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October 14, 2015

Fan Expo 2010 Day 1: The Original Chewbacca, Vampires and Marvel's Unsung Heroes

by Aaron Broverman, posted Aug 28th 2010 3:30PM
Of all the years I've been to the Fan Expo convention in Toronto, 2010 was the first time I laid down $95 for the VIP treatment. The privilege included a variant Thor totebag, a special edition of Spider-Man #638 with guest of honor Stan Lee on the cover, a collection of Green Lantern and Flash power rings and two lithographs - -one, Batman by artist Gary Frank and the other, a reprint of the cover for Spider-Man #1 by Steve Ditko, but the most important thing the VIP pass gave me was time. Today, I was able to enter the premises at 2PM instead of the usual 4PM. So long, suckers!

It was a good thing too, because for the first time even showing up early wasn't enough. The Fan Expo will certainly set an attendance record this year, because the line began outside and almost snaked its way to the CN Tower, which is three full city blocks away.

Just last year, Fan Expo was relegated to the rear of the convention complex, but this year us geeks have taken over all three floors of the main building, and then some. What would be my first order of business in this virtual frenzy of fandom? There wasn't anything explicitly film or TV buff-worthy going on when the panel discussions began at 5PM, so on a day when Stan Lee was making the autograph hounds drool upstairs, I wanted to pay tribute to his lesser-known partners downstairs.

The panel was called 'Steve Ditko & Bill Everett: Spider-Man, Sub-Mariner, Daredevil & Beyond.' Hosted by Blake Bell, the author of 'Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko' and the upcoming 'Fire and Water: Bill Everett, The Sub-Mariner and the Birth of Marvel Comics,' it displayed their heavy influence on the birth of not only Marvel comics, but comics in general.

For example, it was Bill Everett who created Namor the Sub-Mariner, a superhero that was the first Marvel hero, and it predates Stan Lee's prodigious run creating heroes in the '60s. Namor the Sub-Mariner was also the first anti-hero in comics, which means that Wolverine, The Punisher, Frank Miller's/Christopher Nolan's Batman and countless others all have him to thank. The Sub-Mariner first appeared in Marvel Comics #1, which, of course, would later become the name of the company, but Everett wasn't even working for Marvel at the time. Marvel's founding publisher Martin Goodman bought Everett's Sub-Mariner stories from an independent studio called Funnies Inc.

Bill Everett, or rather, Everett and his children, are also largely responsible for creating Daredevil. Long before it was a bad Ben Affleck movie, Stan Lee approached Everett and said he had this idea for an acrobatic superhero named Daredevil -- and that was it. It was Everett's daughter who suggested to her father that Daredevil be blind, since she was legally blind at the time, and that he have heightened senses as a power, since she was experiencing some heightened senses of her own. It was Everett's son who told him what the design of the costume should be, though he wasn't able to convince his dad to switch from yellow to red as the dominant color until later.

As for Ditko, few people realize that he didn't start his art career with 'Spider-Man,' and that many of the same motifs and techniques, such as the looping punches of the hero, or the angst-ridden face of a teenaged Peter Parker, could be found in the romance, sci-fi and Western comics he did in the '50s, almost panel-for-panel. So why have these two been so overlooked? Bill Everett's alcoholism made him extremely difficult to work with, though Stan would take him back three times due to Everett's talent, and Ditko wanted full control of his work, and for that work to speak for itself. He still publishes his own comics to this day (though they're harder to track down). It has also been suggested by Bell's book reviewers that Ditko's bull-headedness caused him to withdraw from any opportunity for public adulation to this day -- not that he minds. Everett eventually passed away in 1973, sober.

After that eye-opener -- a panel I expect will be one of the hidden gems of the weekend -- I moved two rooms over for the Q&A with legendary funnyman Leslie Nielsen ('Airplane!', 'Naked Gun'). Unfortunately, Nielsen was nowhere to be found and the discussion had been canceled. Thinking fast, I popped into an author's discussion called 'The Evolution of Vampires.' While I don't really label myself a vampire fan, I am fascinated by the possible reasons behind their hold on society. Plus, with 'True Blood', 'The Vampire Diaries' and the 'Twilight' saga essentially dictating the direction of the pop culture zeitgeist, I couldn't go wrong. The authors were not big names (sorry, no Stephanie Meyer, Charlene Harris or L.J. Smith), but they did have Sherrilyn Kenyon of The Dark Hunters series, Kelley Armstrong of the Otherworld and Darkest Powers series and a few people who had written companion books to the more popular film and TV franchises in question.

TV Squad Hits Fan Expo!

In answer to "Why are vampires so popular?," some cited our human mortality and the vampire giving us a vicarious opportunity to transcend death, while others responded to the visceral intimacy that they offer when taking a life and making love. Generally, it's the irresistible combo of sex and death. Plus, the vampire appeals to the outsider and being okay with that outsider feeling. It's about a search for identity for many teens, the authors argued, adding that now thanks to vampires, the outsider is popular. Many on the panel yearned for a return to the purely evil vampire -- a vampire that doesn't sparkle and only drinks human blood. The panel was careful to say that there's a place for everything, and that these things come in cycles and the purely evil vampire may return. Of course, it was also pointed out that putting a dark side under the surface, in an otherwise good protagonist, provides more fodder for authors as a way to examine conflict. As for vampire fatigue, it was said that such things will happen, but vampires will inevitably live to feed another night.

Following that, I finally attended a panel featuring a known celebrity: 'Talking to Chewie' featured 7'2" Brit actor Peter Mayhew (who played Chewbacca in the original 'Star Wars' movies) answering any and all questions related to the lovable 'Star Wars' wookie. This included Chewbacca's trademark roar (one of which was a three-minute back-and-forth conversation in the wookie native tongue). For the record, he had nothing to do with Chewie's original voice. "That was a combination of a bear and a dog," he said.

The conversation was steered along by A.J. Fry, a popular host on Canada's Space Channel, and featured some questions I always wanted to know the answers to, like why Chewbacca didn't get a medal at the end of 'Star Wars: A New Hope.' Mayhew thinks there are two possible reasons: "One, because they were over-budget ,and two, because Carrie [Fisher] would've had to go up the steps to reach me."

Mayhew also characterized himself as a "Lucas purist," meaning that everything George Lucas doesn't write isn't actually part of the 'Star Wars' canon. He also shares Lucas' displeasure with the 1978 'Star Wars Holiday Special' that featured Chewie's family. "A lot of the cords that controlled the facial expression on the costumes got bunched up, so you could see the cords on camera," he said.

The actor he admires most in the latest 'Star Wars' films is Christopher Lee as Count Dooku; he related a story about getting intimidated when Lee jokingly insisted Mayhew had more lines in 'Episode III' than he did. Mayhew believes that Lucas himself will never change. "He's always wearing the same plaid shirt and jeans... for as long as I've known him," he said. But the actor did reveal that Lucas has a few more 'Star Wars' ideas in the works. "There's talk of a live-action TV series, but you didn't hear that from me." He went on to thank the fans for all they do for charity and the many gifts he has received because the fans keep the franchise going. As with most stars at these conventions, he soon vanished with a duck and a wave.

Tomorrow, I'm hoping to grab that elusive photo with Stan Lee and go 'Back to the Batcave' with Adam West, Burt Ward and Julie Newmar -- wish me luck!

Fan Expo runs from August 27-29 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

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