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20 Best Things We Saw and Heard at Comic-Con 2014

From ‘Assassins’ Creed’ to Zachary Levi, the movies, comics and video game highlights you need to know

comic con 2014

Corey Ransberg; Getty Images

There are conventions, and then there's Comic-Con. Some 125,000 people descended upon San Diego last week for what is officially billed as an event "celebrating the popular arts," but what is really the flash creation of a small City of the Geeks. Attendees lapped up exclusive previews of huge upcoming films, first looks at new and returning TV shows, demonstrations of the latest in gaming and virtual reality technology, opportunities to meet artists and stars and much more. Every year the Con takes over downtown San Diego, spilling over into the Gaslamp Quarter and filling hotels, bars, restaurants and even the local baseball stadium with fans, industry professionals and artists from all walks of pop culture, including thousands of nerds filling the convention center and city like self-replicating robots.

Rolling Stone was on the ground covering everything from the hard-to-get-into Hall H, where the studios roll out premiere footage from movies like The Avengers: Age of Ultron, to the far end of the exhibition hall where comic book dealers still keep the show's original spirit alive. Yes, Comic-Con has changed a lot since it launched more than 40 years ago in the basement of a hotel, and it's safe to say that it's now more a giant marketing and promotional emporium than an organic fan gathering.

But there are still amazing, wonderful things to see and do, and here's a list of 20 that we pegged as event highlights. By Don Kaye and Dave Maass

Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney

‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’

Hall H is the place to plant yourself for the big movie-studio presentations and none was more anticipated than Marvel's Saturday night blowout. While the panel (which also featured a meet-and-greet with the cast of Ant-Man) was a bit disappointing – no Doctor Strange casting news and just one (Guardians of the Galaxy 2) of the nine mystery movies that Marvel has slotted between now and 2019 revealed – the footage from 2015's The Avengers: Age of Ultron just about made up for it.

With the cast in attendance, Marvel chief exec Kevin Feige unveiled the insane, genocidal android Ultron (James Spader), his global reign of destruction, new team members Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), the Avengers turning on each other and Ultron's army of robots. The money shot? Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) dons his massive Hulkbuster suit just as the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) throws a car at him – then punches him through the car. You could probably hear the crowd erupt at that one all the way down in Wakanda.

Corey Ransberg

Bodock, the Giant Creature

This 14-foot, 2,000-pound, fully animated monster, created by the Stan Winston School of Character Arts exclusively for Comic-Con, may have a rather generic name, but that's only because it's hard to find the precise adjective to describe its majesty. Stunning in its expressiveness, the beast is about as "realistic" as a massive alien could be. There are four people crammed into the torso – one for the head, legs and each arm – plus two more operators with remote controls manipulating his hands, face and the little alien riding atop. Bonus: all the metallic pieces were generated by Stratasys 3-D printers.

Michael Yarish/Waner Bros. Entertainment Inc. via Getty Images

‘Mad Max: Fury Road’

Australian mad genius George Miller put Mel Gibson on the map 30 years ago with his influential post-apocalyptic action trilogy, and the long-awaited fourth film serves as both reboot and remake. Tom Hardy dons the leather and drives the car as Max – perfect casting – and the seven-minute sizzle reel unspooled in Hall H showed Miller going bigger and badder than ever. Think the Road Warrior times 10 and that might give you an idea of the brutal, relentless spectacle on display…and it looks nothing like any other big-budget action movie out there.

Araya Diaz/Getty Images for Schick Hydro

‘Assassin’s Creed: Unity’

Ubisoft killed it promoting Assassin's Creed: Unity, the fifth major installment in its open-world video game series. Since this edition is set during the French Revolution, Ubisoft erected a 17th-century themed obstacle course and 30-foot "leap of faith," and hired frilly-sleeved barbers (with anachronistic neck tattoos) to give out free shaves. Tucked behind the spectacle, the preview revealed a game superior to its pirate-themed predecessor. The assassin must navigate a chaotic Paris, encountering food riots, stabbings in the street and soldiers abusing peasants. The character can even perch above the guillotine and decide whether to intervene or watch the heads roll.

Christopher Nolan

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Christopher Nolan Comes to Comic-Con

The famously reserved director never brought his Dark Knight movies to Comic-Con (nor 2010's Inception) but he finally made his first appearance on the Hall H stage this year – with fellow first-timer Matthew McConaughey and a brand new trailer for Interstellar in tow. Claiming he "wanted to see what all the fuss was about," Nolan created a stir with the new trailer, which conveys the movie's powerful emotional undertow with some truly awe-inspiring cosmic vistas, including a first glimpse of an alien planet and a possible life form that McConaughey and crew encounter there. Watch for it soon.

 

Mondo

Dave Maass

Mondo Mania

You expect long lines for Stan Lee signings and Power Ranger photo ops, but not for an indie art company that remixes old movie posters. But, oh, how the flow of traffic was dammed by hipster-geeks queuing up to shop at Mondo, which had its own booth for the first time. This year was also the first where they began offering toys, such as the Iron Giant and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The most sought-after prizes, however, were the seven-inch vinyl versions of Danny Elfman's theme to Batman: the Animated Series, each with a different villainous cover.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

‘Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice’

It was oh-so-brief, but it lit up Hall H nonetheless. Director Zack Snyder kicked off the Warner Bros. presentation by unveiling a short teaser for the DC superhero clash, which arrives in 2016. The one-minute clip featured Batman (Ben Affleck) yanking a tarp off the Bat-Signal and shining it into the sky – only to reveal Superman (Henry Cavill) hovering above, eyes blazing red with heat vision. The tension between the two was palpable in the wordless clip. Snyder then brought out the DC "holy trinity" – Affleck, Cavill and Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman) – to wave to the crowd while the first image of Gadot in full costume appeared on the walls above. More DC revelations were rumored, including Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson being cast as Shazam, but failed to materialize.

J. Michael Straczynski

Dave Maass

J. Michael Straczynski

If you want the scoop on the next five years' worth of sci-fi blockbusters, you just have to show up at Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski's annual foul-mouthed solo panel. Among the announcements: he's moving ahead on a Babylon 5 movie reboot for 2016, a TV network is negotiating to adapt his supernatural comic Ten Grand and the Walking Dead producer Gale Hurd is producing his mystery project, Two Streets. He also promised that his upcoming Netflix series Sense8, co-created with the Wachowskis, will explore gender and identity just as strongly as House of Cards treated power and politics.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

‘Batman ’66’

Since the Caped Crusader was once again a major player at the Con, it was so freakin' cool to see Adam West (Batman), Burt Ward (Robin) and Julie Newmar (Catwoman) from the classic '60s camp TV show together on the Hall H stage. And they were there for the best of reasons: the long-delayed release of the entire series on Blu-ray and DVD this November. Held up by rights issues for years, the series has been remastered and the segments we saw were positively glowing with color and rich detail. As for the Dynamic Duo and their feline foe, they may have aged but they're still as lovable as ever – it's too bad Joker (Cesar Romero), Riddler (Frank Gorshin) and Penguin (Burgess Meredith) are no longer here to join in the festivities.

Corey Ransberg

The ‘Vikings’ Experience

Photobooths are as prevalent at Comic-Con as Wolverine lookalikes, but the History Channel's Vikings took the green screen to a whole new level. Visitors to their off-site "experience" were sent to professional makeup artists to receive scars and blood splatter, then were inserted into the movie poster, various action stills and the violent 30-second trailer. To top it off, History even generated a personalized actor page for you on their website, including photos of the entire process.

Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images

The ‘Women Who Kick Ass’ Panel

Forget the old stereotype of geeks being overweight dudes living in their mom's basement: women are stronger and more present than ever on the nerd culture scene, and they've got some great role models in the women on this popular panel. This time around the lineup included Katey Sagal (Sons of Anarchy), Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black), Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story), Nicole Beharie (Sleepy Hollow), Maisie Williams and Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones). Their stories of navigating the shark-infested waters of Hollywood were funny, poignant and powerful.

Mike Tyson

Corey Hale

‘Mike Tyson Mysteries’

The sizzle reel for Adult Swim's new spoof on Scooby-Doo, the appropriately titled Mike Tyson Mysteries, shows the infamously eccentric boxer teaming up with his adopted Korean daughter, the Marquess of Queensberry's ghost and a carrier pigeon who orders prostitutes over the Internet. Tyson rides a pterodactyl, squares off with a chupacabra and uppercuts a dinosaur, but perhaps even more astounding was that Tyson corrected fans' grammar during the Q&A at his Comic-Con panel. A true knockout performance, and one that proved he's in on the joke.

Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images

Godzilla vs. King Kong?

Legendary Pictures, once distributed through Warner Bros. and now aligned with Universal, scored a hit this summer with its reboot of Godzilla. So studio head Thomas Tull was on hand (with a remote video assist from director Gareth Edwards) to announce that Godzilla 2 was not just a go, but – thanks to the cooperation of Japan's Toho Studios – will feature the big lizard squaring off against three of his most iconic enemies: Rodan, Mothra and Ghidorah. Adding to all the monster goodness, Tull also revealed a secret project called Skull Island, featuring none other than King Kong himself. Can it be much longer before Kong and Godzilla go head-to-head?

Nerd HQ

Corey Ransberg

Zachary Levi Runs Nerd HQ

Little known fact: you don't need a badge for the best panels at Comic-Con because they don't actually happen at Comic-Con. Zachary Levi (Chuck) runs his own mini-con offsite to raise money for cleft palate surgeries and, through sheer charm, he has consistently convinced big-name stars to engage with small audiences on his stage, as part of his Conversations for a Cause series. This year's highlights included Orphan Black, the Giver and Supernatural  (all of which were streamed online), but aside from that, the Petco Park venue also lent a free taste of the Con, with interactive exhibits and photo ops.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

The Mayor of Comic-Con

Certain creative individuals come to Comic-Con and are afforded rock-star treatment by legions of fans: Joss Whedon (who was actually absent this year), Stan Lee, Kevin Feige and others. But perhaps no one is as popular as filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, who seems to be everywhere during the weekend and is always brimming with news and projects. This year he was on hand to promote his upcoming movie Crimson Peak, a film he's produced called Book of Life and his new TV series the Strain. His foul-mouthed and passionate panel appearances are legendary, and the man also spends time talking with fans one-to-one at every opportunity. They are his people, he is one of them and the love is genuine.

The Shadow Hero

Dave Maass

Gene Luen Yang’s ‘The Shadow Hero’

Legend has it, during the Golden Age of comics in the 1940s, one of the first Chinese-American comic-book artists, Chu Hing, tried to create an Asian superhero. When his publishers rejected it, Hing created the Green Turtle and passive aggressively drew the character so readers never saw his face; it was always obscured by his cape or some other object. This year, American Born Chinese author Gene Luen Yang, a Comic-Con guest of honor, reclaimed the Green Turtle with a new graphic novel, finally giving him a face and an origin story, while also republishing one of the original comics.

Jerod Harris/Getty Images for CraveOnline

‘The Last Ship’ Party on the USS Midway

Comic-Con parties can be legendary, and this year the new TV series the Last Ship and Crave Online partnered for a massive bash on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Midway, now a museum permanently anchored at San Diego's Navy Pier. MGMT and Grimes provided the musical entertainment while partygoers tracked down drinks, played laser tag and took photos next to actual fighter jets. Some lifers grumble that this is the kind of event that has drained the charm out of the original Comic-Con – but they probably just weren't invited.

Adam Savage's Incognito Party

Dave Maass

Adam Savage’s ‘Incognito’ Party

Most Comic-Con parties are organized by professional marketers and the "talent" awkwardly mingle until their handlers give them the exeunt nod. Not so with Mythbuster's Adam Savage, who began throwing small hotel-room parties many, many Cons ago. This year, he treated the party like any engineering challenge: He booked an entire upscale bar, populated it with the best of his cosplay (and that dude spends months designing his Admiral Ackbar, Chewbacca and Dr. Zoidberg costumes) and invited the world. The best touch: "Dragon Breath" caramel corn infused with liquid nitrogen so that you exhale vapor with each mouthful.

Corey Ransberg

The Exhibition Hall

You have not had the full Comic-Con experience until you've walked "the floor," the main exhibition hall in the San Diego Convention Center that features more than half-a-million square feet of space for every type of geeky entertainment you could want: from the big movie and TV exhibits to Artists' Alley – where you can pick up original art from new talents – there are literally hours and hours of activities available, not to mention scores of opportunities to empty your wallet on toys, collectibles, comic books (yes, there are actually comic books at Comic-Con) and all kinds of other merchandise. Be warned: the crowds are enormous and there are times when foot traffic can come to a standstill. But my Comic-Con is never complete until I've hit "the floor."

The Walking Dead

Corey Hale

‘The Walking Dead’

Attention animated-GIF fiends: there now exists footage of the core cast of the Walking Dead flipping the bird, a reflex reaction they all picked up from resident rascal Norman Reedus. Andrew Lincoln, Lauren Cohan, Steven Yeun and Danai Gurira all joined Reedus in an uproarious panel at Nerd HQ, with a conversation that ranged from backstage antics (Reedus takes his crossbow home with him) to how they explain to their family members that they're really not cut out to be zombies extras (Georgian summers are not kind to latex-smeared extras). Best of all was Gurira's inspired closing treatise on female characters in mainstream television, which you can catch online.

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