Heroes & Villains Fan Fest (September 16, 2017)
Heroes & Villains Fan Fest started as a relatively small convention, catering largely to fans of the CW superhero shows such as "Arrow" and "The Flash". They cover several cities around the United States. This year the New Jersey/New York show was held at the Meadowlands Exposition Center (the same location as last year). Last year the show was very small, with only a handful of dealers. Where this show excels is their guest lineup, which rivals the larger scale New York Comic-Con. If you are a fan of superhero shows such as "Gotham", "The Flash", "Legends of Tomorrow" and "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." and you want to meet the actors, this is the show for you.
This year the show was much larger than I had expected. While last year there had only been a handful of dealers, this year the range was more far reaching including comic books, toys, Funko Pops (a mainstay of this show), artist prints and even custom super hero themed bags and wallets. It was nice to see the diversity of product in the dealer's room growing and I expect next year it might grow again.
There is much to be said about the way this show is organized. I was particularly impressed by the show's staff. Even when they did not know exactly what to tell you to do (such as where to line up for a panel) they took charge and came up with a plan, even if temporary. Signage was everywhere and it was tough not to know where you were or what to do. Even better, there was a small army of "Event Ambassadors" roaming the floors helping fans out if they had issues. More than once I saw someone guiding a fan to a section of the show floor or helping them find the proper seat to be in. They were also terribly nice folks who never seemed rushed or impatient. Kudos to the staff.
I also have to give high marks to the show's special attention to the differently abled. Every seating section (even those in the back) had special seats designated for them and it was great. Even more interesting, each panel had someone translating it into sign language, something you don't always see with shows such as this.
I attended the "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." panel featuring Ming-Na Wen (aka Agent Melinda May). The panel was moderated and went right into Q&A after a brief introduction. Some of the questions were perfunctory, others more personal but Wen took every question with humor and grace. She was admittedly running on two hours of sleep, so it was amazing how friendly, bubbly, sometimes sarcastic and energetic she was. The only improvement I would suggest for future events would be some type of barrier for the panel area. It is pretty much just a roped off area of the main show floor, so noise from the rest of the convention bleeds into the panels and sometimes makes it hard to hear. I suspect even tall fabric dividers (which are used on stage) would help tremendously in containing the sound.
One of the special events you can participate in are photo ops with the guests. These can range in price from $50-60 on average. If you want their autographs instead virtually every guest had a booth where you could purchase an autograph and/or selfie for a separate fee. What surprised me is that every single guest had a booth. Most conventions have such booths, but in general not all guests attending the show utilize them. While the photo ops are great (I purchased two myself) this gives you a more personal and less rushed experience (read: you can get more than one sentence in with the guest before leaving). What I appreciate about this is that it gives you the opportunity to tailor your experience. Photo ops with their frenetic speed and high energy are not for everyone, so the autograph booths provide a more comfortable alternative.
Nowadays, cosplay is almost an expected part of conventions and this one did not disappoint. For "Star Wars" fans the 501st Legion was in attendance, bringing with them Droids and amazing costumes such as Darth Vader and Stormtroopers. A tall and fuzzy Chewbacca also walked the floor for photo opportunities. Fans were dressed as all sorts of characters from Deadpool to Batman to the Rocketeer. This was best represented in an amazing gathering of DC based cosplayers who took an awesome group shot on the steps on the Exposition Center. Kids loved getting photos with the costumed characters and it was fun to see future Geeks so excited.
If you are considering traveling to this show, there are a bunch of hotels right around the convention center. I would also recommend exploring the food options in the area (the convention center itself actually ran out of food while I was there). Restaurants in the area include Red Robin, Buffalo Wild Wings, Outback Steakhouse and Chipotle. If you are driving to it, the Meadowlands Exposition Center has its own parking garage nearby.
Unlike New York Comic-Con, which promises something you will like ever year (even if you are not sure what) attending this convention for me has largely depended on who they can get to come as guests. Last year Caity Lotz (White Canary on "Legends of Tomorrow") and Hayley Atwell (Agent Carter from the Marvel Cinematic Universe) were the two guests that sold me on the show. This year Ming-Na Wen and Rose McIver ("iZombie") were the two that made this a "must go" event. I look forward to seeing who will be there next year!