Comic-Con brings Hollywood to San Diego

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Comic-Con, a onetime geeky convention that's turned into a star-studded platform for Hollywood to promote its new movies, ends today in San Diego.

Warner Bros. announced that Henry Cavill will be donning Superman's suit once more and he'll be joining Batman (with that actor TBA) in a movie slated for summer 2015. "The Hunger Games" stars were out in force and so were actors from "The X-Men," including newly married Halle Berry. The real Spider-Man, Andrew Garfield, was sticking around, and so were some fake ones.

Here's a look at some of the highlights:

Comic creations cross borders to film, TV, makeup

There's no such thing as just a comic book hero anymore. From big-screen films and small-screen animation to books, clothes and makeup, the hero business is big business.

Two decades ago, the only place to find the X-Men was in the pages of comics and on Saturday morning cartoons. Now, they, and others, like Superman, Batman and the zombies from "The Walking Dead" are cultural juggernauts, crossing over into everything.

And nowhere is that more evident than at Comic-Con International.

Once just 300 or so attendees in a hotel, the event now hosts more than 100,000 visitors over four days and is a top destination for film and television companies, not to mention marketers of apparel and other products, too.

Attendees can wear Avengers perfume while walking in Converse high-tops that have the Joker or Batman on the sides. They're buying glass tumblers with Marvel superheroes on them, T-shirts that bear the logo of Green Lantern, and hats with The Flash lightning bolt on the front.

It's no surprise, either, said Rob Salkowitz, a consultant and author of "Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture." Comics have been a foundation of entertainment for decades, but since the 1990s, the advent of better technology in film and TV has seen what was once a staple of four-color comics transform into visual spectacles.

"Superheroes were created because it was a good fit for the print technology in the 1930s and 1940s," Mr. Salkowitz said. "What happened in the late 1990s is the technology for video games and movies finally got good enough to realize the imagery of comic books in a satisfying way."

To wit, Bruce Banner's eye-popping transformation into the Incredible Hulk is easy to do, and realistic.

"Of course, the level of visual effects now, anything is possible," said Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios. "I think people, back in the day, would look at a beautiful Jack Kirby drawing and say 'That's beautiful, you could never bring that to life. Now, you can."

Now, there's a demand for content to fill stories of all stripes.

Robert Kirkman's "The Walking Dead" was a black-and-white comic drawing rave reviews. Now it's a top-rated TV show commanding millions of viewers, helping boost sales of collected editions of the graphic novels and driving interest in hiring comic book scribes for television.

Brian Michael Bendis, who writes for Marvel Entertainment, had a pilot shot for his creator-owned "Powers" series that he does with Michael Avon Oeming.

Mr. Kirkman is also going into television again with "Clone," a comic series created and written by David Schulner for his Skybound imprint. On Saturday, it was announced that "Clone" had landed a development deal with NBCU.

Mr. Schulner credited Mr. Kirkman for guidance in doing that, too.

"I knew if I went off the rails too badly, Robert would be there to put me back on track. Now I've been writing the comic for two years -- issue No. 9 comes out next week -- and I just finished writing issue 15, so to be able to turn it into a television show is just icing on the cake.

And it's not just heroes, either. Archie Comics' Sabrina was turned into the popular TV sitcom "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" starring Melissa Joan Hart. It ran for seven seasons.

Mr. Salkowitz said comics have "70 years of backstory" and an "emotional resonance" on nearly everyone.

"It becomes a very easy thing for Hollywood and video game manufacturers to plug right in to this existing mythology," he said. "They don't have to invent it all themselves. They don't have to jumpstart universes."

It boils down to loyal, enthusiastic fans, and the comic book companies have that.

"Every brand wants raving fans, they don't want consumers. They want fans, people who are participating," Mr. Salkowitz said. "Look around. Comics have fans."

Metallica reveals intense footage from new 3D film

A riot in the streets, a public hanging, bloody handprints, car crashes, a police officer being drowned and giant coffins above the stage -- "Metallica Through The Never" is not your average concert film.

It was Metallica Day at Comic-Con on Friday and the four members of the California-based heavy metal band debuted footage from their new 3D film for thousands of fans at the annual all-things-geek gathering.

"The world just turned upside down," drummer Lars Ulrich said as fans raised devil's horns and shouted after the band took the stage.

Equal parts "Road Warrior," "Batman Returns" and Metallica's dark imagination, a preview clip of the R-rated film features a series of intentionally disturbing images crossed with concert footage that brought shouts of approval from the 7,000 fans who waited all day to get inside Hall H for the panel.

Actor Dane DeHaan plays the lead character in the Nimrod Antal film, opening Sept. 27 on IMAX screens. He's a roadie sent on a mission to recover a broken-down truck and a secret package by the band during a concert. What he finds along the way is completely unexpected -- and took DeHaan a while to process when he was handed a 15-page script that included no dialogue.

"I don't actually talk in the movie at all," Mr. DeHaan said. "So much crazy s--- happens in the movie it took me 10 times reading it till I had any kind of semblance of what happens in the movie."

Mr. DeHaan's journey is intercut with scenes of the band performing on a massive stage that features flames and many of the effects images the band has used over the years. Singer James Hetfield hinted the band might take the stage on tour after the film is released.

Bassist Robert Trujillo says the band spent nearly two crucible-like weeks in Mexico City rehearsing in front of a live audience before shooting began in Vancouver, British Columbia.

"We just take these things and run with it," he said. "It's a very edge-of-your-seat existence. When I first joined the band our first gig was San Quentin State Prison. And here we've got 20,000 Mexicans screaming against a chain link fence, so by the time we got to Vancouver, we were like, 'We got this.' So the whole thing over the course of the year has just been a wild ride. It's really exciting to see it get to where it is now. It's almost weird. Wow we're here."

After more than 30 years and more than 100 million albums sold, Mr. Ulrich said the film has been a way for the band to stay fresh.

"I think increasingly what makes our band work, we have to go do all these crazy projects, these sort of edgy, left-field projects because it's what keeps us alive," Mr. Ulrich said. "Making records is great and we love it and we appreciate the fact that we can make records ... but there's also a familiarity to it. And you have a dynamic in the band of four personalities and they're really curious and into different things and just kind of ready for whatever."

Asked by a fan when the band might record new music, Mr. Ulrich said the film has consumed them for two years. Once it's out, they'll turn to their 10th studio album: "2014 will be all about another Metallica record."

Musicians have made appearances at Comic-Con over the years, but none as big as the heavy metal heavy hitters, who planned a private concert for fans lucky enough to win tickets later Friday. Though Metallica's followers might come from another cultural subgroup, Mr. Ulrich said he could identify with the tens of thousands of fans roaming the halls at Comic-Con.

"I've never been great with definitions because I think that the whole world should never be limited to that type of specificities," Mr. Ulrich said in an interview at the nearby Hilton Bayfront. "When I was growing up, my experiences and my memories from my childhood were that I was a loner. Now, if you're going to get really into it, loner and geek, what are they cousins? They can't be that far apart from each other."

Stallone, Schwarzenegger take on Comic-Con

Is San Diego the new Hollywood?

Sylvester Stallone says so, and Arnold Schwarzenegger agrees.

The two action stars unveiled their latest film, "Escape Plan," at Comic-Con Thursday night, saying they were drawn by the super fans who attend the pop-culture extravaganza.

Mr. Schwarzenegger characterized the Comic-Con crowd as "the most dedicated fans and the most passionate about the movie business."

"This is a real movie town," Mr. Stallone said. "It's -- dare I say it -- the new Hollywood."

"Escape Plan," set for release in October, centers on two aging prison-escape artists who are locked away in what is called the world's most secure prison.

Mr. Stallone said he and Mr. Schwarzenegger have wanted to make a film together for almost 40 years.

"They would bring us things where we would dress up as girls and there were bickering neighbors and we'd have arguing pets. I go, 'This is not working,'" Mr. Stallone said. "I said, 'Why don't we be two creepy inmates when we are 20 years past our prime?' There's a good idea. And that's where we are. But it turned out great actually. It's fantastic. We found a new prime."

He also said he and the former California governor have more in common than it might seem.

"We're both Austrian. We've both been Mr. Olympia seven times. And he's wearing my suit," Mr. Stallone joked.

Mr. Schwarzenegger also played along.

"We have the same accent," he said. "We are both into the body, the muscles, the acting, art, painting, family. All of those kind of things. There's a lot of things we have in common. He's more talented when it comes to the art. Even though I paint and draw, but he's really talented."

Jamie Foxx backs Trayvon Martin's mom "forever"

Hours after President Barack Obama delivered remarks about Trayvon Martin and the George Zimmerman trial, Jamie Foxx and Samuel L. Jackson addressed the racially charged case at Comic-Con in San Diego.

Mr. Foxx was at the massive pop culture convention to promote his role as the villain Electro in "The Amazing Spider-Man 2." Holding his 4-year-old daughter Annalise, who wore a Spider-Man backpack and shoes, Mr. Foxx said he was "disappointed" in the July 13 not guilty verdict in Florida.

He had been among the most vocal celebrities expressing support for Martin's family, having met the teen's mother Sybrina Fulton at an awards show.

"She's always been courageous in saying this has never been about race. She said it's about 17-year-old kids. We have to protect our kids. So I stand with her forever," Mr. Foxx said.

"It was great to see Bruce Springsteen in Ireland dedicate a song to Trayvon. I think that's what really makes it universal in the fact that we know that there's race involved, but to see all races coming together and saying that hey, there's something wrong," Mr. Foxx said. "There's something wrong when a 17-year-old child is on his way home and someone with a gun pursues him and he ends up losing his life."

Mr. Foxx said Martin's case was part of an "epidemic" of gun violence in the U.S.

"When you look at Sandy Hook and Aurora and all these different things where we're losing our children. Chicago -- 67 kids, people killed in a week -- we have an epidemic," he said. "And it's up to us as the grown folks to be smart enough and intelligent and nice to each other to have a difference of opinion, but also understand that we have to come to a solution."

Samuel L. Jackson was also on hand at the convention, promoting the remake of "RoboCop." He said he'd been out of the country for much of the trial and during the verdict, but expected the result.

"I'm not really surprised by it considering the way the case was presented and the representation that the family had, and the portrayals that they put out there of the kid and how peoples' attitudes are about those particular things," Mr. Jackson said.

Still, he said, he was "encouraged by the attitude of people after the verdict, that people are willing to stand up and take a stand and get out in the streets, and let their voices be heard."

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First Published July 21, 2013 10:30 PM


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