The first-ever Phoenix Comicon Fan Fest out at University of Phoenix Stadium this past weekend wasn't what you'd call packed. Sure, it was definitely well-attended, very busy with patrons at certain points, and constantly filled with lively activity, but nowhere close to being the wall-to-wall chaotic hive of geeky humanity that is its big sister. And that's not to the Fan Fest's detriment by any means. Quite the contrary.
The smaller scope and attendance of the three-day fan gathering in comparison to Comicon afforded more and somewhat longer opportunities to interact with vendors, dealers, or those in Artist's Alley, or without having to worry someone behind you potentially getting a case of nerd rage out of impatience.
It seemed like there was more than enough room to move, breathe, and engage in geeky shenanigans at Fan Fest, maybe because of the epic and vast setting of being in the middle of an enormous NFL stadium. It definitely made you feel a bit, um, super. (A few fellow geeks even joked about how this was the only time they'd be at the 50-yard-line of a football field.)
There was also more of a relaxed vibe overall, more families in attendance, and less harried interaction with your fellow patrons, especially if you asked someone wearing some superhero threads or doing the cosplay thing to pose for a photo. And we certainly did a lot of that. In truth, we kept a running tally of the better costumes out at the event, including those on the following list.
There are a lot of perks of having a geek for a dad. Case in point: Tucson resident Eric Perry, who not only took his son to Phoenix Comicon Fan Fest but also created a snazzy Doctor Octopus getups (complete with tentacles) for himself that dovetailed nicely with his offspring's Iron Spider-Man costume. The elder Perry -- who told us he's into "Spider-Man, Marvel, Star Wars. . . whatever" -- also helped make a slinky Black Cat ensemble for his friend Simone Knight. "It was all my idea," Eric says. "It took about a day and a half to make."
It was one of the better Doc Ock's we've seen in awhile, outside of the one that fellow geek dad (and nerdy comedian) Patton Oswalt had made in order to accompany his Spider-Child on Halloween. Both examples prove that the family that cosplays together, stays together.
Old School X-Men
When the trio of J.J. Jones, Kathleen Kelly, and Miguel Razura came up from Tucson to attend Fan Fest, they definitely came prepared. From the looks of it, the three friends had at least two different group costumes to wear around the event, including going as supporting characters from Wreck-It Ralph (a.k.a the Disney animated flick about the secret lives of video game characters that starred Dr. Steve Brule as Donkey Kong) on day two of the event.
Our preference, however, was for their later ensembles, which they wore on the final day of Fan Fest and depicted several iconic X-Men, including Jones going as Bishop, Kelly portraying gum-popping and fireworks-slinging teenager Jubilee, and Razura starring as team leader Cyclops. And as you can see for yourself, they were wearing the old school blue and yellow versions of their uniforms, which takes us back to the days of catching the cartoon X-Men duking it our with Magneto and his evil mutants on Fox Kids.
Guardians of the Galaxy
To the surprise of no one, least of all us, there were a slew of Star Lords, a gaze of Rocket Raccoons, and other Guardians of the Galaxy cosplayers strolling about Fan Fest who were eager to portray the characters from the summer blockbuster, which is still showing in local dollar theatres. However, what makes this Tucson family -- consisting of Andrew Longoria, his paramour Crystal Reyes, and her daughter Lilly Carroll -- stand out amongst the pack is the level of detail they put into the accessories.
Reyes, who went to Fan Fest as Star Lord, says she recorded her own cassette version of the film's iconic Awesome Mix Vol. 1 and hand-painted an old Walkman to match Peter Quill's tape deck. Even better, she also repurposed a sound-activated cat toy into a fully functional dancing Groot. It was nifty enough that we're willing to ignore the fact that the full cinematic version of the Guardians of the Galaxy's roster wasn't represented (read: Gamora). "I had a hard time choosing between her and Star Lord," Reyes says, "I really like Peter Quill." Don't we all.
The Scooby-Doo Family
While a certain amount of the gear and garb that was worn at Fan Fest had a definite "wow" factor, the outfits worn by these five siblings were big on the "aww" factor. And don't be afraid to admit that it tugs at your heart strings and probably brings back memories of watching Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! or its many spin-offs as a kid.
Surprise couple Collin and JoAnna Wahlund grew up watching the show and after finding a Scooby-Doo costume at a local Goodwill in September, they started putting together costumes for Daphne, Shaggy, Fred, and Velma to deck out their entire brood. The only thing missing were some flashlights and, of course, the Mystery Machine. "Yeah, you know, maybe we could repaint the mini-van or something," Collin says.
Horror Movie Villains
Meanwhile, this group of some of the most sinister villains from the world of horror is the exact opposite of harmlessly innocent and cute. To be honest, they seemed a little foreboding when our paths crossed outside of Fan Fest just after nightfall one evening. Guess that speaks to the quality of their costumes, especially the dead-on Jigsaw puppet on a tricycle.
Unlike their murderous characters, this creepy looking crew turned out to be plenty friendly and are even in the business of scaring people. Mark Plante, who went as Freddy Krueger, runs haunted house Yuma Nightmares in the southwestern Arizona city and uses all of the costumes pictured, including the one for The Violator worn by his friend David Rhine. If it gave us the chills, we can only imagine the sort of frights that jittery teenagers and the easily spooked experience down in Yuma around Halloween.
DC Supervillans/1980s Icons Mash-ups
Character mash-ups are a big thing at any Phoenix Comicon event (okay, such things are big at any sort of 'con, as well as in geek culture, period) and Fan Fest had plenty. We caught a glance of Starfleet Santas, Steampunk Jokers, Evel Knievel Clone Troopers, and the like. . . and that was just outside. Inside the stadium, however, we spied out favorite mash-ups of the weekend that were more unique than any other: a group of four friends who merged '80s pop culture icons with some DC Comics supervillains.
Eddie Wouters, for instance, paired lunkhead jock Ogre from Revenge of the Nerds with Mr. Freeze while his buddy Kage Kral combined the Legion of Doom's Solomon Grundy of with high school uber-rebel John Bender from The Breakfast Club. Their two gal-pals both chose Cyndi Lauper as the basis for their respective costuming remixes, with Tristan Breneman cross-polinating the "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" singer with The Joker and Karen Lee choosing a chaser of Poison Ivy. According to Wouters, it just seemed like an interesting idea, once they finally managed to find the right concept.
"We came up with this at Phoenix Comicon," he says. "We were just trying to do mash-ups that we could all do, so we decided on the '80s and it morphed from just '80s villains into '80s movies and culture with comics."
When this fiendish nemesis of the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers arrived on the scene during the TV show's second season, it had some dangerous and deadly consequences for Earth and its inhabitants (well, at least until producers changed his character from menacingly evil to more comically evil). When Stacey Pribyl showed up at Fan Fest as Lord Zedd, however, a destructive rampage by a Pirantishead, Robogoat, or other such ginormous monsters ensued. Instead, the 28-year-old Waddell resident's appearance resulted in plenty of compliments, smiles, and shutter-clicks due to her highly detailed costume.
Pribyl was a die-hard viewer of MMPR and the self-proclaimed "emperor of evil" was her favorite baddie. When he made his exit during Power Rangers Zeo, however, she tuned out. "I watched it every day up until season four," she says. "Once Zedd was gone, I was sad." C'mon, King Mondo and Queen Machina weren't that bad, were they?
Like many filmgoers who enjoyed The Book of Life, Madelyn "Mae" Burke dug the character of La Muerte, the cheeky spirit who oversees the Land of the Remembered and resembles a catrina of Dia de Los Muertos lore. So much so that the fashion design at Phoenix College was was inspired to recreate her look for cosplaying purposes.
The result was one of the most eye-catching costumes at Fan Fest. Burke admits it was quite a task to become La Muerte, but she felt up to it. "Her sass and her good natured behavior towards everyone in the movie, plus her intricately detailed design really struck a chord with me," says Burke, who has been cosplaying since 2012. "I like detailed big pieces, something that will challenge me, and that's predominately why I chose her."
Back during Labor Day Weekend, we met a pair of local cosplayers at Saboten Con who were dressed in astounding costumes resembling Autobot heroes Grimlock and Glyph. Besides showing off their remarkable efforts and earning praise from fellow con-goers, the two told us that a number of their friends were busy working on similar Transformer costumes, which they promised would debut at future geek events. They weren't lying.
The members of the Arizona Autobots, the official name of their cosplay group, were out in force at Fan Fest with a few new Cybertronians among their ranks, including Bumblebee, Ironhide, and Prowl. There also was a Shockwave, which goes to prove that the doesn't discriminate against Decepticons, especially the cooler ones.
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They stomped around the stadium, hung out at their booth (which had non-stop screenings of the 1986 animated Transformers movie), and even got into a playful standoff with soldiers from The Finest, a G.I. Joe costuming club. Naturally, this showdown between '80s Hasbro staples was all in good fun (and neither blood nor oil was spilled), but it was definitely a geek-out moment that was also one of the most memorable scenes of the weekend.
And just in case a similar situation develops at next year's Phoenix Comicon, the Arizona Autobots are planning on bringing some backup to the event. Several costumes are in the works, including Blaster, Starscream, and the two most famous Transformers of 'em all, Optimus Prime and Megatron.
So now you know what to expect in May, Joes, and knowing is. . . well, you can fill in the rest.