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SDCC 2014 post-mortem: The sights, sounds and experiences at culture's big show

Cameron Stewart and Chuck Palahniuk share a laugh before a signing
Cameron Stewart and Chuck Palahniuk share a laugh before a signing
Brooke Wylie

San Diego Comic Con 2014 has come and gone, leaving in its wake the usual boatload of news and buzz, and plenty of reluctant transitioning back to the real world on the part of attendees. After spending days wholly immersed in culture, not just at the convention center, but in the very environment and city around it, heading back into the office for a 9-5 can be a downer, and the silence of a hometown free of all of the lights, sounds, attractions and bustle can be deafening. As it is wont to do reports of reveals and greatness in Hall H and undercover celebrity show floor sightings streamed out of the convention at a remarkable click.

George R.R. Martin shakes hands with a fan at SDCC
Brooke Wylie

For instance, anyone anywhere near the internet probably heard that we got a first look at Wonder Woman in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, that Daniel Radcliffe walked around in a Spiderman costume and Jack Black in a Stormtrooper helmet. Or that Joss Whedon couldn’t make the show because of emergency knee surgery, but the Marvel crew still delighted fans while he sent amusing tweets out. Bates Motel turned in another hilarious video to kick off their panel, this time featuring “cast auditions.” A group of Michael Myers’ gathered to perform the Electric Slide among the teeming crowds. Pizza Hut and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles brought the pizza launcher to life, while Fox let fans in on the Cerebro Experience. The upcoming show Gotham erected a zip-line, while Ubisoft put up an Assassin’s Creed Unity-style parkour course. Oh, and HBO set up shop giving away free, real tattoos at their Game of Thrones: Survive the Realm exhibit. Though such news has spread far and wide, even most attendees of the show didn’t get to see those things happening, in fact, in a crowd that swells to something like 150,000 at an event with the scope of San Diego Comic Con, it’s simply not possible to see and do everything, even if you are there every second of every day. It should come as no surprise then, that no two SDCC experiences are exactly alike, even for people who spend the whole time in each other’s company.

What follows is a run-down of the sights and sounds encountered by this author over the course of two days at San Diego Comic Con 2014.

The Haps Outside the Convention Center

The Adult Swim Funhouse and Meatwad Full Dome Experience
Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim brought back their Fun House for a second year after enjoying fan favorite status in 2013. The massive pink attraction remained quite popular, bringing in “sell out” (it was free, but ticketed) crowds once again. Adult Swim stepped up the appeal this year by adding The Meatwad Full Dome Experience to the fun. 1,800 badge-holders and members of the non-badge public alike who braved the heat and the crowds to queue up at noon on the days the fan experience was in swing were rewarded with wristbands and a time slot to take in the zany fun.

The Meatwad Dome was (blissfully) air-conditioned and offered attendees a chance to sit down, a rare occurrence at SDCC. After the group was settled in bean bags and folding floor chairs the darkened dome ceiling was illuminated with projectors, not unlike a planetarium, albeit a planetarium with a far more warped sense of humor than the ones you remember from elementary school field trips. In all, the Full Dome Experience lasted about 20 minutes, delivered a number of chuckles and made quite fun use of the planetarium-esque tech. Fans were also given a Meatwad pin upon entering the dome, because what’s an SDCC experience without swag?

The Fun House featured loud dance music, smoke machines, lights and an assortment of amusements. After entering the big, pink castle fans worked their way through a variety of elements including a mirror maze, bungee-cord web that makes one feel just like Catherine Zeta-Jones in the only scene anyone remembers from Entrapment, several choose your own adventure points of decision, a Willy Wonka-esque spinning tunnel and a variety of exits ranging from fun (a giant bouncy slide) to potentially embarrassing (forced karaoke to get out of jail) to downright undignified, yet hilarious for everyone around you (crawling out of a pink cat sphincter into a mock litter box, complete with fake feces). Upon completion of the Fun House fans could make a free t-shirt, with the color selection, design selection and design placement left up to their whims. Those who, like this author, made that last, shall we say, memorable exit, had the option of commemorating that experience with one of the available shirt designs.

The Homerdome

Dome experiences in support of animated cartoons geared at adults with a slightly cracked sense of humor were something of a trend at SDCC this year, that is if two instances constitute a trend. The second entry in this category was the Homerdome. An eyes up structure of Homer Simpson’s gourd that also featured a planetarium-like projection experience and air-conditioning, but with the added feature of being donut-scented...mmmmm. Fans who would enter that wonderland had to endure an invariably long line, with a presentation that lasted about 10-minutes, but only took in 20-odd people at a time the wait for the Homerdome could clock in at around two hours, but FXX, who recently acquired the exclusive syndication rights to the beloved series loaded up the Homer faithful with goodies to sooth their sore soles (that’s an attempt at foot humor, see?). Before entering the Homerdome fans were given a branded drawstring backpack, a branded bottle of water, a branded collapsable water bottle, a branded flashlight, a branded emergency blanket, a branded protein bar and even a stick Slim Jim before entering the Homerdome.

For those keeping track that all adds up to a survival kit, and a very clever tie in for the this-marathon-will-have-everyone-too-busy-watching-to-do-anything-else-so-the-world-is-going-to end campaign in support of the network’s upcoming Every Simpson’s Ever Marathon -- a 12-day marathon of the series’ 552 (and counting) episodes, shown in chronological order from August 21 through Labor Day. It will be the longest marathon in the history of television, and will precede the launch of the Simpsons World app, which will offer streaming of every episode of the series along with a host of features like playlists and trivia. It was this, admittedly quite glorious-looking app, that the footage shown in the Homerdome essentially served to pimp. Fans were shown snippets of Homer’s memories (a.k.a. clips of the show) before being introduced to the finer points of Simpson’s World, on the way out of Homer’s illustrious dome fans were given one final parting gift, a button featuring that same visage emblazoned with “I did the dome!” After leaving the donut-scented Homerdome fans could wander over to the carnival-style donut race game, for which a prize of an inflatable donut, suggested use as a pillow to sit-upon during the marathon, or over to a food truck dishing out free, blue cotton candy styled to look reminiscent of certain Simpson’s coif.

Nerd HQ
Nerd HQ’s perennial takeover of a portion of Petco Park continued in fine fashion in 2014. Featuring ticketed panels, some tasty food choices and plenty of free demos -- Sonic Boom, Alien Isolation and Catan Anytime, to name a few. With ample seating and refreshments, and depending on the time of day you go, a view of other goings on in-and-around Petco Park. For instance, drop by at the right time of night and you can hear the screams and get the occasional view of runners going through AMC’s The Walking Dead Escape course.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
The (extremely) long-awaited sequel to Robert Rodriguez’ 2005 adaptation of Frank Miller’s Sin City is just weeks away from hitting theaters, and accordingly had a big presence at SDCC this year. That presence included a pre-Hall-H panel red carpet (where Miller teased more Sin City comics to come and he and Rodriguez both implied that Sin City 3 would happen), the panel itself and a pair of cast signings, one at the Dark Horse booth and one at the outdoor Sin City-scape set-up near Petco Park and also featuring some classic cars that appear in the film. Fans who hit this outdoor display at the right time could nab posters, t-shirts and poker chips, as well as ogle the cars on display and take a Sin City-styled snap of themselves.

The Leftovers: Loved Ones Exhibit
This small, but eye-catching, and rather creepy outdoor exhibit near Petco Park showed off the services of Loved Ones. A company that creates a replica of a departed (for the uninitiated a departed character on The Leftovers is one of the people who spontaneously disappeared) loved one, so that those in mourning can bury them and have a measure of closure. Full-sized examples of their wares stood at the front of the display, the creep-factor was palpable, but it cannot be said that this was not memorable.Video here.

Cape, Cowl, Create
Nestled deep in The Hard Rock Hotel, this one room art display, put on by Batman: Arkham Knight, featured a collection of Batman capes and cowls created by various artists. Highlights included a Joker-styled cape and cowl, as well as one made out of Legos depicting a Detective Comics cover (see images in slider). By the look of it Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice director Zack Snyder got in one the fun in quite a unique manner, as the entry attributed to him didn’t look like the Dark Knight at all, but rather was Rorschach of Watchmen (also pictured in slideshow). Does this mean Snyder will imbibe his on-screen Bruce Wayne with some of the hyper-violent, moral absolutist tendencies Walter Kovacs displays as Rorschach? Only time will reveal the answer to that.

Nintendo Gaming Lounge
The Nintendo Gaming Lounge returned this year with plenty of playable games on Wii-U and 3DS (as well as some charging stations for the latter), but the big attraction here (and in the Convention Center proper) for most was the opportunity for some hands-on time with the upcoming Super Smash Bros. title on both systems. Lines to take a shot at the anticipated game were lengthy, but large screens showing off footage allowed those who just wanted to see it in action to grab a spot on the floor and revel in the footage.

The Walking Dead Escape at Petco Park
This popular experience is currently touring around the country, but stopped off at SDCC for Friday and Saturday sessions wherein participants could attempt to survive, either solo or as part of a group, in this highly-interactive (run, jump, crawl, hide and probably scream) event. Those who didn’t want to get in on the action themselves could take in the atmosphere from afar or register as spectators and head inside for a closer view.

The Scene Inside the Convention Center

George R. R. Martin at the Comixology Booth
Sunday is the day at Comic-Con that gets some undue hate, so much so that America’s favorite geeks touched on the phenomena in The Big Bang Theory, in this clip that perfectly summarizes the agony of the badge-buying process Sheldon complains that Sunday is the worst, until Sunday is gone, then he loves Sunday. While his lament that the remaining t-shirt sizes are deplorable and many things are shutting down is accurate, we should probably all stop and give Sunday a bit more love, because it can hold some hidden gems. Not unlike an appearance and signing from the reigning king of the geek literature scene, George R.R. Martin. Martin graced the Comixology booth for an on-floor signing on Sunday, signing free copies of The Hedge Knight, a recently released graphic novel form of the prequel story to his A Song of Ice and Fire series. Sporting a Mets hat and looking completely in his element, Martin shook hands with many fans and paused his whip-fast signing to exchange a few words with each of them.

Chuck Palahniuk, Cameron Stewart and David Mack at the Dark Horse Booth
Chuck Palahniuk, the man best known for transgressional fiction gems that either makes readers into fanatics or sends them running away, had a huge Comic-Con. He appeared in a Fight Club panel with director David Fincher, signed copies of his upcoming novel Beautiful You, and on Sunday (yes, Sunday), participated in a Dark Horse panel in support of the upcoming, graphic novel sequel to Fight Club, (aptly titled Fight Club 2) before heading over to the Dark Horse booth and signing prints along with the series’ artist and cover artist, Cameron Stewart and David Mack, respectively.

Starz’ Outlander Castle
Last year Starz’ embraced the pirates’ life for their booth, but 2014 saw them get medieval. The booth was a highly-stylized, quite impressive castle built in support of their upcoming series, Outlander. It commanded the eye from a good distance across the exhibit hall, and must have been a cause of some distress for ABC, whose booth also featured a castle-like structure, though it was smaller, much less texturally and structurally impressive, and not so very far off of the Outlander castle. Though, with already massive popularity and the inclusion of Frozen characters on the horizon, ABC can’t be too fussed about that.

The Alien Isolation Experience
Game demos aplenty were available to attendees with the patience to brave the lines to try them out - Super Smash Bros., Sunset Overdrive and The Crew all commanded plenty of attention - but the one option with the most limited access was the most intriguing, and also marginally terrifying. The Alien Isolation Experience admitted one player at a time into a large egg, with rather an Alien meets Venus Fly Trap vibe about it and an intense challenge inside. Once inside, players were shut into the egg and left to attempt to play-through a selected portion of the game. Their attempt was viewable to those outside via a TV at the front of the egg that showed the in-game action. As of Sunday morning, the last day of the convention, no one had yet beat the challenge, according to a graphic on the TV screen.

Smaug at the Weta Booth
Though it did not offer an interactive experience, the Weta booth ranked among the best on the floor by virtue of the dominant head of Smaug surveying the scene from on-high. The head sadly did not emit Benedict Cumberbatch’s smoothly sinister voice, but the eyes did open and close, appearing to set on those in their path. Though just a head, it delivered more dragon facetime than Peter Jackson did with The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug

Rocket Raccoon Everywhere
Guardians of the Galaxy won’t even hit theaters until, August 1, but it was already a massive hit in the exhibit hall, and not just at the Marvel booth, though Marvel did bring along a nifty space pod as seen in the film. All of the Guardians cropped up occasionally, but the Bradley Cooper-voiced Rocket Raccoon was absolutely everywhere. That may seem presumptive, but if you’ve seen the film, or even arguably just the trailers, it’s no mystery why, Rocket is the man. He’s particularly amusing in tandem with Groot and in exchanges with the other characters, but the feisty, gun-toting racoon is never anything short of riotous on screen.