By Darren Franich
July 25, 2011 at 09:53 PM EDT

Comic-Con has by now evolved into an event so infinitely multi-sided that it almost seems wrong to characterize it as “an event.” It’s more like a mini-metropolis that appears every year to briefly conquer a few square blocks in downtown San Diego; a Brigadoon of hucksterism, Burning Man with a PG-13 rating. At this year’s Comic-Con, you might have spent an entire day sitting in Hall H watching panels about all the movies that will thrill or disappoint you next year; you might have sought out autographs from your favorite A-list comic book creators and C-list celebrities; you might have brought in your own artwork or story ideas for one of the convention’s many workshops; or you might have just spent an entire day perusing the back-issue stacks, searching in vain for a mint edition copy of What If? Vol. 1 #14 (which asked the immortal question, “What If Sgt. Fury had Fought World War II in Outer Space?”)

So keep in mind that the following list of best, worst, and most intriguing things we saw at Comic-Con are entirely subjective, and lean towards larger Hollywood-centric productions. (Somewhere, someone is currently writing “Comic-Con 2011: Great Moments in Steampunk” for Steampunk-tertainment Weekly. That list is just as valid as this one, and also probably features more robots who run on turbine technology.) Feel free to add your own personal awards in the comment boards, and be sure to check out the next issue of EW, on stands this Friday, for a complete Comic-Con wrap-up.

Most Essential Single Piece of Swag: The Mockingjay pin

Handed out by Lionsgate in honor of next year’s film adaptation of The Hunger Games, and utterly inescapable by Saturday.

Most Popular New Costume: Finn, the adolescent action hero of Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time

The character’s blue T-shirt and white hat were worn by people of all ages and genders (including one of the contestants in EW’s first annual Nathan Fillion trivia challenge).

Guillermo Del Toro Memorial Award for Most Projects Announced in a Single Panel: The Robert Rodriguez Geek-Tastic Movie Orgy

Rodriguez announced a whole laundry list of geek-friendly projects at his panel, including a multi-filmmaker remake of Heavy Metal, an adaptation of Frank Frazetta’s Fire & Ice, a sequel to Sin City, and two sequels to Machete — one of which will be set in space.

Best Comic-Con Sideshow: The South Park mini-town

If you swung by at the right time on Friday, you might have witnessed a pair of adolescent brothers mumbling four-letter-words at each other into microphones while attempting to psych each other out during a South Park trivia contest. Maybe you think South Park sets a bad example for children; maybe you just enjoy watching stupid kids swear at each other. Either way, the cheesy poofs were tasty.

Most Intriguing Advertising for a Sequel No One was Asking For: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

How do you sell a sequel to a five-year old mediocre superhero film, featuring a star who’s become notorious for his bad behavior and a messy run of cinematic flops? Columbia Pictures faced just that problem with next year’s Ghost Rider film. Solution: Give the film a non-sequely title like Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, and set up massive advertisements (including multi-story posters hanging on the Hard Rock hotel, across from Comic-Con) that pointedly do not feature star Nicolas Cage’s face. Throw in the fact that the posters (above) looked like something off an ’80s speed-metal album cover — not to mention reports from the Ghost Rider panel that the reboot will feature the motorcycle demon urinating fire — and you’ve officially piqued the interest of a nation of skeptics.

Least Intriguing Advertising for a Sequel No One was Asking For: Underworld: Evolution

The omnipresent ads for the fourth film in a series which, had it started a few years later, would have probably been titled Vampires vs. Werewolve, presented a no-frills shot of series star Kate Beckinsale, plus a single promise/threat: “In 3D.” We remain skeptical.

Best Redefinition of “Non-Attendance”: The Avengers‘ soft media blitz

After all the talk about how next year’s superhero mega-spinoff was skipping Comic-Con, Marvel managed to keep the film at the forefront of everyone’s mind. First, there was the Captain America Day 1 preview screenings, which ended with an Avengers teaser that leaked suspiciously in time to dominate early convention conversation. Then came the Day 2 release of character-centric posters, not to mention the massive S.H.I.E.L.D. set in the middle of the convention floor.

Word of the Con, 2011: “Reboot”

DC is restarting all their main titles with a companywide bit of throat-clearing called “The New 52.” Columbia’s The Amazing Spider-Man and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance are both attempting to restart franchises — Amazing by pushing the story back to high school, Spirit by sending the character to Eastern Europe. Also at Comic-Con 2011: A new version of Thundercats, the return of MTV’s ’90s jerks Beavis & Butthead, and the distant rumbling of 2013’s Man of Steel.

Surprisingly Frequent Topic of Conversation that Seemed Outdated Just One Week Ago: Jurassic Park

First, the complete pilot episode of the upcoming midseason replacement Terra Nova aired in front of a packed crowd. With its lush vision of man-eating dinosaurs marauding through a gorgeously green tropical climate, the general fan reaction was to compare Nova to that other Steven Spielberg dinosaur project. Then, apropos of nothing, first-time Comic-Con attendee Spielberg chattily mentioned during the Tintin panel that he foresaw Jurassic Park IV going into production in the next few years. Finally, original Park star Sam Neill stole every one of his scenes in the Alcatraz pilot. Considering the recent success of reunion-tour sequels (Die Hard 4, Indiana Jones 4), could the long-developed Jurassic fourquel actually ride a wave of Dinostalgia into theaters?

Best Legal Substitute for Hallucinogenics: The Marvel vs. Capcom 3 playing area.

If you stayed for too long, the whole world would literally dissolve into abstract colors and loud sound effects.

Question That Steadfastly Refuses to be Answered: What in god’s name is Prometheus?

The creators and cast of the upcoming Alien prequel/sequel/maybe non-quel played coy about the film’s plotline, turning the Prometheus panel into something that sounded a little bit like a college philosophy course.

Best Substitute for Actual Prometheus Plot Revelations: Charlize Theron and “naked push-ups.”

The Prometheus panel did reveal that Theron will be exercising in the nude. Well, okay, they didn’t cover that in college philosophy.

Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich