I’m beginning to wake up to reality. As much as I’ve tried to deny it in the previous years, I can no longer lie to myself. Things aren’t fun the way they once were. The world hasn’t been and will never be the same since COVID. The rush of energy I felt from my first Con can’t be replicated until the world is entirely past the current pandemic. Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo—C2E2—was a thrill before the dark times. With no worries about infectious diseases, the atmosphere was jammed, rendering a high I didn’t expect to have.
For a long time I had never attended a Con event. Why would I go to one of those things? I’m already enough of a nerd; why make myself more of one? Insecure thoughts like these riddled my head, refraining me from attending anything like San Diego Comicon or C2E2. It wasn’t until I began seeing many friends far removed from conventional geeks posting pics from C2E2 for two consecutive years that changed my mind. These are successful people posting pictures of themselves dressed in Halloween costumes in the middle of the summer. I figured if they’re doing it, then what have I got to lose?
With restrictions lifted the world is begging to return to normal. The demand for protection has become a suggestion. Vaccination is asked but not required, as is wearing a mask. Come enjoy the show, but arrive at your own risk. With things looking a little more optimistic thanks to modern science, everyone’s allowed to breathe with more ease. More than half the attendance was unmasked. Who could blame them? Anyone’s personal health choice is ours to respect.
Was everyone maskless and the event radiating with life? No. I can’t blame Reedpop (the guys who run C2E2) for the lack of enthusiasm Chicago’s Comic-Con once had. How can a global pandemic be anyone’s fault? We still have loved ones to worry about. Even with COVID winding down (until the winter), the need to go to an indoor event in one of the largest public venues in the country can be frightening for many.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wasn’t nervous myself. Not for my health but for the health of my immunocompromised family. Some in my gene pool suffer from heart failure, diabetes, obesity, C.O.P.D., and more. When visiting them, I worry about them catching COVID from me. Still, I attended the event, but I wonder how many people didn’t go out of fear of inadvertently harming their loved ones. If I were to guess based on the visually half-capacitated showroom floor, many either didn’t buy a ticket or got cold feet.
That’s not to say C2E2 has become an isolated event catered to introverts. The pre-pandemic days is starting to regain its mojo. Having arrived late to one of the panels due to Chicago’s lovely parking, I stumbled into one of the main events, unaware of what I was walking into. It looked important given that close to 700 seats were lined up, and television cameras pointed toward a brightly lit stage. Entering the stage were two MCs draped in atrociously colored blazers, trying to excite the crowd with cheeky comedy. One MC exclaimed, “Star Wars fans raise your lightsabers!” Was I going to watch a bunch of people’s kids doing Star Wars cosplay? Judging by the amount of children with their parents it certainly seemed that way. Although tempted to leave, I decided to stay, trying to figure out what the spectacle was for.
The show started fast. “Ladies and gentlemen, you know her as Riva on Obi-Wan Kenobi; please give it up for Moses Ingram!” exclaimed one of hype men. Next, The Grand Inquisitor Rupert Everett took the stage, followed by little Princess Leia Vivian Lyra Blair. As the crowd erupted in applause, I felt a sense of emptiness. As a Star Wars fan, I should be thrilled, but as an adult, I couldn’t shake the commercialism of it all. The event was a brief Q&A with the three members of the cast answering hard-hitting questions from thirteen-year-olds like, “Would you ever consider working for Marvel?” But I’m not one to criticize. Star Wars is made for kids after all.
Walking up to the microphone, I wanted to ask Moses Ingram if Disney prepared her for the inevitable backlash she’d get from a minority of fans that aren’t representative of Star Wars’ fan culture. I figured my question would be rejected given its complications and the wrong overall platform to ask it in, but what’s the harm in trying? When I reached the stagehand, who looked like she wanted to go home, she asked me what my question was. Amidst my explanation, I was requested by the exhausted staffer if I had any alternative questions. I did but wasn’t interested in asking any fandom topics, so I decided to give the microphone to someone else.
If that wasn’t enough to trigger my Star Wars fanboyism, I happened to stumble across live-action Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) herself. The idea of paying through the nose for an autograph with Ms. Dawson or any celebrity didn’t appeal to me. I knew she was doing a presentation at 2 pm on the final day I was there but decided to come in later since I was passed out from the previous day. Wanting to take a picture with a man in a Batman Begins suite, I got distracted by a complete Star Wars display featuring a life-sized R2-D2 model that was reacting to everyone. At first, I saw some nice lady in a purple outfit talking to the life-sized R2-D2. She was around a man and his kids, who I assumed was her family.
She asked R2 where Chopper (Ahsoka’s droid from Rebels) was. I thought, “Wow, this mom really knows her Star Wars.” A small finger tapped my shoulder; when I turned around, there were cameras all pointed in that woman’s direction. After taking a second for my naïve brain to process everything, I finally got what was going on. It was especially cemented when Ms. Dawon autographed the Holochess lounge of the Millennium Falcon.
After so much walking, I needed to sit down for a while. The McCormick Center is one of the largest public venue buildings in the United States, rendering C2E2 a test of endurance to get around. A majority of the McCormick Center’s main hangar is stacked with custom-designed stands selling products ranging from comics, to toys, graphic artist renditions, Halloween costumes, video games, and more. Even with the attendance sliced in half, it’s impossible to browse everything on sale.
The main thing that appeals to me during these Cons is the toys. Although, it might have changed to the comics. I instantly fell in love with C2E2 when I saw the plastic figures from my yesteryears on full display in their box. It’s one thing to see a 1989 Batman Action Figure on eBay, but it’s a whole other thing to see it on full in-person display. Instantly, I feel like a kid again, running around my bedroom with the Bat-wing. If the overall goal of a Comic-Con is to have people read more comics, then this year marks the second time when I went home with paper instead of plastic.
Although I’m a fan of Batman, it’s been exclusive to the big screen (plus the animated series). I only have read one other Batman comic. I couldn’t tell you which one it is since I was a child at the time whose mom bought it for him at her local Walgreens. Now a grown man, I’ve begun purchasing Batman’s more notorious comics, including The Killing Joke, The Dark Knight Returns, and Batman: Year One. Although the toys are fun, they’re more for the kids in my life than anyone. As an adult who still enjoys childlike things, I’m long overdue to divulge into The Dark Knight’s history.
Every day I consume a bit of something from my youth whether it be a comic, cartoon, or computer game. Yet, I can still watch challenging cinema and read literature. For as much fun as Comic-Cons are, we should only take our embrace of childish things so far. Although The Killing Joke is far from a kid’s comic, Batman and other caped crusaders are marketed towards a younger audience like the mythologies that came before them.
If we lose ourselves in superheroes as our only source of narrative entertainment, we forget how to handle the obstacles life can throw at us. As much as I love Batman and Star Wars, I choose to balance my childhood with adulthood. Such equity requires an embrace of art that exists outside of pop culture. Still, I’d be lying if I said I spend more hours on the Criterion Channel than Disney Plus.
Once something sparks your interest within your formative years, the joy it contains remains eternal. We can’t cut off the things that produce happiness. C2E2 and Comic-Cons like it are celebrations of all things nerdy. If you’ve ever watched a movie or cartoon show, read a comic book, or played a video game on multiple occasions, then guess what? You’ve got a little nerd in you. Confirm or deny it; we’re all geeks. Some take it a little too far. but so do sports fans. For a few days, it’s fun to attend C2E2, but I would find my life a bit too simplistic if everything I consumed was geared toward escapism.
What used to be a fun three day vacation in nostalgia was more like a funeral during COVID. After covering the festival for RogertEbert.com in 2019, I failed to return in March of 2020 after coming down with a cold. If it really was one. I wondered what those final moments of normalcy were like. About three weeks after C2E2 2022, the planet shut down.
One year later, I attended Wizard World (now called Fan Expo) in Rosemont for the first time. To say the event was a blast would be a lie. For as much fun as I had, I couldn’t shake the bizarreness of the situation. Throughout Wizard World, I wandered the empty hallway feeling a loss of energy I had from C2E2. Assuming it was just the time of year, plus the festival I attended, I covered C2E2 again in 2021, hoping for a better outcome. The results were identical.
C2E2 2022 isn’t a total resurgence of normality, but a large step towards it. With the world returning to a new normal, C2E2 may not be what it used to be but can be enjoyed by anyone nonetheless. Let the spontaneity guide your fandom and your wallet like it did me. Perhaps you’ll stumble across some unforgettable surprises yourself.
Want to see all my C2E2 photos and videos? Check them out on my Instagram here https://www.instagram.com/ypareviews/ or follow me on social media @ypareviews.