Resistance really is futile. I’d always tee-heed at the notion of attending a fan convention. No way they’d catch me standing in an autograph line behind a Spock-eared space cadet. That’s until about three years ago when the Hollywood buzz bandits set up shop in a Dallas air hanger for the X-Files Expo. I left that flashy event feeling a bit bamboozled, but certainly more open to the idea of rubbing elbows with my fellow geeks. A year later, Sci-Fi Expo & Toy Show set the hook with Borg-babe Jeri Ryan. Truth is, I never even saw her, because I was so enthralled with the show’s seemingly endless array of vendors selling memorabilia of all stripes and the forgotten goodies of my youth (G.I. Joe, Transformers). A herd of beer-bellied Klingons couldn’t keep me away from one of these things ever since. So, it’s thanks to my local Sci-Fi Expo that I’ve finally come to terms with and readily embrace my geekdom. My experiences there have spurred me to cover larger events in Florida, New Jersey and California. Now, it’s time to document the treasure I found right in my own backyard.
Let’s see, everyone knows about the Batmobile and the Bat Boat, but the Bat, um, Trailer? I stand on the driveway in front of the Plano Center staring gap-jawed at the trailer’s massive painted Batman logo and words that proclaim "The Original Bat Boat!" A car rumbles toward me. Better get a quick picture. Click. Inside, there’s already a huge crowd milling through the convention hall. They’re here for BatCon Comic & Toy Expo (Oct. 20-21, 2001) featuring celebrity guests from the immortal "Batman" TV series — now celebrating its 35th anniversary. The Caped Crusader himself, Adam West, is here along side high-kicking honey Batgirl (Yvonne Craig). And where they go, dastardly supervillains follow like Catwoman (Julie Newmar) and The Riddler (Frank Gorshin). Sadly, Robin (Burt Ward) was also scheduled to appear, but given the current social climate, he considered it best to monitor the situation from the Bat Cave.
Normally, organizers schedule Q&A sessions with the guests each day, but at this event Saturday was devoted to autograph signings and fans had to return Sunday for the panel discussion. There was an extra $8 charge to assure yourself a spot in the receiving line, plus additional fees for each autographed item. Mr. West personalized photos for $25, while Ms. Craig, Ms. Newmar and Mr. Gorshin each requested $20. Let’s hope you hit the Bat ATM beforehand. But as the convention flyer cheerfully reminds: Handshakes are always free!
This isn’t an uncommon practice. Most personalities, like Mr. West, genuinely enjoy interacting with their fans. But such financial dealings are just a necessary evil. Curiously, it’s rare for the star to actually take the money themselves, as there’s usually a polite, yet direct handler there to accept funds and keep the line moving. Surely most would agree that glossy color photos cost money, but paying an inflated fee to sign personal items tends to sour my fan experience. The handshake will do.
The great strength of Atomic Entertainment’s events is the sheer number of vendors they draw. This show was no exception, even with a much higher per-table fee for space, there were easily more than 50 dealers represented.
My first stop is always with my alien connection David Green. He always has the best stuff. At the last show he made me a sweet deal on an "Alien Pops" store display (complete with all the suckers). That’s generally what I look for at these things. Wacky space alien collectibles. Sure enough, David had a "UFO Files Savings Bank" that simply HAD to be mine. I tried to talk him down from $3, but even though he was all smiles because of the brisk business he was doing, he wasn’t going to budge. When I asked, he praised the Sci-Fi Expo as being just about the best ticket in the country. Chances are he meant it, as vendors are usually the first to complain if something’s rotten.
It’s easy to spend a couple hours snooping through all the different booths. And once you wind your way over to the south side of the building, where the celebrity signing stage is, it’s fun to gawk at them while pretending to be interested in a pooping-pig key chain. No, wait, I already HAVE one of those. If I hadn’t already paid $43 the weekend before, I’d have picked up one of the kick-ass new 18" Leatherface figures from McFarlane’s Movie Maniacs line. Two vendors had them for around $25. If you’re into Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it’s a MUST for the motion-activated Marilyn Burns screams alone.
The Crowleys of Tyler, Texas have outfitted their "Original Bat Boat" to travel on dry land via radial tires and left-side steering wheel. Deck pads also allow for sun-bathing Bat Beauties, who would no doubt be listening to Bat Dance-worthy tunes through speakers distributed throughout the craft. In fact, a frenzy of flash bulbs went off when a pair of costumed gals slinked into the boat. My appearance, however, went completely unnoticed.
The biggest hit of the show was the Batmobile itself. Getting your picture made with it was a lot like negotiating with the dancers at Cabaret Royale. It’s free just to stare or have a friend snap your giddy mug along side, $10 to get behind the wheel, and if you behave yourself, they’ll flash the headlights. Now, if you didn’t bring a camera, owner Dennis Stines provided prints for $10 (a little more for 4×6 glossies and dupes.) Technically, it isn’t REALLY the Batmobile. For legal reasons, this spectacular reproduction is known as the BatCAR. It was built on a 1966 Pontiac Catalina frame, stretched to nearly 11-feet long and lavished with 20 coats of black velvet paint. Looks pretty Bat-authentic to me.
Just because you missed BatCon doesn’t mean you can’t revel in Bat-mania within the privacy of your own home! Pick up one of the best and most extras-packed genre titles of the year … Batman: The Movie (1966, 105 minutes). The film followed the first runaway-hit season of the classic TV series, and found the Dynamic Duo racing to thwart a diabolical scheme to take over the world hatched by Penguin, Joker, Catwoman and Riddler. CineSchlockers will howl at the riotous shark attack sequence and the flick also marked the debuts of the Bat Boat and Bat Copter. After the movie, check out the hilarious audio commentary by Adam West and Burt Ward, a terrific featurette and a thrilling tour of the real-deal Batmobile. Holy sensory overload, Batman!
Expo-regular Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) wasn’t there due to filming on a picture I’m quite excited about: Bigfoot Among Us. Mayhew plays The Big Guy, of course, in Brad Keller‘s horror flick shooting near Dallas. Star Wars folks who were actually there included Phil Brown (Uncle Owen), Shannon Baksa (Mara Jade) and Michonne Bourriague (Aurra Sing). There were lots of comic artist guests, but that’s really not my field.What was more interesting to me were the costumed fans: Batgirl, Robocop, Darth Vader, a Storm Trooper and many more, including a guy dressed as GOTHAM CITY!?!
While limiting the "Batman Q&A" to Sunday might have worked a few more folks through the autograph line, it certainly didn’t enhance the experience for the vast majority of attendees. For them, these shows are a two or three hour diversion, not a 2-day marathon. This was a rare misstep for the Sci-Fi Expo & Toy Show, but overall, their BatCon was a prime example of how much fun these fan fests can be.