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20 Best Things We Saw and Heard at San Diego Comic-Con 2015

From a jaw-dropping ‘Star Wars’ tease to a cosplaying congressman — the creme de la Con

Comic Con

Corey Ransberg

When you run into another attendee at San Diego Comic-Con, the customary greeting is: "How's your con?" That's because every fan is the hero in their own story, on their own unique quest to consult their chosen celebrity oracles and collect their geeky treasures. Each hour brings painful choices; for every awesome experience, you've sacrificed 10 others.

This year, that conversation often turned to another perennial question: Has Comic-Con peaked? Yes, no, maybe. The era of huge movie presences has certainly passed and the convention has been eclipsed in size by its New York counterpart. Yet web services like Amazon and Crackle, and new technologies such as virtual reality, are moving in to fill the gaps. Plus, a whole new generation of creative talent is coming of age, ready to bend genres and invent new ones.

Here's the path you take if you really want to take the event's pulse. You go to the back of the exhibition hall, turn right at the wall, and walk until you see a table beneath a bunch of giant cartoon heads. If Rick Geary, the creator of the official Toucan logo more than 30 years ago, is still selling new books, you know it's the same old SDCC.

And indeed there Geary was, Stan Lee be praised, still hawking his wares. It was a welcome reminder that the spirit lives on — and here are the 20 other best things that we saw in San Diego this weekend.

Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 10: (L-R) Actors Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford at the Hall H Panel for `Star Wars: The Force Awakens` during Comic-Con International 2015 at the San Diego Convention Center on July 10, 2015 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney) *** Local Caption *** Carrie Fisher; Mark Hamill; Harrison Ford

Jesse Grant/Getty

‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Services the Fans

It's not like J.J. Abrams & co. revealed any new footage from the upcoming Star Wars film — though who needed that when you got to see that dazzling behind-the-scenes reel? The featurette — so full of love and reverence for the material — set the tone for the entire Hall H panel. You got to see Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford share a kiss on the stage. (She loves him; he knows.) It was seeing Ford, period, after we came so close to losing him in a plane crash a few months ago. And it was the sight of 6,500 people being led calmly by Abrams out of the convention center and into a park for a free Star Wars concert and fireworks show. To see so many people share their love for such a beloved cultural touchstone — those are the kinds of moment Comic-Con fans remember forever. DK

Grant Morrison

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Dave Maass

Go East, Grant Morrison

Morrison — a writer who helped usher in a darker, smarter age of mainstream comics in the Nineties — told a crowd of 2,600 that he's done all he can with traditional superheroes. He's sick of the "military entertainment complex," in which today's characters always seem to be working for the government (see: the Avengers). So, the Scot journeyed to the east and came back with a deal with Graphic India to publish two new series featuring radiant, blue mythic superwarriors following uniquely Indian storylines. It's hard to imagine a better way to start the con (and consider the scale of the imaginations involved here) than an announcement that both titles — Avatarex and 18 Days — are available for immediate download as part of a name-your-price bundle. DM

Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck

Albert L. Ortega/Getty

‘Batman v Superman’ Trailer: Welcome to the D.C. Universe

No, the entire Justice League didn't walk out onstage together as rumored. But we finally got our first good look at Zack Snyder's epic showdown between, as Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor puts it, "black and blue." What's startling is the confirmation that BvS uses the criticisms leveled at Snyder's Man of Steel — too much random destruction and wanton loss of life — as the story's springboard. Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) is so pissed off at Superman (Henry Cavill) for taking down half of Metropolis — including a Wayne Enterprises building — that he puts on the suit again to track him down. How Luthor and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot, glimpsed briefly) fit into it all remains to be seen, but the trailer was enough to knock the socks off the capacity Hall H crowd. DK

Conan and Jennifer Lawrence

Dave Maass

Jennifer Lawrence Curses a Blue Streak on ‘Conan’

In the Hunger Games series, Katniss is routinely subjected to awkward talk show interviews by a host with a distractingly flamboyant hairdo. So it was surreal to watch Jennifer Lawrence (and co-cast members) on stage with Conan O'Brien’s coif for the second night of his show at the historic Spreckels Theater. Far from being demure for the censors, Lawrence took Conan up on his profanity challenge: $200 to charity for every swear word she could drop in 30 seconds. Among the best (and oddly culinary) curses bleeped out from the online clip: "pussy burger," "steak twat," and "strawberry shitsicle." DM

Bill Murray

Bill Murray Makes His Comic-Con Debut

Every year brings a few first-timers to the Con, but this one was special. Not always the most publicity-friendly fellow, Bill Murray rocked the room in his SDCC debut by coming down the long Hall H center aisle to the sounds of Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" pumping from the P.A. Murray appeared in costume as Richie Lanz, the burned-out rock manager from his upcoming comedy, Rock the Kasbah. Joining the panel alongside writer Mitch Glazer, the star/prankster was funny, engaging, warm and enthusiastic — everything one hopes when a star of his stature enters the sometimes daunting environs of Comic-Con. Glad to have you aboard, Bill. DK

Nerdist Conival

Corey Ransberg

Welcome to the Nerdist’s ‘Conival’

Chris Hardwick's Nerdist Industries transformed Petco Park into a hipster's paradise with "Conival" — a carnival-themed wonderland of Lego raptors, laser tag, American Gladiator-style jousting, and a grass-lined lounge for Amy Poehler's Smart Girls nonprofit project. Although Nerdist scored top-tier talent for smaller, intimate panels, the real star was arguably Battleborn, the new hybrid video game from the creators of Borderlands 2, which visitors could play for a staggering 40 minutes at a time. DM

Stan Lee, actor Hugh Jackman, actor Ryan Reynolds and actress Brianna Hildebrand

Kevin Winter/Getty

Fox’s ‘Marvel’-ous Extravaganza

No movie studio has yet recreated that moment when Marvel brought the Avengers onstage in 2010, but Fox did its best. The studio pulled out all the stops and brought out all the stars from its own upcoming Marvel-heavy slate — including X-Men: Apocalypse, Fantastic Four, Deadpool and Wolverine 3 — for a massive selfie taken by future Gambit star Channing Tatum. We also got a dazzling first glimpse of footage from the raunchy Deadpool and ominous new X-Men installment, as well as a poignant thank-you from Hugh Jackman as he prepares to make his final appearance as everyone's favorite adamantium-clawed mutant. DK

Comedy Meltdown

Corey Ransberg

Backstage With ‘Meltdown’

Meltdown With Jonah and Kumail staged a live stand-up show at the American Comedy Co., where the creepy hand-shaped bathroom door handle in the green room created the exact kind of unscripted opportunities for riffing that characterizes the series. But this time, there was no Comedy Central crew backstage — just Rolling Stone's photographer, who was roped into a skit to play a role usually filled by Hannibal Buress. In the sketch, The Walking Dead's Steven Yeun had Jonah Ray read lines as part of an acting masterclass. But the script kept getting increasingly offensive, as the African-American shutterbug kept his zoom lens focused on Ray as he was about to utter a word that starts with the same letter as "nerd." DM

Joss Whedon

Kevin Winter/Getty

Joss Whedon, Ready to Rumble (Again)

Appearing rested and relaxed a few months after his draining Avengers: Age of Ultron press tour, one of geekdom's leading creative lights has seemingly put his exhausting experience with the Marvel all-star franchise (and subsequent Twitter backlash) behind him. The Buffy creator previewed a six-issue comic book called Twist — about a "Victorian female Batman" — and Whedon's one-hour solo talk reminded us why we continue to admire him: He's self-deprecating to a fault, refreshingly honest, and remains a dedicated humanist and feminist. DK

Doctor Who

David Maass

Call the ‘Doctor Who’

There comes a time in every Time Lord's regeneration where they must face the forces of Comic-Con. Peter Capaldi, who succeeded Matt Smith in 2013, received a brief respite when BBC America decided not to have a Doctor Who presence last year. Although he might not have the youthful looks of Smith, or David Tennant before him, the Scottish actor has now proven he has the same vigor as his predecessors; the gent hauled his severe eyebrows to interview after interview, panel after panel, and even the Hall H line. When it finally came time for him to step into the spotlight, there was a moment where he locked eyes with his co-star and Comic-Con veteran Jenna Coleman, who smiled back as if to say, "See, I told you it was bigger on the inside." DM

Host Chris Hardwick, director Quentin Tarantino and actors Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demian Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and Bruce Dern

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 11: (L-R) Host Chris Hardwick, director Quentin Tarantino and actors Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demian Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and Bruce Dern attend 'THE HATEFUL EIGHT' press line and panel during Comic-Con International 2015 on July 11, 2015 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for The Weinstein Company)

Charley Gallay/Getty

Quentin Tarantino and ‘The Hateful Eight’

Leave it to Tarantino to turn a Hall H panel into a lesson on why we should watch movies in 70mm and the history of roadshow cinema. And that was just the first half of the presentation for the director's eighth feature, as the king of the movie nerds (along with video aids and a pre-taped message from Samuel L. Jackson) schooled the room on why he continues to shoot not just on film, but on the biggest stock he can use. This was all before he showed some snippets of footage and brought out seven of the Eight (minus Jackson) — Kurt Russell, Demian Bechir, Tim Roth, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michael Madsen, Walton Goggins, and Bruce Dern, who positively gushed over working with "the kid." DK

Comic Con

Dave Maass

‘Ash vs Evil Dead’: Return of the Boom Stick

Some 23 years after Army of Darkness hit drive-ins, creators Sam and Ivan Raimi revealed that the Deadite-slayer's new TV show starts on Halloween. Currently in production for Starz, Ash v. Evil Dead will be 10 half-hour episodes, filled with the kind of comedic carnage that requires five varieties of fake blood and a contraption to spray it from Ash's chainsaw blade. Star Bruce Campbell strode onto stage wearing a suit so red, baboons would want to do filthy things with it. The panel was performance art from the get-go, with the Raimis and co-star Lucy Lawless acting like they couldn't stand their jackass leading man. By the end, Campbell was tucking greasy dollars into an audience member's bra for conveniently winning an "Ash" cosplay contest. DM

Kathy Bates, Gwendoline Christie, Gal Gadot, Jenna Coleman, and Hayley Atwell

Kevin Winter/Getty

‘Women Who Kick Ass’ Panel

This year's edition of the WWKA had quite the lineup: Hayley Atwell (Agent Carter), Gal Gadot (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), Jenna Coleman (Doctor Who), Gwendoline Christie (Game of Thrones and Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and the great Kathy Bates (American Horror Story). Gadot said that putting on the Wonder Woman costume was an "out-of-body experience — there I was, little Gal from Israel becoming Wonder Woman." Christie won the panel, however, by recounting the epic GoT battle between herself as Brienne and Rory McCann as the Hound, revealing that despite rehearsing a fake punch, McCann insisted she hit him in the groin "for real. What you see in that fight is a genuine connection of fist and undercarriage." Now that's kick-ass. DK

Jhonen Vasquez

Corey Ransberg

‘Invader Zim’ Returns to Earth

It was a miracle that could only be made in San Diego. Last year at Comic-Con, Oni Press reps scored a meeting with Nickelodeon brass and somehow managed to win an agreement to publish a new comic series continuing the story of Invader Zim (the cancelled cult cartoon show so sharp and weird that everyone was shocked it was greenlit to begin with). This year, Oni debuted Issue no. 1, which has the extraterrestrial reemerging from a toilet, where he had hidden for months in order to drive his elementary-school-conspiracy-theorist nemesis insane. Creator Jhonen Vasquez's panel with his creative team was a feast of sarcasm and snark, despite the glorious victory that is the alien threat's return. DM

John Lewis

Getty

Civil-Rights Icon John Lewis Previews ‘March’

Fan culture at its best celebrates equality, independence, inclusiveness and openness — so it was both appropriate and moving that Congressman/civil-rights activist John Lewis showed up to promote March, his graphic-novel memoir of his experiences during the movement. And in the spirit of Comic-Con cosplay, Lewis dressed as himself, wearing the same clothes he wore while walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama five decades ago (!), as he led children through the convention center. We're getting a little choked-up thinking about this real-life hero. DK

Her Universe Fashion Show

Corey Ransberg

Her Universe Hits the Runway

Let's be honest: The notion of a Simpsons' Comic Book Guy-style nerd clad in a stained T-shirts, ratty sweatpants, and sock-sandals is not an unearned stereotype in the geek community. But at cosplay-friendly places like SDCC, exquisite handmade outfits are quickly outnumbering utilikilts. And a lot of that is due to Her Universe, who for the second year in a row mounted a runway show and fashion competition at the Manchester Grand Hyatt. More than 20 designers tasked with defining "geek couture" competed against each other, presenting fashion interpretations of franchises such as Star Wars, Doctor Who and Assassin's Creed. Ultimately Leetal Plat's flowing Sailor Moon eveningwear won the audience prize, while the judges picked Kelly Cercone's Joker-themed dress; both will collaborate on a new product line for Hot Topic. DM

Comic Con

09 Jul 2015, San Diego, California, USA --- People experience a snow storm in a bubble featuring a location from FX's "Fargo" at the FX Fearless Arena on opening day of the 2015 Comic-Con International Thursday, July 9, 2015, in San Diego. The pop-culture event held at the San Diego Convention Center runs July 9-12. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi) --- Image by © Lenny Ignelzi/AP/Corbis

Lenny Ignelzi/AP/Corbis

The FX Fearless Arena

The FX network has been upping its game in genre entertainment in recent years (especially horror) and brought a massive, elaborate display to the park between the San Diego Convention Center and the Hilton Bayfront hotel. The "Fearless Arena" fan experience featured a scary virtual-reality immersion experience based around The Strain (think live-action vampires swarming all around you); a full-size recreation of the American Horror Story: Hotel lobby; an opportunity to duel with others in the "Escape the Forest" area based on Kurt Sutter's upcoming show The Bastard Executioner; and a giant 20-foot inflatable snow globe containing flurries and a Waffle Hut storefront as promotion for the second season of Fargo. DK

TV Guide Boat

Corey Ransberg

Fishing for Stars on TV Guide’s Yacht

For the last four years, TV Guide has aggravated other members of the media by sending out press releases bragging about the perks of their swanky party yacht: an open bar, exclusive interviews, a constant stream of television celebrities who are somehow obligated to stop by and hang out. For the first time, the magazine opened the venue up to other outlets, all of whom learned a valuable nautical lesson: If you get seasick easily, never let the casts of The Originals, Gotham, and Lucifer onto a single seafaring vessel simultaneously. DM

The Walking Dead

Maarten de Boer/Getty

‘The Walking Dead’ Sneaks Season 6 and Prequel Peeks

We keep thinking that the zombie genre is played out — then The Walking Dead drops an extended trailer for its upcoming episodes and makes us realize there's still some blood (and guts) to be squeezed out of it. The AMC show's sixth season looks as intense as ever, as does its companion series Fear The Walking Dead, which — judging from the Comic-Con teaser — looks better than your average prequel. Finally, Dead creator Robert Kirkman's new series, Outcast, debuted its own trailer and proved that the writer-producer is adept at more than just giving folks endless gore and gutmunchers. DK

VR Experience

Corey Ransberg

Comic-Con Gets VR Fever

Virtual reality was — pardon the cheap pun — everywhere you looked at this year's SDCC. Mattel set up a studio-apartment-sized space for its VR update on the classic View Finder. The Last Ship spent eight weeks throwing together a first person shooter for Oculus Rift. Legendary Pictures' VR wing and SyFy's The Expanse handed out Google Cardboard kits like bread crumbs at a duck pond. But all of those were straight-to-video rentals compared to the blockbuster demos from Sony and HTC. At the off-site venue Nerd HQ, the former's Project Morpheus let players fire machine guns at Russian mobsters during a high speech freeway chase in London Heist: Getaway. Meanwhile, several blocks away, the latter's Vive trailer offered a delightful Portal spin-off. With both system hitting the market in the next year, it may not be too long before no one has to physically come to San Diego at all. DM