Here’s the thing: for approximately 150,000 people San Diego Comic-Con is a majestic thrill ride and a joyous gathering of like-minded people who have, at one point or another, likely felt like an outcast because they simply liked what they liked. This weekend, those things took their place at the center of the universe and there was shopping and partying and drinking and laser tag and celebrities and 29 minutes of sleep. That’s what Comic-Con was. For you.
For the rest of us who don’t go but do follow the world of pop culture and geeky nerdiness, Comic-Con isn’t a place, so much as it is a time of year. A holiday that delivers unto us a chance to nerd out over an endless stream of hard news about comics, TV shows and movies — Comic -Con is when we get to feast on something real and not the gelatinous rumor paste that we have to subsist on all year long.
It’s that influx that excites the hundreds of thousands of people who follow the Comic-Con goings on; these things that get the world talking, and that’s why this thing feels as if it is an event that is much larger than it technically is. But for us to care this much about a party that we aren’t actually attending, we need to keep getting these thrills (or something like them) out of the deal or else what’s the point?
Well, perhaps we’re about to find out, because this year, news-hungry non-attendees (and those who enjoy going to the convention to be at the epicenter of the usual flurry of breaking news) got a little bit cheated.
We saw no official Jason Mamoa/Aquaman announcement, no confirmation that The Rock will play Shazam or Black Adam and we still don’t know, concretely, what comes next for DC after The Justice League. Black Panther movie news? Nope. Captain Marvel, Doctor Strange or some other surprising Marvel Phase 3 release? No, no and no. Despite the assumption that all or most of these rumored projects would get an official update during San Diego Comic Con, none did and so now we look to assign blame… the thing is, that’s easier said than done.
DC and Marvel never said that they would trot out The Rock for Shazam or introduce Benedict Cumberbatch or Joaquin Phoenix as Doctor Strange, we just assumed that they would after months of rumors, speculation, some vague teases and a few interesting tweets. Besides that, our expectations were reinforced by precedent, because these studios always announce huge things at San Diego Comic-Con… until they don’t.
Here’s the thing with precedent, it matters little when the world changes, and the world is changing for these studios, or at least they are finally adapting to the changes.
Everyday can be Comic-Con now thanks, in part, to Comic-Con. There are thousands of websites like this one, many of which started with a song in their heart thanks to the nerd-geek explosion. They each have their readers and their social media channels that connect them to their readers and to each other; sharing stories on Facebook or Twitter so that the others can feed off of them like baby birds before those baby birds share their own versions of those stories on their channels, thus repeating the cycle. It’s an odd arrangement and it might be part of the problem with regard to the popularity of hollow rumors and the resulting sky-high expectations when sites are reckless and fail to douse these rumors with ample salt, but I’m getting a bit off track. The point is that these sites will jump all over any shred of information that comes out about these projects because they/we always do, and that’s the kind of precedent that you can take to the bank, since it’s their/our life-blood.
So, with that in mind, why should a studio scramble to win the irrelevant title of Lord of Hall H when they can simply ride the minor wave of attention generated by the endless rumors until they pick an arbitrary day, make a large announcement and own the internet entirely for two days without competition? I’m not saying that these studios should abandon the con. By all means, have the party with the dancing Robert Downey Jr. and the gag reels (Is it just me, or was there a minor “gag reels instead of actual footage” trend this year?) for the great PR and the chance to feed the press machine as it assembles in one spot. I’m just saying that I’ve just come to the conclusion — after this weekends tepid reveals (compared to what I, sin-commiter that I am, expected) and a bit of contemplation — that DC and Marvel were smart to avoid big announcements.
Right now, date squatting is a burgeoning trend, but all it does is call dibs on a release date so that no one else tries to take your spot. Without projects affixed to those dates, these studios still have flexibility, and when you’re spending a couple hundred million dollars to cast, film, finish and market a project, you want a little flexibility and as much time as can be afforded. Filling up those spoken-for slots at Comic-Con might garner a huge response in the room and a nice bit of coverage in the world, but it robs a studio of that flexibility and it can have far reaching effects as well.
For reasons that are both practical and easily understood, studios do their best to keep the focus on their current projects when they’re promoting these films. I don’t see how — beyond a quick flash of attention — a splashy Doctor Strange presentation would have assisted in keeping the focus on what is coming out over the course of the next year for Marvel, same as I don’t see what the benefit would have been for DC/WB had they showed off The Rock and Shazam or anything else that they may have in the works. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t want them to (though, on a level deeper than the initial, “Wow, that’s happening!” and “I need to write about this so I can afford bagels”, I don’t know why I care… and I suspect that I’ll delve into that at some point), but their focus should be on Batman v. Superman and it’s in their best interests to try and keep our focus on that film as well — something that shouldn’t be much trouble for the more bearish of the two studios.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there are times when announcing something early can have a positive effect like when Marvel trotted out Edgar Wright in the early days of Marvel Studios. Doing that made them seem as if they were for real before that was more plain to see. But we can’t forget that it can also be distracting and embarrassing if those projects or those creative alliances fall apart, and an example of that would also be Edgar Wright and his exit from Ant-Man, a film that I saw HitFix call, “Troubled” in a tweet earlier today. Harsh? Maybe, but that’s the narrative right now and Marvel has a year to climb a mountain and convince fans that this film is not going to be their first flop. One can assume that Saturday’s appearance in Hall H was the start of that, but one also wonders if the absence of other future projects may have been related to Marvel’s relatively minor Ant-Man malady and a desire to stop putting the spotlight on these projects before they absolutely have to.
So, if these studios aren’t and/or shouldn’t break huge news about far away projects at San Diego Comic-Con, how are those of us who get our SDCC kicks from that part of Comic-Con supposed to enjoy and take part in our holiday?
Here’s my pitch, sell (for a minimal fee) streaming panel access to people at home and work on other ways to make these conventions interactive and accessible to folks who can’t afford to go. If the big news is going to shrink, give people at home a taste of the experience — live and in the moment (though, of course, absent the exclusive trailers… unless they’re just going to release them an hour later anyway). I assure you, as someone who has both been in a panel room with the cast of Marvel’s The Avengers and someone who has watched live streams thanks to the New York Comic-Con’s proactive attitude toward letting fans enjoy the convention that way, the experiences are not identical — there is nothing like going to a convention, with its ample opportunities to shop, mingle, party and just soak it all in — but there is still ample worth in partaking in a convention through your screen. Especially if your choices become that or only passively paying attention to these conventions.
I don’t think that opening up San Diego Comic-Con to the masses via live stream will cause it to bleed money or lose its appeal as an incredible destination and experience, but I think that relying on precedent and believing that San Diego Comic-Con is invulnerable to the realities of a changing world might actually harm the con in the long run. Dynasties fall, look at Rome and the New York Yankees. San Diego Comic-Con needs to see both the absence of big news and a lot of heavy hitters (Disney, Star Wars, Fantastic Four, Jurassic World, Universal, Doctor Who) this year as a clear indication that they should at least look into broadening the show experience to be less about major studio announcements and more about access and experiences (maybe even live chats during panels or even Skype meet & greets with stars during autograph signings) that will appeal to both physical and virtual attendees. Doing this will allow San Diego Comic-Con to fully serve the entire community and take back control of their event from studios whose interests may not necessarily be in line with Comic-Cons interests in putting on a stellar show.
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