Things picked up somewhat on Friday as the Con began in earnest. Unfortunately, this means I spent a lot less time prowling and a lot more time waiting in long lines for panels. The order of the day seems to be that, if there is a panel you want to see, go to the one in the same room directly before it. The “we don’t clear the rooms” policy is a mixed bag, with the positive aspects being obvious when you are already in a room, and the negative ones being obvious when you are in the front of a line, walk in, and the room is already 3/4 full.
First panel of the day was a wash — a screening of the unaired Locke and Key pilot. That filled up when we were about five people away from getting in, but luckily, that left us in a good position for our next panel, which happened to be in the same room. That was All Access: Batman. This was the first DC panel of the Con, and the first DC panel since the launch of the “New 52,” in which DC Comics scored a short-term sales boost with a gimmicky reboot of their entire comic book line, most of which was met with a resounding, “this is pretty much the same as before, only slightly worse.” This would also be the first big DC panel since the widespread negative reaction to the reboot of a few particular characters (Catwoman and Starfire), the firing of almost every one of their female writers and artists, and the growing (and welcome) fight about women in comics — as employees, as fans, and as characters.
DC may be idiots when it comes to dealing with women, but they’re still shrewd in some ways, because the Batman line is not only their most popular; it’s also the one least affected by the New 52 reboot. They sidestepped most of the boiling issues by making sure not to mention Catwoman at any point during the panel discussion (in which the entire stage was taken up by talented, obviously well-meaning white guys, with one woman sitting down at the far end, though she was never introduced and never spoke) who probably didn’t mean to be such a Last Supper-esque illustration of the problem DC has with diversity both on staff and in their books. Anyway, I’m not going to delve any further into this right now, because there’s the All Access: DC Comics panel with publishers Jim Lee and Dan DiDio on Sunday, which will lend itself better to such debate.
So Batman is going to have some adventures, many of which are being described as “dark and gritty” — a phrase that should be banned from all comic book conventions at this point. It was an interesting panel even for someone like me who isn’t a big Batman fan, and I don’t know if anyone breached the Catwoman question during the Q&A because I left when that started — partly because I find Q&A so excruciating and awkward, but mostly so I could make it to the next panel with enough time to dream of actually getting in.
That next panel was the DC Animated Universe panel, which meant that to get a seat, we had to also attend the panel before that, which happened to be for the show Haven, featuring that actor who has done so much more since he appeared years ago on 24 and yet still I refer to him as nothing but Milo. I don’t watch Haven, but hey, I crashed their panel so maybe I’ll give it a try. Anyway, the DC Animated panel included architect of the DC Animated Universe Bruce Timm, director Lauren Montgomery, and the iconic voice of Batman Kevin Conroy, who was apparently sitting in the audience for part of the panel without anyone the wiser. The panel talk was good, though nothing revelatory, and the Q&A was actually decent, with a hearty round of applause and whooping when someone asked about a Batman Beyond entry in the Animated Universe line. The big thing on everyone’s radar is the new animated adaptation of Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, where Miller got to turn Catwoman into a hooker because we all know that Frank Miller thinks all women are hookers. Still, a good story otherwise, from back in the day when Miller’s work wasn’t the total pile of shit it has become since then.
Unfortunately for us, the hope that they would preview the movie during the panel went unfulfilled, though we did get to watch a trailer for the upcoming Justice League: Doom movie, as well as the entire Catwoman short included on the Batman: Year One disc. On Doom I will say nothing, since trailers can never be trusted, unless it is the trailer for Green Lantern staring Ryan Reynolds, which looked like total crap advertising a movie that turned out to be total crap. Catwoman was pretty decent, with a blend of action and sex that was better than the recent Catwoman comic book but still might be a bit, you know, busty, for some fans. Suffice it to say that we have a strip club fight scene and of course it starts with Catwoman slinking around on stage. I’d like to see a Batman cartoon where Bats follows a villain into a Chippendales and has to perform on stage to get close to his foe, but I have a feeling no one is scrambling to deliver me my male superhero strip club sequence. Come on — when someone tries to tuck a dollar in Batman’s trunks and he flashes them his grim and angry look — comedy gold, I tell ya! At least the strip club makes narrative sense, and the action in the short was great, featuring some of the best animation and animated choreography the DC Animated movies has yet displayed. Eliza Dushku was on hand to introduce the short (she does Catwoman’s voice), which caused the teenage boy next to us to go absolutely ape shit. Kid loves Eliza.
We stuck around in the same room, the cell-phone deadening IGN Theater, for the next panel, featuring the creators of the best thing occasionally on television, Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick of The Venture Brothers. With the show’s next season only just having begun production, they had nothing to show the audience and so decided to take a particularly Venture Bros. twist by spending most of the panel — clad in disheveled tuxedos and brandishing martini glasses — addressing questions they received via email, before the panel descended into a lengthy tirade by Doc on the phrases he hates (he keeps a list on his phone, which includes “hot mess,” “go big or go home,” and “bring your A game,” among others, though disappointingly not my most hated phrase of all time — “cool beans”). Eventually they got to questions from the room, which lead to another rant from Doc about how much he loathes musical episodes of cartoons. The only real news to come out of the panel was that Venture Brothers is getting at least two more seasons, but despite the lack of “headline news,” it was a pretty hilarious hour.
Puttered around for a bit after that, met up with a friend, then headed downstairs to line up for Mark Hamill spinning tales about his time in the business. This meant that, once again, we crashed the panel before the one we wanted. Last year, we sat in on a panel featuring John Romita and John Romita Jr. so we could see Bruce Campbell after them, and the Romita panel ended up being incredible. Romita Jr. was the artist on the first comic I bought regularly — Daredevil, back when Frank Miller (who turned Daredevil’s girlfriend into…hey what do ya know! A hooker, sleazy porno actress, and heroin addict) and then Ann Nocenti was writing for it. Well, this year, we were inadvertently in another Marvel panel that ended up being pretty interesting. I haven’t read Spider-Man since the clone debacle of the 1990s, and much of what I’ve seen and heard in the ensuing years seemed to imply that things had gotten better. And I’m still not going to buy any issues of ten thousand or so Spider-Man titles Marvel currently publishes — I’m not going to buy any superhero comic until creators promise to stop using the adjectives “dark and gritty” or “edgy” to describe their usually juvenile attempts at being dark, gritty, and edgy — but it was still fun to hear an enthusiastic and generally well-spoken bunch of writers and artists discussing the future.
And then came Mark Hamill’s panel, which sadly, wasn’t crashed by Kevin Conroy. I appreciate actors who have had an iconic role (or two) and embrace that role rather than being all pissy about being typecast or denigrating the role that made them famous, and Hamill definitely embraces his popularity as both Luke Skywalker and the voice of The Joker on Batman: The Animated Series. Celebrity panels can be terrible if you have a bad moderator or bad guest, but Hamill was superb. Not Bruce Campbell superb, but that’s an awful high bar. Hamill talked a lot about Star Wars, did a great impersonation of Harrison Ford, and told the heartbreaking story of the wampa’s arm from The Empire Strikes Back. Hamill felt Luke would not kill a beast that was not evil, merely hungry, so when he was filming that scene he was told that his thrust with the lightsaber would singe the wampa’s fur and scare it off, but that’s it. Then of course, he saw the finished movie and was aghast that Luke Skywalker was chopping the wampa’s entire arm off.
He also talked a lot about The Joker and voicework in general, as well as mentioning his work with New Gen, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and video game work. Questions from the audience were mostly good, with the final question being about Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker. After praising Ledger and talking about how there are endless interpretations of The Joker, each one tailored for the tone of that particular work, Hamill closed out the panel to thunderous applause by agreeing to apply his own Joker voice to the line, “Why so serious?”