Correction Appended: July 29, 2008
Comic-Con, that pop-culture marathon run by 125,000 die-hards, ended Sunday evening in San Diego. TIME.com singles out some of the event's best performances, worst omissions and hardiest fans. Don't get your cape caught in the door on the way out.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role: Hugh Jackman, who made a surprise appearance to promote next year's X-Men Origins: Wolverine. He understands what Keanu Reeves, Benicio del Toro and other actors who ascended the stage of the San Diego Convention Center's cavernous Hall H do not: Comic-Con is itself a performance. Jackman leaped off the stage, ran across the floor to shake the hand of Wolverine's creator and thanked the crowd of 6,500, saying, "Without you guys, I wouldn't have a career." That's the special blend of humility and showmanship you can only learn by hosting the Tonys three years in a row.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role: Carla Gugino. Actresses are so marginalized at Comic-Con, there's no point in having a lead category. Their job is to show up, look hot and perhaps answer a vaguely provocative question about weapons training. But Gugino contributed actual information at the Watchmen panel, discussing Sally Jupiter/Silk Spectre's tragic character arc. "You see the glint of light in her eyes, who she could have been," Gugino said of a scene played at the panel. While atypical for the Con, Gugino's seriousness was an indication that Watchmen is no ordinary superhero movie.
Best Vehicle: Attack-mode KITT. Competition was stiff in this category, what with Nite Owl's ship, Bond's Aston Martin and some sort of GI Joe digging device on the floor. But this Mustang on steroids designed for NBC's new Knight Rider boasts Lamborghini doors, a top speed of 377 m.p.h. and, most importantly, turbo-boost. All that vehicular decadence helps us forget about $4/gal. gas.
Most Popular Costume: The Joker. If Oscar ballots were tallied in San Diego, Heath Ledger's posthumous Best Actor statuette would be a lock. Guys with red lipstick-smeared smiles and purple dinner jackets were as plentiful at Comic-Con this year as those perennials, the Storm Troopers. A few Jokers said their costumes were an homage to Ledger; one confessed it's just more breathable than a Batsuit.
Most Enthusiastic Fans: The Twihards, devout readers of Stephenie Meyer's series of vampire books, Twilight, were the loudest and proudest in Hall H, starting a Twilight chant while they waited, shrieking anytime a cast member, Meyer or director Catherine Hardwicke said anything, and asking lots of questions about vampire hotness. After the panel was over, so many Twihards rushed the movie's booth that fire marshals briefly closed it down. Fanboys, don't look back. The fangirls are gaining on you fast.
Best Gimmick: City of Ember train. It's easy to get lost in the shuffle at Comic-Con if you're not one of the handful of movies or shows with a built-in fanbase. The folks at Fox Walden found a way around the competition while promoting City of Ember, a family fantasy based on a book and starring Bill Murray and Saoirse Ronan. They chartered a train from L.A. to San Diego and packed it with journalists and bloggers who got a look at some footage, cool props and art, and lots of one-on-one time with director Gil Kenan and the rest of the filmmakers.
Panel Most Likely to Yield a Drinking Game: Star Wars: The Clone Wars. The folks at Lucasfilm showed clips from the animated movie opening Aug. 15 and animated show airing on the Cartoon Network and TNT this fall. The footage looked cool enough, but the moderator's and panelists' constant references to George Lucas' brilliance I stopped counting at 22 inspired eye-rolling and forced Gatorade sipping from fans. We get it, George is God. Now on with the clones.
Biggest Omission: Star Trek. Director J.J. Abrams and writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman all made the journey to San Diego for their new FOX show Fringe, and Abrams said he has footage of Star Trek ready to show, so how come the only thing fans got was a poster? Paramount, the studio releasing Star Trek next May, was a no-show in the panels. A studio staffer told me months ago he thought Comic-Con had "jumped the shark." How 'bout a little Vulcan logic, Paramount? It's hard to imagine a crowd better suited for starting the buzz wave on Abrams' rebooted Trek than Comic-Con's 125,000 faithful.
Most Tenuous Link to Comic Books: The Office. Each year Comic-Con gets further from its roots, as Hollywood brings more product for fans' appraisal. This year NBC had a panel and booth for The Office, which, while certainly a show with an alpha fan base, isn't really genre fare. Maybe Dunder Mifflin paper was used to print the X-Men?
Best Party: EW (which, like TIME, is a division of TIME Warner) and the Sci Fi Channel's Saturday night bash on the roof of the Hotel Solamar. Sure, there were cast members from Heroes, Twilight, Lost and Battlestar Galactica, but any party where J.J. Abrams and Joss Whedon are the guys holding court is a geek's dream night out.
Most Missed: Alan Moore. The Hollywood-averse Watchmen creator wants no part of Zack Snyder's big-screen adaptation of his graphic novel, but the movie's building buzz has won Moore lots of new fans. Opening night of the Con, comic-book vendors had stacks of the book on their tables. By Saturday, there wasn't a copy of Watchmen to be found. And a new generation of fanboys and -girls was being minted page by page.
The original version of this article incorrectly identified Fringe as an ABC show. It will actually air on Fox.