The Wiz

Not three years ago, the comic-book industry had been proclaimed as dead as Barry Allen and Hal Jordan--and if you don't know the references, really, why are you even reading this? But that was before the X-Men mutated into movie stars and Spider-Man spun a franchise. Biz is up in your local comics shoppe, not just because of cinematic adaptations but because the comics got better, in the hands of bright young men and women who revived the moribund spandex genre by pretending their subjects were worth more than the cheap paper they were printed on. Writers such as Brian Michael Bendis, Brian Azzarello, Geoff Johns and Neil Gaiman aren't hacks slumming it in superhero town, but storytellers who've chosen to practice their noble craft between slick covers touting end-all Armageddons.

So with comics cool again comes the revival tent spreading the geek's gospel; never has the comic-book convention been so hip or abundant across these fruited plains. Wizard World, already drawing tens of thousands in Chicago and Philadelphia, makes its Texas bow this weekend at the Arlington Convention Center, bringing with it adored creators peddling their beloved creations. Chief among them are Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Joe Quesada, filmmaker-turned-comics-writer Kevin "Silent Bob" Smith (with Jason "Jay" Mewes, making theirs a rare dual appearance), JLA/Avengers tandem Kurt Busiek and George Pérez, Smallville co-star Allison Mack, recent Batman illustrator Jim Lee and others who make the fanboy freak. Also just added are Hellboy creator Mike Mignola and Guillermo Del Toro, who's directing the big-screen adaptation due next year.

It's been years since there's been a comic con like this in the metroplex--not since, oh, the long-ago days of the Dallas Fantasy Fair. Mark Walters has done an admirable job keeping the faith alive, but Wizard World is a traveling circus that rivals the 30-year-old San Diego Comic Convention, which brings in thousands from across the country and around the world. The recently ended Chicago gathering brought in some 48,000 over three days--not as many are expected here (its founder says he expects 7,500), but it's a sign there's interest beyond the walls of comic stores.

"Dallas is one of our top 10 markets, so we wanted to serve a market with a lot of fans," says Gareb Shamus, publisher of comics mag Wizard, for which the con is named. "I wasn't there during the days of the Dallas Fantasy Fair, but that's a perfect example of how it leaves a taste in people's mouth, and people who remember it will wanna come to Wizard World to recapture what that show once was." Shamus is actually publisher of the entire Wizard Entertainment Group, which includes magazines devoted to the toy and gaming industries and anime fetishists; Wizard World will feature something for everyone.

Pérez, a legend for his work on DC's Crisis on Infinite Earths and for co-creating Teen Titans, is especially thrilled by his appearance at Wizard World: Not only is Cartoon Network's Teen Titans series garnering him new, young fans (and sizable royalty check), but his JLA/Avengers has gotten the fanboy who long ago abandoned comics interested again--perhaps to see how something 20 years in the making lives up to expectations.

"It brings out the comic-book geek in so many--in the best sense," he says. "The response from fans has been phenomenal. This is like the old comic-book clubs of my youth, where people get together to argue about characters. One of the great things about this industry is you will get young fans coming in. Thanks to the Titans cartoon, which caters to the young, there's a large group of preschool or early schoolchildren coming to conventions who are mesmerized that I co-created the Teen Titans, even though the characters are substantially different from the ones I created with Marv Wolfman. And I treasure the fact they leave the conventions with the fact this is really fun."