Your cheat sheet to the cookie-cutter con’s offerings, from Bruce Campbell to the goddamn green Power Ranger.
My experiences growing up as a comic book fan in Charlotte, NC were annually augmented by attending the family-run Heroes Con. At first it was all about getting autographs and scoring as much swag as possible, but as I got older my priorities shifted to the panel discussions, wandering around in “indie island," and maybe scoring a sketch or two along the way. Nowadays I just keep my eyes peeled for any and all sitting-down action figures.
As of this year, Madison has a Con all its own... which is to say it is about as “all our own" as it can get and still be part of the rolling road show cookie-cutter con-monolith that is Wizard World, taking place at the Alliant Energy Center Feb. 6 through 8.
A slight diversion into some backstory because when else will I get to toss around this kind of information: Wizard World started out as Wizard Magazine during the chromium-covered mega-boom in the early '90s. Before the end of that decade, its empire had expanded to include Toyfare (what Wizard was for comics, Toyfare was for... toys) and an in-house imprint of comics called Black Bull Entertainment. But these publications have all since shuttered, and Wizard is in the convention business now. This is the first year that they have gotten around to adding Madison to its schedule of 27 (and growing!) conventions.
If I sound cynical about the whole endeavor, please know that the cons actually offer some pretty awesome substance: Three days bursting to the seams with the craziest costumes, fascinating panel discussions, and bargains galore come Sunday afternoon when dealers slash prices. Still though, the whole notion of a franchised con just seems at least a little lame. Any which way you slice it though, a franchise con beats not having a con at all, so count me in. If you're hungering for less comic-centric yet more homegrown events to nerd out at, don't miss Geek.Kon, Odyssey Con, and Gen Con later this year.
The whole thing kicks off this Friday at 4 p.m. with EVERYTHING & THE KITCHEN SINK: WISCONSIN'S UNDERGROUND COMIX SCENE. Wisconsin has some unexpectedly deep roots in underground comix, which were the subject of a whole exhibit at the Chazen Museum of Art (and later a full book edited by UW's own Jim Danky) a few years back, so despite all my whining about Wizard, they did it up right kicking things off and paying their respects to the underground miscreants of Kitchen Sink Press. If all you think of when you think of a comic convention is low-level pop culture “stars" over-charging for autographs, then check out the list of programming set to unwind across the weekend, which I have to admit offers a little something for most nerdly walks of life.
Here some of the pop-culture highlights from the list of “Special Guests" who will be in attendance this year, ranked in a thoroughly unscientific and proudly subjective manner loosely based on the credits that Wizard World attached to them. If I didn't mention someone, then they were either or “sub-Green Ranger" quality, or they're simply on a TV show I don't watch.
Bruce Campbell (Army Of Darkness; Evil Dead; Burn Notice; Spider-Man; My Name is Bruce; Xena; Hercules)
The man is a cottage industry in and of and to himself and we, as a society, are better for it. On Saturday at 3:45, you can check out BRUCE CAMPBELL VERSUS THE AUDIENCE, which I sincerely have no doubt will be one of the highlights of the whole con, as well as one of the toughest seats to score. So get there early if you have a burning question you want to ask the man and don't mind the possibility of him being a smart-ass about it. I'm sure he'll happily sign any one of the 37 different versions of Army Of Darkness that have been released thus far.
William Shatner (Star Trek; T.J. Hooker; Boston Legal)
If I was introducing this guy, I could say “...you know him, and you love him..." and then bring him up, and literally everyone would know him and they would also sincerely love him. This is a dude that could make endless late-night commercials for dubious lawyers and we'd still be in his corner. He's that good. True Trek fans likely ventured to Chicago last September for the big reunion (captured on video by a fan bemoaning the absence of Whoopi in the description), so this might not be as big a draw as it could've been, but the dude is Old School Hollywood and seriously, who wouldn't want a photo with TJ Hooker? You can find him on Saturday at 12:4 5pm for BOLDLY GOING WITH WILLIAM SHATNER and get some inside stories on what Sulu smelled like, or whatever stone it is that somehow has yet to be overturned regarding Star Trek.
Edward James Olmos (Battlestar Galactica, Blade Runner, Stand And Deliver)
On Saturday at noon you can attend a half-hour-long something-or-other called SO SAY WE ALL WITH EDWARD JAMES OLMOS. No clue what that is past the obvious Battlestar reference, but they're leaving money on the table by not having the guy lead an origami workshop instead. It's a free pickup line for any lonely geek out there: “Here let me make you a unicorn. Yeah, EDWARD JAMES OLMOS taught me. Oh, you love Blade Runner too?"
George Wendt (Cheers; Buzzy's; Saturday Night Live)
I get that the dude was in a handful of classic SNL sketches but, given the chance, I would've made sure to highlight his role in Stuart Gordon's 1996 fluorescent sci-fi film Space Truckers, where (spoiler) Wendt gets sucked ass-first out a window into the all-consuming inky blackness of space. On Saturday at 11:30am he'll be available for a session titled WHERE EVERYBODY KNOWS YOUR NAME WITH GEORGE WENDT, where you can ask him what his favorite beer is and any other Cheers-related questions he's sick of by now (probably all Cheers-related questions?). I'll be the guy asking him what it was like to play Santa on Christmas specials from Stephen Colbert AND Larry The Cable Guy.
Michael Rooker (Guardians Of The Galaxy; The Walking Dead; Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer; Cliffhanger)
How can you, in good conscience, run a comic book convention and leave out the fact that Michael Rooker was in Mallrats? Inexcusable. Props for dropping Henry and Cliffhanger into the mix, but it's a glaring omission. Jay Mewes will be there, and everything! Get it together, Wizard World.
Phil Ortiz (The Simpsons; He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe; Muppet Babies; The Chipmunks; Smurfs)
Sure, you can pay him to draw a picture of you like you're in The Simpsons or as He-Man or as a Smurf or whatever, but if you really wanna blow some minds, get him to draw you a picture of Nanny from the shoulders up.
Eliza Dushku (Buffy The Vampire Slayer; Angel; True Lies; Bring It On; Dollhouse; Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back)
Only four of the folks who made the cut to be included as a “Special Guest" are women (five, if you want to count BOTH of the WWE® Divas The Bella Twins™). Sure, there's Christian Serratos (The Walking Dead, Twilight Saga) and Kristin Bauer (True Blood), but only one of the ladies on the bill this weekend brings together the Joss Whedonverse (Buffy, Angel, Dollhouse) and whatever we're calling the movies of Kevin Smith now, to say nothing about her roles in True Lies and Bring It On. In the con's defense, Emily Kinney (The Walking Dead) and Elvira (...Mistress Of The Dark) both had to cancel, so the original ratio wasn't going to be so dire. Anyway, on Sunday at 1:30pm she'll be holding court at KEEPING THE FAITH WITH ELIZA DUSHKU, which the Wizard World site promises will be “up-close," whatever that means.
Billy Dee Williams (Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back; Batman; Brian's Song)
Oh man, I want to meet and shake the hand of the person who's coming to the comic con this weekend because they will get to meet the dude from Brian's Song. Call me crazy (and you will) but Tommy Lee Jones was the best Two-Face. I know that's crazy talk and I can hardly believe myself having thought the words and then typed them out for all to see, but here we are and I still can't think of anyone else cast so hard against type and just going full throttle balls to the wall about it. That said, Billy Dee Williams was the best “Harvey Dent" and I think we all know that in our very bones. The douchebag part of me wants to find out if he'll sign a can of Colt .45, but I'll restrain myself since we've all made mistakes in our lives... even Lando Calrissian. Find him on Sunday at 12:45 pm for the jauntily titled BACK FROM CLOUD CITY WITH BILLY DEE WILLIAMS.
Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters; Oz; Heroes; Law & Order; Desperate Housewives; St. Elsewhere)
Docking this dude significant points for recent comments, since semi-recanted (and poorly at that), on the topic of the new female Ghostbusters cast. Tempted to bump him down below Mewes and The Green Ranger, but he was on Oz, so I'm gonna give him a slight bump to keep him near the middle of the pack.
Rob Liefeld (Creator / Writer / Artist: Deadpool; Cable; X-Force; Youngblood; Prophet; Supreme)
On the one hand, he created Deadpool and Cable. On the other hand, the second hit on a Google search for his name is a list of The 40 Worst Rob Liefeld Drawings (which was followed up by a sequel). On Friday at 5 pm you can probably find him at the SPOTLIGHT ON ROB LIEFELD event, if you're looking for him for some reason or other.
Jason Mewes (Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back; Clerks; Clerks II; Mallrats)
Mallrats finally makes an appearance in someone's credits! I have no idea what Jay has in store for JASON MEWES' SECRET STASH but I can tell you that it will only last for a half hour and starts at 4:20pm (LOL, the weed-time, you guys) on Saturday, so... what more do I really need to say?
Jason David Frank (Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers)
I'm calling bullshit on the whole post-irony Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers appreciation thing. It was a cultural touchstone for all of us, but when you get down to it, it was just something that we all had to watch between Eeek The Cat and the X-Men cartoon. Eventually Stockholm Syndrome took hold and we all convinced ourselves that there was maybe something charming about this otherwise terrible show. Bulk & Skull, now those two would be a real get. On Saturday at 11 am Jason David Frank, aka the Green Ranger, has a meet and greet you can buy your way into, but a couple of hours later at 1pm he'll be available (at a greater distance, surely) for MY MORPHIN' LIFE WITH POWER RANGER: JASON DAVID FRANK. On Sunday at 11:30 is another paid meet and greet, followed at 1:30 pm by THE GREEN POWER RANGER HALF-HOUR OF POWER where kids of all ages can get a karate class from The Green Ranger.
Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk; The King Of Queens; Hercules)
Don't ask me why, but very recently I was binging on episodes of “Sports Show with Norm Macdonald" and lo and behold, up pops Lou Ferrigno. I dunno. If you've been to any sort of comic book convention, you've seen Lou Ferrigno. Nothing much to see here. Say hi, be nice, and above all, speak up.