There were a lot of things that had to be canceled in the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and conventions, specifically Comic Con's, was one of the most obvious things that weren't going to make the cut. A Comic Con on a good year is about packing hundreds of thousands of people in small places where they are sometimes shoulder to shoulder for days at a time. Some of them are sleeping outside, not sleeping enough, and certainly not eating enough. It's a breeding ground for germs; there is a reason we all know what "con crud" and the "nerd flu" are. They happen after every single convention. For this writer who usually goes from New York Comic Con to Florida to visit her parents, I am almost always sick, and I took said germs on the subway and planes without a care in the world. There was no possible way Comic Con's were happening this year, so it was time to adapt.
Conventions Go Digital With Comic-Con @ Home and DC FanDome
Comic-Con International was the first one out the gate with Comic-Con @ Home, which debuted to mixed reactions from people. DC and by extension, Warner Bros. had already announced their own virtual convention in August, so they weren't going to show up, and none of the other major studios made a real effort to come as well. Then there was the fact that the panels were just a bunch of people in their living rooms, and it was obvious they were in their living rooms. That's fine for getting drunk with your friends on a Friday night, but a panel that is supposed to be hyping something up it comes across a little strange. Amazon turned up in a bigger way, even offering swag if you got lucky in true Comic Con fashion, but the whole thing was sort of a dud. Now DC and Warner Bros. had a month to refine their own convention [and layoff 800+ people] to make it seem like more of an event, and they managed to pull it off.
DC FanDome was a very different beast from Comic-Con @ Home. The Hall of Heroes, or the digital Main Stage if you will, was like some sort of hellish combination of Hall H, Ballroom 20, with a side of the upper room panel rooms in the San Diego Convention Center. Instead of needing to move from one stream to another, the whole thing streamed consistently with little fun treats to break up the major panels like spotlights on fanart of cosplay or one-off questions for cast members of various movies and TV shows. If you were in the Hall of Heroes and there wasn't something you were interested in, you just muted the feed instead of leaving because it was easier.
DC also went out of their way to make everything look better. With the help of Jim Lee, they built a digital, well, dome for the various international hosts to stand in. They sent said hosts and some of the major talent green screens so they could be added to the dome. The major panels featured plain grey backgrounds, for the most part, which made the whole thing feel more professional. There were about eight straight hours of footage in the Hall of Heroes, and then they replayed the entire thing from start to finish. It was a fascinating event to watch unfold in real-time, even if there was a serious problem with things leaking before major panels. Once the event wrapped, Lee said on twitter, "Endless thnx to all the HUNDREDS of amazing people at WB/DC who worked long nights & weekends on top of their day jobs on making this virtual experience a reality."
And the whole thing worked. For a good eight-plus hours DC and Warner Bros. properties were all people were talking about. The hashtag trended in a big way, and DC didn't hold back when it came to announcements and bringing the goods. We got a new Wonder Woman 1984 trailer, first-look footage of The Suicide Squad and a reveal of who is playing who, first-look footage of The Batman, the title of Shazam 2 was revealed, a motion comic like trailer for Black Adam, concept art for The Flash, and that's just the movies. As someone who has attended a Warner Bros. Hall H presentation, that is usually what they bring [more or less]. According to a press release put out by Warner Bros. and DC, the Hall of Heroes drew in 22 million viewers across 220 countries and territories. The extra work made the thing feel like an event compared to Comic-Con @ Home, which never really got to that level.
What Happens Next?
So what does this mean for the future of conventions? It's unfortunately too early to tell. New York Comic Con had a virtual event planned for October, and we'll have to see how they decide to handle things in the wake of Comic-Con @ Home underperforming and how well DC FanDome was received. We don't know what conventions are going to look like in a post-COVID-19 world. While these virtual events will never really capture the feeling of being in Hall H when a new Marvel or DC movie is announced or getting the right merch from your favorite company or meeting one of your heroes, DC FanDome was a fun little event that took the world by storm for a full 24-hours and did what DC rarely gets to do; dominate the conversation. The second more TV focused part of the event happens on September 12th.
We said back in April that we should wash our hands of 2020 and move on, and that does appear to be the case. However, it's interesting to see how events are trying to adapt to the new normal for the time being. Comic-Con @ Home didn't quite work, but maybe it could have with a little more polish. DC FanDome more or less did work, so perhaps there is hope for the New York Comic Con virtual event. The convention season more or less ends with NYCC in October, so we have until the end of February/beginning of March to see whether or not traditional conventions have a place in a post-COVID-19 world. Until then? Well, at least we got the FanDome.