Despite a notably toned-down presence among Disney-owned properties at Comic-Con, there was no hotter ticket than the 90-minute panel for Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., ABC’s much anticipated fall drama series. If you want to know the premiere date, you have only to ask one of the several thousand fans in the standing-room-only crowd at the convention’s biggest venue: Jeph Loeb, head of television for Marvel Entertainment (and a comic book writer himself) emerged to cheers in a “Coulson Lives” T-shirt, then split the audience into thirds and had them compete for volume screaming “September!” “24!” “On ABC!”
Loeb played the part of hype man for every actor on the show, a roster that includes How I Met Your Mother’s Cobie Smulders, reprising her role in the Avengers film; Chloe Bennet as the superhero-obsessed hacker Skye; and Brett Dalton as the gruff black-ops agent Grant Ward.
But nobody, not even Whedon, got the kind of screaming adulation reserved for veteran character actor Clark Gregg, who oversees the S.H.I.E.L.D. team as agent Phil Coulson. Gregg is literally resurrecting the role, as Coulson appeared to be quite dead in his final scene in The Avengers.
“I didn’t like being dead, but I liked the way I died,” Gregg said. “And then #CoulsonLives happened, and then Joss…”
Visibly moved, Gregg paused to collect himself, at which point someone close to the front screamed out, “You’re my favorite Avenger!”
“Thank you, man!” Gregg said. “You’re my favorite guy at the Con! Except Joss!”
The panel took few questions, with Whedon promising the ballroom that S.H.I.E.L.D. “may use some heroes and villains that are not yet cinematic,” but fans didn’t care: the last question during the first part of the panel was, “Could you maybe show us a clip?” and Whedon, an old hand at milking a crowd, said, “There was a thing with legal, with the Disney lawyers, and so we can’t show you a clip. We’re just gonna show you the episode.”
Fans were pleased.
Disney has been on a serious IP-buying spree of late, but with the exception of ABC—which promoted its fantasy series Once Upon a Time in Wonderland at the show, as well—and recent acquisition Marvel (purchased for $4.05 billion in 2009), its properties are thin on the ground around SDCC. Much has been made of J.J. Abrams’ upcoming Star Wars movie, which is set to begin filming next year, but Star Wars—another $4 billion buy—is barely represented here.
Even fan sites listed mostly fan-run events, with big investments like the upcoming videogame Battlefront all but absent. Disney appears to be seeking to move the fan conversation around its properties to D23 Expo, an annual event of Disney fans in Anaheim, where it will control the conversation to a much greater degree—and where it will have a much larger presence for Star Wars in particular.
That said, even with the boost in attendance the new properties will doubtless bring, Disney isn’t likely to draw anywhere near as many fans as are presently on hand in San Diego. D23 usually attracts about 40,000 attendees to SDCC’s roughly 130,000.
Meanwhile, huge activations for even minor Warner Bros. properties are all over SDCC. TruTV, Turner’s reality-focused cable network for bros, had a punching bag contest in the Con and a branded breakfast café for its show Impractical Jokers outside; Warner Interactive is pushing its new Batman game (Arkham Origins) everywhere you look, Cartoon Network’s various superhero shows are everywhere, and Adult Swim had a funhouse in the parking lot and a “rest stop” on the showroom floor.
In addiiton, DC Entertainment branded the official SDCC souvenir booklet with art by Dave McKean from its upcoming Neil Gaiman comics, and HBO had a True Blood-themed blood drive.
Previous Cons have looked like the old Avengers/JLA comics, with each super-team’s parent megacorporation fighting proxy wars through fans eager to take part. Now, the convention center looks like WarnerCon.