Everybody says San Diego Comic Con can make or break a project, and we saw it happening first-hand at SDCC 2010. Here's our list of the projects that gained supercharged buzz at SDCC... plus a few that lost some buzz.
Just to clarify, this isn't a list of stuff we personally liked at Comic Con. It's more stuff that we felt got some more positive buzz or generated a new level of excitement at the con — or won over the naysayers. And in the handful of "losers" listed at the bottom, it's stuff that we got the sense people were disappointed by. Since Comic Con is all about buzz, this is our attempt to gauge the buzz that stuff was getting at the Con.
And you'll notice that Tron Legacy isn't on the list — in its third year at SDCC, Tron Legacy maintained the high level of buzz it already had among the SDCC crowd. There's a big difference between "buzz maintenance" and generating new buzz. Ditto for a lot of other Comic Con favorites that continued to be Comic Con favorites, but didn't really gain or lose new buzz.
So with that said, here goes, in no particular order:
The Avengers (including Captain America and Thor)
The big moment of Comic Con, for a lot of people, was seeing the entire Avengers cast on stage together. It's not as if there was no buzz for the Avengers before Comic Con — as with the Captain America and Thor movies, fan excitement was already pretty high for this project. But Marvel managed to meet people's expectations — and silence all of the Thor naysayers with some impressive early footage. We were all hoping they would get all the Avengers on stage together, along with director Joss Whedon, and they did. But we weren't prepared for how thrilling a sight it was. It's not just that everyone was excited about the Avengers — it was the hope that the Captain America and Thor movies could both hold up to those characters' mighty legacies, and then the Avengers movie really could pay it all off, with the biggest story yet.
Battle: Los Angeles
This is one of those projects that almost nobody had heard off before Comic Con, and the very consciously Black Hawk Down-inspired footage seemed to get everybody pumped up about it. In a year that saw a slew of alien invasion projects, including Skyline, this felt like one of the freshest, most interesting takes on the genre. And the obvious enthusiasm for the project on the part of Harvey Dent himself, Aaron Eckhart, was pretty contagious. It came across as good action-movie candy, and people seemed to be hungry for more.
Abin Sur's corpse, on the exhibition floor, was this year's version of the Owl Ship from Watchmen from a couple years back: It was the thing everybody had to go stare at. The first footage from the film was pretty brief, but as soon as people saw the big green fist smacking crooks around, everyone remembered what ginormous Green Lantern fans we had all been at one point or another. The clincher was how much Ryan Reynolds seemed to be pouring his heart and soul into being Hal Jordan, without his trademark snark. That moment where he recited The Oath for that little kid? Was all anyone was buzzing about, because you could tell it was sincere.
Speaking of projects that nobody had heard of — this superhero comedy, featuring the likes of Rainn Wilson, Nathan Fillion, Ellen Page, Liv Tyler and Kevin Bacon, came out of nowhere and blew everyone away. It would be hard to go wrong with a cast like that, and we loved James Gunn's last film, Slither. But the early trailer and unfinished scene that Gunn showed off at the con totally won over the crowd, and the idea of a gonzo reimagining of Watchmen, with some of Kick-Ass' ultra-violence and craziness, sounds too good to miss.
The Walking Dead
It's not like this AMC series didn't have mega-buzz and excitement going into the con, or anything. But the footage delivered — big time — and left us, and everybody else who saw it, at a fever pitch of excitement to see Frank Darabont's realization of Robert Kirkman's zombie-apocalypse comic book. The Super 16 footage, grainy and creepy on purpose, complemented the pitch-perfect visuals, and the glimpses of zombie-slaying won over newbies and fans of the comic alike. Plus the news that fan favorite Bear McCreary would be scoring the thing didn't hurt. Also, it's definitely true that the excitement around The Walking Dead TV show benefited comic-book publisher Image Comics, which was able to generate some more heat around their other projects as a result.
This show was a big question mark — it's trying to be the next 24 crossed with Lost, and its huge conspiracy-theory weirdness could have been awesome or just contrived. We've seen a lot of shows that wanted to be the new version of either 24 or Lost, and it's usually the kiss of death. But NBC showed the entire pilot, and it just held up surprisingly well, with its disparate strands seeming like they really would come together in a satisfying, not to mention exciting, way. Blair Underwood is a great president of the United States, too. We heard lots of people chatting about how good the first glimpse of this series actually looked. Here's hoping it actually does become the next Lost — we need a new huge mystery show to obsess about!
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World ruled Comic Con, as we knew it would. Edgar Wright screened the entire thing to fans, and just like the early screening of District 9 last year, it paid off massively. The big Scott Pilgrim installation was a huge hit, too. But even if Scott Pilgrim was close to being a sure thing, buzz-wise, the big winner was Oni Press, the publisher of the original comics. All of the excitement over Scott Pilgrim directed lots of attention to the overall awesomeness of the Oni Press book line. The Oni booth was jammed with fans eager to buy the last volume of the Scott Pilgrim comic. And on the first day of the Con, Oni Press signed a "first look" development deal with CBS Television Studios, which could lead to some new Oni Press-inspired TV shows. But even if it doesn't, it still shows that Oni is getting some heat right now.
We've been excited for Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's next project, a geek road-trip with an alien, for ages now. But when the Comic Con crowd saw early footage featuring a side-splitting sequence set at the actual Comic Con, the excitement could be heard from all over the Convention Center. You could have stabbed a thousand geeks in the face before the Paul panel, and the talk would still have been about Pegg, Frost and their insane supporting cast, ranging from Seth Rogen to Sigourney Weaver to Bill Hader. The combination of Greg "Superbad" Mottola's character-centric comedy style with Pegg and Frost's insanity looks like it's going to pay off just as much as everybody hoped, and we were all Paul's bitches.
We liked Yu's first book, the story collection Third Class Superhero, a lot. And his first novel, How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe, is getting amazing buzz, assisted by some nice marketing at Comic Con. The stickers, including ones which said "I live in Minor Universe 31" and "I have a degree in Applied Science Fiction" were some of the funnest book marketing we've seen in ages, and people started getting curious about Yu's quirky take on science fiction ideas.
Cowboys & Aliens
As writer Roberto Orci predicted when we talked to him ahead of time, the first glimpse of footage showing Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig totally dispelled any idea that this Western with aliens is a spoof or a cartoon. From the footage we glimpsed, it looked like Ford is finally going to play the total bastard we've always wanted to see him play. And even though it's early in the filming process, the footage definitely had the classic Western feel that Orci promised. People were pumped to see more, and this film was suddenly on people's radar.
This zombie webseries, which co-stars our personal favorite monster Doug Jones, was a big hit of the Celebrate The Web event — and then it was announced that Paramount has optioned it as a full-length movie. And Jones himself will reportedly be involved. As creator Kelly Parks points out, this may be the first webseries to make the jump to the big screen.
The comic book industry
Sorry, but it's true. Every year, people talk about how Hollywood has taken over Comic Con, but this year it was patently true. And the "Big Two" comic book companies weren't even trying — Marvel and DC had no big announcements at SDCC this year, so there was no buzz about what's next for the Marvel and DC universes. Everywhere we went on the floor, we heard comics publishers and retailers complaining about weak sales, because comics were losing out to toys, video games and movie merchandising. The only time you heard people expressing excitement for superheroes was in reference to their movie incarnations. This may have benefited Oni Press and Image, as we mentioned above, but it didn't seem to translate to interest in the Green Lantern comic book. At our io9 panel, Douglas Wolk asked how many people liked the Iron Man movie, and everyone raised their hands. Then Wolk asked how many people read the stupendously awesome Iron Man comic lately, and most of the hands went down.
No Ordinary Family
So we mentioned that The Event showed its entire pilot, and it paid off. Unfortunately, the reverse is true for No Ordinary Family, a live-action spin on The Incredibles that boasts a terrific cast, headlined by Michael Chiklis and Julie Benz, but suffers from weak writing. The pilot was full of cheesy heavy-handed exposition, and seems to be in a huge hurry to get these characters superpowered so we can have some action — while also spelling out the big character conflicts with all the subtlety of a Speak N' Spell. The producers admitted at the Comic Con panel that they may rework this pilot a lot before it goes on the air — and let's hope that's true, for the show's sake — but showing a pilot that they knew wasn't ready for prime time at Comic Con was a bad mistake.
So it's not as if this film had invincible buzz going into Comic Con — but it definitely emerged with a bit of a limp. After seeing the footage, we were left with a hope that this film will be a cult classic that we'll be defending from the haters years from now. There's no doubt that Green Hornet will have a devoted following, but it may not make a huge amount at the box office. And it certainly doesn't help matters when you see write-ups like this one, from the L.A. Times. The L.A. Times points out cheesily serious dialogue from the trailer like, "It's not dying you and I have to be afraid of. It's never having lived in the first place." The Wrap adds, "Green Hornet looks like a verdant bomb." Nobody's calling it this year's The Spirit, exactly — but it's not looking like a hit in the wake of SDCC, even after they spent all that money on Britt's Garage, and putting the Black Beauty and several green-dressed women in front of the main thoroughfare the entire long weekend.
This superhero show screened an extended sizzle reel or a truncated pilot, and it came across as hokey and somewhat formulaic superhero action. Even Summer Glau as a blogger who fights crime named Orpheus couldn't make people get excited. Not even a raccoon robbing a bank could save the day! And other people were kind of lukewarm. IGN writes, "The Cape seemed a bit weak, in my opinion." Digital Spy called it "quite patchy." The death blow comes from Hitfix's Alan Sepinwall: "The crowd's reaction was very, very muted. When a Con crowd is enjoying some footage, they're vocal about it - very vocal. But here, everyone was very quiet." All in all, the Cape got tangled up in itself.
I really liked the footage we saw from this Steven Spielberg-produced series, and I'm excited for any show that has the guts to show us a post-apocalyptic world, starting six months after an alien invasion. So if it were up to me, this show wouldn't be in the "losers" category. But we heard people shaking their heads over this show, for whatever reason, maybe because of the footage's reliance on a child voiceover and the slightly cliched nature of the alien-invasion scenario. Slashfilm was particularly damning, saying the footage failed to impress, and it felt like a standard TV series rather than a Spielberg project. The best IGN could say was, "We don't think the show is dead on arrival." But others — including me — gave it a more positive review and seemed pumped about it. So I'm grudgingly putting Falling Skies in the "loser" category because of some negative buzz, despite my own sincere liking for it. Prove the haters wrong, Falling Skies!
Additional reporting by Lauren Davis, Annalee Newitz, Cyriaque Lamar, Alasdair Wilkins and Meredith Woerner. Thanks also to Arno from IMDB for his help with brainstorming.