NOVI — After a fan asked him which hero was stronger, Thor or the Incredible Hulk, during a Motor City Comic Convention panel Saturday, Marvel Comics legendary writer and creator Stan Lee leaned into the microphone and grinned.
“It depends who’s writing the story,” he quipped, “I’m going to let you in on a secret — you know these are fictional characters. They’re not real.”
A little later after one fan, who professed how these characters changed his life and were indeed real Lee relented.
“They’re real to me, too,” he said.
A record 30,000-plus fans might agree, as the Surburban Collection Showplace was flooded with fans from Friday through Sunday for the 24th annual convention; a celebration of all things pop culture including super heroes, villains, Star Wars, Star Trek, zombies, vampire slayers and video games.
The biggest draws were Lee, the creator behind such Marvel Comics characters as Spider-Man, The X-Men, The Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Thor and many others, and Norman Reedus, who stars as Daryl Dixon on the popular AMC TV series “The Walking Dead,” and also played one of the McManus brothers in the cult-hit “The Boondock Saints” and its sequel.
Prolific comic writer and artist George Perez was another big draw, along with the original artist on “The Walking Dead,” comics, Tony Moore. Reedus easily was the largest draw among the non-comic book related guests. Other guests from film and TV included Lou Ferrigno (“The Incredible Hulk”), Edward James Olmos (“Battlestar Galactica”), Eddie McClintock (“Warehouse 13”) and Cary Elwes (“The Princess Bride” and “Saw”), among others. Former professional wrestlers Maryse and “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan also were
Inside stories and secrets were revealed during the various panels, including:
n McClintock told a panel that Syfy show “Warehouse 13” is being cancelled, with a six-episode farewell arc to air next year.
n Marina Sirtis, “Deanna Troi” from :Star Trek: The Next Generation,” confessed she never thought the love story with Klingon Worf was believable. She also let it be known that she is not a fan of the rebooted film series helmed by director J.J. Abrams. The second film in that series opened the same day as the convention.
n Ferrigno said the process of turning into the Incredible Hulk for the television show with makeup took three-and-a-half hours and that constant touch-ups were required.
n Olmos told fans the cast learned about a shocking twist involving characters who turned out to be Cylons in a surprise reveal before filming.
The crush of fans, combined with a lack of parking and a slow entry gate process, caused lines that wrapped around two sides of the building and meant waits of two to four hours in most cases. Traffic was congested for miles on I-96.
After a complicated wristband procedure, some fans were turned off by lack of access to Lee, who was shrouded by curtains and available only to fans who paid VIP prices to meet him. Others groused when faced with concession lines of more than an hour to buy food or get a drink.
“Bought advance tickets,” Patrick Green wrote on the convention’s Facebook page. “I waited over two hours just to get in the door. Poor planning, management, and crowd control. Just ridiculous.”
Convention founder Michael Goldman posted a note to the convention’s Facebook page apologizing to fans at about noon Tuesday.
“We would like to take this opportunity to apologize for the long wait times at our convention, particularly on Saturday,” he wrote. “We just never expected 18,000-plus people to attend that day, which was the same amount of people we had over the entire three days last year.
“We were literally hit with a ‘Humanity Bomb’ and were not prepared for the sheer number of people attending, even with a large increase in our staff. The entire MCCC staff worked non-stop to move everyone in as fast as possible, which we realize wasn’t fast enough. We learned some valuable lessons this year and are already working hard to prevent these issues from happening again.”
Long wait times didn’t extinguish the enthusiasm of fans, who, besides meeting celebrities, had a chance to comb through comic book dealers’ inventories, recapture their childhood with collectible toys from their youth or meet and buy art from local artists and nationally known comic illustrators.
Lincoln Park resident Frank Barczewski was there just to pick through long boxes of comics.
Barczewski said he comes to the event for the convention’s original intended purpose: To collect comic books, particularly back issues of hard-to-find editions.
“I’ve been coming to this since the days of Dearborn,” he said, referring to the fact the show was originally held at the Dearborn Civic Center before moving to Novi. “It’s probably been at least 20 years.”
Barczewski said his love of comics started when he was 12 years old during a trip to the mall.
“I was a big ‘Star Wars’ fan,” he said, “and I had seen that ‘Star Wars’ had comic books so I bought it from a news rack and ever since then I fell in love.”
Others came to the show simply to have fun and “geek out” with fellow fanboys and -girls.
“Despite the havoc of Saturday,” Ann Baxter said, “I will be back next year to get my nerd on again.”
Costumes were plentiful, with caped crusaders, video game characters and more.
Lorraine Schleter of Lansing, clad as Batman villain Poison Ivy, joked the costumes take as long to put on as they do to be made.
“It’s just a matter of when we go to the bathroom, having to take them off to go.”
Hall of Fame professional wrestler “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan said the atmosphere was great.
“I’m fired up, I love seeing all the movie stars, costumes, pretty women and some good old fashioned wrestling stars are here,” he said.
Retired Detroit Lions receiver Herman Moore was at the convention for the first time.
“This is my first time being here and it’s fantastic,” he said. “To see all the stars that are here and to stop by and see the Hardcore Pawn (guests).
“I was a big ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Battlestar Galactica’ fan, I watched a lot of wrestling. To see some of the greats was great.
“To see all the comic books, I wish my mom hadn’t thrown out all my comic books, I’m kind of hating her right now.”
Despite the long lines and the waits, some fans were happy just to have had the chance to meet Lee.
“I know everyone is complaining about the lines,” Rebekah Prist wrote. “I waited about three hours from start to finish to get my picture and an autograph with Stan Lee. However, what you gave me was a memory.
“My 5-year-old asked him if Spider-man was real. Stan told him yes, he is, and he is a good guy, too. Thank you for the wonderful memory.”