When a lady Darth Vader and an overweight Batman are sharing a Diet Coke and a cigarette, there can only be one of two explanations: Either some interesting life choices were made or there's a comic con in town. This past weekend, the Greater Fort Lauderdale Broward Convention Center hosted the first ever installment of Wizard World Fort Laudedale.
The three-day event was part of a larger, nationwide tour that has twenty-three remaining dates running through next year, including a stop in Orlando in August of 2016. The con, sporting the tag line, “Where Pop Culture Comes To Life,” was a mixed bag of successes, failures, missed opportunities, and future potential.
For a comic con novice, Wizard World Fort Laurderdale was set on beginner mode: it was easily palatable, simple to navigate, and lacked the deluge of stimulus overload a New York or San Diego con might produce. However, for more experienced, professional nerds, it was, in a word, underwhelming.
Occupying mostly one main hall and an additional two rooms for private Q&A's and video screenings, the con was about one-third the size of Miami's Supercon. That may seem unfair to compare the inaugural con with a more established version that has years of presence in the South Florida area, but still, there was so much promise that went unfulfilled.
It began with the location. The Broward Convention Center is tricky to find for first-timers. For those following the sign bearing the building's name, they'll end up in the parking lot of a yacht club. Instead, the entrance is hidden past a gate to a port. The dearth of geek activity in the immediate surroundings was initially worrisome and wound up being the first indicator as to the sparseness held within.
The neatly designed layout made visiting each booth and exhibit a fairly straightforward affair. On the other hand, there was always this “that's it?” feeling that clung in the air. Indeed, as hard as presenters and organizers tried, the con lacked a certain zest that usually zips about the convention floor of a comic con. Typically this energy is provided by the rabid, zealous fans, dressed up in their best cosplay, lining up to ask their favorite genre actors questions that have burned in their hearts for a lifetime, but that enthusiasm was absent.
Without a doubt, the primary reason fanboys and fangirls attend cons is to interact with their film and TV icons. In a run of bad luck that was seemingly out of the control of the con organizers, several high profile names dropped out in the months and weeks leading up to it. John Barrowman (Doctor Who, Torchwood), Eve Myles (Doctor Who, Torchwood), Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead, Daredevil) and Norman Reedus (The Walking Dead) all canceled for various reasons. To say these cancellations were a bummer is a massive understatement.
That left Hobbit hero Sean Astin and Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner, as the biggest draws on the bill. Astin and Shatner were both funny, engaging, and personable (Shatner even delved into the Mars exploration conversation with a genuine passion for what his fictional alter-ego spent a lifetime shagging his way through.) Other special guests included a number comic book artists, including the much maligned Rob Liefield. Liefield is the creator of X-Force, he's the mind behind the beloved Merc With A Mouth, Deadpool, and he has no idea how basic human anatomy operates or what it actually looks like, but that's besides the point.
Several doppelgängers of popular characters made an appearance as well. There was Paul “Spock Vegas” Vegas, a Canadian Spock impersonator who both makes a living and also fund raises for the Epilepsy Foundation dressed as the famous Vulcan from the Star Trek universe. Taking the impersonator gig to another level was Cecil Garner aka Cecil Grimes, an actor who resembles The Walking Dead's Rick Grimes so closely that Wizard World asked him to be a permanent part of the tour. For a moderate price, attendees were able to take an action shot with him in a small scale replica of the prison from the AMC hit show that Garner constructed himself.
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Despite some of the shortcomings, Wizard World eeked out a few choice moments of goofy amusement, both intentionally and accidentally. Saturday afternoon, filmmaker and animator J. J. Sedelmaier screened twelve episodes of The Ambiguously Gay Duo, the SNL cartoon shorts he co-created with Robert Smigel. People drifted in and out of the room, but for those who stayed, they were treated to a barrage of gay jokes, including the 69 “roll mode” Ace and Gary use to defeat enemies and a penis shaped car that shoots, well, stuff. Speaking of things that resemble penises, Dennis Rodman was also a con guest — or at least we think it was Rodman since his first name was misspelled, Denis instead of Dennis, on the digital schedule posted in front of the photo-op tent.
Overall, Wizard World Fort Lauderdale was a muted, low-key affair undone by a pervasive amount of not enough. There weren't all that many people in costumes (which is almost unheard of at a con), there were less merchandise booths than one would think (although there was a curious and dangerous amount of authentically sharp knives and swords for sale), and the marquee names on the lineup left fans wanting. All the same, when put into perspective, this being the debut of an event with a brand like Wizard World backing it, hope of a better sequel isn't unreasonable and like all things in the world of fandom, absolutely expected.