived roommate in Shaun of the Dead, or as Andy’s immature British royalty pal Eddie from two episodes of Parks & Rec. His Tick voice is a spot-on reproduction of Townsend Coleman’s animated version, and, more importantly, he has the jaw for it. The new version is set against a grim-‘n’-gritty backdrop not unlike the DC Cinematic Universe, where the criminals are merciless and the violence is disturbing and not-comedic, but Our Hero drops cluelessly yet valiantly into action along with the all-new Arthur (Griffin Newman from HBO’s Vinyl), reimagined as a jittery nebbish, a super-hero fan with a tragic past, who needs medicine and psychoanalysis and maybe isn’t ready to wear a super-suit and fight crime in his condition, but ends up having to anyway because “NO” isn’t in the Tick’s vocabulary.
Edlund mentioned the pilot would be the darkest episode of all, with future misadventures (should it go to series) getting lighter as it goes. As directed by celebrated cinematographer Wally Pfister (not remotely celebrated for his directorial debut Transcendence), the pilot looks expensive and shadowy and disturbing in one or two parts, but we in the crowd laughed at most of the right parts, which speaks to the skills of screenwriter Edlund, whose post-comics Hollywood work you may have run into in such shows as Firefly, Angel, NBC’s Revolution, and Gotham (I’ll never forget Bullock shouting “WHAT’S ALTRUISM?”). I’m not an Amazon Prime customer, but I’d totally buy this on DVD someday if they make more.
After the credits rolled, Edlund introduced his two guests: young Griffin Newman, starstruck and happy just to be working; and — thoroughly unannounced by Wizard World or any other source in advance — Academy Award Nominee Jackie Earle Haley.
Most of us didn’t recognize Haley onscreen in his single scene as The Terror, the big villain behind all the evil shenanigans in the City. He was hidden under a heavy helmet and a layer or two of evil makeup, but wins the entire episode in a flashback with young Arthur involving the ol’ quarter-behind-the-ear trick and some tasty ice cream. Even if we had recognized him incognito, none of us could’ve predicted his equally brief and memorable appearance at the show.
A select few audience members who had special cards under their seats had the surprise pleasure of attending an autograph signing with the trio afterward. We cursed our cardless seats and hoped at least to meet Edlund later in the weekend. We’d heard a rumor that he would have an Artists Alley table, but the number we were given corresponded to a support column between tables. We checked the column a few times over the next two days, but never once saw him hanging around it.
After that unexpected pleasure came our John Barrowman photo op, swift departure, dinner over at MB Financial Park so they’d validate our parking (Adobe Gila’s, fast service, dishes around $10 each, would eat there again), and check-in at our usual hotel a mile down the road. Anne and I aren’t party people, don’t drink, never get invited to do things after-hours at cons, and appreciate a decent hotel with lower prices and free parking.
* * * * *
As with last year, we chipped in a few extra bucks for VIP badges, which allowed us a half-hour early entry on Saturday. This advantage would’ve been more useful for any Saturday morning appointments or high-profile guests. We’d had one planned, but my wife was crushed to receive word that Kate Mulgrew had canceled at the last possible second, not even an hour after she had tweeted her followers about her imminent arrival in Chicago, unfortunately due to a sudden change in Orange is the New Black filming schedules. As the former head of Star Trek: Voyager, she’s the only major Trek series captain that my wife hasn’t met yet, and this isn’t the first time she’s stood her up at a con. We weren’t happy, but we were in no position to order her to show up. Wizard World dutifully refunded Anne’s prepaid photo-op ticket, and that’s all that could be done.
Most of our afternoon itinerary remained a logjam to come, but Mulgrew’s withdrawal freed up our Saturday morning more than we needed it to be. We were tempted to substitute a panel instead, a one-hour clubhouse for unrepentant DC movie fans who loved Batman vs. Superman and will defend it to the death by any means necessary possibly including repugnant ones, but I wasn’t sure if our silent, undercover, ironic presence would be welcome. I doubt I could’ve kept a straight face, so it’s just as well.
Instead we wandered the halls for a while, well before most of the guests or dealers had shown up. Membership has its privileges, I suppose.
We ran out of time and energy on Friday before we could peruse the dealers and exhibitors in the main section of Hall A, so they were high on our to-do list. I bought even less from them, though I’d like to give special thanks to One Stop Comics for being the first retailer ever to carry a copy of Nexus: Into the Past, which none of our local shops ordered and was nowhere to be found at our last several cons, not even the one where creators Mike Baron and Steve Rude were guests. I was elated to cross that off the high end of my graphic novel want list.
Two displays that stood out along the way:
Rather than walk a mile or two to the nearest professional restaurant, for lunch we settled on the Expoteria, a secret cafeteria whose entrance is hidden in the back wall of Hall A, easy to overlook, and closer to edible than their other grub stands. The two of us bought literally the last chicken tenders on hand, Anne receiving a full order of four tenders while I settled for chicken scrapple from the bottom of the pan that added up to 2¾ tenders but cost me full price anyway. Sincere apologies to fans in line behind me who had to settle instead for cafeteria “beef” burgers, overpriced lunchmeat sandwiches, or grilled chicken that looked like damp linoleum shards.
Saturday’s main event was the Back to the Future panel starring aforementioned superstars Fox, Thompson, and Lloyd, held in an upstairs ballroom that was packed near its capacity of 2200 by the time it started fifteen minutes late. Anne’s Christopher Lloyd VIP pass got her a cushy seat in the front section, while I was in the eighth row from the back, possibly in another ZIP code. My view was terrible, but the overweight fans on either side of me insisted on taking two seats apiece, leaving a half-seat of bonus elbow room on either side of me. I’m no size-zero specimen myself, so I refused to complain about this relative luxury. Sincere apologies to any fans who were turned away at the door and would’ve dearly loved having those two seats. If it had been up to me, they’d have been all yours.
All three seemed happy to be there, though Lloyd is a bit more reserved when not in character. Fox’s well-known case of Parkinson’s was noticeable only in the beginning syllables of some answers, which might take a few tries before launching ahead unimpeded. Even then, he just sounded mildly nervous, just as many folks might in front of a crowd of 2200.
Before the Q&A began, the moderator introduced a prerecorded segment from original BTTF screenwriter Bob Gale, greeting us with a two-question FAQ regarding the commonest topics in all of BTTF fandom.
Gale’s decrees were: (1) there will not be a BTTF 4 as long as Gale, director Robert Zemeckis, and any other directly interested parties are still alive; (2) there will not be a BTTF reboot as long as Gale, Zemeckis, and any other directly interested parties are still alive. Once the Q&A began, the moderator shot down any fans who tried in vain to ask theoretical questions about sequels or reboots anyway. A few fans who love redundant questions and/or who have knee-jerk allergies to wanton displays of authority may have been upset, but the “don’t ask about sequels or reboots” rule had been set forth from the get-go. In light of the concurrent headlines regarding moderator malfeasance at the same weekend’s MidAmeriCon II, Anne and I were surprised yet appreciative to see a rare instance of a panel moderator actually moderating so people can see what moderation looks like and why panel moderators are a necessary convention role.
Random sample Q&A tidbits:
* After Fox famously replaced original star Eric Stoltz and became the one true Marty McFly, Thompson appreciated that what they’d filmed prior to recasting be scrapped and reshot.
* Thompson still has her red wig from BTTF 2, which she stole after filming wrapped. Fox wishes he could’ve nabbed the guitar.
* Some light speculation ensued on how Marty and Doc first met, since they’re friends from the beginning. (No one mentioned it at the panel, but a recent comics miniseries from IDW had a short story answering that very question, co-authored by Gale. Worth checking out.)
* To one or two plot-nitpicking questions, the moderator recommended the fan consult with social media, where such topics have been debated to death and don’t directly concern the actors themselves.
* Fox loved the Enchantment Under the Sea guitar solo scene and studied hard with his teacher/consultant/whoever to approximate the movements and styles of specific famous guitarists for each section.
* Although the moderator stepped in on the question of “Who would you cast in a reboot?” the actors answered anyway. Should Zemeckis and Gale be assassinated and such a thing be greenlit, Fox thought the new Marty should be female; Thompson suggested Zoey Deutch as the new Lorraine, and Lloyd answered simply, “I would be happy to audition again.”
* The bugs Lloyd ate in one of the Addams Family movies weren’t real.
Exiting the ballroom at the same time as 2200 other fans was a time-consuming event in itself, riding the sluggish wave from the upper-floor conference rooms to the lower level across the main lobby and back to the actor booth areas and back up to the spacious photo-op area for our scheduled appointments with Rosario Dawson and the Daredevil trio.
And then we had to do an about-face and return to the upper-floor conference rooms to make use of my VIP badge for a special event: a solo musical performance by Christian Kane, costar of TNT’s Leverage and The Librarians.
Full disclosure: before this weekend, I had no idea Kane was a musician. Or that he has a loyal following, the self-styled Kaniacs, who love his music, have their own site, know all the words from the country-rock songs he’s recorded with his band, and knew said songs well enough to shout out the chords to him whenever he asked for reminders. Several of them sported official Kaniacs T-shirts. There were maybe two or three of us guys in a crowd of dozens of extremely excited women. One fan was lucky enough to be invited onstage with Kane and play guitar for one song while Kane sang. Mood lighting was in full effect. A cash bar was in the back, not unlike what we’d seen in multiple places around the show floor.
I, uh, I just liked him on Angel and Leverage. I tried not to feel like an intruder. Anne felt even more out of place sans Kane VIP badge, but she at least knows him from Leverage, and was allowed in as my plus-one. We each enjoyed the 45-minute gig in our own ways. At the end, the audience was gathered for group photos that Kane’s people should be sharing online in the future. (No sign of it yet as of this writing. Updates as they occur.)
After our evening as honorary Kaniacs, we had energy enough for one more panel: the guys from YouTube’s own Screen Junkies staging an all-new edition of “Movie Fights Live”, in which four of their movie-loving reps (including Epic Voice Guy Jon Bailey, whom we met at Indy Pop Con back in June) would debate movie questions — some typical, some stupid — with a quartet of fans from the audience.
I’m not recapping because I know they were filming and I’m assuming they’ll post it online on some future Thursday. (No sign of it yet as of this writing. Updates as they occur.) It was way more fun than I expected, though the greatest achievement in panel entertainment that entire weekend had to be watching Dan Murrell squirm when the terms of the cruel final question forced him to formulate a credible defense of the entire Twilight series. If Screen Junkies is a paying gig, Dan deserves a Christmas bonus for taking that bullet in the line of duty.
They had a meet-‘n’-greet afterward, but we were too tired to go on. Wearied departure led us to another parking-validation dinner over at MB Financial Park (Five Roses Pub, slow service, just-okay burgers, no urge to revisit) and returning to our hotel, where the Wi-Fi was running at free-AOL-disc speeds and leaving me no choice but to get some sleep.
* * * * *
We arrived at 8:30 a.m. Sunday, knowing the entire day would be the hardest — virtually nothing but lines, lines, lines. We steeled ourselves for a lot of standing, waiting, rocking back and forth from one foot to the other, sitting on bare concrete as needed, and draining our phone batters for amusement. Some time was passed and enjoyed in chatting with any other line-mates awake and game enough to return the courtesy. Line chats are always a favorite part of every con when they happen, though they’re not always guaranteed.
(Real talk from a life-long introvert: one photo-op line in particular had me so unengaged and left-out by the others around me, lost as they were in their own worlds and circles, that I got a little sullen over the silence and had trouble psyching myself up in time for jazz hands.)
Our early-VIP entry came in handier on Sunday than on Saturday because Anne still needed Christopher Lloyd’s autograph as part of her VIP experience. We were first in line at 9:30 for his 11:00 signing.
Lloyd was twenty minutes late, so we kept our adulation short yet peppy. From there we made a beeline to Christian Kane’s autograph line, where I was second VIP up. All the other VIPs were attending his 11:00 Q&A, which I’d missed while waiting in line with Anne. I could’ve gone, but the Saturday evening shindig was satisfying enough for me. Also, CHRISTOPHER LLOYD.
Kane’s signing was scheduled at noon, immediately after his Q&A, which was on the opposite end of the convention center. He ran fifteen minutes late, which really isn’t bad for a Wizard World guest, all things considered. Again I kept it peppy and short, and added his signature to my Buffy/Angel collection.
From there we made another beeline to the line for Kane’s 12:45 photo op. If you look at all the schedules throughout the weekend, several actors were overextended like that, slated to pop here and there and everywhere with not much breathing space or travel time to keep traversing the length of the con back and forth. We weren’t there for the major X-Files reunion or the various Walking Dead guests or super-special guest Carrie Fisher (our Fisher story, in case you missed it), so I can only speculate how well they met their various appointments and demands.
To his credit, Kane was only eight minutes late to the photo op. I also couldn’t speculate on how things went with his autograph line either before or after, and I’d hate to ask. By the time I finished there, I’d now spent 4½ straight hours in lines and was miles away from “peppy”, the weight of the long weekend bearing down on me at last.
Lunch was overpriced convention hot dogs, because by then who cared. We returned to a few booths for last-minute purchases, did that one last walk through Artists Alley, did our 3:30 photo-op with Christopher Lloyd that was totally worth it, and fled the premises at the approximate walking speed of an elderly grandparent. We made one last, lengthy, unenthusiastic, parking-validation walk to MB Financial Park, where we bought a pair of three-dollar ice cream cones at the Sugar Factory so we wouldn’t have to shell out fifteen bucks for parking. Seriously, folks: unless the long walk is an issue, there’s no reason to pay fifteen bucks a day for Wizard World Chicago parking instead of cheap daily snacks at the Sugar Factory. Which, incidentally, gave me just the energy I needed to drive us out of Illinois alive.
Also, in between all the moments outlined above, we took cosplay photos wherever possible for You, The Viewers at Home, as shared in previous chapters. All a part of the service, a word here which means “giving people reasons to come here ever at all”. If you’re still reading down here around the 5000-word mark: hello! Thanks for being here and giving us moments of your time. There’s a 90% chance you’re just my wife, but that’s okay by me. You and I had fun, and that’s what matters, whether those around us get it or not. You’re the reason I share, write, and do things like this.
Well, that and the comics. Granted, there’s an entire semantics discussion to be had about an entertainment convention still calling itself a “Comic Con” even though the comics are a scant fraction of the total experience, in much the same way that only a scant fraction of today’s “comic books” are intentionally comical. The major publishers haven’t shown up in years. Not even the street-cred indies like Fantagraphics, Top Shelf, or Drawn & Quarterly have any representation. A handful of Big Two contributors and a whole lot of self-starters make the most of their time for the fans who really, sincerely appreciate their presence. I can’t donate to every artist in attendance, but I buy what I buy, based on the options provided and on my finicky criteria shaped by 37 years of comic collecting.
Between the comics and the actors, regardless of flaws, Wizard World Chicago keeps giving us good reasons to keep going. It’s funny that way, and so are we.
The End. Again, thanks for reading. See you next year, hopefully!
Other chapters in this MCC miniseries: