The torturous Comic-Con wait for a glimpse at Justice League – CNET

“Game of Thrones” exhibitionI’m sitting in a parking lot that juts out into San Diego Bay. A fleet of docked yachts flanks the spit of asphalt, a Joe’s Crab Shack nearby. Lines of yellow “caution” tape divide the lot into rows, with thousands of people around me sipping coffee/quietly talking while sitting in portable camping chairs under large beach umbrellas.

The shade isn’t necessary — yet — as a cool breeze blows by this Friday morning. The sun is just peeking out. Four ospreys fly in formation overhead.

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The fans were up early on Friday to line up for the Hall H panels. 

Roger Cheng/CNET

Behind me is the back of the San Diego Convention Center, home to this week’s Comic-Con International event. It’s less than 500 feet away, but it might as well be in another world.

That’s because I’m in line for the panels being held in the convention center — only they don’t start for another 27 hours. And even though I arrived here at 6:30 a.m.,  I’m nowhere near the front. The line winds along the waterfront, stretching to the neighboring Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel. There’s another long, winding stream of people closer to the front of convention center for today’s panel, and the queue I’m in won’t get to their spot until tomorrow morning.

Welcome to Comic-Con International, the granddaddy of comic book conventions, and the place to get sneak peeks of the biggest films and televisions shows and the hottest stars. Aside from its status as a premiere stage for Hollywood, Comic-Con is also a chaotic mess, with more than 135,000 visitors flooding the convention center and surrounding the downtown area for their fill of geeky goodness over five days.

The show is also infamous for its lines, from a three-hour wait to get into the “Blade Runner 2049 Experience,” to more than 10 hours to see the “Game of Thrones” exhibition. But nothing beats the intense wait for the San Diego Convention Center’s Hall H. Year after year, the 65,000 square feet room has housed the heaviest hitters of pop culture, from the cast of “Game of Thrones” to the line-up of the original Avengers.

All those headliners makes Hall H the place you really really want to be . And that means it takes patience and perseverance to get in. The lines have only gotten longer each year. Earlier this week, fans were greeted with the cast of “Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” who got to watch Halle Berry down a healthy serving of bourbon (a signature drink in the movie). The cast of “The Walking Dead” and “Game of Thrones” were expected to drop by late Friday.

But with Warner Bros.’s DC films like “Justice League,” Marvel’s “Thor: Ragnarok” and “Black Panther” (and possibly “Avengers: Infinity War,” along with a bevy of high-profile shows like “Westworld” and “Stranger Things,” lined up for Saturday, that promises to be the day to be in Hall H.

Which is why I’m now sitting outside in the parking lot.

By the time I joined the line Friday morning, it’s long enough that I can’t see where it actually begins. Someone explains where it actually starts, but my eye glaze over at the details. But as a Comic-Con newbie, I’m determined to get the full experience, which means attending a Saturday Hall H presentation. So what if it costs me a few hours of my life?

“At this point it’s almost like a yearly mecca you dread, but still find relaxation in,” said Jeremy Wong, a 33-year-old project manager for a construction management firm in San Mateo, California. Wong, who’s waited in a Hall H line for the last six years, sits next to me, at one point modeling an umbrella hat he picked up for when the vicious San Diego sun really starts to burn.  

Blame “Twilight”

Why is Hall H the phenomenon it is today? Thank the Twihards.

Twilight” was a monster hit in 2008, and the following year, the cast of the teen vampire love story descended on San Diego to promote the sequel, “New Moon.”

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It’s all Twilight’s fault. 

New Line Cinema

Thousands of hardcore fans who would walk through fire for a glimpse of Robert Pattinson or Taylor Lautner queued up early to see them speak at Hall H. And they made an impression.

“Once people see something, they repeat it,” said David Glanzer, chief communication and strategy officer for Comic-Con.

From “Star Wars” to DC’s unveiling of its cinematic universe, Hall H has hosted sessions worthy of a geek-freak out.

But 2011’s Marvel panel, which showed off a teaser and brought out the entire cast of “The Avengers” for the first time, “solidified Hall H as one of the must-see places for SDCC attendees,” Wong said.

Why do this?

For fans who track every detail of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or speak fluent Dothraki, waiting in line for hours or days for an hour-long panel makes sense.

I’m no stranger to long lines — as a veteran tech journalist, I’ve covered my fair share of Apple product launches. But in the end, you walk away with a product. I love Marvel and DC flicks as much as the next person, but I struggled to see why you’d want to wait so long for a few sound bites from some star.

As with Apple, there are always diehards who just have to be at the head of the line, the physical manifestation of people who yell “first” in the comments section.

Two days earlier, I ran into Angelica Contreras, the first person in line for the Thursday panel. Last year, she was stuck at the back of the auditorium. This year, she vowed to get the best seats in the house.

The 18-year-old student from San Diego State said she was looking forward to the “Kingsman” panel and, in particular, to hearing from Channing Tatum. “I’ve loved him forever,” Contreras said.

She planned to wrap up the panels and then get right back in line for the Friday sessions. When I asked how she was going to get a good seat, she told me her plan: “I already have my sister waiting in the Friday line.”

Jane Goldman, the screenwriter for both “Kingsman” films and “X-Men: First Class,” recalls being on both sides of Hall H. She spoke on panels (for the “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” session Thursday) and also lined up for favorite shows like “Game of Thrones.”

“I admit I got up very early and lined up for Glee one year,” she said, before adding, “It was for my daughter.”

For many, it’s the appeal of seeing something no one else will see for a while that’s the big driver. Wong explains that anyone can order an iPhone, but some of the footage the public will never see.

Ryan Page talked up the the concept images of Hulk in his gladiator armor — months before he made an appearance in the “Thor: Ragnarok” trailer. “To be the first to see it, that was really awesome for me,” said the 32-year-old San Diego native.

The networking effect

Page and Wong are a part of group I was introduced to who offered to help me on my journey to Hall H. They form a loose collective of fans who help each other out, covering for one another when someone needs to leave or duck out. It’s how I was able to get some work done throughout the day.

And get some food. And go to the bathroom.

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I just met all of these people. 

Roger Cheng/CNET

They aren’t alone. I met several groups who band together to make waiting more bearable.

And truthfully, it isn’t that bad. The people near me include first-timers and veteran showgoers whose visits to Comic-Con now number in the double digits. The eclectic mix of friends, acquaintances and strangers open the door to making new friends with likeminded interests.

“You come to San Diego and there’s 150,000 fans,” said Dave Gibbons, who co-created the “Watchmen” graphic novel and “The Secret Service” comic that formed the basis for “Kingsman.” He’s spoken at several Hall H panels. “You’ve found your nation.”

How strong are these relationships? Wong admits he rarely sees anyone in the group, and they only communicate through Facebook Messenger outside of Comic-Con.

Is it worth it?

It’s Friday night and I’m back in line, eager to get my wristband for the Saturday lollapalooza.

The linegoers are closing up their folding chairs, closing their tents and rolling up their tarps as convention staff periodically come out to tell us that those wristbands are coming.

Convention staff periodically come out, but the details are inconsistent.

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Roger Cheng/CNET

“Less than an hour,” one shouts.

“It’s starting now,” another says, although that would be at the beginning of the line — two hours away from us.

The organizers of Comic-Con actually have a department that looks at the issue of long lines, but Glanzer conceded that some panels will inevitably fill up quickly.  “While we are sad that we have lines, our fans and attendees make the most of it,” he said. “They almost wear it as a badge of honor.”

But is that badge really worth it?

I’ll tell you when Saturday is over. 

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