The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth

Scenes From Phoenix ComiCon 2015

The Avengers assembled. The Spideys were amazing. Hulks smashed. Supermen and Batmen and Wonder Women came in league. And royalty majesty was remarkably common: the Queen of Dragons, Princess Elsa, Sleeping Beauty and Maleficient were all present.

Targaryens strode alongside Dothraki and Lannisters and Starks. The Doctor was in the house. The dead walked the streets; starship troopers and other cops from across time and space tried to rein them in. And you couldn't swing a dead wombat without hitting a stormtrooper.

This was Phoenix ComiCon 2015, where an estimated 80,000 people gathered at downtown's convention center over the last weekend in May to let their geek flag fly. Fans got to hear from TV stars like Battlestar Galactica's Starbuck and Admiral Adama, Buffy's Cordelia and Willow, Game of Thrones' Khal Drogo. They listened to authors and costumers and comic-store owners. They watched low-budget science fiction and fantasy films. They rolled dice and flipped cards and ran starship simulations late into the night. They danced at masquerades and got drunk at hotel bars in full steampunk gear.

It all makes for a pretty good case that the nerds have won. At a panel exploring that very topic, Jenny and T.J. Van Der Wert pointed out that the nine of the top movies last year were Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The LEGO Movie, The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies, Transformers: Age of Extinction, Maleficient, X-Men: Days of Future Past and Big Hero Six; some film critics are increasingly worried that the Marvel Cinematic Universe may, like an unstoppable Galactus, swallow up Hollywood entirely. Daredevil, released just months ago on Netflix, has enjoyed critical praise and big viewership; superheroes and fantasy show can be seen on network TV every night of the week. The toys—or should we say action figures?—are more sophisticated than ever. Women can buy shapely V-necks with their favorite characters. "You don't just have to buy a man's T-shirt," noted Jenny. "It's a whole new world."

And it doesn't stop with T-shirts: The mammoth trading hall had bathrobes, slippers, onesies, capes, games, toys, ray guns, hats, coffee mugs, shot glasses, decals and just about anything else a fan might grab to feel a rush of nostalgia.

It wasn't always like this: Back in the day, fans were outsiders, those weird kids who liked comic books and pulp magazines and space movies packed with cheesy effects. That's one reason why Mr. Spock got so much fan mail when Star Trek exploded into living rooms in 1966: Many fans saw themselves in his alien persona. At a panel that celebrated Leonard Nimoy's life, nearly half the room raised their hands when asked if they had shed a tear when they heard that Nimoy had died earlier this year. "Not logical," noted one panelist. "But very human."

Nimoy and the rest of crew of the Enterprise served as inspiration, too. David Williams credited Star Trek for inspiring him to pursue his career as an ASU space scientist. "If I were to credit one character on Star Trek for inspiring me, it would have to be Mr. Spock," Williams said. "He was the scientist, he was the outsider, he was the logical one who was always pushing to explore."

For all the movie stars, authors, scientists and other speakers at the convention, it's the fans themselves, dressed as their favorite characters, who steal the show. Some do little more than slip a sword into a belt or don a Superman T-shirt, but many put their heart and soul into celebrating their totem characters through makeup and prosthetics and home-sewn costumes. Karissa Gutierrez, who has dressed as the Scarlet Witch and Blink, says she grew up in a small town, moved to Phoenix and was immediately struck when she saw all the cosplay at the 2010 con. Two years later, she showed up as Black Cat and now, she's heading up the Arizona Avengers as Emma Frost. (She insists she didn't use Frost's mental powers to influence the leadership vote.) She and her fellow Avengers—Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and the rest—visit kids in hospitals, make appearances at toy drives and similar do-gooder stuff.

"I've always been into comic books and video games and anime, ever since I was little," she says. "I consider cosplay to be an artform. You get to be creative while giving back to the community and spreading positivity."

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