C2E2: Comic book stars walk among us

C2E2 -- the annual, gargantuan Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo at McCormick Place -- opened Friday, and as usual for the first day of a major comic book convention, things started slow, geeks were still arriving, B-list celebrities just settling in, Green Lanterns getting off work.

Dipping into a panel of DC Comics authors, I heard that Nightwing (Batman’s revamped Robin, more or less) has permanently moved to Chicago; when a fan asked writer Kyle Higgins why it was necessary to blow up the CTA’s Damen Blue Line station in a recent issue, Higgins sheepishly said he wanted to include the downtown skyline in the same image. Plus, Nightwing lives in Wicker Park now. “Ahhhhh,” said the man seated next to me, dressed in a Green Arrow costume.

The man, before the panel broke up, asked me what I was writing down, then if I knew if DC was going “all evil” in September, which he had heard, every title driven by a villain; I said I didn’t know that for sure. He gave me a suspicious look, as if I was withholding.

It’s always like this at first.

Rangy, uncertain.

In the foyer of the West Building -- for its fourth year, the convention has moved primarily into McCormick’s brutally large 460,000 square-foot hall -- as I thumbed through the catalog of programs and panels, I witnessed the following: A man in a Batman costume passed a man wearing the tan-leather sheepskin costume of Bane, one of the Dark Knight’s nemesis. “(Expletive) you,” Bane said to Batman as he passed, and Batman replied, without breaking stride, “And (expletive) you, too, fancy coat man.”

I wandered into a family activity hour where children were encouraged to draw a state superhero, which sounded like a wonderful idea. But when I got there, most of the children and their parents already gave up. I found Jeff Jordan and his 7-year old daughter, Tirna. “We got Maryland!” Tirna told me happily. They picked their state out of a hat. They seemed fine with Maryland. Tirna created “Strong Girl,” though being seven, failed to convince me Strong Girl would make an effective Chesapeake crime fighter.

A fitness/crime-stopping demonstration (“Fight LIke a Hero”) drew about 70 people but was a bust when the crime-stoppers themselves never showed up. As we waited in vain, I struck up a conversation with Richie Chambers, a 27-year old Chicago computer engineer dressed in the yellow-jacket colors of Iron FIrst. He was big and looked convincing. I asked him if he would actually consider fighting crime. He said, “Nah, no, I’ve seen some of the horror stores on YouTube of the people who have tried that.”

I stepped into a panel about the similarities between beer and comics featuring Chicago brewers from Goose Island and 3 Floyds and Revolution -- then stepped out a few moments later, unconvinced that there were any similarities between beer and comics; good art is like good beer, someone saidas I left, you taste it and you can’t go back.

But again, it was early, and at least the homemade costumes -- the single most fascinating part of any good comic book convention -- were already looking promising. I struck up a conversation with Kala Smith, 21, of Grand Rapids, Mich., and Ryan Green, 26, of Chicago. She works in an Outback Streak House; he’s a paramedic. She was Savage She-Hulk; he was the Hulk. She wore a light coat of green body paint, barely concealing her tattoos. He wore a dark army-man green paint, the perfect Hulk green.

His chest bulged from his shirt. “The key to a good Hulk,” he said, “is to simply build the muscle, take the time, work out regularly, and don’t wear some stupid fake body suit.”

He spotted a friend and reached out to stop him.

“Eh, eh, eh,” the friend said recoiling.

“Dude, this green doesn’t green,” the Hulk said.

cborrelli@tribune.com | Twitter @borrelli
CHICAGO

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