Last year, New York Comic Con became the largest comic convention in the country. Though it was matched and exceeded by this year’s San Diego Comic Con, if this first day is anything to go by, it may be on track to repeat history.
The Javitz Center was packed today. Anyone who’s attended a NYCC before knows that the convention center is too small of a space, or at least a poorly laid out space for the show. But today felt more like an NYCC Friday or an Emerald City Saturday than the traditional slow day of a convention.
While it may turn out better than expected, those of you looking to spend time buying and visiting on the main floor this weekend may do well to do it tomorrow, before the Saturday rush.
In addition to crowds, or perhaps as a result of them, there was a certain weariness about the show today. Right from the start, my leg was aching as if I’d been walking for a day or so. Just one of them too. And it seemed like many of the people I met agreed. Creators were already tired from nights of preparation and fans felt like they hadn’t slept well enough in advance. It could have been a profoundly depressing atmosphere, but, at least to me, the mood of the con was not ‘we’re all tired’ so much as the location appropriate “we’re all tired but we’re all here and it’s New York Comic Con!”
The first panel of my day was Dynamite Entertainment: The Next Ten Years. Dynamite has been in the comics news lately with the announcements of new costumes and new creative teams for three of their biggest IPs. That was definitely the focus of their panel as incoming Red Sonja writer Marguerite Bennett and new Dejah Thoris writer Frank Barbiere joined associate editor Rachel Pinnelas for a discussion of what’s new for the characters and what remains the same.
Asked what defined Sonja for her, Marguerite Bennett simply answered “that she can’t be tamed and she won’t be tamed.” Bennett described her desire to create a world that is new and different, reworking a fight scene with a Wyvern and taking time to argue for Red Sonja’s ability to be something fantastic. She also affirmed her love of the campy, violent, sexy elements of sword and sandal fantasy while promising something that will also be fun and welcoming.
Frank Barbiere spent much of his time discussing his love and fascination with the setting and legacy of Burrough’s Barsoom. Dejah Thoris seemed to be not only a character that spoke to Barbiere but a window to the natively Martian for him. Indeed, he was adamant that while he sees Dejah’s marriage to John Carter as incredibly important to the character, he didn’t want her to be overshadowed by her famous husband. He wants to take her out of her element to show readers the real Dejah Thoris.
We even got to complete the trifecta thanks to the wonders of modern technology. Bennett put Kate Leth on speakerphone in front of the mic, allowing her to talk a bit about Vampirella. Leth called the series ‘campy and vampy’ promising that it would bring Vampirella into our world and, more than that, into the spotlight rather than the shadows.
The panelists stressed that these new #1s are not reboots, but new directions designed to allow new readers to realize that they would love these characters. In each case the changes to the classic costumes will be explained and the originals will reappear. “She’ll still trot it out for special occasions,” Bennett assured us as she affirmed her love of the classic chainmail bikini. When I asked about the line between the pulpy and the smutty, Barbiere put it quite nicely. “It’s not about what they’re wearing.”
We also got teases of several other Dynamite series including Devolution, Grumpy Cat, Doc Savage, and James Bond 007. The first arc of 007 will be called Vergr, an Old Norse word fans of Tolkien will recognize in its anglicized form, Warg.
Moving on, I spent some time in artist alley after that before braving the main floor. Before long I had to move on to the Boom! Studio’s panel. In an interesting turn, Boom!’s only panel was utterly dedicated to their Push Comics Forward initiative. Almost the entire hour was a discussion of how to make a more friendly and more diverse comic industry and to their credit, it was just a lovely experience. James Tynion had one of the most interesting notes, describing that he didn’t have that archetypal connection to a superhero the way so many readers do with Spider-Man. “I would see edges of myself,” he said, nothing that as a queer comics reader he didn’t feel like he was present. In fact, he added he almost started to appreciate homophobia in comics, as proof to point at and say ‘See! There! I exist here!’
One of the most fascinating things about this panel was that Boom! really didn’t toot their own horn. Not only was President of Publishing and Marketing Filip Sablik extremely clear that Boom! is just trying to do its part within a larger movement, but the panel probably discussed books from other publishers as much, if not more than their own, praising books like Gotham Academy, Saga, Ms. Marvel, and Spider-Gwen. Of course, they had to talk a little about their books, but it was really only two books that got mentioned. Partway through the panel Ed Brisson joined in to talk a bit about his new book The Last Contract, a story about a hitman called in for one last job. The interesting thing about the story is that our protagonist is in his 80s, making him a rare geriatric hero in comics.
The other book was of course, Kyle Higgins’ Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. Sablik announced Hendry Prasetya as the main artist and revealed that Midnighter’s Steve Orlando will pen backup features about Bulk and Skull. Higgins also revealed that the original series’ focus on teamwork as a foundation for heroism spoke to him and that this series presented an opportunity to tell Power Ranger stories that aren’t constrained by the rather rigid format of the original source material. After the panel, Higgins also mentioned that he really wants to translate what made the show so amazing to him as a young viewer into the present day and into a larger context. This quickly directed the conversation in regards to representation and diversity within the Power Rangers and the line between representation and tokenism that the first season straddled. I think that Higgins’ answer was a fine example of the frankly rare honesty present in the hall. Asked specifically about the racial color coding of the original rangers, he said that that was something that didn’t matter or stand out to him as an unironic viewer and that he would strive to create a tone where that doesn’t feel like a major part of the characters. However he then grew silent, sincerely admitting that it is a concern for him and that he doesn’t have a good answer yet.
After that I returned to the main floor to browse around. Maybe I was easily distracted, maybe the crowds had a greater effect than I thought, but I didn’t see half of what there was to offer, and that’s true even if you don’t count the Block section! Still, fans of classic toys seem to be in good company this year with a huge number of stalls selling original Megazords or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I also have to say that no matter what anybody tells you about NYCC, it’s a pretty amazing place to be a fan. I came in with a goal to pick up the first five issues of a minor DC series from the mid 90s as a gift for a friend. Ten minutes into looking, I had issues 3-7. By 2:00 I had the remaining two and a spattering of my favorite early appearances by the character and all of it cost me less than ten dollars. If there’s an issue you’re looking for, especially if it’s not a first appearance of a major character or a Silver Age book, you can probably get it for under $3.
Then I migrated towards Artist Alley. It’s interesting to note that the creators who have had the most mainstream success seem to be split between the two sides of the hall, with the greatest concentrations on opposite corners. It does create something of an artificial divide between what counts as a ‘real’ creator, but it’s hard to argue that it doesn’t help with crowding and obstructive lines at this bustling convention. I saw many of my convention staples. Marguerite Bennett once again is giving out signatures, smiles, and free candy and James Tynion IV seems both thrilled and awed by the response to the recent Batman and Robin Eternal release. He’s sitting with Erik Donovan, his collaborator on Memetic and Cognetic, but don’t forget to go see Michael Dialynas, the artist on Tynion’s other series from Boom!, The Woods. Also go congratulate them on getting an order for a TV adaptation yesterday!
The highlight of my artist alley yesterday was meeting Tom King. He was totally welcoming and we had a lovely discussion about the latest issue of the Omega Men. I think we both left happier after the conversation as we were reminded that this opportunity to just geek out with each other is a huge part of why it’s great to talk to creators at shows like this.
My final stop was the Transformers Generations Panel, and to be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. I actually thought that it was going to be a screening of part of the Combiner Wars Machinima series, but instead it was a cross media look at the newly announced Prime Wars trilogy and how it will play out through the various parts of the brand. For better or worse, Hasbro promised tighter collaboration between the various elements of the brand. The energy was high, but it was a different energy than I was used to. The team behind the Machima series promised a different experience than what has come before, comparing the series to anime in its level of depth and danger. Producer Eric Calderon spoke of a series that would be more adult, that would “touch [viewers] in a meaningful way.” It was hard not to be excited for the possibilities as he spoke of his animation pedigree, but I admit to walking away a little uncertain. There was an ambiguity as to whether the series would be more mature or just more adult.
With Combiner Wars winding down there was much talk of the next phase, Titans Return. The return of Sentinel Prime was a big part of the event as presented here, including promises from Transformers comic architect John Barber that there would be tension between he and Optimus over what it means to be an Autobot and the exclusive reveal of the character’s first toy, a triple-changing “Battle Train” in the voyager size class. Blaster is also returning to his classic size and alt-mode thanks to Combiner mass displacement technology, allowing him to be boombox sized and still in scale with his smaller contemporaries. And perhaps most exciting for me, a Legends-class Rewind is on its way, giving fans a way to own the cult favorite character. Despite this, the response to Rewind wasn’t what I expected, and it quickly became clear that that was due to the make up of the crowd. While I have frequently seen the truth of John Barber’s claim to the Hollywood Reporter that the Transformers fanbase is “half men and half women,” it was not reflected in that room. Questions were full of strange attempts to explain the franchise to those drafting it and awkward posturing. Perhaps the best example was the well-meaning response to mentions of writer Mairghread Scott’s involvement. Speaking about her involvement in the Titans Return event alongside John Barber and James Roberts, Barber was interrupted by a panelist who asked “Mairghread is the first woman to write Transformers isn’t she?” Now it’s essentially pedantic to argue that there have been plenty in television, but she is the first woman to write the official Transformers comics. Barber’s reaction, a seeming attempt to avoid whispering ‘we’re actually not terribly proud of that’ to him, spoke volumes about the panel.
Overall it was a good first day, but one that constantly reminded how much left there was to do and how much bigger it was going to get. Brace yourself for a massive convention and make sure to prioritize your days, stay hydrated, and enjoy it thoroughly.