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Fans Return for Jam-Packed Comic-Con 2022

In pre-COVID times, more than 135,000 people would pack into the San Diego Convention Center each July to eagerly feast upon trailers, casting announcements and other parceled-out new details about their favorite superhero, fantasy, horror, and other genre shows and properties. But Comic-Con International, the largest comic book and popular arts fan convention of its kind, has basically been on ice for the last several years — its frequently raucous in-person events relegated to virtual gatherings.

Maybe that’s why this year seemed particularly jubilant. Tens of thousands of vaccinated and masked attendees — many once again decked out in intricate homemade costumes of the sort that have made the event the cosplay equivalent of the Met Gala — descended upon San Diego, California, this past week, from Wednesday, July 20, through Sunday, July 24.

As the convention headed into its home stretch on Sunday, Comic-Con’s Chief Communications and Strategy Officer, David Glanzer, was exhausted, but happy. He seemed open to the idea of merchandising, branded spinoffs and possibly even hybrid presentations that would further expand Comic-Con’s cultural reach — but without fundamentally altering its DNA as a fan-oriented gathering. “I think we are very open in the future to any way our brand can be promoted, but also protected,” he said in a conversation with the HFPA. “It’s very, very important to protect the brand and share it, not just sell it, if you will. If we do something, it has to meet all the criteria and guidelines that we’ve established over the past 50 years.”

Central to Comic-Con’s identity are its celebratory Hall H presentations, which take place in the convention center’s main venue, with a capacity of approximately 6,500. Thursday’s schedule kicked off with a first look at Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, an adaptation of the enormously popular tabletop role-playing game which Paramount Pictures will release theatrically on March 3, 2023. Stars Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Hugh Grant, Regé-Jean Page, and Sophia Lillis all appeared, and the debut of the movie’s trailer, as well as two other extended clips, seemed to generate plenty of positive word-of-mouth among excited fans.

Other Hall H presentations included a look at Paramount+’s upcoming Teen Wolf movie; a William Shatner retrospective in which the iconic 91-year-old actor discussed his recent trip to space and new documentary on his life; and a celebration of 40 years of Masters of the Universe hosted by Kevin Smith, where it was announced that Shatner is joining the voice cast of the franchise’s upcoming animated Masters of the Universe: Revolution, a sequel to last year’s Revelation series.

In other Thursday news, Amazon’s The Wheel of Time was renewed for a third season, while Disney’s National Treasure: Edge of History TV show received a first-look teaser trailer which showed off Jess Morales (Lisette Alexis) embarking on an epic journey to save a long-lost Pan-American treasure and uncover her family’s mysterious past.

Finally, DC Comics chief creative officer Jim Lee drove a stake into the heart of so-called “Snyderverse” keyboard warriors, announcing that there were no further plans to expand on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice director Zack Snyder’s interconnected vision of DC comic book films.

Friday’s Hall H slate brought back an old Comic-Con staple, with over two hours devoted to separate iterations of The Walking Dead franchise. A trailer for the final episodes of the flagship series, which returns in October, drew huge reaction, but the biggest news came by way of the announcement of a 2023 spinoff series starring Andrew Lincoln and Danai Gurira.

The morning, meanwhile, belonged to the highly anticipated The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, which debuted a meaty three-minute trailer that showcased new footage of Morfydd Clark’s Galadriel, along with the creation of a Balrog, the formation of a cursed blade from Mordor, and lots of other Middle Earth goodness (plus some badness, in the form of Sauron himself).

Beloved The Matrix star Keanu Reeves also made a Hall H appearance on behalf of BRZRKR, a comic book series he co-created about an immortal, half-human, half-God figure who fights a war with no end. Reeves talked about being intrigued by the idea of “someone who was cursed with violence trying to figure out who they are, how they are, how they came to be — and reclaiming their humanity.” Detailing expansive plans for the property, Boom Studios president of development Stephen Christie confirmed not only a feature film in development with Reeves, but also two seasons of an anime series on Netflix.

Reeves then closed the event with a one-minute teaser trailer for the fourth installment of the John Wick franchise, set to hit theaters March 24, 2023.

In other Friday news, Randall Park was announced as part of the voice cast of the upcoming animated HBO Max series Secrets of the Mogwai, in which original Gremlins star Zach Galligan will also be featured as a recurring guest. The first trailer for I Am Groot, an animated shorts series releasing August 10, was screened, and news was confirmed of a Spider-Man: Freshman Year animated series coming to Disney+ in 2024, with Charlie Cox’s Daredevil confirmed as one crossover participant.

Saturday’s Hall H schedule brought out some of the heaviest franchise hitters participating in this year’s Comic-Con. Warner Bros. kicked things off in the morning and chose to focus on two titles on the short horizon. Shazam! Fury of the Gods star Zachary Levi helped introduce the first full public trailer of his movie, which releases December 21. He also teased some superhero family rifts, noting that differing perspectives and bickering help give the film a deeper emotional complexity, even within the context of the movie’s fantastical realm.

Next up, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson won the day, whipping up public appetite for the October 21 release of his film by making a grand appearance in costume as the titular DC Comics antihero Black Adam — a well-executed stunt which fans totally ate up. Noting his time with the project has been “a long journey fueled with passion, with commitment, with grit,” Johnson also either fed into or sidestepped a larger controversy, depending on one’s point of view.

For a couple of days, rumors had swirled at Comic-Con about Henry Cavill making a surprise appearance to tease his participation in Black Adam as Superman — a rumor that didn’t come to fruition. So Johnson’s answer to a fan question about who would win in a fight between his character and Superman (“It depends on who is playing Superman”), a response which actually drew some boos from the audience, set certain corners of social media ablaze with speculative micro-interpretations.

House of the Dragon, the Game of Thrones prequel whose 10-episode first season will debut on August 21, left an undeniable stamp on Comic-Con 2022. Olivia Cooke appeared in person alongside fellow actors Paddy Considine, Matt Smith, Emma D’Arcy, Steve Toussaint, Fabien Frankel, Eve Best, Milly Alcock, and Emily Carey. Author George R.R. Martin was also on hand, though he quipped that he didn’t have the opportunity to spend much time on set last year, owing to “this book that I’m writing (The Winds of Winter) that’s a little late.”

Set two centuries before the events of Game of Thrones, the series chronicles the beginning of the end of the House Targaryen, and will naturally unpack a good bit of simmering political rivalry and at-odds ideas over the rightful heir of kindly King Viserys (Considine), as well as the events leading up to and including a period of bloody conflict known as the “Dance of the Dragons.”

Cooke and her cast mates are aware of the long shadow cast by their predecessor, but game for the challenge of carving out their own space. “We’re so grateful for what came before, and we just hope that this has the same legacy,” she said. “There’s a massive pressure to give (fans) what they want, but also try to make it different and put our own stamp on it.”

Finally, in the evening, Marvel Studios President and mega-producer Kevin Feige, joined by various cast and filmmakers, presided over an unveiling of the films and television series which will make up the fifth and sixth phases of the intricately designed Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The studio indulged in some gimmickry earlier during the convention, unveiling a real-life Infinity Stones collection, with a combined 150 carats of jewels, worth $25 million. (Consumer collectible sell-thru versions are on the way, of course.)

The hotly anticipated trailer for director Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, releasing November 11 and bringing the MCU’s Phase Four to a close, packed such an emotional punch that it left some in the audience tearing up. Set to a mournful cover version of Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry,” the film finds the titular fictional African nation in a state of turmoil following the passing of T’Challa (the late Chadwick Boseman).

The half-dozen films comprising Phase Five, releasing next year and through the summer of 2024, are Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, The Marvels, Blade, Captain America: New World Order, and Thunderbolts.

On the TV side, set for Disney+, are sophomore seasons of What If…? and Loki, plus the debuts of Secret Invasion, Echo, Ironheart, Agatha: Coven of Chaos and, rounding things out, an astonishing 18-episode commitment to Daredevil: Born Again.

Fantastic Four, which was previously announced to conclude Phase Four of the MCU, was revealed to serve as the first film of Phase Six, releasing November 8, 2024. Additionally, Feige announced that Phase Six would conclude with two big and no doubt sprawling ensemble Avengers films, The Kang Dynasty and Secret Wars, both to be released in 2025. Notably, two unannounced films are also set for release in 2025, giving Marvel additional flexibility to work in some more surprises and maximize box office potential.

In other Comic-Con news, a two-minute trailer provided the first look at the upcoming Interview with the Vampire TV series, which releases October 2, while the third and final season of Star Trek: Picard was teased with a short clip and new posters that featured many beloved crew members from Star Trek: The Next Generation, including Geordi La Forge, Worf, Dr. Beverly Crusher, Deanna Troi, and Commander William Riker.

Worth noting for Starship Troopers fans, a quarter-century removed from Paul Verhoeven’s subversive action flick, Casper Van Dien is back in outer space with Salvage Marines, a new science-fiction TV series available for free on Popcornflix beginning on July 28. Produced by and starring Van Dien alongside wife Jennifer Wenger, Armand Assante, and Peter Shinkoda, the dystopian show tells the story of a grizzled laborer who tackles various conspiracies on a polluted industrial planet to make sure his unborn child doesn’t get saddled with the debt of servitude he has incurred.

“It was a really difficult shoot, it was a lot of work. It’s a small budget, we’re not a big budget, and we only had each other,” said Van Dien in a conversation with the HFPA. “A lot of (the cast) are our friends, and we were really just doing this out of complete and total, utter love. I got in this business because I loved Star Trek when I was a kid. I wanted to be William Shatner. So when I got an opportunity to do something like this as a series, (I jumped). There were the challenges, but it’s exciting because we all loved it.”

Perhaps surprising to some, especially considering that its $250 million return is less than six months away, one of the biggest pop culture properties on the horizon, Avatar, received little push at Comic-Con — though LEGO did at least announce three new sets based on James Cameron’s ambitious franchise, including the Neytiri & Thanator vs. AMP Suit Quaritch set, the Jake & Neytiri’s First Banshee Flight set, and Floating Mountains set. All will be released on October 1, along with the previously announced, 1,200-piece Toruk Makto and the Tree of Souls set.

At the end of five days (and nights) jam-packed with panels, screening showcases, interactive activations, and of course all manner of glossy new collectibles, attendees could finally kick back and exhale — along with Comic-Con’s organizers. “What I came out with from this edition is that we have the best fans,” said Glanzer.

They were certainly happy to be back.