Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
For years we’ve been telling friends in other states that we’d one day do Atlanta’s Dragon Con, one of the largest conventions in America that isn’t in California or New York. We’ve been in Atlanta, but we hadn’t really done Atlanta. Hence this year’s vacation, in which we’re aiming for a double proficiency in Atlanta tourism and over-the-top Dragon Con goodness…
…and the convention half of our week-long getaway all comes down to this: the final chapter. The panels. The Artists Alley. The comics. The leftover random stuff.
Oddly, what’s left largely boils down to “How We Spent Friday”. As is often the case for cons, the day began with tedium and maddening bureaucracy.
We arrived around 8:30 at the Hyatt, where our very first Dragon Con panel would begin at 10 a.m. in one of their two International Ballrooms, in the southwest corner of the building and one level below the lobby. It wasn’t hard to find the hallway leading that-a-way. A sign on the floor stopped us short, instructing attendees that lines for all International Ballroom events were to form outside on John Portman Boulevard, which runs along the south side of the building. We found this odd, but we followed the instruction, exited through the west doors where we’d entered, and headed to the south end.
We walked the full length of the south end and saw no lines, no signage, and no signs of life. At the end of the block we turned into the deep maw of a garage entrance. We turned back, walked the south length once more, and continued seeing nothing but several unlabeled, interchangeable fire doors.
We went back around to the west and reentered the Hyatt. We found the official Dragon Con information booth with someone sitting next to it, but she was just an uninformed loiterer taking advantage of an empty chair. The booth itself was unstaffed. We returned to that hallway, ignored the sign, and escalator’d down to the International Ballroom doors. A lone volunteer pointed to a set of fire doors that led outside and told us we couldn’t go in or stand right there. We had to go wait outside along Portman Boulevard, on the other side of those fire doors through which we’d all be let back in when the time was nigh. But we also weren’t allowed to merely walk through those doors right now or else an alarm would go out. We and several other fans who’d just shown up and turned our duo into a questing party had to go back up the escalator, back through the hallway, back outside, and back around to the south fire doors. We unanimously rolled our eyes and did so. We as a group then realized we had no idea which among the multiple sets of featureless fire doors was the correct set. We chose a random set and waited.
At 9:25 a volunteer arrived carrying a “Lines for International Ballrooms Begin Here” sign and hung it on the next set of doors down from us. Naturally. We moved; we waited; moments later we were let back inside through the now-deactivated fire doors at last, and on time.
I hadn’t expected typical convention line shenanigans from Dragon Con, but here we were. We’ve put up with plenty worse.
Half the line went into one ballroom for a medieval sword-fighting demonstration; the rest of us flocked into a special occasion for comic book fans: a panel reuniting legendary creators and collaborators Marv Wolfman and George Perez. When I was 8 years old they launched New Teen Titans, which became a smash hit for DC Comics and introduced new characters such as Cyborg, Starfire, Raven, Slade Wilson a.k.a. Deathstroke the Terminator, and countless more heroes and villains. When I was 13 they changed the DC Universe forever with Crisis on Infinite Earths and helped invent the concept of the company-wide crossover event, which was an awesome idea to me at the time but is now a horrible marketing device that I totally can’t stand. When Wolfman and Perez did it, it was beyond cool.
We’d met them each at previous shows. Wolfman was at a Superman Celebration long ago, though our photos of that are buried in our archives and ought to be dug up sometime. I’ve had the pleasure of basking in Perez’s presence at Wizard World Chicago 1999, the 2012 Superman Celebration, and briefly at Indiana Comic Con 2016. I could go on about the impact their works had on my impressionable self, but this entry will be too long as it is. I mean, a thing they did is referenced right up there in the website name.
Fans asked questions about Crisis, about working in the comic biz in general, and, curiously, quite a few questions about The Judas Contract, one of their most famous New Teen Titans storylines in which young new teammate Terra was revealed to be a spy working for and hooking up with the much older Deathstroke. Guys really had a lot of questions about that one. About three minutes before the Q&A ended I thought of a question, but by then it was too late. Perez will be retiring from the biz soon, but maybe if Wolfman does another show in the future…
My favorite bit: Perez reveals how inkers once hated to work on his pencils because his penchant for drawing 200-500 characters into a single issue was more than they could bear without going mad. After Marvel and DC instituted their own systems for paying royalties (a huge development in the comics world), and once folks realized how much royalties were to be had on a Perez prestige project, then inkers began lining up to work with him. Sometimes teamwork is all about finding the right incentive.
After their panel ended at 11, our next one was in the ballroom next door. Once again we were told we couldn’t just walk in even though the sword-fighting had dispersed. Once again we had to re-escalator up, head out the west doors to the south end, and wait to be let back in again. At least this time the right fire doors were marked.
The headliner of our 11:30 presentation was Gil Gerard, best known as TV’s Buck Rogers, sci-fi hero of his own two-season show back in the late ’70s. I also remember Sidekicks, but no one asked about that.
Memories and thoughts dredged up included but weren’t limited to:
- Some entity presently holds the Buck Rogers rights, and lawsuits may have been initiated by those peeved at their failure to actually do anything with said rights in a long, long time
- He was afraid to take on more SF-themed jobs because he didn’t want to be banished to the same typecasting purgatory that dogged Adam West for years
- He was disappointed that celebrated TV writer Glen Larson (Battlestar Galactica, Knight Rider, Magnum P.I.) was never actively involved with the show beyond the original Buck Rogers TV-movie
- The show soon turned into “Starsky and Hutch in Space”, then got worse when the season-2 showrunner stole the entire Galactica premise, which went well with the borrowed props and effects
- Episodes cost upward of $1.5 million in 1970s money when it was canceled due to low ratings
- He had to fight for gender parity in casting extras so a crowd scene wouldn’t be composed entirely of white guys
- On Battle of the Network Stars he once raced Scott Baio and was among the many who were vanquished by Lou Ferrigno at tug-of-war
- He was fine with Buck Rogers never getting a steady girlfriend because when other TV heroes had love lives, they tended to die a lot (“Marcus Welby killed more women than Jack the Ripper”)
- Parts he was offered but turned down included lead roles in Moonlighting, Scarecrow and Mrs. King, and Magnum P.I., whose original pilot script had him as a pot-smoking parasailing dude
- He’s done Broadway and dinner theater
- He used to fly planes, but hasn’t in ages because it got “boring”
- He’s met actual astronauts, possibly the coolest thing Buck Rogers made happen
(Gerard’s Buck Rogers costar Erin Gray was also a D*C guest this year. We never saw them within fifty feet of each other. Even their autograph tables in the Walk of Fame were on opposite ends of the room, in noticeable contrast to other guests whose tables were grouped according to their shared shows.)
We adjourned for lunch at Peachtree Center, then wandered over to the second floor of the Marriott for a 2:30 engagement in their Imperial Ballroom. Once again, we’d done it wrong. A sign on the ballroom doors directed would-be audience members to go down a floor, go outside, and join the line forming there in 90-degree heat without shade. We grumbled and did so, though only a few minutes passed before the line moved inward, up again, and into the packed house.
Our next guests were Dragon Con’s feature presentation in Anne’s eyes. As a kid she’d loved, loved, loved ABC’s original 1983 V miniseries and its 1984 follow-up V: The Final Battle. (The one-season series that followed was sadly nowhere near the same level.) She was overjoyed to see a live reunion between costars Jane Badler and Marc Singer. As the original devious managerial lizard-woman and the Big Action Hero, they sparred quite a bit back in the day. On stage 35 years later, they were cheery and at ease.
Topics of note:
- Yep, Singer’s jeans sure were tight
- Everyone always asks about the scene where her V character Diana eats a live rat because, frankly, that’s something no one has ever been able to unsee
- Singer once had to film a fight scene with broken ribs, but did the job
- One fan remembers seeing them in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade on TV
- They agreed the one-season series that followed the two miniseries was sadly nowhere near the same level
Outside and inside the ballroom, cosplayers in “Visitor” uniforms stood guard, just like on the show. At appropriate moments, one ran back and forth at the front of the room with an “APPLAUSE” sign, a hilarious reference for hardcore fans.
…and that’s the story of how we spent most of our Friday on the Elderly Geek Track. That’s not an official label, and certainly wasn’t planned that way, but in hindsight it’s interesting that in our first trip to Dragon Con, the activities that caught our attention first were interactions with the heroes of our youth.
We didn’t stop there. Naturally I had to see Artists Alley. One major complication: artists’ tables and, for that matter, exhibitors and dealers aren’t right there amid all the action. Whereas other cons put the exhibit hall squarely in the center and design the layout and all other pieces around it, all that commerce and art and other bazaar-esque components are blocks away in AmericasMart Atlanta, a three-building marketplace complex. Gaming events were across the street from the Hyatt in AmericasMart 1; the exhibit halls and Artists Alley were in the four-story AmericasMart 2, over on the other side of AmericasMart 1; and the even farther AmericasMart 3 was the Not Used in This Con Building.
Artists Alley was blocks away, but I had to see because it’s my thing. Thus we made the walk, made a beeline for the top floor, and gave money to some folks who hadn’t appeared at our usual Midwest cons within recent history.
For me, DeMatteis was Friday’s big “I’m not worthy” moment. Even as a kid I could sense he was no writer of ordinary superheroes. Titles as deceptively mundane as Captain America, Marvel Team-Up, New Defenders, Dr. Fate, and countless others used the superhero framework to tell stories with deeper themes to them beyond “good must punch evil”. Fans also fondly recall his post-Crisis Justice league reboot with Keith Giffen and Kevin Maguire, which at times carried an undercurrent of complex drama beneath the team’s side-splitting antics of the time. Marvel’s mature-readers Epic imprint gave him the chance to explore darker content and deeper philosophy in Moonshadow and Blood: A Tale. And there was the time he wrote one of the most disturbing Spider-Man arcs ever, that time Kraven the Hunter murdered Spidey and took his place inside the black costume. And so many more. So yeah, meeting him was a big deal.
I appreciated these opportunities, but…overall, to be honest, it wasn’t the largest Artists Alley I’ve ever seen. I bought a few things, but wasn’t moved to reach for my wallet nearly as many times as I’d expected or hoped. (C2E2 and CXC remain the reigning champs in that regard.) It meant less weight to carry for blocks back to our hotel room later, but I wasn’t really trying to cut back for that reason.
That left us with three more floors of AmericasMart 2 to see if we wanted to walk past all the dealers and exhibitors and marketers and whatnot. We managed to traipse around all of a single floor. We didn’t pause for merchandise once. We were exhausted, but we’re also finding ourselves not really looking for dealers’ wares anymore at any cons. At that point we declared Friday done and retreated from D*C for the evening.
Right around here is, in a logically chronological narrative, where “How We Spent Saturday” would begin. Funny thing is, I’ve already deconstructed and posted nearly the entirety of that day, D*C-wise.
Our Saturday exploits worked out roughly like so, not entirely in this order:
- Arriving at the end of the parade route shortly before 8 a.m.
- Waiting and waiting and waiting for the thing to start
- Our hearts growing a few extra sizes when old friends tracked us down to say hi for a few minutes, because they’re awesome
- The parade itself from 10:00 to 11:30
- Four photo ops scheduled from 12:30 to 4:30, which got increasingly more stressful as the day went on, especially when ops kept running late and pushing other ops back
- Lunch at Peachtree Center yet again
- Cosplay photos, which on Saturday were 95% Anne because at some point I didn’t realize I’d burned out on talking to kind, well-dressed strangers, and/or another round of basic exhaustion had hit me
- Sitting for a while along a wall next to cosplayers, then accidentally knocking a drink on the edge of someone’s cape, for which I really wanted to spend the rest of the day apologizing
- Brief chat with the clerks at the Marriott convenience store on…whichever level that was, either second or third
- Waiting for security to let folks take turns using escalators due to crowd-size issues
- Awkward walk through the Marriott’s first floor, where a special ADA line for David Tennant autographs had kept folks waiting for hours, and not in the best moods
- Even awkwarder walk when we made the mistake of turning into the Marriott Atrium bar area and couldn’t reach an exit for several minutes while we were trapped between mingling drinkers
…and a few more random pics here and there.
Our last official D*C act was the Legends of Tomorrow photo op (shared in Part 1), which wrapped up somewhere close to 5-ish. With that, we bade the show farewell for 2019. We grabbed one last Peachtree Center meal, this time at a place recommended by a friend. As it happened, Aviva by Kameel gave us one of the best meals of our entire week. It was Atlanta and Dragon Con wrapped up in one exemplary coda.
Finances and timing were major obstacles to negotiate in attending our first Dragon Con. Anne and I agree they also make it impossible to add D*C to our annual “must” list. But I do hope we can make it happen again someday. We barely scratched the surface of the 5000+ interaction possibilities they offered. It’d be nice to check off at least a few more of those. At this point a D*C encore is likelier to happen than us ever doing San Diego.
The End. Thanks for reading! Till we grace their kingdom again…
Other chapters in this very special miniseries:
Introduction: 20 Years of Road Trips, 2 Lifetimes of Geek Culture
Part 1: The Stars Our Destination – our usual roundup of actors and jazz-hands
Part 2: Cosplay on Parade
Part 3: More Cosplay on Parade
Part 4: Still More Cosplay on Parade
Part 5: Still More Cosplay on Parade Continued
Part 6: Still More Cosplay on Parade Continued Yet Again
Part 7: Deadpool Presents the Deadpool Cosplay Parade Starring Deadpool
Part 8: Ultimate Final Cosplay-Parade Climax Endgame Finale
Part 9: No Parades, Just Cosplay
Part 10: Last Call for Cosplay
Part 11: The Dragon’s Lairs
Advance epilogue: Three Thoughts After Our First Dragon Con