If there was any theme at this year's virtual San Diego Comic-Con At Home, it was platform cross-pollination. Content, product, story-telling, or as many panelists referred to it, IP, jumped between movies, comics, graphic novels, merchandise, tabletop games, VR and video games, podcasts, animated series, live-action series, books, and even Broadway, many projects encompassing five or six different formats.
The virtual Con was a lot quieter than last year, when already-scheduled events had to switch from in-person to virtual, and almost all made a remarkably smooth transfer. This year, there were fewer panels, all were pre-recorded more than a month ago, and there was no online equivalent of the high-energy Hall H reveals.
Still, in one of the panels I attended, there was a reminder that the irrepressible spirit of SDCC goes on. In the Amazon Prime/IMDB panel on upcoming projects, director Nicolas Entel, "confessing" to creating the entire genre of "narcos" movies and television series with his documentary about Pablo Escobar, seen through the eyes of his son, Sebastian ("Pecados de mi padre"), and then impishly explaining that his goal for his new project is "to drop an atomic bomb" on the genre. How to do that? Zombies, of course! His new series is called " S.O.Z: Soldados o Zombies" ("Soldiers or Zombies") and the brief clip we saw showed that he delivered on his other priorities, giving the zombies an origin story and, to use his word, a "logic," to "make the science of our zombies believable." His zombies have varying abilities, he told us, depending on how close they are to Patient Zero and they evolve through the season, all to the tune of Mexican music, classic rock for the older generation, a Northern Mexico sound for the middle generation, and a mix of Latino urban hip-hop.
Showrunner Rafe Judkins talked about one of the most ambitious projects of the fall, "The Wheel of Time" series based on the 14 plus Richard Jordan books that have sold more than 90 million copies. He has loved the books since he and his mother read them together when he was a young gay teen and she was a Mormon woman, both feeling out of place, because they "let us each see what it is like to be a different person in the world." He sees the stories as "that connective tissue between Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones," and what particularly appealed to him was the complexity of the world and the care given to the points of view of many diverse characters. "It was the most diverse fantasy book of its time and we will make this the most diverse show." Rosamund Pike plays the key character Moiraine Damodred. Judkins said that when he interviewed her for the part over the phone he was in a remote location with poor cell service, but somehow her voice was perfectly clear. "I know this woman," she told him. "I can be this woman." And after that he could not imagine anyone else in the role.
Possibly the longest and most complicated title at this year's Comic-Con is: Evangelion: 3.0+1.01 Thrice Upon a Time, the final episode in the post-apocalyptic anime story. Through a translator, Hideaki Anno said he thought the series was very specific to Japanese culture and he was surprised and honored by the fans throughout the world. After sixteen years, including additional tweaks after the theatrical release in Japan, he is hoping to move on to live action. "Creation does not have an end."
Actors Noah Wyle and Beth Riesgraf spoke about "Leverage: Redemption," now on IMDB. Each has also just directed an episode. The clip from Riesgraf's featured LeVar Burton and an "antique" Compaq computer. She was grateful for the support she got from everyone on the production, from the "Team Beth" t-shirts everyone was wearing on the first day to Wyle's arranging for her to have less camera time on the episode before so she would have more time to prepare. And she appreciated Wyle's advice: Just because you are grateful for the opportunity does not mean you have to compromise your vision.
Coming in October is another version of "I Know What You Did Last Summer," this time an Amazon Prime series. Showrunner Sara Goodman said that the enduring appeal of the story is that "everyone is guilty of something they don't want other people to know about." In her version, "No one is just the smart girl or the jock. The characters are more complicated, layered, than in earlier versions of the story. And so is the story itself. Every episode has a different point of view about what happened that night." This version has "drama and a lot of blood." The horror elements are more intense because they involve people the characters know and trust. And because it is set in Hawaii, there's no escape.
At San Diego Comic-Con in 2016, I interviewed Paul Scanlan and Jeff Annison, co-founders of Legion M, a new production company designed to be owned by and guided by fans. They have an app for feedback and suggestions from fans. I was so intrigued by what they were doing I even became an investor. Since then, their projects have included "Colossal," "Save Yourselves!" "Jay and Silent Bob Reboot," "Tolkien," and "Memory: The Origin of Alien." Legion M had a panel this year to talk about what they're working on, including movies, series, podcasts, Broadway, comics, games, and merch.
"Destination Fantastic" is a documentary travel series exploring the locations that inspired fantasy storiesfrom King Arthur to Dragons and Dungeons. George R.R. Martin joins them to explore the places that helped him create "Game of Thrones" and Elijah Wood accompanies them in New Zealand to view the locations seen in "The Lord of the Rings."
Bill Duke is working on "Defiant," a film about one of the most audacious heists and one of the most remarkable lives in American history: Robert Smalls was born into slavery in South Carolina. During the Civil War he disguised himself as a captain and stole a Confederate ship so his family could escape to freedom. After the war, he was elected to five terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Joe Manganiello, Zolee Griggs, and Skylan Brook star in "Archenemy," described as "an insane psychedelic superhero crime story." The involvement by Legion M's investor/fans included a car in the film that belonged to one of them. Also coming: "Ghosts of Manhattan" is a sci-fi adult animated series set in a pulp-inspired alternate 1920s New York City with an occult theme they described as "The Great Gatsby" meets "Blade Runner." Their first Broadway production is based on the memoir The Boy Who Loved Batman by Michael Uslan. And in "The Gray Area," a corrupt cop is murdered and a purgatory-like space called The Gray Area gives him a chance at redemption.