Comic-Con@Home 2020 has come and gone. Existing now only as a wistful echo. Will we all be able to physically make it back to the house that Jack Kirby built in 2021? Or will we have to repeat this virtual experience?
One strength of Comic-Con has always been the diverse array of panels, so despite this not being an actual in-person event, I was certain that at least the panels would help keep us entertained.
Sure, Hall H and Ballroom 20 panels garner all the attention, but it’s the smaller panels that are full of hidden gems that can also appeal to a wide range of fandoms and interests (if you look for them).
With an online experience like Comic-Con@Home, these smaller panels had a chance to shine brighter than usual along side the more mainstream ones. I appreciate the fact that I still have access to the other panels. Which I can watch at my own leisure even though Comic-Con@Home is over – so my top ten list may change!
My favorite panel this year (so far) was the “Cardboard Superheroes: Creating Cardboard Models of Your Favorite Superheroes” panel that featured brothers Connor and Bauer Lee (co-founders of Cardboard Superheroes). They detailed a few of their creations, like the Hulkbuster, shared flashbacks of their origin story, gave tips and also endearingly admitted where they could improve. While I thought many of the panels lacked production value, this one was well produced and both Conner and Bauer’s creativity and passion are both so genuine that you’ll easily become one of their fans after the 15 minute presentation is over.
A very close second and third were the “Harryhausen 100: Into the Ray Harryhausen Archive” and “Charlize Theron: Evolution of a Badass – An Action Hero Career Retrospective” panels.
Ray Harryhausen’s daughter, Vanessa Harryhausen stole the show as she showed off quite a few restored models and props that were used for a lot of Harryhausen’s iconic movies that incorporated stop motion model animation. I felt like a kid again and immediately wanted to watch Clash of the Titans and Jason and the Argonauts.
Having just recently watched (and enjoyed) Old Guard on Netflix, I was already looking forward to Charlize Theron’s panel. I felt moderator Terri Schwartz and Theron did a good job steering the panel into more of conversation as they explored the evolution of the modern female action hero.
Rounding out the top five were the “Super Asian America” and “Tribute to Dennis O’Neil: Beyond Batman” panels. Though, either the “Star Trek Universe Virtual Panel” or the “Bill & Ted Face the Music” panel could quite easily have been my fifth pick if it wasn’t for the passing of Dennis O’Neil.
Being of Asian descent (I’m Filipino American), issues of Asian representation is of great concern to me. One of the panelists on “Super Asian America,” Peter Shinkoda recently shared a tweet about how he and co-star Daredevil co-star, Wai Ching Ho were “overlooked” when it came to being invited to the season 2 premiere (Shinkoda played Nobu and Ho played Madame Gao – two key roles). This and many other issues regarding anti-Asian bias plague the entertainment industry. I thought the panel, which included Deric Hughes, Joy Regullano and Bao Phi, had a thoughtful and lively discussion that addressed some of them while also offering some proactive ideas.
Dennis O’Neil could arguably be more of an influential writer than Stan Lee. While he might not have created some of the characters like Iron Man, he evolved Iron Man into Tony Stark (often imparting traces of his own personal experiences to humanize him). His seminal work with Neal Adams on Batman and Green Lantern / Green Arrow also illustrated his focus on flawed heroes rather than super heroes, which made them more real and relatable.
Without O’Neil, you most likely don’t have the Tony Stark you see in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s important to have a Jack Kirby panel at every Comic-Con (I included two below as Honorable Mentions), and maybe it’s now a must to also have at least one panel highlighting and reminding everyone how important O’Neil’s contributions were.
Cardboard Superheroes: Creating Cardboard Models of Your Favorite Superheroes
Harryhausen 100: Into the Ray Harryhausen Archive
Charlize Theron: Evolution of a Badass – An Action Hero Career Retrospective
Super Asian America
Tribute to Dennis O’Neil: Beyond Batman
Star Trek Universe Virtual Panel
Bill & Ted Face the Music
The Boys Season 2
Art and the Holocaust
The Grind NEVER Stops, Not Even During a Quarantine
Paperfilms’ Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner
Annual Jack Kirby Tribute Panel
Decoding the Kirby/Lee Dynamic
Building a Geek Brand: Surviving a Pandemic
Giving a Voice to Independent Creators
The New Mutants
While I enjoyed, the “Star Trek Universe Virtual Panel” (the reading of the script by the Star Trek Discovery cast was fun as was the camaraderie of the Star Trek Picard cast), grinned ear to ear during the “Bill & Ted Face the Music” panel (which also was slicker and better produced than quite a few other panels) and excited after watching “The Boys Season 2” panel, I still felt that quite a few of the smaller panels could hold their own.
Rounding out my top ten, are the “Art and the Holocaust” panel which covered U.S. and German artwork and propaganda during World War II (which can easily draw comparisons to current affairs), artist Bryan Tillman’s timely and motivational “The Grind NEVER Stops, Not Even During a Quarantine” panel and the “Paperfilms’ Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner” which, like the Charlize Theron panel, was a very candid conversation that flowed well and a welcome break from panels that had an abundance of panelists that were less focused (and even ran out of time).
Why do my honorable mentions contain two Jack Kirby themed panels? I think they complement each other, covering different things in each one. “The Annual Jack Kirby Tribute” panel is unique in that it featured Alex Ross, someone that usually doesn’t come to San Diego Comic-Con. It was interesting to hear his views on Kirby. Of course one of the other panelists, Mark Evanier, doesn’t disappoint when it comes to sharing his immense knowledge (and affection) for the King of Comics.
“Decoding the Kirby/Lee Dynamic” is a self evident title but is a panel worth checking out, especially when many fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe are oblivious to Kirby’s contributions to the creation of the characters they know and love and the relationship between him and Stan Lee, whom they’ve gotten to know through his numerous cameos.
I enjoyed the variety of different types of guests and perspectives that were in the “Building a Geek Brand: Surviving a Pandemic” and “Giving a Voice to Independent Creators” panels and Bill Sienkiewicz showing up for a few minutes on “The New Mutants” panel as well as my lingering fanboy of The New Mutants comic book was enough for me to keep it as an honorable mention. Much like I’m crossing my fingers for the return of San Diego Comic-Con in 2021, so too am I keeping them crossed that I’ll be able to watch The New Mutants before the next pandemic.
In conclusion, I wholeheartedly applaud Comic-Con International for the effort they put into curating an interesting mix of panels that we can we enjoy and learn from. And even more so for providing this wealth of content for free – so the general public can get a taste of it. While the diverse range of panels were strong, inconsistency in production value may prohibit the full appreciation of the them.