SAN DIEGO COMIC-CON 2012: Preview Night brings out the boldest thing to wear: Pure passion

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EDITOR'S NOTE: As Comic-Con kicks off, we trust one fearless correspondent to wade deep into the first night's geek shire: Comic Riffs contributor and Tall Tale Radio podcaster Tom Racine. From the "Iron Man 3" display to the towering "Hobbit" trolls, here's his first dispatch from San Diego's front lines of Nerddom Central.

— M.C.

FULL METAL SIGNAGE: With the billion-dollar-grossing "The Avengers" still in theaters, Disney/Marvel is ramping up for the third "Iron Man" film. Each time, star Robert Downey Jr. is a conquering hero of the Con. (Tom Racine - Special to The Washington Post)
SAN DIEGO — Once upon a Con, the term "Preview Night" signified something rather select — like a golden ticket restricting admission to a mere fraction of the 125,000-plus geek pilgrims who descend upon the Harborside for five days to share their pop-culture passions, their superhero and steampunk cosplay, and their free hugs.

On Wednesday, "Preview Night" lost its swag of wide-elbowed exclusivity, but replaced it with a certain shoulder-to-Spandexed-shoulder electricity. Even Thor doesn't generate quite this much atmospheric, if not thermal, heat.

PARTY LIKE IT'S 1899: The perennial steampunk presence appears like (vintage) clockwork Wednesday at Comic-Con 2012. (Tom Racine - Special to The Washington Post)
Now, however, hours before Thursday's first full day of San Diego Comic-Con at the Convention Center, 20,000 people enjoy the paid, four-day-pass privilege to preview the booths and walk the floor. There are no major panels or (in-)famous Hall H presentations Wednesday, which means that most of these Preview People have one thing in mind: be the first to see something cool/new/amazing before it's put up on the Internet nine minutes later. Many of the rest are hard-core collectors who show up to get that "one-of-a-kind Comic-Con exclusive Wolverine- in-drag" figure to take home — or promptly sell on eBay. (Among the hot items Wednesday: a full-size mock up of a "Portal" gun, and a couple of "Masters of Evil" figure sets from the Marvel Universe.)

At the Hasbro booth, a worker told me that Wednesday's line was simply for getting a ticket that would allow you to come BACK to actually buy the pieces you want. In some ways, this is a pain, yet it saves time because once the tickets are gone, that day's allowance of toys is also gone, so people don't wait in line for hours to be told nothing is left. (Even if he did tell us that the line for the tickets was already too long and the toys were all gone TEN MINUTES after the doors opened.)

NEVER SAY DIE: Robert Kirkman's comic-turned-smash AMC show rears its head early this year. (Tom Racine - Special to The Washington Post)
Walking the aisles Wednesday nearly felt like the height of Friday or Saturday: wall-to-wall Preview Pedestrians, shuffling and stopping every few seconds like extras in "The Walking Ped," pausing to take photos of some amazing statue, giant poster, cosplayer or, ironically, zombie. ("The Walking Dead" is here in force, both in the comics and television worlds.) People flocked to the video game section in droves, hoping to play the newest releases. Artist's Alley was teeming, which was gratifying to see. WETA had a huge, new booth with all sorts of "Tintin" and tantalizing "Hobbit" paraphernalia, including two huge troll statues standing a good 10-feet high — nearly as towering as director Peter Jackson's status among Con-goers.

"The Expendables"sequel had a large presence, with a scrum of aging action stars coming to Hall H this week. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Jean Claude Van Damme — all those pumped-up deltoids and egos on the same stage. There was already a long line outside Hall H, which means many of those people have been camping there for a couple of days — a reminder that the die-hard fans are the Inexpendables in this commercial equation.

The cosplayers were not out in full force yet, mostly because the Preview Night is only open for three hours. Yet among the prematurely costumed, a convincing "Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter" was the highlight.

We could have asked this no-nonsense Abe to help cut some of the zombie-paced hordes down to size Wednesday, but then again, something about the energy of a thousand-score Con-goers was exhilarating.

On Wednesday, the biggest thing to witness in advance — larger than even Hobbit statues — was the passion.

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