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"Wizard World L.A. Convention Report"
by William M. Noetling


Some of the brand new DC Unleashed Pieces, being prepped for a booster draft tourney. That's the Bat Sentry and Batman in the foreground

3.23.04  - The convention season has begun on a sour note as far as I’m concerned.  The first year of the Wizard World Los Angeles Convention was a disaster from start to finish, and Wizard Publications and some of their “premier” sponsors have a lot of explaining to do.

First off, I did get a press credential (so that I could bring you this fine report), so I didn’t have to pay anything to get in, and I’m glad I did, because $20 a day, or $35 for the entire weekend was a complete and total rip off.  The convention was “three days”, but not really.  Friday was only from 5 pm to 8 pm, and you HAD to purchase a weekend pass to get in, no single day sales were available.  In comparison, if you buy your tickets early enough, the San Diego Con is only $45 for four days and a preview night!  Unlike other conventions I’ve been to, this show was basically a dealer’s room with a couple panels.  Now I know that Wizard is in the business of making money, but this show really, really proved that to me.  Every “exclusive” was gone shortly after they went on sale.  Yes, that’s right, hardly anyone got the Clone Trooper Bust or the Galactus.  I don’t know about the exclusive comics, because they weren’t anything that I read already, and my funds are limited enough to not want to start anything new at the moment.  I did manage to get a hold of an Adventure Kermit figure from Palisades (you know the one that looks like Indiana Jones), and was QUITE pleased with that.  Actually that was the high point of my day.  And that’s just sad when the high point is PURCHASING something.

So the wife and I made the LONG arduous trek from Los Angeles to Long Beach (it’s about 45 minutes on the weekend), and arrived at the center at about 9:30 AM on Saturday morning.  We decided that it was just too much of a hassle to try to go on Friday night, and we could only afford our hotel for one night.

By the time we drove by the center, the lines were already very, very long.  I was very happy that I didn’t have to stand in them.  I haven’t for years now, and for some reason, standing in line just to get into the show doesn’t appeal to me.  I know it doesn’t appeal to a lot of people, but at this point in my life, I’m not willing to wait.  I didn’t stand in line for anything at this convention, maybe that’s why I’m not as upset as some people seem to be.

So I trekked up to the convention center, where I was directed by about 12 staffers to the press area.  Getting my badge was no biggie, and I even had a chance to talk to the “big cheese” Gareb Shamus while I was waiting.  He said that they totally underestimated attendance, but that he was very happy thus far.  Nice guy Gareb.  Even signed my program.  Now, unlike other cons, the badge was about it for the press.  No other perks, such as a press room with internet access (which we DID have at GenCon Anaheim), or even being let into the hall early!  No other show I’ve ever been to didn’t let the press or pros into the hall early.  Heck, that’s when a lot of deals are made, and interviews are done, so right away, I knew something was fishy.

Then 10:00 AM rolled around and I figured out what stank.  It was Galactus.  As soon as the doors opened the first 100 or so people STAMPEDED into the hall, and I do mean stampeded.  These kids (mostly male, mostly in their teens) were rambunctious and obnoxious, and their only concern was getting a Galactus.  They quickly formed a line that eventually snaked around the entire convention hall.  I’m not kidding.  It was patently obvious to every onlooker that a problem was a brewing, and that no one was going to do anything about it.  WizKids completely underestimated the demand for Galactus, and instead of solving the problems, they created more by making people stand in line, when they had no hope of getting one.  From what I understand they had about 150-200 of him, attendance was well into the 10,000 range, and I’d say at least HALF of them came just to get Galactus.  He was heavily promoted on all the advertisements for both WizKids and Wizard Publications, and no where did it say “limited edition”, well maybe it did, but that’s not what Heroclix players were told by WizKids earlier in the year.

Now, I had contacted Ms. Dorcas Bean earlier in the week about setting up an interview with one of the game designers, and she told me to just find her at the convention and set one up.  She was very difficult to find, and she was completely overwhelmed by the demand for Galactus when I did find her.  I never did get my interview, but I do have an email interview promised to me at a later date, so, I’m not complaining about that.  Now I have a ton more questions to ask.  Dorcas wouldn’t say how many Galactus were available, which was a big mistake.  They should have just said, “look, only the first 50 people are getting one, everyone else, go have fun at the convention”, but they didn’t.  They let people wait in line for HOURS just to be told they were sold out.  The only saving grace, was that Galactus was only $75 instead of the $100 we were expecting, and they had Ultimate Spider-Man as a free promo.  Well, I never got into the long line, thus I was shut out of pretty much everything WizKids had to sell.  I didn’t get Galactus, not that I wanted one anyway.  I didn’t get any boosters of Unleashed, I didn’t get a Silver Surfer or an Invisible Girl, though I could have gotten her, because she was the last thing they had available.  It was so chaotic at the booth, I barely even got a chance to snap some pics of the truly cool displays they had.  (Fortunately I did, and there’s a few included with this article).

I didn't play in any of the official tournaments, but I did catch a peek at the sealed booster Draft for Unleashed, everyone was quite pleased I think...there must have been 80-100 people playing as well...I got a couple pics of happy players opening their boosters and putting together their teams.  It’s always fun to watch people open new boosters and marvel at the new figures available.  As far as I’m concerned, this is the best part of Heroclix.

Later in the day I did speak with Jon Leitheusser the senior Game Designer. We are going to schedule a longer, email interview later...but I got some questions answered.

  • He would NOT tell me who was on the retired list, that will be out on April 2, and it is being kept a big secret.
  • He does not expect a 2.0 revamp at all. He said retiring older pieces would solve that problem.
  • He does not like the major problems with the LE'S and how the game has turned into a run and shoot kind of thing. If he had his way, there would be NO official tournaments.
  • IndyClix is NOT dead, though it is not on the schedule for 2004. He would LOVE to see it come back, especially with certain characters in it (see my signature). He said the folks who put together the set list weren't the right people for the job. In fact I think he kind of implied that he wants more comic geeks on the staff, though that could just be my interpretation. He said "they weren't the biggest comic fans".
  • I talked to Billy Tucci, the creator of 'Shi' and he was as happy as can be with the little Shi figure. He said he had complete control over the figure, but that all he said to the designers was "don't make her suck."

Heroclix were on sale from many, many of the dealers, both loose and in boosters.  Clobberin’ Time (at about $10 a booster) was in limited supply, as should be expected, but so was Critical Mass for some reason.  Loose figs could be had as cheap as $1 for rookies, $2 for exps and $3 for vets.  Truly, you can tell that dealers have no idea how to price these things, which makes me wonder if WK should make it easier to identify the rarity, rather than the level of the figure.

I guess at this point, you’re probably wondering if I had a good time at the show, and the answer is a qualified yes.  I did pick up the Adventure Kermit, which for me, a big Muppet/Indiana Jones fan, was the most important thing to do on Saturday, other than talk to WizKids.  Palisades was the first booth I went to, after seeing the carnage created by Galactus, and I managed to get one right away.  I even did their treasure hunt to be entered in the contest for the “Golden Gonzo” idol, a larger version of the accessory that comes with Adventure Kermit.  I have to say, I think Palisades handles their convention exclusives much better than any other company.  They brought more than enough of both exclusive pieces (they had a “Ghost of Sam Arrow” figure too) and if you aren’t able to attend any of their shows, you can join their collector’s club for a lifetime membership of $50, and purchase up to 4 of any con exclusive figure, so while it isn’t as cheap as actually going to a show, you still have the opportunity to get one.

I also got a chance to catch up on a bunch of comics that I’ve missed in the last couple months for very reasonable prices, because after all, it’s a comic convention for pete’s sake.  There didn’t seem to be one overall “Must Have” new issue, though anything by Michael Turner seemed to be flying out of dealer’s hands.  May have something to do with the fact that Turner was signing for a little bit.

Comics creators were not in abundance, as in other shows (heck, Marvel Comics didn’t even have a booth, never a good sign), but those who were there were more than happy to talk to the fans.  I already mentioned Billy Tucci, I also spoke to Team Red Star, the guys who do the Snake Plissken comics, and a few others.  Problem was that most every table was swamped with fans, and even getting in more than “I love your book” was tough.  

There were a few celebrities there as well.  I spoke to the WWE’s Rob Van Dam for a few minutes, he’s really nice guy.  He had the tag belt with him, and it's...err...a little worn I can tell you that. I asked him about it, and he said they MAKE the title holders travel with the belt...that it doesn't x-ray, so he has to take it out, and when he does, he joked he could have anything in that suitcase, 'cause everyone is looking at the belt.  He said he LOVES working with Booker, and they were roommates on the road for 2 years before WWE teamed them up. He didn’t know which program he was going to be wrestling on in the future, (or at least he wouldn't say), and that there's only a couple people who do. I asked him if the lottery was going to be worked, and he kind of ignored the question...but he did say he was having a blast.  He's forming his own comic book company to go along with the stores he owns, and he's hiring writers and artists. It's going to be called RVD'S 5 star comics, or something like that...

David Carradine was at the show, but I kept missing him.  The original Incredible Hulk was there too, but I’ve met him before.  Walked by former WWE wrestler Virgil’s booth a couple times, but he was constantly busy.  I went to Kevin Smith’s Q&A Session, which, while incredibly hilarious, was also fairly profane, and not suitable for a recap on Pojo.com.  I’m sure you can find a transcript or synopsis at another site (I might check Viewaskew.com). 

All in all, I’d say this show was a disappointment, with tons of room for improvement.  What’s really funny is that at the same place, there was a second convention running for theater technicians, which my Brother-in-Law was at…so we had a nice family dinner that evening, well, at least until the California Pizza Kitchen across the street had to be evacuated for a fire.  Then it just got more and more surreal.

Hopefully, San Diego Comic Con will be better, and I’ll be going.  Until then, I’m your roving Heroclix reporter…WildWill.  See you next time! 

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