In the famed Hall H of San Diego Comic-Con, during a panel for Marvel's The Defenders, Jeph Loeb (Marvel Television's Executive Vice President) announced a second season of Iron Fist to uproarious applause. It was almost enough to make you forget that Iron Fist was panned critically and on social media. Netflix of course claims Iron Fist was its most binged drama premiere, but until the streaming platform starts releasing ratings for its shows, it's probably keen to focus on the word "premiere." As in, not the most binged series, but a lot of people watched that first episode. Did they keep going? Hall H's response would have you believe so.
Much has been written about the diminishing number of studios using Hall H to promote their films. The Hall has mostly become a DC and Marvel playground in recent years. This year was no different. And from the perspective of someone who likes to knock back cocktails after a long day at Comic-Con, the number of parties were scaled back this year as well. Not to mention the amount of activations (installations that promote a show, letting fans experience an aspect of the show and get a cool photo to share on social media) was much smaller than last year as well. It seemed like Comic-Con was doing things on a budget this year. Is it fiscal responsibility or the fact that hype at Comic-Con isn't translating to actual box office sales?
If anything, Comic-Con has turned into a different form of PR machine. DC has been plagued with rumors of an unhappy Ben Affleck and extensive reshoots on Justice League. But in Hall H, surrounded by fans in a safe space, it was easy for DC to release a new trailer for the film and to get Affleck to excitedly talk about how much he loves playing Batman. It's preaching to a choir of people who've already waited hours in line to see anything, so it's easier to garner a positive response from them that can be spun into good PR. Marvel, on the other hand, loves to release footage at events and then never post it online, adding to the luster and mystery surrounding their franchises. Comic-Con has become a way to use diehard fans to promote material, but for studios who haven't seen the dividends, maybe that's why they're sitting out.
Another thing about Comic-Con is there's simply so much going on that it's hard to concentrate on one thing. Panels for your favorite films and TV shows are probably happening at the same time, or maybe a long-ass line is keeping you from visiting activations for Stranger Things. Marvel was promoting three television series in addition to their films, but a constant refrain from the crowd at the Comic-Con was confusion.
The Defenders, The Gifted, and Inhumans were all heavily promoted (alongside Legion, but less so). But with Marvel's series existing across so many networks, it's hard to figure out what to care about and where you can watch it. For reference: The Defenders gathers Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist into one show. The Gifted is an X-Men series that will not be connected to any of the films and is about people discovering they have the mutant gene (there was a dope installation where you could get tested for the "mutant gene" and have an actual hereditary test mailed to you). Inhumans is airing on ABC and looks like it was made on a five-dollar budget.
But despite how the relationships between studios and Comic-Con has morphed, there's still a palpable energy there that's hard to ignore. Comics are pretty fucking important to the film industry right now; they're the properties for their most successful franchises. And comic-book fans are just as important. What gets the most attention at Comic-Con is always going to be who's starring in the latest Marvel film, but it's visiting your favorite authors and artists to get them to sign a comic, flipping through back issues, catching glimpses of all the cosplayers, or hell, even attending something like a panel on Queer Horror (annually hosted by Prism comics and moderated by writer Michael Varrati, who invited me on the panel this year) — that remains what Comic-Con is truly about. A Star Wars panel in 1976 wasn't even packed. You never know what obsession of tomorrow is lurking in the ballroom down the hall, and that's what keeps you coming back.