SAN DIEGO -- After virtual and scaled-back events due to the pandemic, Comic-Con -- a convention where masks were popular before they served any practical purpose -- is back at near-full-force this year, with well over 100,000 people expected to attend the celebration of all things pop culture in San Diego.
While movies remain a centerpiece, this year streaming and linear TV will cast a larger shadow over the four-day convention that officially began Thursday, reflecting both the major-league bets made by streamers in the hunt for subscribers and the way the balance of power has subtly shifted in their direction as the film industry rebounds from the shutdown that hobbled theaters.
Movie studios will still be represented at Comic-Con, once a gathering -- as the name would suggest -- originally devoted to comic books, which has grown through the years and seen those properties become the driving force in theatrical attendance.
Warner Bros., the proprietor of DC Comics (and like CNN, a unit of Warner Bros. Discovery), will have a major presentation devoted to "Black Adam," starring Dwayne Johnson, and the sequel "Shazam! Fury of the Gods." In addition, Marvel will be making a presentation, though the particulars remain fuzzy, and it's likely some major announcements will be held for parent company Disney's D23 convention in September.
Still, Comic-Con's most sizable venue -- Hall H, which can accommodate more than 6,000 people -- features at least as many panels this year devoted to television, topping by Amazon's whopping investment in a series version of "The Lord of the Rings," and "House of the Dragon," the eagerly anticipated prequel to "Game of Thrones" premiering on HBO (and HBO Max) in August.
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Not to be outdone, Netflix will weigh in with "The Sandman," a series version of Neil Gaiman's acclaimed graphic novel, after years of speculation about when or if that concept would ever reach the screen. And AMC -- a major player thanks to "The Walking Dead" -- will be back touting not only the final season of that show and an anthological spinoff, but a new series version of Anne Rice's "Interview With the Vampire."
The underlying goal is building enthusiasm and word of mouth for these projects with these carefully curated previews, hoping to turn their most avid fans into marketing ambassadors to the world at large.
Several other major panels will have a familiar ring to them, including "Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves," "Teen Wolf the Movie" -- heading to Paramount+ -- and "National Treasure: The Edge of History," a series based on the movies heading to Disney+.
As usual, nostalgia and anniversaries will also be a major part of this year's convention. That includes celebratory panels devoted to the 100th birthday of Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz; 100 years of the pulp-turned-comics-turned-movie character Conan the Barbarian; and 40-year anniversaries for the movie "The Rocketeer" and the debut of the "Masters of the Universe" toy line.
In addition, William Shatner, the "Star Trek" star whose most recent role, at 90, included getting to play a real astronaut thanks to Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, will appear in a panel Thursday titled, simply enough, "Shatner on Shatner," moderated by director Kevin Smith.
Organizers called the decision to cancel Comic-Con "heartbreaking" when they did so in April 2020, the year after the event -- which started as a smallish celebration in a single hotel that mushroomed into what it is today -- commemorated its own 50th anniversary.
For those headed to San Diego, a full schedule of events is available on the Comic-Con website. And yes, masks are required.