Wizard World is wobbly this year, except for Stan Lee

The big-box convention returns to Madison September 22 through 24.

Stan Lee in 2008's "The Incredible Hulk."

Stan Lee in 2008's "The Incredible Hulk."

The big box-store of comic book conventions, Wizard World, will be returning to the Alliant Energy Center from September 22 through 24. For the uninitiated, Wizard World is what remains from Wizard Magazine, the bible for 1990s comic book nerds known as much for its particular brand of juvenile humor as for the numerous conflicts of interest that diminished its credibility over the years. In retrospect it may seem obvious that one company shouldn’t try to publish its own comics and a price guide that determines the value of those comics, but they ran that up the flagpole anyway.

It's this particular convention's third stop in Madison in as many years, and as big as the event is, its value proposition for the casual fan changes wildly from one edition to the next. While cons are always fun to wander around at, Wizard World tends to place as much emphasis on wrangling a stable of mid-wattage stars as it does putting together engaging panels, which I've always found to be the best part of the convention experience. There are some legit cool events this year, to be sure, such as "The Incredible Story Of Wisconsin And Comics" and "Batman: The Animated Series At 25!" Everything else, such as "This One Time At Band Camp: A Conversation With Thomas Ian Nicholas" (for anyone who has burning questions to ask the kid from Rookie Of The Year who was also in American Pie?) and "The Klingon Pop Warrior" (songs you thought you knew... sung in the original Klingon!), is clearly a mixed bag of diminishing returns.

And now on to those stars I mentioned earlier. A grip of Joss Whedon-affiliated actors (Juliet Landau, Sean Maher, and Emma Caulfield, who might be emphasizing their non-Whedon experience these days) will be in attendance, exchanging money for autographs and photo opportunities, as will The Walking Dead's Lennie James and WWE® Superstar Becky Lynch™ (intellectual property markings theirs). When it comes to dropping coin on celeb encounters, though, the best bang for your buck this weekend would have clearly been John de Lancie, best known as the character "Q" on numerous Star Trek franchises, but he recently had to cancel. His $40 photo ops would have been the second least expensive to be had, behind only anime (and Aqua Teen Hunger Force?) voice actor Monica Rial. Honestly, I have no idea how the money-for-pics thing goes—like, if you had tried to take a photo with de Lancie while holding a DVD of Multiplicity, would he have charged you more, or taken pity on your poor soul by knocking off a sawbuck or two? Looks like sadly I won't find out this year.

Sadly, so far as I am aware, the Mutt Cutts van from Dumb & Dumber (which stole the show last year) will not be returning for 2017. Two random Jurassic Park jeeps are all that's been announced thus far, but there's still time for Wizard World to sort that out in a sweaty backroom deal with the infamously shaggy conveyance's owner, assuming the organizers have any sense at all.

In lieu of the ridiculous "power rankings" we've done since 2015 for the con's array of sci-fi and fantasy stars, we're going to focus in on the guy who's topping the charts (and commanding a hefty $120 photo op fee): Stan "The Man" Lee. In addition creating and co-creating roughly half of the top-tier characters at Marvel Comics, Lee (born Stanley Martin Lieber) became the public face of the company with his "Stan's Soapbox" column, signing off each entry with a bold "Excelsior!" Head and shoulders above any other silver-age creator insofar as pop-culture cache is concerned, Lee even ended up being used as a plot device in Kevin Smith's 1995 film Mallrats, where he definitively settled an age-old question: "The Thing! Is his dork made out of orange rock like the rest of his body?"

At some point in the filming of the first X-Men film, damn near two decades ago (good lord, has it been that long?!), Lee, who gets exec producer credits on all these movies, landed a cameo as a beachside hot dog vendor and kicked off a long run of background parts in every Marvel movie that's come out since. These little fan-service moments where Lee pops up unexpectedly have become part of the Marvel movie-going experience, as hotly speculated upon as post-credit sequences. He's appeared on screen as everyone from Hugh Hefner to Larry King to a strip club DJ to a "Xandarian Ladies' Man." Check 'em all out here, back to back to back up through last year's Doctor Strange:

Lee is far from a spring chicken, and had to cancel some convention appearances earlier this year due to health problems, so this opportunity to meet him makes it worth going even if large and rather impersonal conventions aren't your thing. This would have possibly been your last chance to get a pic with the both Lee and Lou Ferrigno reenacting their memorable if momentary appearance in Ang Lee's well-intentioned 2003 flop, Hulk, but Ferrigno also cancelled due to a scheduling conflict. Oh, well.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect cancellations in this year's Wizard World lineup.