By FILMCRITHULK
Updated July 14, 2012 at 08:37 PM EDT
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AS HULK JOURNEYS TOWARD THE CONVENTION CENTER ITSELF, HULK LOOKS UP AT THE MARRIOT WHICH HAS TWO GIGANTIC SCREEN ADVERTISEMENTS OVER THE SIDE OF THE TOWERS. LOOKING AROUND THE CITY, THESE KINDS OF ADS ARE EVERYWHERE, TAKING UP THE ENTIRE SIDES OF SKYSCRAPERS… IT’S LIKE THE CITY ITSELF IS COSPLAYING.

HULK ARRIVES TO THE BACK OF THE LINE IN THE MIDST OF CHAOS AND ONE OF THE BIGGEST SURPRISES IS THAT LINE SYSTEM WORKS PRETTY DAMN WELL. THE VOLUNTEERS AND SECURITY ARE ON THEIR GAME. THEY DIRECT PEOPLE WITH CARE AND KNOW-HOW. AND THERE IS NO DOUBTING THAT THE SECURITY ALONG THE STREET IS RAMPED UP AFTER A TRAGIC ACCIDENT A FEW DAYS PRIOR IN WHICH A WOMAN RAN ACROSS THE STREET NOT TO LOSE HER PLACE IN THE TWILIGHT LINE AND WAS STRUCK BY A CAR AND KILLED. THESE ARE THE KINDS OF THINGS A CONVENTION TAKES WITH THE APPROPRIATE AMOUNT OF SERIOUSNESS, AND EVERYONE SEEMS IN CONTROL AS A RESULT.

AS HULK RALLIES OUTSIDE BEFORE HEADING IN THERE IS A SURE-FIRE SIGN OF GOODNESS. WHO ELSE BUT LOU FERRIGNO WALKS RIGHT IN. FOR THOSE WHO DON’T KNOW, MR. FERRIGNO PLAYED THE INCREDIBLE HULK IN THE LATE 70’S/EARLY 80’S TV SHOW OF THE SAME NAME AND IS AN ENDEARING FIGURE IN THE LAND OF COMIC-CON CULTURE. AND HE’S STILL IN GREAT SHAPE!

HULK THEN ENTERS THE FLOOR — ONE OF THE ONLY PLACES ON THE PLANET WHERE A 12 FOOT TALL GREEN HULK DOESN’T REALLY STAND OUT.

THE CONVENTION FLOOR IS MASSIVE. WE’RE TALKING HALF A MILLION SQUARE FEET. AND THE VENDORS AND EXHIBITORS SEEMS TO FILL EVERY LAST INCH OF IT. HULK DOES THE LOGICAL THING AND STARTS AT THE NON-BUSY END (A.K.A. THE CLOSER END). THERE ARE A LITANY OF YOUR STANDARD POSTERS. COLLECTIBLES. TOWERING RACKS OF T-SHIRTS.

A WOMAN NAMED ANNE ELIZABETH SIGNS BOOKS FOR A SERIES OF BOOKS CALLED PULSE OF POWER. NEARBY A LARGE CHESTED WOMAN OFFERS CANDY AND BUTTONS AS AN ATTEMPT TO LURE PEOPLE TO SAID SIGNING.

TO THE RIGHT, A GIANT RED POWER RANGER STATUE STANDS LIKE THE GREAT COLOSSUS OF RHODES. BUT INSTEAD OF ANYTHING GOING THROUGH IT’S LEGS, THERE’S JUST A BIG “POWER RANGERS 20” SIGN… HULK DOESN’T KNOW WHAT THIS MEANS AND ISN’T REALLY CURIOUS ENOUGH TO GOOGLE IT. LET’S ASSUME IT’S THE 20TH ANNIVERSARY? GOD, HULK REMEMBER BABYSITTING KIDS WHO WATCHED THAT.

HULK COMES AROUND THE BEND AND FINDS THE BIG MONDO BOOTH. YOU CAN TELL IT’S A MONDO BOOTH BECAUSE THERE IS A SNAKING LINE THAT IS SO LONG IT’S CAUSING A BIT OF A COMMOTION WITH THE SECURITY GUARDS. THEY EVENTUALLY SETTLE ON HAVING SOMEONE STAND WITH A BIG SIGN THAT SAYS “END OF THE LINE” … IT’S SAFE TO SAY THAT PEOPLE DIG THEIR MONDO. HULK SEES HULK’S FRIEND MO WORKING BEHIND THE TABLE AND DESPITE THE INSANITY, HE TAKES A MOMENT TO SAY HELLO BEFORE GOING BACK TO RAVENOUS EMBRACE OF THE MASSIVE LINE OF COSTUMERS. HULK WALKS UP TO A PATRON NEAR THE BACK OF THE LINE.

HULK: “WHAT IS IT ABOUT MONDO POSTERS?”

PERSON: “Uhh, look at them.”… SIMPLICITY WINS OUT.

A GUY COMES OVER AND STANDS NEXT TO HULK IN A WAY-TOO-CLOSE-FOR-COMFORT SORT OF WAY. HE IS WEARING A GIANT 1989 BATMAN HOODIE WITH THE HOOD PULLED OVER HIS EYES, EYE-HOLES CUT OUT, AND LITTLE BATMAN EARS MADE OUT OF CONSTRUCTION PAPER TAPED TO HIS HOOD. ONE IS KIND OF FALLING OFF.

HULK: “HI. I’M HULK.”

BATMAN GUY: [IN BALE’S BATMAN VOICE] “What are you staring at?”

HE SEEMED TO BE PLAYING. HULK SHRUGGED AND HE WENT ABOUT HIS BUSINESS.

AT THIS POINT, IT ALSO BECOMES PRETTY CLEAR THAT ADVENTURE TIME IS THE COOLEST, MOST PREVALENT THING AT THE CON. MOST PEOPLE ARE WEARING FINN HATS. THIS DELIGHTS HULK BECAUSE ADVENTURE TIME IS AWESOME AND WORTHY OF EVERYONE’S ATTENTION AND PRAISE. AS FAR AS HAT-WEAR GOES POKEMON IS ADMITTEDLY A CLOSE SECOND.

THE NEXT GIANT LINE IS FOR PEOPLE WHO WANT A PICTURE WITH SNOOPY FROM PEANUTS. IT’S NOT THE REAL SNOOPY, BUT SOMEONE IN A COSTUME. YEAH. HULK WAS JUST AS DISAPPOINTED.

HULK THEN PASSES BY THE ONI PRESS BOOTH WHERE THE COPIES OF SCOTT PILGRIM IN COLOR ARE SELLING FAST. HULK TAKES A SECOND TO TALK TO A TWITTER AQUAINTENCE AND EDITOR AT ONI BY NAME OF CHARLIE CHU. WE CHAT ABOUT THE NATURE OF THEIR WORK. HOW THEY SEEM TO EXPLORE THE ENTERPRISING NATURE OF IDEAS AND NOT SIMPLY LOOKING FOR PROVEN FORMULAS. HE OUTLINES A FEW FUTURE PROJECTS THAT HAVE HIM EXCITED. HULK THEN MEETS THE WRITER OF PETROGRAD, A BOOK HULK’S READ BEFORE AND LIKED A GOOD DEAL, THOUGH PLEASE UNDERSTAND HULK HAS AN EXTENSIVE ACADEMIC BACKGROUND IN RUSSIAN HISTORY (AMONG OTHER CRAP) SO HULK MIGHT BE PARTIAL. BUT WHATEVER, THE BOOK IS GOOD.

HULK MOVES ACROSS THE WAY AND WALKS BY BLAIR BUTLER GOING COVERAGE FOR G4. BLAIR IS ALWAYS REMARKABLY FUNNY AND QUICK WITTED, BUT SADLY CAN’T HEAR A DANG THING SHE IS SAYING IN ALL THE COMMOTION. SHE JUST MAKES A PURPOSEFULLY-AWKWARD SHOWROOM SMILE AND GLIDES HER HAND OVER WHATEVER OBJECT SHE IS TALKING ABOUT.

HULK MOVES ALONG AND COMES ACROSS THE BOOTH FOR UGLYDOLLS. AT THIS POINT HULK NOTES THAT THERE’S SOMETHING WEIRD ABOUT ALL PEOPLE RUNNING UP TO THE GIANT UGLYDOLLS AND GIVING HUGS THEM GIANT HUGS (REMEMBER THIS FOR LATER).

HULK THEN HAPPENS UPON A MOST UNFORTUNATE CIRCUMSTANCE. SARA JEAN UNDERWOOD, A POPULAR G4 CORRESPONDENT ON “ATTACK OF THE SHOW” AND FORMER PLAYBOY PLAYMATE IS STANDING IN THE MIDDLE OF THIS WEIRD BOOTH WITH SLIGHTLY-ELEVATED STAGE. SHE IS “PLAYING” A GUITAR AND SHOUTING SOMETHING INDISCERNIBLE THAT SOUNDS KIND OF LIKE SINGING. HULK APPROACHES AS A THRONG OF ABOUT 30 MEN ARE SURROUNDING HER AND CHEERING HER ON AS SHE “PLAYS” ALONG TO MUSIC. IT’S HONESTLY SO LOW VOLUME THAT HULK CAN’T REALLY TELL WHAT IS BEING SUNG AGAINST THE LOUD HARSHNESS OF THE COMIC-CON FLOOR, BUT THE SCENE IS JUST BIZARRE. THE MEN ARE SCREAMING, ENTRANCED, LECHEROUS. THEY ARE ALL REACHING OUT TOWARD HER. THE AVERAGE AGE SEEMS TO BE ABOUT 35-40… IT’S CREEPY. WHEN SHE FINISHES WHATEVER IT IS SHE’S DOING SOME HANDLERS/BOUNCER TYPE PEOPLE BRING HER DOWN FROM THE SLIGHTLY-ELEVATED PLATFORM AND… RIGHT INTO THE CROWD. AND THE PAWING GETS A LITTLE TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT AND SARA SWITCHES FROM CONFIDENT-ROCKING TO NOTICEABLY-THREATENED. ONE REALLY STRANGE GUY WHO HONESTLY LOOKS LIKE WILL FERRELL IN OLD AGE MAKE-UP COMPLETE WITH LONG, GRAY COMB-OVER LOOKS PARTICULARLY PROBLEMATIC. AND NOT BECAUSE HE’S OLD AND CREEPY, BUT BECAUSE HE CLEARLY HAS “MURDER EYES” AND HULK-SWEARS-TO-GOD HE KEEPS HOLDING HIS ARM OUT AT CHOKE-LEVEL LIKE HE’S GONNA GO FOR IT… IT WAS UNNERVING. AND THEN THANKFULLY, SARA WAS BRISKLY ESCORTED AWAY, SOMEWHAT FEARFUL.

… SO… THERE’S ALL SORTS OF IMPLICATIONS TO TALK ABOUT HERE. THE FIRST IS THAT THIS EXEMPLARY OF THE DARK UNDERBELLY OF NERD CULTURE. THE LECHEROUSNESS HANGS IN THE AIR. SO MANY LADIES ARE EXPECTED TO CATER TO THIS AND IT MAKES THINGS EVEN MORE DIFFICULT FOR THE ONES WHO DON’T. THERE IS A REAL DICHOTOMY TO IT AND THIS BINARY APPROACH TO GENDER IN THE REALM OF “NERD COVERAGE” IS TROUBLE FOR HULK. AND SARA JEAN UNDERWOOD IS RATHER REPRESENTATIVE OF A NUMBER OF WOMEN WHO HAVE CROSSED CAREERS INTO “THE NERD ZONE” TO MAKE A BLATANT SEXUALIZATION OF THAT ARENA. IT SPARKS MUCH DISCUSSION, BUT HULK FIND THE WHOLE THING TO BE PAINFULLY GROSS AND YET RIFE WITH A KIND OF OBVIOUSNESS THAT ISN’T REALLY SURPRISING. IT’S JUST A BAD MUTUAL CONSTRUCT OF TWO BAD BEHAVIORS FEEDING THEMSELVES. STILL, IF “GEEK” CULTURE IS SUPPOSEDLY DEFINED BY IT’S UNDERSTANDING AND INTELLIGENCE THEN HULK FIND THIS KIND OF INSIDIOUS LEERING, WHETHER SUPPOSEDLY “BROUGHT ON” OR NOT, TO BE UNBECOMING. THE FAULT CAN NEVER LIE WITH THE LEERED AT. IT WOULD BE HORRIBLE TO IMPLY ANYTHING ELSE… BUT WE’LL GET TO MORE OF THIS DYNAMIC LATER.

IMMEDIATELY MAKING UP FOR THIS BAD SITUATION IS THAT WHEN HULK TURNS THE CORNER AND FINDS THE MOST ADORABLE BABY OF ALL TIME DRESSED UP AS THE 11TH DOCTOR… COMPLETE WITH FEZ… THESE TWO MOMENTS ARE THE HIGHS AND LOWS OF COMIC-CON IN A NUTSHELL.

BUT IN GENERAL THERE LESS COSTUMES THEN HULK THOUGHT THERE WAS GOING TO BE. HULK ASKS THE MOTHER OF LIL 11TH DOCTOR (SHE HERSELF DRESSED IN A BLUE DRESS WITH A BELT THAT SAYS “POLICE BOX”) ABOUT THIS AND SHE REMARKS THAT PREVIEW NIGHT IS ALWAYS A LIGHT DAY FOR COSTUMES AND TOMORROW WILL BE DIFFERENT (SHE WILL BE VERY RIGHT).

HULK STARTS GETTING TOWARD THE SOUTH SIDE OF THE CON WHICH IS PRETTY MUCH THE MOST CROWDED PLACE ON THE PLANET. IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO MOVE QUICKLY. EVEN FOR BIG GIANT HULKS WHO CAN BOWL PEOPLE OVER. HULK JUST NOT TRYING TO STEP ON ANYONE.

JUST THEN TWO ASIAN BOYS RUN UP TO EACH OTHER IN FRONT OF HULK AND SHOUT “The Internets is in the house!!!!” AND START HUGGING. HULK DOESN’T WANT TO KNOW THE CONTEXT BECAUSE IT IS AWESOME JUST LIKE THAT.

AVENGERS SHIT IS BASICALLY EVERYWHERE. THERE’S A WHOLE BUNCH OF MODELS. POSTERS. EVEN UPPER DECK AVENGERS TRADING CARDS. AVENGERS. AVENGERS. AVENGERS. AS A GREAT LITTLE GREEN THING NAMED YOGHURT ONCE SAID “MERCHANDISING! MERCHANDISING! MERCHANDISING!”

AT ONE POINT HULK MAKES WAY BACK TO NORTH SIDE OF THE CON AND DISCOVERS SOME PRODUCT THAT IS VERY INTERESTING. THEY ARE CALLED NECOMIMI AND THEY ARE LIKE CAT EARS YOU PUT ON YOUR HEAD AND THERE IS THIS BLINKING BLUE LIGHT AND SUPPOSEDLY THE EARS RESPOND TO YOUR BRAIN WAVES. SO ANY TIME YOU THINK THEY SUPPOSEDLY RESPOND AND “SHOW WHAT YOU ARE THINKING.”… PEOPLE HAVE BOUGHT THESE… THEY ARE WALKING AROUND THE FLOOR WITH THEM ALL OVER THE PLACE… HULK HAS TWO GENERAL OBSERVATIONS:

1) THIS IS PRETTY MUCH THE PLOT OF TWO DIFFERENT THINGS. THE FIRST IS THE JOSIE IN THE PUSSYCATS MOVIE WHERE THE MOVIEFONE GUY USED THESE CAT EARS TO BEAM SUBLIMINAL PRO-CAPITALIST MESSAGES INTO THE BRAINS OF TEENAGERS. A SIMILAR THING WAS ALSO AN EPISODE OF DOCTOR WHO WHERE IN A SEPARATE UNIVERSE EVERYONE WEARS SIMILAR THINGS TO PLUG DIRECTLY INTO THIS SATELLITE MEDIA AND IT ALSO COMES TO CONTROL THEIR BRAIN… OR WAIT WAS IT A CYBERMEN PLOT? THESE KINDS OF QUESTIONS KEEP HULK UP NIGHT.

2) OF THE PEOPLE WHO ARE WEARING THE NECOMIMI ON THE FLOOR THERE DOESN’T SEEM TO BE MUCH BRAIN ACTIVITY CAUSE THE EARS ARE DEFINITELY NOT MOVING.

RIGHT AT THE MOMENT THAT HULK THINKS THIS UNCHARACTERISTICALLY MEAN THOUGHT, A PERSON HACKS THIS GIANT COUGH RIGHT ON HULK. THIS IS UNNERVING BECAUSE EVEN THOUGH HULK’S ARE BIG AND STRONG THEY CAN STILL GET SICK LIKE PUNY HUMANS. AND THIS GUY IS NOT ALONE. THERE HAVE BEEN LIKE 14 GUYS WITH HACKING COUGHS AND THEY ALL LOOK LIKE CARL FROM AQUA TEEN HUNGER FORCE.

IT IS ALSO AT THIS POINT THAT HULK REALIZES THAT HULK GOT SO LOST IN THE BIZARRE ALLURE OF THE FLOOR THAT HULK TOTALLY MISSED SOMETHING ON PREVIEW NIGHT THAT HULK WANTED TO SEE (THIS WILL ALSO BECOME A RUNNING THEME). SO HULK KEEPS FLOOR-ING IT… HULK WILL STOP TRYING TO MAKE BAD PUNS NOW.

HULK TURNS AND ENCOUNTERS SOMETHING THAT SEEMS STRANGE. THE STRANGENESS TAKES THE FORM OF “THE WINNER TWINS” AND THEY ARE AUTHORS SIGNING THEIR BOOKS. THE WINNER TWINS ARE ALSO LIKE 13 OR SOMETHING. IT SORT OF HARD TO GUESS, BUT HULK DOESN’T WANT TO BE THE WEIRD ONE WHO GOES UP IN FRONT OF THEIR HANDLERS AND ASK “HEY, HOW OLD ARE YOU?” IN HULK’S EXPERIENCE THAT ALWAYS GOES POORLY. THE POINT IS THEY ARE TEEN AUTHORS AND THEY ARE SIGNING THEIR SCI FI BOOKS (THEY’VE WRITTEN A FEW) AND THEY WORK THE SMALL GROUP OF PEOPLE IN FRONT OF THEM BETTER THAN ANY OTHER PERSON BEHIND A BOOTH THAT HULK HAS SEEN TONIGHT. SERIOUSLY, THEIR POLISHED PROFESSIONALISM IS DISTURBING. THEY KNOW HOW TO CUT RIGHT TO ESSENCE OF EVERYONE WITH LASER LIKE FOCUS… THEY MUST HAVE SUPERPOWERS OR SOMETHING? HEY, MORE POWER TOO THEM.

HULK THEN MAKES WAY OVER TO WHAT IS PRESUMABLY THE EXACT OPPOSITE THE WINNER TWINS AND THAT IS A STAND SELLING THE COMIC TITLED WHORE. THERE IS A BIG POSTER BEHIND THE AUTHOR WHICH HAS A PICTURE OF SOME BLONDE HANDSOME GUY SITTING IN AN EXPENSIVE CHAIR WITH TWO NAKED-BUT-SOMEHOW-COVERED WOMEN TO THE SIDES OF HIM. THE AUTHOR TALKS TO TWO BEFUDDLED WOMEN STANDING IN FRONT OF HIM: “My wife doesn’t like my work, but that’s how I know it’s working!” … HULK HAS NO IDEA WHAT TO DO WITH THIS STATEMENT. NOT ONLY IS IT EVERY KIND OF WRONG HEADED, IT JUST SO GETS TO THE CORE THE EARLIER “SARA JEAN UNDERWOOD INCIDENT” (WHICH WILL NOW JUST BE REFERRED TO AS THE SJUI) THAT HULK REFERENCED EARLIER.

THERE IS SOMETHING JUST SO INSIDIOUS ABOUT ALL OF IT. IT’S NOT THAT HULK ISN’T AGAINST SEXUALIZATION, IN FACT IT’S QUITE THE OPPOSITE. HULK FINDS THE MORALLY OFFENDED SHOCK AT NUDITY IN FILMS AND COMICS TO BE REPREHENSIBLE. THIS IS A QUESTION OF TONE, PORTRAYAL, AND PURPOSE. THERE IS THIS REAL PROBLEM IN NERD CULTURE WHERE “THE PORNOGRAPHIC” INCLINATION HAS SEEPED SO STEADILY INTO THE BASIC FUNCTIONALITY OF GENRE AND COMICS THAT THERE IS NO ROOM FOR SEPARATION BETWEEN “THE SEXUAL” AND “THE NORMAL.” EVERYTHING IS SEXUALIZED. THERE’S NO CONTEXT FOR SEXUALITY. IT IS AN EXPECTED, OBLIGATORY ACTION. AN OBVIOUS GRATIFICATION. IT’S LOVINGLY CALLED “FAN SERVICE,” WHICH IS A TERM THAT IS FILLED WITH EVERY HORRIBLE IMPLICATION OF BEING SERVED. AND IN THIS HULK’S OPINION IT IS THIS ENTIRE APPROACH TO OBLIGATORY SEXUALITY THAT RESULTS IN A GROUP OF GROWN-ASS MEN LEERING AT A WOMAN FAKE-PLAYING THE GUITAR. IN THEIR MINDS, WHY SHOULDN’T THEY? IT’S FAN SERVICE! AND ONE READ THROUGH OF WHORE DOESN’T SEEM TO RAISE ANY IDEA TO THE CONTRARY.

IT IS AFTER THIS THAT HULK REALIZES THAT IT’S TIME TO MOSEY ON OVER FOR A PROPER ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY MEETING, SO HULK STARTS MOSEYING.

AS HULK EXITS HULK LOOKS OVER AND SEES GOOD OLE’ LOU FERRIGNO SIGNING FOR A GROUP OF PEOPLE IN FRONT OF HIS BOOTH. IS IT PURE KARMA THAT HE IS THE FIRST AND LAST PERSON HULK SAW THAT DAY ON THE COMIC-CON FLOOR? THIS BIT OF SERENDIPITY JUST MAKES TOO MUCH SENSE. LOU SUDDENLY LOOKS UP AND MAKES EYE CONTACT. WE BOTH NOD.

HULKS JUST GOT TO STICK TOGETHER.

***

HULK EMERGES INTO A BEAUTIFUL SAN DIEGO NIGHT.

TO THOSE WHO ASSUME SAN DIEGO IS PRETTY MUCH IDENTICAL TO LOS ANGELES IN THAT THEY ARE BOTH ARID, SO-CAL COAST-LINE CITIES THAT WERE SETTLED BY THE SPANISH, THE TRUTH IS THEY ARE ACTUALLY QUITE DIFFERENT. FOR ONE, SAN DIEGO IS A TRUE BEACH TOWN. NOT JUST IN TERMS OF THE WARMER WATERS (THE OXNARD/MALIBU MINI-TRIANGULAR-PENINSULA THING, BUT IN THE WAY THAT IT SEEMS TO DOMINATE THE CULTURE AND COASTLINE. NOTE THE WAY ALL THE SHOPS AND BUSINESS SEEM TO CATER TO THE BEACH CROWD. EVEN GOING AS FAR IN AS THE BUSINESSES AND RESTAURANTS OF GASLAMP DISTRICT, YOU CAN FEEL THE COASTAL INFLUENCE EVERYWHERE. WHICH MAKES ALL THE MORE SENSE FOR THE WAY THE BIGGEST TOURIST HIGHLIGHTS OF THE CITY INCLUDE THEIR GLOBALLY-FAMOUS ZOO AND THE BIGGEST SEAWORLD ON THE PLANET (HOME OF SHAMU!).

THE OTHER DECIDEDLY DIFFERENT FACTOR IS THE WAY THE MILITARY PRESENCE HANGS OVER THE CITY. NAVAL BASE SAN DIEGO IS THE MAIN PORT FOR THE UNITED STATES’ PACIFIC FLEET. THIS IS NO SMALL CHARGE. AND AS E.W. READER “DAVE” POINTED OUT IN THE PREVIOUS COLUMN, SAN DIEGO GETS IT’S NICKNAME “AMERICA’S FINEST CITY” BECAUSE IT IS HOME TO SO MANY PEOPLE ACTIVE IN THE NAVY/MILITARY A.K.A. “AMERICA’S FINEST.” THIS MAKES SO MUCH SENSE.

MAKING SAN DIEGO EVEN MORE INTERESTING IS THE UNITED STATES BORDER AND TIJUANA BEING JUST ON THE OTHER SIDE. DEPENDING ON THE POLITICAL STATE OF DRUG VIOLENCE HAS FOREVER ALTERNATED THROUGHOUT HISTORY BETWEEN BEING A WONDERFUL GATEWAY TO FUN DOWN MEXICO WAY OR ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT BARRIERS TO SHIELD AGAINST UNSPEAKABLE VIOLENCE. THINGS ARE SLIGHTLY BETTER THIS YEAR, BUT EITHER WAY IT IS STRANGELY FUNDAMENTAL RELATIONSHIP. COUPLE THIS BORDER PROXIMITY WITH THE BEACH ATMOSPHERE, THE LOW KEY ATTITUDE (WHICH SAYING SOMETHING FOR ANGELINOS), AND THE NAVY PRESENCE AND YOU HAVE A RATHER UNIQUE ENVIRONMENT. THROW COMIC-CON INTO THE MIX AND IT MAKES FOR SOMETHING SINCERELY WILD.

THE CITY IS ALSO GORGEOUS.

BUT THE TRUTH ABOUT COMIC-CON IS SO FEW WILL EVER SEE THESE THINGS WHILE THEY ARE HERE FOR IT. THEY WILL BE STUCK AROUND THE CONVENTION CENTER, COMPLETE WITH THE OCCASIONAL JAUNTY TO A CLOSE BAR. YES, THEY WILL BE HERE FOR THE CON AND THE PARTIES THAT ACCOMPANY IT. THEY WILL NOT BE HERE FOR THE BEAUTIFUL CITY THAT HOSTS THEM.

AND HOSTING REQUIRES A LOT. THE MECHANISM OF COMIC-CON ITSELF IS FASCINATING AND FEW PEOPLE REALIZE THE SHEER CHALLENGES FACED BY A SUDDEN INFLUX OF ABOUT 180,000 PEOPLE. UNLESS IT’S BEEN SOMETHING YOU’VE HAD TO EXPRESSLY DEAL WITH IN MAINTAINING YOUR CITY AND WORKING IN GOVERNMENT, THERE’S NO REASON TO REALLY THINK ABOUT IT EITHER. UNLIKE VEGAS OR NEW YORK CITY, WHICH MAKES THESE GIANT INFLUXES OF PEOPLE PART OF THEIR REGULAR MODUS OPERANDI, IT IS ESPECIALLY DIFFICULT FOR A SMALLER CITY TO HOST SOMETHING LIKE THIS. WHICH IS OFTEN WHY MOST CITIES WILL BECOME DEFINED BY A SINGULAR EVENT. COMIC-CON. THE DAYTONA 500. MARDI GRAS. THESE THINGS ARE A PART OF BASIC OPERATION NOW. AND SOMETHING UNIQUE LIKE A SUPERBOWL OR AN OLYMPICS IS FAR MORE TROUBLING. BUT WHY DO ANY OF IT?

MONEY OF COURSE. SDCC GENERATES A LOCAL IMPACT OF 162.8 MILLION DOLLARS.

ULTIMATELY, IT IS MORE THAN WITHIN THEIR INTEREST.

MORE:

AFTER A LONG NIGHT OF WORKING AND TRANSCRIBING, HULK HIS READY FOR DAY 2 ON THE FLOOR.

THE COSTUMES ARE OUT IN FORCE… NOTICE HULK SAYS “COSTUMES” AND NOT COSPLAY AND THAT’S BECAUSE IT’S A NEW TERM THAT HULK JUST CAN’T GET USE TO. IT’S NOT THAT THERE’S ANYTHING WRONG WITH IT. IT JUST FEELS LIKE SOME SEXUAL TERM OR SOMETHING.

ANYWAY, HULK ENTERS AND IS IMMEDIATELY MET BY “HOT WALDO” GIRL VERSION. WAIT, HULK IS REMEMBERING SOMETHING. WAS THERE A GIRL CHARACTER IN THE WHERE’S WALDO BOOKS? WAS IT WALDA? HULK THINKS IT WAS WALDA (INTERNET CHECK LATER REVEALS IT WAS “WILMA”… OR AS HULK FIRST THOUGHT, JUST A GIRL VERSION OF WALDO).

EITHER WAY THURSDAY BRINGS WITH IT A HUGE NUMBER OF COSTUME PEOPLE THAT COULD BE CLASSIFIED AS “HOT____ ” OR “SEXY ____” THERE’S A LOT TO BE SAID ABOUT THIS DYNAMIC. SOMETIMES IT SEEMS MORE THAN FINE. AFTER ALL, A PERSON EXPRESSING THEIR SEXUALITY OR CONFIDENCE OF BODY CAN BE A LIBERATING, HEALTHY, WONDERFUL THING. SOMETIMES IT IS FOR HIRE AND THEY ARE THERE TO PIMP SOME PRODUCT SO IT FEELS A LITTLE WEIRDER. AND SOMETIMES IT FEELS SCARY, DESPERATE, AND LIKE A STRANGE COMPULSION FOR SOME OF THESE PEOPLE. BUT HULK’S NEVER QUITE SURE WHERE THE LINES ARE WHY WHO IS DOING WHAT AND FOR WHAT REASON, SO IT IS RATHER DIFFICULT TO JUDGE. SO LET’S NOT JUDGE, BUT SIMPLY ADMIT THAT THOSE THREE ELEMENTS ARE DEFINITELY IN PLAY.

AND PLEASE NOTE THAT HULK SAYS “PEOPLE” BECAUSE EVEN THOUGH THE GENDER PROPORTIONS ARE OUT OF WHACK, YES THERE ARE STILLY TOTALLY GUYS GOING AS THE HOT OR SEXY VERSIONS OF WHATEVER CHARACTERS THEY ARE. SEXY COSPLAY KNOWS NO GENDER BOUNDS!

THOUGH THERE’S THIS ONE GUY WHO HULK WILL ADMIT IS NOT HOT AND IS DOING SOME WEIRD COMBO OF A RED POWER RANGER / … UM… NASCAR FAN? HULK DOESN’T KNOW, BUT HE’S TOTALLY DRINKING FROM AN OPEN BEER CAN… IT WAS A MILLER HIGH LIFE.

NEXT HULK SEES A VERY SIMILAR MOTHER AND DAUGHTER WEARING THE SAME EXACT OUTFIT. NOW. THEIR CLOTHES LOOKED SO PLAIN THAT HULK DIDN’T THINK THEY LOOKED DRESSED UP AT ALL. BUT WHY ELSE WOULD THEY WEAR THE SAME EXACT CLOTHES? HULK DUNNO, SO HULK NEEDS HELP. THEY WERE BOTH WEARING WHITE BERETS IF THAT HELPS!

HULK THEN SEES TWO GIRLS HULK THINKS ARE FROM ANNE OF GREEN GABLES BUT THEY ARE ACTUALLY TWO OF THE CHARACTERS FROM HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE… BUT REALLY THEY COULD BE FARMERS AND HULK WOULD BE NONE THE WISER.

THE FLOOR IS REALLY A LOT MORE CROWDED TODAY. COSTUMES ARE JUST EVERYWHERE.

THERE’S A HOT GIRL TWO-FACE THAT IS GENUINELY CREEPY. THERE’S AN 11TH DOCTOR WEARING THE WRONG COLOR SHIRT (NO, WHITE SHIRTS ARE NOT ACCEPTABLE. ONLY SOFT PINK WILL DO).

RIGHT NEARBY A COUPLE STARTS YELLING AT EACH OTHER FURIOUSLY IN MIDWESTERN ACCENTS. HULK ONLY MAKES OUT ONE SENTENCE “This guy has a Dexter bag and I don’t so I’m really getting upset!!!” COMIC CON CAN BRING OUT NERD RAGE (HULK UNDERSTANDS AND EMPATHIZES).

HULK TURNS TO DISCOVER AN AS-CLOSE-TO-FULL-MEASURE VERSION OF SILVER SURFER AS POSSIBLE. HE’S JUST WEARING A SILVER SPEEDO AND HIS ENTIRE BODY IS COVERED IN SILVER PAINT. IT’S VERY WELL APPLIED! THE ONLY DOWN SIDE IS HIS BOARD LOOKS A LITTLE WORSE FOR WEAR AND THE SILVER NETTING IS KIND OF, LIKE, FALLING OFF AND HANGING. STINKS BECAUSE OTHERWISE THE COSTUME WOULD BE SUPER-GREAT.

THREE GIRLS STOP HULK AND ASK TO TAKE PICTURE. NOT WITH HULK, JUST OF THEM. AND NO MATTER HOW MANY MILLION TIMES HULK STOPS TO TAKE PICTURES OF PEOPLE EVERY TIME IT’S LIKE HULK HAS TO LEARN THE BASIC CONCEPT OF HOW TO USE A CAMERA AND FIND THE DAMN BUTTON. HULK FEELS A FOOL. ANYWAY, HULK TAKES TWO TO BE SURE AND THE GIRLS SAY THANKS. THEIR NAMES WERE KARA, SARA, AND SARAH WITH AN “H”… SOMETIMES YOU CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP.

HULK TURNS AND COMES FACE TO FACE WITH ALL OF THE IRONMAN ARMORS ON DISPLAY BY THE MARVEL BOOTH. IN REAL LIFE, OLE’ SHELL-HEAD’S ARMOR IS PRETTY NEAT AND THEY DO A GOOD JOB SHOWING IT OFF. THE ONE THING THE MOVIES NEVER TALK ABOUT WITH THEIR LOVE OF “SUAVE TONY STARK” IS THAT WHEN TONY STEPS OUT OF THAT SUIT HE’S ALL SWEATY AND REALLY SMELLS BAD. SO… YEAH… EMERGES IN A PRISTINE TUXEDO HULK’S BUTT.

NEXT UP IS A CREEPY BIG BIRD. THE PERSON TRIES TO DO SOME WEIRD VOICE UNDER IT, BUT IT BECOMES IMMEDIATELY OBVIOUS THEY MAY HAVE NEVER EVEN HEARD CAROL SPINNEY TALK.

THEN THERE’S A PRETTY GOOD ROGUE FROM THE 90’S X-MEN CARTOON TAKING PICTURES. SHE SEEMS GENUINELY HAPPY TO DO SO AND HAS A PRETTY INFECTIOUS PERSONALITY IF HULK GOING TO BE HONEST. SHE’S EVEN GIVING THE ACCENT A GO, BUT SLIPPING OUT OF IT WHEN TALKING TO HER FRIEND.

THERE’S LOTS OF GUYS COSPLAYING AS “COMIC BOOK GUY” FROM THE SIMPSONS TOO… WAIT.

HULK PASSES BY THE WALKING DEAD SIGNING AS KIRKMAN MOWS THROUGH THE LINE TOWING THE BALANCE BETWEEN SARCASM AND GENUINE APPRECIATION. HE’S A FUNNY GUY AND SEEMS TO DO WELL AT THIS PART.

HULK THEN DISCOVERS A GIANT LEGO HULK WHICH EVERYONE IS PRETTY EXCITED ABOUT. PERHAPS EVEN MORE THAN REAL HULK WHICH IS… UNDERSTANDABLE.

HULK MOVES HULK’S WAY OVER TO THIS GIANT RED AND SILVER STAND THAT SHOOTS UP INTO THE AIR WITH A STAIRCASE LEADING UP TO IT. SO LET’S TALK ABOUT ACCESSIBILITY. WANT TO HAVE A LINE AT COMIC-CON? PUT WHATEVER THE HECK IT IS YOU’RE SHOWING BEHIND A CURTAIN, OR UP ON A PLATFORM, OR BEHIND WALLS OR WHATEVER. PEOPLE WILL WANT TO SEE WHAT IS INSIDE THEM REGARDLESS OF WHATEVER IS ACTUALLY IN THEM. AND THE BIG STAND THING THAT SHOOTS IN THE AIR? IT’S ONLY SHOWING RARE MATTEL COLLECTIBLES. THEIR PLAN IS TOTALLY WORKING.

HULK LOOKS OVER AND SEES A YOUNG GIRL OF ABOUT 17 TRYING TO EAT A PLATE OF NACHOS WITH RECENTLY-APPLIED, GROTESQUE FACIAL SCARS ALL OVER HER FACE… IT DOESN’T SEEM TO WORK WELL. PUTS THIS UNDER “THINGS YOU DIDN’T PLAN WHEN MAKING YOUR COSTUME”… YOU SHOULD ALWAYS KNOW HOW YOU’RE GOING TO EAT AND PEE.

HULK PASSES BY THE UGLY DOLLS AGAIN AND THIS TIME HEARS A VOICE FROM INSIDE “Stubby ugly arms make it tough to hug!” IT IS EASILY THE SADDEST, MOST ENDEARING THING HULK HAS EVER HEARD. HULK IMMEDIATELY GIVES THE UGLY DOLL A BIG HUG AND TAKES IT HOME TO ADOPT IT… IT CAN USE A LITTERBOX, RIGHT? ANYWAY, HULK TOTALLY NOW UNDERSTANDS WHY THEY GOT ALL THE HUGS YESTERDAY.

NEXT HULK COMES ACROSS A “SEXY STORMTROOPER” THAT HAS SO LITTLE ACTUAL ARMOR IT’S SORT OF DISTURBING-LOOKING. OR AT LEAST UNNATURAL IN THE STAR WARS UNIVERSE. FORGET THE FACT IT’S BASICALLY A STORM TROOPER BIKINI, THE WEIRD PART IS MOST OF THE HELMET IS REMOVED SO IT’S JUST LIKE THE BOTTOM JAW-LINE SHOWING. IT ACTUALLY RENDERS THE WHOLE THING VERY UN-STORM-TROOPER LIKE, BUT HULK WAS JUST CURIOUS SO HULK ASKED: “HULK CURIOUS WHY DIDN’T YOU USE THE WHOLE MASK?” HER BOYFRIEND/GUY WHO WAS NEXT TO HER TAKES THIS TO MEAN HULK WAS SAYING SHE’S SO UGLY SHE SHOULD COVER HER FACE, WHICH IS PATENTLY RIDICULOUS ON SO MANY LEVELS INCLUDING THE FACT THAT NO ONE WOULD LIKELY EVER SAY THAT ABOUT THIS GIRL. HULK IMMEDIATELY BACK PEDALS AND EXPLAINS “NO, NO IT’S GENUINE CURIOSITY. HULK WAS CURIOUS WHETHER IT WAS HARD TO GET ONE OF IF IT GETS SWEATY UNDER THERE, OR-” TO WHICH HE SAYS “Whatever” AND DRAGS HER OFF BY THE ARM. THE WHOLE THING WAS VERY STRANGE. THE MAN SEEMED TO BE PARADING HIS GIRLFRIEND AROUND AND GOING JUST BY HER FACIAL EXPRESSIONS, SHE DIDN’T REALLY SEEM TO BE HAVING FUN. WHO KNOWS, MAYBE IT WAS ALL HER IDEA AND SHE WAS JUST TIRED BY THAT POINT, BUT IT WAS STRANGE.

AND JUST LIKE THE WORST OF CON/BEST OF CON EXPERIENCE YESTERDAY, HULK TURNS TO THE CORNER TO DISCOVER A WHOLE FAMILY OF JEDI. THE FATHER DRESSED AS OBI WAN WITH THREE YOUNGER KIDS IN TOW. THE KID WEARING ANAKIN’S EPISODE III COSTUME SEEMS TO BE THE BIGGEST SOURPUSS AND DRAGS BEHIND THEM… FITTING.

HULK GOES BY THE HASBRO BOOTH AND… SORRY… JUST NO INTEREST THERE. HULK KNOWS THEIR COLLECTIBLE INDUSTRY IS CRAZY INTERESTING, BUT THE SWARMS OF PEOPLE MAKE IT HARD TO GET CLOSE.

HONESTLY, HULK IS MORE CURIOUS ABOUT THE UNRECOGNIZABLE STEAM PUNK GANG THAT SEEMS TO BE DOING SOMETHING OR OTHER. THEY ARE REALLY INTO IT. HULK STARTS ASKING THEM QUESTIONS, BUT THEY SORT OF JUST STAY IN WHATEVER-CHARACTER-THEY-ARE AND GO ABOUT THEIR BUSINESS.

NEXT HULK SEES A GUY WHO IS DRESSED UP ROB ZOMBIE… OR IT COULD HAVE EASILY BEEN ROB ZOMBIE.

OVER BY THE WALKING DEAD BOOTH HULK SEES AN ASIAN GUY DRESSED UP AS THE ASIAN GUY FROM THE WALKING DEAD. THE OUTFIT IS REALLY, REALLY GOOD. SIMPLE, BUT SPOT ON AND IN THIS WORLD ACCURACY IS EVERYTHING.

THIS IS IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWED BY A GUY WHO SOMEONE NEXT TO HULK CALL “BLACK DR. STRANGE” … BOTH HULK’S OBSERVATION AND THIS PERSON’S WORD PROMPT A VERY REAL QUESTION… WHY ISN’T IT “DR. STRANGE?” THIS ISN’T REALLY ABOUT POST-RACIAL COLORBLINDNESS (WHICH SHOULD BE VALID) BUT SOMETHING WAY MORE REDUCTIVE. JUST THINK ABOUT HOW RIDICULOUSLY ANNOYING AND CRAPPY IT IS TO CALL SOMEONE THAT. TO UTTERLY LABEL AND BOX IN. THE PERSON OBVIOUSLY RELATES TO THE CHARACTER ENOUGH TO IDENTIFY WITH THEM AND THIS IS DE-IDENTIFICATION. IF YOU ARGUE TO HULK IT JUST DESCRIPTIVE OR FUNNY THEN HULK ARGUE YOU’RE NOT THINKING ABOUT THE GREATER RAMIFICATIONS. HULK HONESTLY BELIEVES IT IS PRECISELY THIS KIND OF O.C.D. THINKING THAT IS THE REASON WE COULDN’T GET A “BLACK SPIDERMAN” IN DONALD GLOVER. THERE’S SO MANY PROBLEMS TO ALL THIS AND HULK JUST KNOW THAT GOING AROUND CALLING SOMEONE “BLACK DR. STRANGE” ISN’T GOING TO HELP US GET ANYWHERE BETTER.

FINALLY HULK MAKES WAY OVER TO THE SOUTHERN MOST SIDE TO THE MOVIE STUDIO BOOTHS. EACH STUDIO BUILDS THESE MEGA BOOTHS THAT ARE TWO FLOORS AND CONSTANTLY HAVE TRAILERS PLAYING ON BIG VIDEO SCREENS. THEY ARE ALSO LOUDER THAN YOU COULD EVER IMAGINE. IT’S REALLY THE ONLY WAY TO GET PEOPLE TO COME THAT WAY AND GIVE THEM A VISCERAL TRAILER. BUT HULK JUST FEEL AWFUL FOR THE SECURITY GUARDS AND THE PEOPLE WHO WORK THERE WHO HAVE TO HAVE THEIR EAR DRUMS BEAT IN ALL DAY.

HULK TURNS TO FIND A BIG RESIDENT EVIL 6 PLAY-ZONE BUT THE LINE IS LONG ENOUGH FOR HULK TO NEVER, EVER CONSIDER IT.

NEARBY A WOMAN SHOUTS WITH A MEGAPHONE EXPLAINING ABOUT ALL THE COOL STUFF THEY ARE SHOWCASING. IT IS AT THIS POINT THAT HULK NOTICES A CURIOUS HIERARCHY IN THE “WOMEN WHO ARE SPECIFICALLY THERE TO GRAB YOUR ATTENTION” RACKET. FIRST, THERE ARE THE GENUINE COMIC-CON LEVEL CELEBRITIES. THEN HIRED COSPLAY FOLK. THEN WOMAN WHO ARE DRESSED UP IN BASICALLY NOTHING TO GET YOU TO BUY THINGS. BUT THE MORE CURIOUS ENTRY IS THE “MEGAPHONE WOMEN.” THEY ALL SEEM TO BE VERY ARTICULATE AND ENGAGING. AND LO AND BEHOLD, THEY OFTEN THE MOST NATURALLY ATTRACTIVE PEOPLE WORKING THE ENTIRE CON. MOST OF THEM ARE WEARING HOODIES AND JEANS. RARELY IS THERE AN OUNCE OF MAKE-UP. THEY HAVE PERSONALITY. IT’S JUST SO ANTITHETICAL TO EVERYTHING ELSE HULK IS SEEING THAT IT AT ONCE FEELS FOREIGN, YET COMPLETELY TRUE TO THE REAL INTENTION OF THE CON. AFTER ALL, THEY ARE THE ONES WHO ARE EXPRESSIVE AND PASSIONATE. WHY WOULDN’T THEY RESONATE EASILY?

WITH THAT, HULK FINALLY GETS A GOOD LOOK AT THE SIDE-SHOW COLLECTIBLES AND STARTS THINKING.

THE WHOLE NATURE OF COLLECTING HANGS ALL OVER THE CON. THERE’S THE COLLECTIBLES, THE POSTERS, THE SHIRTS. YES, THIS IS A TRADE SHOW, BUT SO OFTEN IT TRADES AND COLLECTS IN TERMS OF OUTRIGHT IDENTITY. THERE’S ALL THE CELEBRITY INTERACTIONS. THE SIGNING ALLEY. THE MONEY. THE OBTUSE CHARGING. (IT’S A DIFFICULT ISSUE SEEMINGLY BUILD AROUND IT’S OWN UNSPOKEN GUILD LAWS. AS WEIRD AS IT IS, UNDERSTAND THIS HOW A GOOD DEAL OF THEM MAKE A LIVING). THERE ARE THE PANELS THEMSELVES WHERE PEOPLE DON’T SO MUCH ASK QUESTIONS, BUT ATTEMPT TO MAKE A PERSONAL CONNECTION AND PROFESS UNDYING LOVE AND GRATITUDE. AND THEN THERE ARE EVENTS LIKE THE SJUI, WHERE THE LEERING TAKES THAT CONNECTION AND NOTION OF “COLLECTING” TO A VERY DARK PLACE.

AT IT’S MOST INNOCENT, IT IS JUST THAT, INNOCENT. A PERSON FILLED WITH PASSION WANTING TO REACH OUT AND ENGAGE THE THINGS THAT ARE MOST PRECIOUS TO THEM. THE THINGS THAT OFTEN FEEL INCREDIBLY DISTANT. AT TIMES COMIC-CON FEELS LESS LIKE A MEETING OF LIKE-MINDED INDIVIDUALS AND MORE OF AN OPPORTUNITY TO SIMPLY CONNECT IN THE MOST BASIC MODES OF APPRECIATION.

BUT WHAT IS THE COST OF THIS BASIC-NESS? WHAT IS THE COST OF THE TOUCHING AND LEERING? WHAT IS THE COST OF BEING A HOT _____? AS HULK PONDERS THESE QUESTIONS A CAMERAMAN LEARS A WOMAN DRESSED AS SOME SORT OF GREEN BUG THING AND ASKS HER “What do you do, besides being beautiful?” SHE DOESN’T ANSWER, BUT SMILES AND NODS.

ALL THESE QUESTIONS AND OBSERVATIONS DON’T COME FROM A JUDGEMENTAL PLACE IN THE SLIGHTEST. HULK IS OBVIOUSLY A GIANT FAN OF COMICS, ACTION MOVIES, GENRE, AND ALL THE THINGS THAT MAKE UP THE LIFE-BLOOD OF THE COMIC-CON EXPERIENCE, BUT AS HULK GOES THROUGH THERE IS SOMETHING DISTRESSING ABOUT THE NATURE OF THE INTERACTIONS AT LARGE HERE. IT’S ALMOST AS IF THERE’S A GAP BETWEEN THE PRESUMED SMARTNESS OF “THE NERD” AND THE ACTUAL SMARTNESS BEING PUT FORTH IN THESE INTERACTIONS.

COMIC-CON IS THE PLACE WHERE ORDINARY PEOPLE CAN COME AND INTERACT WITH THE THINGS THAT OFTEN SEEM SO FAR AWAY. BUT IN THAT QUEST FOR THE TACTILE, THE OVERZEALOUSNESS CAN INTERFERE WITH THE HEART, THE SOUL, AND THE PURPOSE.

AND WITH ALL THOSE LINGERING, CAREFUL, POSSIBLY-JADED THOUGHTS SWIRLING IN HULK’S HEAD, HULK EMERGES OUTSIDE HULK SEES A GUY IN COSTUME AS A WHEELIE FROM RETURN TO OZ, A FULLY FUNCTIONAL WHEELIE MIND YOU. HE STARTS DIVING AND ROLLING ALL OVER THE PLACE TO THE DELIGHT OF ALL AROUND HIM. ESPECIALLY HULK, WHO IS GRINNING LIKE A BIG IDIOT.

AND JUST LIKE THAT, THE BASICNESS BECOMES CLEAR: WARTS AND ALL, THE POWER TO ELICIT CHILD-LIKE WONDER IS NOTHING TO BE CHIDED AT.

AFTER TWO DAYS, THE WHEELIE TOTALLY WINS COMIC-CON.

<3 HULK

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