Superman takes the spotlight at a frenetic Comic-Con

SAN DIEGO — The cape, the curl, the S on the chest.

Superman is among comics’ most recognizable characters, and 75 years after Cleveland teenagers Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster’s Kryptonian made his debut in the pages of Action Comics No. 1, his popularity remains stratospheric.

At Comic-Con International, Superman’s presence could be seen everywhere — from attendees wearing various incarnations of his many costumes to scenes from the television serials, cartoons, films, and even in comic books.

“Superman was the first comic book superhero and the first cross-media sensation. Practically everyone of every generation knows and recognizes the character, so that’s a huge asset for his ongoing popularity,” said Rob Salkowitz, author of “Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture.”

“Batman has been more successful in the past couple of decades because he is in some ways more relatable -but also because of the times. Batman speaks to our fears. He’s about revenge and darkness,” he said. “Superman speaks to our hopes. He’s about transcending our limitations. He’s about using vast power for public good, not private gain.”

Jim Lee, co-publisher at DC Entertainment who, along with writer Scott Snyder, created the new Superman comic book “Superman Unchained,” said few characters have been as relevant as Superman for so long.

“Name another character that’s been around for 75 years that’s still being published and relevant,” challenged Lee.

“There are very few that are still relevant to today’s culture and to today’s audience that are still being published,” Lee said, giving as examples that Superman was a social crusader in the 1930s, fought Nazis in the 1940s, was a yuppie in the 1980s “and in the `90s had a mullet!”

His popularity can be measured in not just sales of comics, but in tickets, too. Zack Snyder’s “Man of Steel” has made more than $630 million at the box office. And Saturday’s announcement of a sequel, of sorts, became the buzz of Comic-Con with news that it would pair Superman with DC’s other big name hero, Batman.

“Let’s face it, it’s beyond mythological to have Superman and our new Batman facing off, since they are the greatest super heroes in the world,” Snyder said.

At a Comic-Con panel exploring Superman’s history, and his future, a team of creators who have written the character, and actors on the shows and films about him, spoke about Superman’s relevance and invulnerability to obsolescence.

“Like Batman, this is a very malleable character that can change and still be his core influence,” said writer Grant Morrison, whose take on the character in the pages of “All-Star Superman” was critically lauded.

Morrison said that as times change, so too, has Superman, serving as a mirror not to a Phantom Zone, but to contemporary real life.

That was a nod to the darker tone in “Man of Steel,” a grittier take on not just Superman, but his upbringing and influences, too.

“He’s just reflecting a general tendency, as he always does. Superman has to reflect what people are feeling. I think it’s an inevitable part of his development,” Morrison said. “If he’s dark now, it’s because we’re all a little bit dark.”

With 75 years now passed, DC Entertainment co-publisher Dan DiDio said that the comics will continue their retelling of his early days, which in the New 52 universe that launched in 2011, includes a budding romantic relationship with Wonder Woman, a return trip to Krypton and more.

“Superman is such an identifier for who we are and what we are about — not just DC Comics but just comics in general,” DiDio said. “He is just as strong and probably more vibrant than ever.”

WHO WILL PLAY THE NEW ‘DOCTOR WHO’? NO ONE, YET

SAN DIEGO — The question of whom the next Doctor Who is remains a mystery, for now.

But fans of Matt Smith and his predecessor will be ecstatic once official footage of the 50th anniversary special airs because both doctors are in it, sharing many scenes, lines and scenery, too.

Steve Moffat, Doctor Who’s showrunner, touted the footage — so far shown only Sunday at Comic-Con International — but asked the crowd to not share it on social media or else “there will be no more Comic-Con exclusives from ‘Doctor Who’ or ‘Sherlock.’ ”

He said that recordings of the “Sherlock” preview were posted onto Tumblr within minutes of airing.

“Can you promise, as 6,000 of my Comic-Con friends, to do this?” he asked before the lights dimmed ahead of the preview. The special is due in November.

The crowd in Hall H was not disappointed in what it saw from the BBC America show.

It boasted lots of scenes between Smith, whose tenure as the Doctor ends in the special, and his predecessor David Tennant. Also featured was Billie Piper, who played Rose Tyler, the companion to Tennant’s 10th doctor and, before that, Chris Ecclestone’s ninth doctor.

There were scant details as to the plot, but the crowd was rapturous.

“There are lots of things that we have been setting for the 50th in Matt’s final episode,” Moffat said. Asked by a fan if Capt. Jack Harkness, who was played by John Barrowman, would return Moffat demurred.

“Well, you can’t put everybody in the 50th!” he said, drawing laughs.

“If we have a great idea for Capt. Jack, he will come back,” Moffat said.

When asked by moderator Craig Ferguson whether Smith’s replacement had been selected, Moffat said, “We haven’t done that yet.”

Moffat noted that finding the right actor would be hard, paying respect to Smith’s work in the role and the odd nature of the character, too.

“He’s the same man. Each actor that plays it comes with a different emotional background,” Moffat said of the regenerating Time Lord whose incarnations since the show began in 1963 have counted 11 actors. “There is only one doctor. He has lots of different faces.”

For Smith, the panel was a chance to reminisce and bask in adulation from a crowd that has made his doctor their own.

“It changed everything: My life, my family’s life,” he recalled of the role. “I’m proud and grateful to be part of it. … Also, because I am on the way out, I just wanted to say ‘Thank you, for all your support.’ ”

ZOE SALDANA GOES GREEN FOR ‘GUARDIANS’

SAN DIEGO — How many more colors can Zoe Saldana be on the big screen?

“Well, the rainbow has a lot of colors,” Saldana said in an interview at Comic-Con, laughing. “I dig it. I like being in space. I get to play less girlfriends, more female parts, more women. So I find it meaty.”

The actress portrays green-skinned alien Gamora in Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” after going blue in James Cameron’s “Avatar,” a role she’s expected to return to for sequels. And she recently reprised her other space-bound character, Uhura, in JJ Abrams’ “Star Trek Into Darkness.”

“It’s a testament to how creative the people that conceive supernatural and science-fiction kind of stories,” Saldana, 35, said of her love for the genre. “They’re able to build something out of nothing by just imagining it. I have a huge fascination with that. Filmmakers like JJ, like (“Guardians” director) James (Gunn), like James Cameron. … You need to be really, really special to do that. So I like being with special people.”

Chris Pratt is among Saldana’s co-stars in “Guardians,” which had been filming for just a few weeks in the U.K. before its actors dropped in to show fans footage at Comic-Con.

Pratt plays Peter Quill, an interplanetary gunslinger known as Star-Lord who assembles a team of aliens to do battle. His character’s wit and rebellious spirit has been compared to another planet-hopper, Han Solo.

“You can make the comparison, that’s for sure,” Pratt said, acknowledging that like “Star Wars,” `’Guardians” — set for release next summer — is “a big space opera.”

Saldana was more emphatic: “It’s an awesome comparison. Are you kidding me? Harrison Ford!”

But Pratt, 34, said he has more pressing concerns as he returns to set.

“I just feel like, I’m hoping every day that they’re not going to fire me,” he said. “I’m like, `So you saw dailies yesterday and I still have my job?’ They say `Yeah!’ So for now I do.”

‘COMMUNITY’ RETURNS TO COMIC-CON

SAN DIEGO — “Community” mastermind Dan Harmon is back at Comic-Con — albeit in cheap Iron Man costume.

Harmon, who was replaced as showrunner of the quirky NBC sitcom’s fourth season after a clash with then-cast member Chevy Chase, kicked off Sunday’s presentation at the pop-culture convention by lunging onto stage in cardboard armor, which cast members Danny Pudi and Jim Rash slowly ripped off.

NBC announced in May that the show had been renewed for a fifth season, and Harmon was reinstated.

“I am billionaire playboy and creator Dan Harmon,” he said as he introduced himself to the crowd, channeling Tony Stark.

He was also joined on stage by former “Community” producer Chris McKenna and co-stars Nicole Yvette Brown, Allison Brie, Ken Jeong and Gillian Jacobs. Joel McHale, who is shooting the film “Beware the Night” in New York, and Donald Glover, who will only star in a handful of the 13 episodes in the fifth season, weren’t present.

“I don’t consider them the last 13,” noted Harmon. “I’m going to do everything I can to get us that sixth season.”

The “Community” presentation at the pop-culture convention served as a celebration for the more than 5,000 fans in attendance in Hall H, the largest venue at the San Diego Convention Center. “Community” viewers launched a social networking campaign to help save the on-the-bubble series, which features lingo like “pop! pop!” and “cool, cool, cool.” Sunday’s panel marked the first time the show was presented in Hall H in the four years it’s been coming to Comic-Con.

When asked what they’d like to see their characters do next season, Rash said he wanted Dean Pelton to take up cage-fighting, while Brown hoped Shirley will meet her sister.

“Sherri Shepard is probably available,” said Brown.

Harmon teased that the new season would feature another animated installment and a follow-up to the fan-favorite episode, “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.”

Despite the fact he wasn’t involved in the fourth season, Harmon told the crowd he wouldn’t push the reset button on Greendale Community College. Instead, Harmon and the show’s writers will refocus on getting to know the characters.

“I know that’s not a fun Comic-Con thing to say,” said Harmon. “Let’s get back to grounded storytelling!”

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