Comic-Con needs a larger venue


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SAN DIEGO -- The BAM! SPLAT! BOOM! you expect from Comic-Con International was all there this year, if not in many unexpected announcements then in big-name appearances and one hostile confrontation.

Reports had already surfaced that Mark Ruffalo would replace Edward Norton as The Hulk when he was brought out to meet the crowd Saturday evening, but he was introduced in rather spectacular fashion.

The Marvel superhero panels followed Harrison Ford's first appearance at the giant con (for "Cowboys & Aliens," due next year) and capped off the in-person introduction of "The Avengers" cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner and Mr. Ruffalo.

Mr. Downey, the Iron Man of the group, said he thought "Inception" was the most ambitious movie he had ever seen ... and then he thought about Marvel bringing together its galaxy of superheroes under the umbrella of one Joss Whedon-helmed movie.

"This is the most ambitious movie ever," he concluded.

The good times were delayed and marred when an attendee attacked a fellow attendee over seating in packed Hall H of the San Diego Convention Center.

The alleged incident had a costumed Joker using a pen to stab the other man near the eye. The victim was taken to the hospital; the attacker was led away in handcuffs.

That mad act feeds into the call to move Comic-Con International to another city because the show has outgrown San Diego's convention center. The big hall seats 6,500, with a few hundred seats set aside for studio reps and VIPs. A fire marshal makes the call about closing the doors at capacity.

Depending on the first panel of the day, people wait outdoors overnight or for hours to make sure they get in, because the open seating is not guaranteed. When the early birds with seats leave for another Comic-Con experience (although many stay all day), the people who were left out in the San Diego sun or cool drizzle are brought in as the fire marshal allows.

Saturday's first Hall H panel, scheduled for 11:30 a.m., was for three Warner Bros. films: "The Green Lantern," with star Ryan Reynolds in attendance, extended footage from "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" and Zach ("300," "Watchmen") Snyder's girlfest, "Sucker Punch." The line outside of Hall H snaked from the grassy area with some tented protection to across the street and far down the promenade along the ocean. My son, Josh, and I had arrived at 8:30 a.m. and were confident we were close enough to get in. We did not. There were about 200 people ahead of us when the line was stopped and the announcement was made that the hall was at capacity.

Josh and I continued to take turns in the line before he gave up and went in to the Exhibit Hall and planned the rest of his day around smaller gatherings for TV shows, among them "No Ordinary Family" with Michael Chiklis and Pittsburgh's Julie Benz (she gave a shout-out to Franklin Regional, by the way).

I waited another hour and a half before the line finally moved again and was inside for a bit of "Sucker Punch."

I was there to stay, because coming up later in the day were the first looks at Marvel's "Captain America" and "Thor," plus the hilarious "Paul," starring and co-written by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, and "Cowboys & Aliens."

If you leave the designated confines of the hall for any reason, you're out. There are bathrooms and a small concession area, but step away for any reason, and you have to have someone save your seat or prepare to look for another.

I picked a seat far in the back but with a great view of one of the secondary giant screens and next to another lone geek, and we watched each other's seats and stuff if we needed to roam. He told me about Mr. Reynolds reciting the Green Lantern oath with a little kid dressed in costume and said the "Harry Potter" panel was only footage; I trusted him with my new netbook.

That's the way it usually works with the strangers you encounter at Comic-Con. I have trusted my son to be on his own inside the convention center since our first trip, when he was 15, because of the tight security and amiable fans.

This is confined space with tens of thousands of people, yet no metal scans or bag searches. Not that any of that would have helped in the alleged attack on Saturday.

The incident does make a point.

A 6,500-seat hall doesn't cut it when there are more than 100,000 people who would like to get in to see the biggest names and exclusive footage. The secondary auditorium, Ballroom 20, holds about 4,200, and people were turned away in droves from there, too, after waiting in line for hours.

I hope San Diego can expand its venue, because it's a beautiful city and it nurtured Comic-Con to grow into the huge show it has become. If it can't, the move to Anaheim or Los Angeles, cities bidding to grab the show and the economic boost that comes with it, seems inevitable.

An unpopular idea would be to limit the crowds and make this an even more exclusive event as E3, the giant Electronic Entertainment Expo for the computer and video-game industries, did a few years ago.

The Hollywood takeover that caused the con's growth has been an issue for stalwart comic book fans. The Fox hit "Glee," about singing high schoolers, is a case in point, although it can be argued that Gleeks share much in common with comic-book fans. Promotions for shows with no genre connections, such as NBC's "Community" and CBS's "NCIS: Los Angeles" and the Ferrell-Wahlberg buddy film, "The Other Guys," do seem out of place. The rule has been that stars with genre cred -- Will Ferrell also was there for the animated film "Megamind," for example -- belong because they are part of the comic-book/graphic-novel community.

I doubt Hollywood would go for scaling down, because Comic-Con is a place to build buzz well in advance of a movie's release, as Disney has been doing during the long road to "Tron: Legacy," which after four appearances is finally due for a December release. Jeff Bridges, who will be onscreen as himself and a digital version of his 35-year-old self, continued to support the sequel to his 1982 film, but for the first time as an Oscar winner.

The stars do come out for this big show, and fans come out, too, for a chance to be in the same room with their favorites.

San Diego is in need of a much bigger room to continue to make that happen.


Sharon Eberson: seberson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1960. Read more about Comic-Con and local connections ("Paul" director Greg Mottola, "Resident Evil" star Wentworth Miller) in the POPi blog at blogs.sites.post-gazette.com.


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