Ray Bradbury's work was such an influence on my formative years, and missed so many chances to see him over the years, I still can't believe I was in that panel, three rows from the front, surrounded by other fans who loved him just as much as I did. He came with his biographer, Steve Weller, to promote a new book, "Listen to the Echoes: The Ray Bradbury Interviews." Weller did most of the talking out of necessity, as Bradbury is wheelchair bound, a stroke survivor, blind in one eye, and every question had to be simplified to its basics and whispered directly into his right ear. Every precaution was made by those assisting to make the experience as easy on him as possible. Nonetheless Bradbury spoke articulately, though haltingly, and was very aware and responsive.
A quick video introduction showed Weller at Bradbury's home, discussing the highlights of his life and career. The panel was more or less the same thing, with Weller interviewing Bradbury on various topics, often prompting him to tell certain anecdotes. The answers sometimes came slowly, but they came: He believes man should return to the moon and set our sights on Mars, as this is a path for humans to live forever. He considers himself a Zen Buddhist. He wished he'd spent more time with Bo Derek, who he once encountered on a train. He grew up loving comics, especially Prince Valiant. His current favorite is Mutts. He was partly responsible for the genesis of "The Twilight Zone," and provided Rod Serling with reading material. He doesn't like digital books or the Internet, and once told the president of Yahoo to take a hike. He loves libraries. He has never driven a car, but during a visit to NASA he drove the Mars Rover and was presented with a Martian driver's license. If he could travel back to one particular moment in his life, he'd pick all of them.
Bradbury was wonderful to listen to, by turns cantankerous and joyful. There was still a lot of fire in the man, and he claimed that he was simply a twelve-year-old boy who had never grown up. He'll turn ninety in roughly a month, and there will be various local events and retrospectives to celebrate his work and achievements. Yet he refuses to rest on his laurels and is still working on new material - poetry, essays, and of course more fiction. He promises a new book of collected short stories in the near future. Film adaptations of his work are still being made, including a recent one based on "Chrysalis." One funny factoid that emerged is that Mel Gibson owns the rights to adapt "Farenheit 451," and since he's in so much hot water right now, we shouldn't expect a new film version anytime soon.
And just as impressive as the man was his audience. I've staffed a lot of bookstore author events and I've never seen a room as courteous, as respectful, and yet so obviously full of adoration for an author. I heard a few pre-show grumbles about bad experiences at past events, but there were no cranks or cynical jerks in the crowd. Everyone who got up to ask a question did so with great restraint and consideration for Bradbury's physical state. Several expressed their gratitude and admiration. And at the end of the panel, after a massive standing ovation, everyone spontaneously started singing "Happy Birthday" to him. I wasn't sure at first if he could hear us, but then I saw the look on his face, and it was clear that he did. When we were finished, he thanked us all, and told us to "get out of here."
After the panel, a book signing was scheduled. I was one of the lucky ones who managed to get a wristband that secured you a place in the signing line, distributed that morning by lottery. Originally I wasn't planning to go for any autographs because of the wait times involved, but when the moment came, I got in line. Bradbury was wheeled in, and made it through about a dozen signatures before he had to stop, visibly wearing out toward the end. I wasn't anywhere close to the front of the line, nor was anyone who attended the panel, but I got lots of good photos and heard several wonderful stories from the other people in line with me, who had all been inspired by Bradbury's work. I was happy to be there and wasn't disappointed at all.
By then it was Saturday evening, and my Comic-Con experience was rapidly approaching its denouement, with only one event left that I wanted to attend: the "Mythbusters" panel in Room 6BCF. This meant getting back in another very long line, and I was worried that this was going to turn into another disastrous Ballroom 20 experience. However, the wait wasn't nearly as bad as I thought and a friend who showed up nearly half an hour after I did still got into the room for the panel. During the wait, I also got calls and texts from friends who were queued up for the Marvel film panel over at Hall H, to tell me about the stabbing. There was some worry that the police were going to shut everything down and cancel the remaining programming that night, and my friends opted not to wait around and find out. We didn't learn until later that the altercation was far less serious than people were reporting, and the film panels were only delayed by about forty-five minutes.
I made it into Room 6BCF just in time for the panel that immediately preceded "Mythbusters," an action show called "The Human Target." I've only seen the pilot, and like "Leverage" is strikes me as a straightforward action program that doesn't quite fit the mood of Comic-Con. The main character, Christopher Chance, catches bad guys by switching places with their intended victims. Chance is purportedly based on a comic book character, also known as "The Human Target," so I guess the show has more justification for being at a comic-book convention than some of the others. I ended up in the back of the room and missed the introductory clip package, but was in my seat by the time they brought out the guests. Producer Matthew Miller was on the panel, along with actors Mark Valley, Chi McBride, and Jackie Earle Haley.
They actually had some major news for us, specifically that they were adding two female cast members to the previously all-male team, including Indira Varma from "Rome" as a new boss-lady authority figure. The other will be a younger twenty-something, whose actress is yet unknown. Less encouraging was the announcement that FOX is moving "Human Target" to Friday nights, where struggling shows are traditionally sent to expire. The panelists tried to shrug off the move, citing "The X-Files" as a program that had thrived on Fridays. Funny how no one remembers that "The X-Files" didn't hit its stride in the ratings until FOX moved it to Sundays. I felt a little bad for the show's creator because a good portion of the questions were about guest star possibilities and the actors' other work rather than the show itself. Chi McBride has been on a lot of other programs like "Pushing Daisies" and "Boston Public." Jackie Earle Haley, of course, is best known as Rorschach from "Watchmen."
Also, while the panel was going on, the convention staff were doing their best to cram as many people as possible into the seats for "Mythbusters." There was a steady influx of attendees into the room during the entire presentation which must have been an awful distraction. And after it concluded, almost no one got up to leave. I'm not very familiar with "Human Target," but I thought it had potential and I like all the actors involved. The cast and crew clearly appreciate their fans. Jackie Earle Haley called a cosplayer made up as his character from the show to the front of the room for special kudos. Mark Valley thanked his fans in attendance for their support in an internet campaign to get him cast as Captain America. For the record, I think Mark Valley would make an excellent Captain America!
I can't say I was too sad to see them go, because next up on the stage was a familiar robot skeleton by the name of Geoff Peterson, sent down to San Diego by Craig Ferguson to introduce the "Mythbusters."
It was a great panel, very simple and very fun. They put the five cast members, Jamie Hyneman, Adam Savage, Tory Belleci, Grant Imahara, and Kari Byron up at the front of the room with a moderator and just let them talk. It was Kari's first visit to Comic-Con, which meant that this was the first time the entire cast had made the trip. The show has been on for over seven years now, but the Mythbusters themselves all came across as very down to earth and still seem to be getting used to the fame. Adam described geeking out when meeting Guillermo Del Toro in the parking lot, only to be geeked over himself and being invited to the director's man cave. Grant, currently planning for the impending robot uprising, has been dubbed the Keith Richards of robotics, which he chooses to take as a compliment. Jamie was bright red throughout most of the panel, clearly not used to all of the attention. And ladies, Tory is available.
There were a couple of announcements. Edited-down versions of older "Mythbusters" episodes with new "how-to" segments aimed at the junior-high set will be shown on the Science Channel in an after-school slot, hosted by Kari, as part of a federal education initiative. The show is apparently very popular with educators. And we can expect "Mythbusters" to be around for a long time to come, because the cast's contracts have been renewed for a whopping seven more years. Jamie promised that they aren't even close to running out of myths to test, thanks to all the material generated by the Internet. Adam also announced the winner of the yearly Comic-Con contest to identify Adam while he was in costume on the Exhibition Room floor. This year he was dressed as a Stormtrooper, a member of the famous 501st, and the winner was awarded an exclusive "Mythbusters" themed iPad which the audience ooohed and aaahed over.
I enjoyed the behind-the-scenes stories most. The cast builds and creates nearly everything we see on the show themselves, with very little help. They are constantly sending their insurance carrier into conniptions, though they have a good liaison who used to work for "Jackass" and "Fear Factor" to help them negotiate around tough spots. Kari, who took a brief leave from the show last season after the birth of her daughter, actually put off having kids thinking that she would wait until after the show ended. Except the show didn't end and isn't going to for the foreseeable future. Lots of ideas for myths really do come directly from fans, and in one memorable case viewers sent rare gun scopes and ammunition to help prove a myth the Mythbusters had busted. Jamie also explained how he and Adam first got together for the show - Jamie had previously worked with Adam, and when the opportunity for "Mythbusters" came up, he though Adam's personality would be a good complement to his on television, and invited him on board.
We also got a couple of different clip packages. One was a rough cut from an upcoming episode that did not feature the familiar "Mythbusters" narrator, a Canadian who works out of Australia where the show is edited and assembled. Instead, we heard the early temp track voice of one of their producers - Australian or British accented, I can't remember which - speaking over a clip of Adam in Batman armor, trying to withstand hurricane force winds generated by a 747 jet engine turbine. Later in the hour came the trailer for the new season, which I believe was a subtle spoof on the "Inception" trailer, except with more explosions and science. The clips went by very quickly, but one of the myths will be testing whether or not someone's body temperature drops when they're scared. Thus Grant will be stuck in a box of spiders and Kari will have to eat bugs. Another will be testing the aerodynamics of driving a Porsche backwards.
Sadly, all good things must come to an end. The panel finished a little after 8PM, and after six panels I was pretty much finished too. So concludes my Comic-Con coverage. I hope I'll get to do it again sometime.