University of Phoenix Stadium is no stranger to colorful and larger-than-life characters and all manner of derring-do. Besides all the action of Arizona Cardinals home games during football season, the cavernous Glendale landmark has not only hosted battles by the heroes and villains of the WWE, but also the rock 'n' roll theatrics of over-the-top superstars like Bono and Mick Jagger.
So it seems only natural that throngs of costumed geeks, cosplayers, and those sporting capes and cowls aplenty will congregate inside the stadium this weekend along with the creators and actors behind some rather legendary comic book, sci-fi, and fantasy characters during the first-ever Phoenix Comicon Fan Fest.
The three-day extravaganza -- which runs from Friday, December 12, to Sunday, December 14 -- is a spin-off of sorts of the regular Comicon held every May (or thereabouts) and will include much of the same sort of geek-friendly activities and attractions, only without the overwhelming crowds or stifling summertime temperatures. And that includes one of the best parts of any Comicon event: the many special guests that are scheduled to make appearances for question-and-answer sessions, photo opportunities, autograph signings, and panels in the stadium's various meeting rooms.
Like its mothership event, the Fan Fest will feature famous names from the various realms of geekdom -- including actors and actresses from some blockbuster franchises and the artists who helped bring some memorable heroes and villains to life -- and the chance to interact with them in some fashion. (Organizers are also introducing a new "fast pass" system that will reportedly cut down on waiting time for attendees for certain photo ops and autograph sessions.)
We've looked over the Fan Fest's guest list and assembled a rundown of who we're most excited to see and meet this weekend out in Glendale.
If you stayed through the ending credits of Iron Man 3 last summer -- which we've got a sneaking suspicion that you did, since it was a Marvel movie and all -- you might have seen the name Bob Layton rolling by under the "special thanks" section. It's a credit that's richly deserved, considering that the longtime comic book artist and scribe contributed greatly to the Iron Man mythos along with fellow writer David Michelinie during their tenure with Marvel in the late '70s, including penning the landmark "Demon in a Bottle" story arc and creating such important characters as Rhodey and Justin Hammer.
They also came up with the notion of specialty armors, which was (for better or worse) a major plot device in the third film. So if you dug the flick's explosive climax of a phalanx of Iron Man suits laying waste to hordes of Extremis-enhanced bad guys before self-destructing, be sure to high-five Layton after his appearance on Saturday at Fan Fest.
Speaking of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, if you've seen the squee-inducing trailer for the two-part Avengers: Infinity War saga that's due out in 2018 and 2019, it includes the iconic image of the dreaded Thanos smugly wielding the cosmically powerful Infinty Gauntlet. Its something that dates back to the cover art original Infinity Gauntlet arc in the early '90s and has been recreated over the years by any number of Marvel artists over the years, including Brandon Peterson. He's arguably one of the more gifted illustrators and artists currently in the bullpen and has lent his skills to such titles as Age of Ultron (which, sadly, isn't the basis for the upcoming Avengers sequel, save for the title) and Ultimate Vision, as well as both The Uncanny X-Men and The Astonishing X-Men.
If you happen to be eager to ask Linda Blair a few questions when the Oscar-nominated actress -- best known for her role as possessed teenager Regan MacNeil in the 1973 horror classic, The Exorcist -- at her Q&A panel on Sunday morning, allow us to dispense with a few of the more obvious ones: Yes, she was truly terrified when filming the movie, thanks to director William Friedkin having her placed in a harness and shaken during certain scenes. And, no, that wasn't her voice you hear in the actual film, as the late actress Mercedes McCambridge provided the demon's coarse-as-sandpaper rasp. And if you're hoping Blair can reenact The Exorcist's famous head-spinning scene, either at the panel or during any of her various photo ops throughout the whole weekend. . . um, that was a obviously a special effect, silly.
While he may have spent much of his 37-year career portraying such roles as Corporal Hicks in Aliens, the outlaw Johnny Ringo in Tombstone, or Sheriff Hague in Grindhouse, Michael Biehn will be most famous for being hard-boiled time-traveling soldier (and, ultimately, John Connor's daddy-o) Kyle Reese in the original Terminator from 1984. The 58-year-old actor certainly realizes this fact and embraces it with gusto, which means you shouldn't be embarrassed when peppering him with questions about working on the iconic film or getting his opinion on the new version of the character in the upcoming Terminator: Genysis during his spotlight session on Saturday morning.
One of the funnier moments from the 2012 comedy film Ted was when Mark Wahlberg's boss extolled the virtues of hanging out with Tom Skerritt, be it at Chicago Bulls game or helping out with home maintenance. ("I don't think of him as an actor anymore. . . he's just like a guy.") It's not a completely absurd notion, given that the noted character actor has played a series of kindly-but-stern father figures, mentors, or down-to-earth joes during his career, whether its Commander Mike "Viper" Metcalf in Top Gun, the dad in Steel Magnolias, or Sheriff Jimmy Brock on Picket Fences. So listening to Skerritt reminisce at his panel on Sunday afternoon will be more akin to sharing a beer with your old man and not some awkward talk about the birds and the bees.
Paul McGann & Colin Baker
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Rumors have persisted for years that one of the many famed actors who played Doctor Who (well, the ones who are still alive, that is) was going to make an appearance at Phoenix Comicon, usually involving either David Tennant and/or Matt Smith. While we always greeted such scuttlebutt with a grain of salt, it turns out that it was correct -- sorta. Comicon organizers have arranged for Colin Baker and Paul McGann, the thespians who starred as the sixth and eighth incarnations of the legendary Gallifreyan time lord, respectively, to materialize at Fan Fest.
And with all due respect to Mr. Sand Shows and Mr. Dickey Bow, we couldn't be more jazzed to see them in person. Both are bound to have some great stories to tell during their back-to-back spotlights on Friday afternoon, whether it involves working on the show or returning for the various 50th anniversary specials last year. Although you should probably refrain from asking them to don their Doctor costumes during any of their multiple photo ops during the weekend.
Phoenix Comicon Fan Fest runs from Friday, December 12, to Sunday, December 14. Admission is $15 to $25 for a daily pass or $50 for the full event.