Florida Supercon 2018 began with a ribbon-cutting ceremony early Thursday afternoon. Holding the scissors was a Brooklyn kid who was bullied and teased for being different; he was 90 percent deaf. Like so many con attendees, he simply wanted to be stronger than the bullies made him feel and have a place in the world.
That kid was Lou Ferrigno, better known as the muscular star of the hit '70s TV show The Incredible Hulk.
Ferrigno was a fitting ambassador to kick off the event, showing that comic books, anime, manga, videogames, and sci-fi shows and films have been sources of inspiration for outsiders for a very long time.
For another year, that inspiration manifested itself at Supercon in the form of amazing costumes, friendly competitions, welcoming panels, and entertaining Q&As with celebrity guests.
The traffic and parking problems that plagued last year's con, the first at the Broward Convention Center, were mostly absent this time. The shuttle buses running to and from the lots around the area ran relatively smoothly and efficiently.
The beauty of Supercon is that fans can enjoy the more than 600 hours of programming over the course of the four-day weekend, or they can simply sit on the carpet in circles and chat. They can make new friends at the costume contests or in the videogame room. After all, kicking ass with tortoise shells and power-up stars in Mario Kart will never get old.
Among the standout events at Supercon this year were its comedy-driven panels. Dana Snyder's podcast Drunk on Disney was off the rails, and the improv group Halo Kitty’s Worst Supervillains countdown in the social room was absolutely goofy.
Steal That Voice — After Dark brought some of the brightest voice actors to the world of R-rated films as they read lines from 300 and Bridesmaids. Imagine lines from Deadpool read in the voice of Christopher Walken and another actor responding in the high-pitched Italian accent of Super Mario, and you start to get the idea. The jokes can be dirty or they can be awkward, but when it comes to nerd humor, they're always sincere.
The main draw for many fans are the celebrity appearances. Though those almost always deliver fun and giddy thrills, the true value of this con lies in its ability to unite nerds. Bonding over shared embarrassments and opinions at a Doctor Who panel on the second floor, an hours-long D&D game with strangers in one of the game rooms on the third floor, or a conversation revealing you’re not the only fan of Tusken Raiders from Star Wars on the escalator ride to the first floor are the interactions that keep South Floridians coming back for more.
Still, for fans in specific niches, the celebrities delivered. For instance, Kevin Conroy, the voice of Batman in the acclaimed animated series from the '90s, stopped by for an engrossing chat. As genuinely interesting as his tales might be, Conroy’s appearance means so much more to the fans who consider his work voicing the Dark Knight as the definitive onscreen performance, surpassing even the live-action films.
Bringing all of these worlds together in one gloriously campy, nutty, and absurd package was the nightly Florida Supercon Championship Wrestling.
Friday night, for example, April O’Neill of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hosted while Jean-Baptiste Zorg from 1997’s The Fifth Element and Rick Sanchez of Rick and Morty provided some hilarious commentary from the side of the ring and through the overhead speakers. The championship match saw Deadpool and Skeletor in a fight no one ever thought they would see, and a battle royal later on found Rey from The Force Awakens duking it out with Team Rocket and Mortal Kombat’s Mileena.
The matches were weirdly entertaining perhaps in part because they were so silly and good-natured. The wrestlers even paid some fan service, such as when Kylo Ren made a surprise attack on Rey to prevent her from winning the match.
Being a nerd is a way of life, and it might even be the only path to world peace. Supercon felt like a truly inclusive space devoid of hate, aside from fans' criticizing decisions made by writers to kill a favorite character or anger at an entire movie. (Fuck The Last Jedi.) Within its conference rooms and hallways, the con is a place of respect and acceptance.
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Perhaps no one embodied that sentiment better than John Barrowman, star of Arrow, Doctor Who, and Torchwood. Best known to fans as the nefarious Malcolm Merlyn or the irresistible charmer Captain Jack Harkness, Barrowman was not only one of the biggest celebrity draws of the weekend but also the most outrageous. Though another captain, James T. Kirk, AKA William Shatner, drew more bodies to the main stage of the Grand Ballroom, Barrowman was unmatched in energy.
After having to cancel his appearance at Supercon 2017 for an emergency operation (the details of which he shared in a gut-busting story), Barrowman vowed to make this year’s do-over extra-special. Sashaying onto the stage in a sparkling TARDIS-inspired minidress and glittering silver heels, Barrowman spent the hour making his fans fall in love with him all over again. He regaled the crowd with what was essentially standup comedy and decidedly adult double entendres.
He made the most of the Q&A portion too, either flirting with or teasing fans. “Shark Attack 3 is the biggest piece of shit,” he said while holding the DVD a fan brought along, “but it bought my first house.” (He then humped the DVD before returning it.)
The defining moment of his set was his beautiful and uncomplicated message about being proud of who you are and standing up for the right to do so. Like Ferrigno and Barrowman, actors, directors, writers, and characters in so many films and TV shows have been shining examples globally, showing the power of embracing our differences and what others might see as weakness but are really our strengths.