A little backstory: I consider myself a lapsed nerd. As a teen, I may have been edging toward full blown geekdom – you judge: I looked like Young Woody, I had anxiety about the nature of irrational numbers, and my prized possessions were stacks of Marvel comics (DC was verboten), an Estes rocket with a payload bay, and a huge fold-out schematic blueprint of the Starship Enterprise. But those days are long behind me, packed away in a box, moved twice and then chucked out with the Atari 2600 and the broken Boba Fett bobblehead. Sure, I've seen every episode of Star Trek:TNG several times, but I've never written a love poem in Klingon. I may have played Bioshock: Infinite twice (it's phenomenal) but I had to borrow a friend's PlayStation to run it. And I love pop culture, but I've never been in the hallowed halls of Comic-Con. Til now.
I'm in San Diego to participate on a panel for the CBS show Extant, which stars the divine Halle Berry (she was Storm in the X-Men series, so she's beloved at Comic-Con) and which I executive produce. The show takes place in a near future populated with life-like robots, half-human/half-alien hybrids… hmmm, I know that sounds high on the nerd-o-meter, but I've written plenty of TV shows and movies that have no sci-fi elements at all, I swear.
Just before the panel starts, I'm introduced to William Shatner. William. Shatner. The headwaters of the River Nerd. Zeus: Greece as Shatner: Sci-Fi. Were I still a nerd, this would be overwhelming and blow out most of my synapses. Fortunately, those days are long behind me, so I keep cool and have a nice chat with Mr. Shatner about three wheeled motorcycles.
The half hour panel is fun…if your idea of fun is talking to a room of 4,000 strangers. We're lucky to have The Nerdist's Chris Hardwick moderate – he energizes the whole room with intelligence and a light touch. Halle and co-star Jeffrey Dean Morgan are hilarious and charming; I am coherent, which is good enough.
After the panel ends, I put on my comfortable walking shoes and hit the packed convention floor, armed with nothing but my wits and a plastic light saber to ward off any Tusken raiders I might encounter. Within seconds, I'm wading into a sea of pop culture, the faithful dressed as everything from cute Minecraft characters to that psychotic dude with a mohawk from Mad Max. Along with all the entertainment properties that have a presence here, there is stuff for sale as far as you can see: comic books, video games, new toys, old toys, new toys designed to look like old toys, memorabilia, posters, and every form of art imaginable.
On my left: Wolverine and a guy in a T-shirt that says "Binary: it's as easy as 1, 10, 11" passionately discuss who is the real Darth Vader – James Earl Jones (the voice) or David Prowse (the man in the black helmet). On my right: Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy, green from head to toe, shares a Diet Coke with Batman as they eyeball a talking Yoda doll that waves a light saber and dispenses grammatically challenged wisdom. And zombies…man, the place is crawling with the undead in various levels of decay.
But here's the surprise: there are also tons and tons of people just enjoying the vibe – a father and a tween daughter scanning vintage Star Wars paraphernalia, a couple in matching Spock T-shirts strolling along holding hands, folks from every walk of life coming together to celebrate a different way of looking at the world, a safe place with no cynicism, no judgment. An oasis where you can let your freak flag fly.
And then, unexpectedly, it all starts welling up from deep in the memory hole – that gawky 13-year-old who was looking to make sense of the universe and found escape in Asimov and Dick and Roddenberry, in Close Encounters and Westworld and Andromeda Strain. I try to close the hatch, but it's too late – a flood of images materialize…things I haven't thought of in forever…trading Wacky Packs, and watching Star Trek re-runs in the den with my father, and my first true love: Lindsay Wagner in The Bionic Woman.
I make my way past a vintage comic book vendor and now my pulse is really running – stacks of '70s Marvel comics, the greats that fired my imagination as a kid – Fantastic Four, X-Men, Spidey, all my old friends, right where I'd left them 35 years ago. I realize now: I may, just possibly, have been in denial, a denial that goes back to my hello with Shatner two hours ago…or maybe it goes back all the way to the '70s.
Yes, the whole thing is loud, sardine packed, and commercialized…but I love it. I'm struck by a sense of belonging, like encountering dear old friends I haven't seen in a long time, friends I've carried around in my heart all these years but never called on the phone.
I must now admit the secret truth – I actually have seen some TNG episodes 10 times or more. I think Watchmen is one of the most profound books of our time. I fracking loved Battlestar Galactica. And my synapses have yet to recover from meeting Shatner. The warmth of epiphany washes over me and cannot be denied: I'm with my peeps. I'm home. Time to brush up on my Klingon and get to work on a love poem.