WonderCon 2017: Good, but not Great

By Transmute Jun

Eddie Ibrahim of Comic Con International

WonderCon 2017 was held March 31st – April 2nd, 2017, in Anaheim, CA. Longtime WonderCon attendees were pleased to be back at the Anaheim Convention Center, after having experienced the inconvenient location and configuration of the facilities in Los Angeles at the 2016 convention. Anaheim greeted everyone with numerous construction walls, creating excitement about the new facility, which should be ready for the 2018 convention. After making their debut in 2016, RFID badges returned, and everything went smoothly with the tap in/tap out procedures. As usual, WonderCon had a strong comics presence, including a busy Artists’ Alley and a small gaming track with demos and retailers, as well as a dedicated gaming space. Cosplayers were numerous, holding meetups and photo shoots, to the delight of attendees. The Saturday night Masquerade was enjoyed by all. The exhibit floor always seemed to be busy, and the convention center itself felt very full. It was clear that a year away in Los Angeles did nothing to dim enthusiasm for WonderCon.

Gaming Area Programming

WonderCon is often thought of as San Diego (SDCC) ComicCon’s little sister, living in its shadow, always trying to be good enough. Yet over the past decade, WonderCon has emerged as a good con in its own right, drawing all of the important elements of a great event. The most important of these for a con, on a big scale, are the studio panels. Cons such as Emerald City Comic Con and Salt Lake Comic Con operate on a lower level as compared to the top tier of pop culture cons, because they lack studio panels. These cons have entertainment guests, but they have solo panels, or occasionally two actors from the same property, holding informal conversations. Big panels with sneak peeks, footage, trailers and numerous stars are more difficult to come by, and are usually the domain of the top echelon of conventions, such as SDCC, New York Comic Con, or South By Southwest. And generally, WonderCon is as well, although this is completely dependent upon the studios themselves. Comic Con International (CCI) can’t force studios to put on panels, only encourage them to do so and make space available. And until this year, that was enough to ensure a wide range of panel offerings. Still, based on my past experiences, I come to WonderCon every year with high expectations.

Comic Con HQ Booth

Yet this year, the ball was dropped on those studio panels. There were some television panels (notably Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Gotham, Lucifer, and Riverdale) with a number of cast members in attendance, along with footage, but not as many as in prior years. Many attendees were heard to comment on the lack of ‘good panels’ this year, as compared to previous years. But the most notable absence was in movie panels. Every big con needs at least one signature event: a panel that defines the Con, that people will remember in future years. For WonderCon 2017, that panel should have been the Warner Brothers (WB) movie panel on Saturday afternoon. From the start, it was clear that WB wanted to push the Wonder Woman film (premiering June 2). Promotion on the floor at WonderCon, including a large ‘Wonder Con’ poster in the lobby (see below) and a DC-sponsored Wonder Woman cosplay meetup pointed to a big Wonder Woman presence. So it was no surprise when the arena was filled for this panel, from floor to rafters, with fans eagerly looking forward to seeing the stars of the film.

Alas, it was not to be. After sitting through an unexciting discussion of the upcoming horror film Annabelle, everyone was excited when the Wonder Woman film was brought to the table. Two behind the scenes people, director Patty Jenkins and executive producer Geoff Johns, were introduced. Fans sat through their discussion, waiting for some of the film’s stars to come out, or barring that, stars from the upcoming Justice League live action film. Yet the longer attendees waited, the more it became clear that it was not going to happen. Yes, there were a couple of Wonder Woman clips, but there was no one to really support the clips by discussing what it was like to actually play these characters. Certainly Gal Godot has a new baby, and might not have been able to attend, but surely Chris Pine could have put in an appearance? Or Ben Afflek, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, or Ray Fisher from Justice League? Given WonderCon’s close proximity to Hollywood or given the fact that Cinemacon in Las Vegas recently concluded, with appearances by many of the aforementioned actors, it was clear that the audience expected more, and was incredibly disappointed when no one else emerged to join the people at the table. With 25 minutes to go in the timeslot, attendees felt that their patience was about to be rewarded… and then the panel ended. There was apparently nothing to fill the final half hour that had been scheduled. While the blame for this lackluster panel is clearly the fault of WB, and not Comic Con International, it had a significant impact on the perception of the con as a whole for many attendees. It is unfortunately that something over which CCI had no control impacted the con in such a significant fashion.

While WonderCon had all of the supporting characteristics in spades, as well as a large number of attendees, the core of the Con seemed to be lacking for many fans this year. The low number of ‘big draw’ panels, and the disappointing WB ‘signature event’ panel left a bit of a sour taste in the mouths of many of the attendees with whom I spoke. The good news is that WonderCon still has all of the elements necessary to make it a truly superior event, and it has been such in recent years. Given the high quality of WonderCons over the past decade, it is easy to write 2017 off as ‘poor luck’ and a ‘one-off’ bad year. I, for one, am ready to put WonderCon 2017 behind me and am already looking forward to WonderCon 2018, to be held in Anaheim March 23rd – 25th.

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Transmute Jun

Transmute Jun has an addiction to pop culture conventions, and attends as many as she can each year. When she's not traveling, she likes to stay at home reading a good book, playing a video game, or binge-watching a TV show. She can be bribed with pizza, Coke Zero and Belgian milk chocolate.