It’s tempting to think of New York Comic Con as a bit of an also-ran after the star-studded highs of San Diego and the ever-growing monolith that is Disney’s D23. But comic books were born in New York City, and it’s still the place Spider-Man, Captain America, and Dr. Strange call home, so the event known as NYCC has always had a little more ink in its blood than its colleagues.
This year, thanks in part to a massive Javits Center restoration and expansion project that will be in progress until 2021 and which has already claimed the beloved “Artist’s Alley” once located in the far north corner of the convention center, NYCC has been embracing its home city more and more. Events, panels, and other activations are slowly seeding out into Manhattan, making NYCC as much of a celebration of the city and its clear links to comic book history and lore as it is a pop culture megashow.
More and more each year, brands seem to be foregoing the traditional booth set-up in favor of experiential events and scavenger hunt-like augmented reality headtrips. In fact, LEGO has pretty much abandoned the booth concept altogether, opting instead to set up a food truck just outside the convention center where fans can buy exclusive sets and even pose with a giant replica of Star Wars bounty hunter Boba Fett's helmet and a carbonite-encased Han Solo.
The alley just outside the exits of the Javits Center was also home to a Starz Network pop-up spotlighting their original series Ash vs. The Evil Dead--complete with blood-dripping high school lockers--and an escape room promoting the upcoming Lionsgate horror film Jigsaw.
Escape rooms and experiential events were the theme of NYCC 2017, for sure. In addition to Jigsaw, Amazon Prime utilized its home company's Echo smart device to present a Jack Ryan-themed escape room to promote the upcoming series based on the Tom Clancy-created character. Warner Bros. came packing with a similar experiential installation to promote the upcoming Justice League. What was interesting about these set-ups was that they operated a but like the "Fast Pass" system at Disney theme parks. You scanned your NYCC badge, and then received a text message when it was your turn to come back and engage in the game. This led to suspiciously (and decepitvely) short lines, but also suggested a future where the Comic Con badge becomes potentially more powerful. Will there be an entirely cashless Comic Con where all purchases and access are peformed through the smart tag?
Finally - AMC was surprisingly not bringing a horde of Walking Dead zombies across the Westside Highway, so it was up to HBO to pick up some of the slack. Their Westworld activation promises to have fans running around Manhattan in a furious quest to find “appointment desks.” You see, Westworld: The Experience can only be accessed by appointment only, and the appointment desks will pop up in a different location each day—fans have to monitor HBO’s Facebook and Twitter accounts for clues. It is set up to the most buzzed about activity at NYCC this year.
San Diego’s Hall H is legendary for both the caliber of celebrity guests it attracts (that easy ride from LA pays dividends) and for being the premiere showcase for massive trailers and first-looks. NYCC certainly seems to attract bigger and bigger names each year—this year’s roster includes Keanu Reeves, John Cho, the cast of The Walking Dead, Mark Hamill, super-producer Lauren Schuler Donner, Seth Rogen, and many others—but its main strength is in the panel discussions themselves.
That said, it's not as though NYCC was entirely without buzzworthy premieres. Reeves took the stage to unveil the exclusive first look at his upcoming techno-thriller Replicas.
Star Wars' John Boyega took the stage at the Theater at Madison Square Garden to unveil the first trailer for the upcoming sci-fi sequel Pacific Rim: Uprising, which also caused a stir throughtout the con.
Highlights from this year also include “Comics As Primary Sources,” which aims to help educators utilize comic books to contextualize and interpret historical periods. “Gender Identity: Understanding Through Art” addresses the concerns of character representation and the larger issues of identity and gender—in fact, representation is a huge theme at NYCC 2017, with complementary panels such as “#BlackComicsMonth: Diversity in Comics” and “The Wonder Women: Behind LGBTQ Characters in Comics.”
By far, NYCC’s most potent superpower is its location. No offense to San Diego’s Gaslamp District, but where they offer “quaint,” New York offers…New York. Warner Bros. is hitting Times Square with all its got, unleashing the full power of the Justice League beginning Oct. 5th. The Batmobile (as well as Bruce Wayne’s Mercedes-Benz AMG Vision Gran Turismo) will be double-parked for photo opps, with lifelike statues of Wonder Woman, Batman, The Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman inside the Times Square AT&T store along with other props and memorabilia.
NYCC is taking over venues such as Hammerstein Ballroom (which will host panels and events from “An Evening With Mark Hamill” to a Cartoon Network-sponsored costume party), the Theater at Madison Square Garden (where The Walking Dead cast will gather), and the Hudson Mercantile (where authors Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jason Reynolds will host “From Black Panther to Miles Morales” and where R.L. Stine himself will arrive to pay tribute to 25 years of “Goosebumps).
On Friday evening, NYCC will once again host “Heroes After Dark” at the Highline Ballroom, which debuted last year and is looking to continue its growth into the con's signature kickoff event.
We will have more from NYCC as the week progresses, so check back here or on our social channels to see what else we discover about one of the most anticipated events of the pop culture year.