At this year's Comic-Con , the big draw at the splashy promotional installations popping up around downtown San Diego is the virtual-reality experience. But whether you are strapping on a VR headset or just lining up for a temporary Harley Quinn tattoo, the fun outside the San Diego Convention Center is as real as the sweat pooling beneath your Jon Snow cape and the gratifying weight of your swag-filled Warner Bros. bag. Con badge, or no Con badge.
"I think it's awesome down here. You can just pay for parking, come down and see all your friends and do all this stuff," said Danielle Peloquin of Clairemont, who had a Comic-Con pass but was waiting in line outside a pop-up Peanuts store on Fifth Avenue for a one-of-a-kind Snoopy pin. "Comic-Con is the true Christmas."
So say we all. Even those of us whose costumes make saying anything kind of tricky. (Sorry, Spidey!) In honor of Nerd Christmas, here is a look at the fan gifts waiting outside the Convention Center doors.
Hall of Faces: Say cheese!
Technically, you need a Comic-Con badge to get into HBO's "Hall of Faces" at Sixth Avenue and L Street. But when you are Hodor, many rules do not apply. Including the one where you are supposed to be dead.
On Thursday morning, attendees at the press preview for the "Game of Thrones" attraction included Kristian Nairn, the towering, badge-less actor who plays Hodor, the gentle giant who died a most heroic death last season. The very-alive Nairn and cast-mate Liam "Ser Davos" Cunningham wanted to get an early look at the exhibit's fan fodder, which includes Arya's sword; Melisandre's Flames (Look inside for a surprise!); and the Iron Throne, which is exactly as foreboding (and uncomfortable) as it looks. Also the best photo op ever.
Nairn and Cunningham were also there to check out the impressive "Hall of Faces," in which a custom app projects attendees' faces on the towers of ghostly portraits. It's cool and not a little creepy. But after getting his photo snapped, Nairn looked in vain for his face to materialize. Which was even cooler.
"Did you find yourself?" someone asked.
"That's a very existential question," Nairn said. "And the answer is, 'no.'"
Best Head Trip: 'Mr. Robot'
In its pre-Con life, the space at 343 Fourth Ave. was an art gallery. Now, it's a "Mr. Robot" fan-fantasy museum. The installation's ante-room is a re-creation of the computer-repair shop featured in the USA Network show about the adventures of a vigilante hacker. The next room is a meticulously assembled model of the apartment belonging to Elliot, the brooding hero played by Rami Malek.
In Elliot's apartment, there is marshmallow fluff and macaroni-and-cheese cups in the cupboard, dog dishes on the floor, a pizza box on top of the refrigerator and virtual-reality lurkers everywhere.
The "Mr. Robot" installation, which requires a Comic-Con badge for admission, also features a 12-minute virtual-reality film written and directed by show creator Sam Esmail. Put on your VR headset and headphones, and you will find yourself nearly cheek-to-cheek with Elliot in this same apartment, as he gets very high and has a dreamlike adventure that includes an animated dance party and a ride on a Ferris wheel.
It is intimate, moody and eerily mind-altering. And as soon as Ashley Koser finished watching, she wanted to do it again.
"That was definitely one of the coolest things I've ever seen. It did a great job of making you feel like you are there," said Koser, who lives in Mission Valley. "I wish we could watch the whole season like that."
Welcome to the club: 'Suicide Squad'
No badge? No biggie. The "Suicide Squad" experience at the Hard Rock Hotel (207 Fifth Ave.) is open to anyone. Or at least anyone willing to wait in a line that will wind all the way down L Street and around the corner.
In the "Suicide Squad" experience, fans eagerly awaiting the release of the super-villains movie in August can get a 360 photo inside Harley Quinn's jail cell, make their own customized T-shirt, get a "Suicide Squad" make-up makeover and get a Harley Quinn tattoo. There is also a virtual reality clip of the film that includes an eyeball-shattering action sequence shot from the point of view of Harley, who is played by Margot Robbie.
Everything is free, and once you're inside the gloriously air-conditioned space, no one cares how long you stay. That's priceless.
Con for all: Petco Park Interactive Zone and FXhibition
The former is in a hot parking lot. The latter is on the bayfront. But both the Petco Park Interactive Zone and FXhibition have rolled out a giant welcome mat for anyone who wants a bit of Con in their lives.
If you want the lining-up experience, try the Interactive Zone's "Ash vs Evil Dead," where the line eventually leads to a blood-drenched haunted-house experience and a screening of the Starz trailer that was apparently too gory to show inside Comic-Con. Looking for useful freebies? At FXhibition, there is free ice-cold water and collapsible travel cups at the "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" booth and free sunscreen at the "Archer" dispensers. Grab a drink, chill on one of the swanky leather couches, and toast the spirit of Con-goers like Joelle and Isabel Kosic, who don't need badges to believe.
"I've been wanting to come to Comic-Con for years, and it's exciting to be here, finally," said 16-year-old Joelle, as she and sister Isabel waiting in the long "Suicide Squad" line. "We're pretty nerdy, and the waits are just part of the experience. It's like an amusement park, and I think it's worth it."