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  • Writer's pictureDax J Martin-Cheeves


Updated: Jun 7, 2023

Last year FAN EXPO (formerly known as WIZARD WORLD) returned to Philadelphia to let fans know they are back in the same way G1 Autobot Bumblebee came back as Goldbug in the return of Optimus Prime episode. The event was solid and fun for all with many leavings

wondering what they are going to do in 2023.

We got that loud and clear as this year's FAN EXPO brought in some big guns to celebrate a major weekend of events around the city of Brotherly Love.

Aside from other events such as the highly anticipated ROOTS picnic and the PRIDE parade all on the same weekend, FAN EXPO had the unenviable task of bringing in the quality needed to pull fans in. To their credit, they did just that as they acquired some heavyweight guests from many of our favorite fandoms for a June to remember.

To those who have recently discovered FAN EXPO this year would have really impressed and surprised them with this huge line up of guests appearing. However, if you were a long-time attendee of Wizard World then you are accustomed to this level of fandom as this is what they are used to.

This convention felt more like the event of old while also feeling refreshed. The rebranding was a means to bring the same excellent quality back to one of the company's hottest and most profitable areas in the country.

In a previous interview with PR Marketing manager Jerry Milani talks about why the company decided to rebrand and the importance of maintaining the integrity of what they have built for so many years.

The line-up for this year included stars from Marvel Studios, DC/CW's Arrow-verse, Star Wars, Transformers, and many of your favorite actors from popular American live action and animated shows as well as popular anime series.

With so many great panels to choose from it was hard to narrow them all down to enjoy. The biggest and best conventions are usually the events where you must strategize and schedule to see the ones you are anticipating the most.

The other indication of a major convention are the events that provide fans with an app that helps organize your daily itinerary. Thankfully, FAN EXPO provided an app for fans which really helped me throughout the day with reminders of my panels. It also allowed me to get alerts up to an hour before the panel. Great for fans wanting to get to the lines early.

As for the panels I've attended all were great and did not disappoint.

One of the panels I was most looking forward to be the Peter Cullen Panel. This was the first time I had seen him in person, and it was worth the wait. I've said it many times that he is on my bucket list of people to interview and after seeing him in person I am determined to make that happen.

Thankfully, the moderator and the fans bothered to ask or mention many of the things that I've researched and wanted to talk about so there is still hope for future events and opportunities.

Cullen talked about how he got the role and who was his inspiration for the iconic Optimus Prime. He went on to discuss his excitement for the upcoming Rise of the Beast movie and of course the talk about his reaction to him learning that Optimus Prime would be dying in the classic 1986 animated motion picture.

His panel was very inspiring and heartfelt with some words of wisdom that only one like Peter Cullen could provide.

The other most anticipated panel came in the form of DAREDEVIL: REBORN which featured stars Charlie Cox and Vincent D'Onofrio as they talked about their experience on the original Netflix series as well as their recent entries into MCU shows and movies like Spider-Man NWH, Hawkeye, and She-Hulk all leading into their upcoming Disney Plus series in which they could not speak about due to NDA restrictions as one would (or should) expect.

Other entertaining panels included the cast of Arrow which had a well-deserved packed crowd of fans there to pay their respects for the decade long saga of Oliver Queen which became the flagship for many other TV shows in the DC/Arrow-verse.

We also were graced with the presence of the one and only Giancarlo Esposito complete with an epic introduction courtesy of the cosplay group known as "501s" who are known for not only appearing at comic conventions but also visiting many children's hospitals to bring joy to kids in need.

Esposito was as classy as ever as he spoke about many of his iconic roles from the Mandalorian, Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, and many many more. What I really loved is how he spoke about his craft to becoming the perfect villain which is something that he does better than any actor out today in my opinion.

I could not be more of a happier Spider-Man fan then to find out that the company acquired actor Shameik Moore to the show just a couple of days shy of the release Spider-Man Across the Spider-Verse film which has broken box office records.

Shameik appeared humbled by the response from the crowd as he talked about the importance and responsibility of taking on roles like Miles Morales and how it affects the Black community, and he was right in saying so.

Moore talked about how we as Black people need to take these roles very seriously as we don't get to see us in these positions as often as we should and when we do, we can't take them for granted. Something I have said many times when conducting speaking events. (And for those new to this page and podcast yes, I am a Black man with years of experience in media, podcasting, and moderating great guest like the ones in this event in events as grand as this).

I also appreciated him making the young kids incredibly happy when they approached the microphone to ask a question to him. The look on his face seemed empathetic as if he was watching himself ask a question to someone, he was a fan of.

On top of that he gifted a few lucky kids with autographed posters of the recently released movies.

Because the movie just arrived, he respectfully opted out of discussing the movie too deeply and much credit to the fans who did get a chance to watch it for not asking questions about it either.

As great as all of those were nothing topped my experience seeing not only one of my favorite anime characters but also one of my dearest friends as the one and only Emmy award winning actor Maile Flanagan returned to Philadelphia for the first time since 2018 when she attended ReedPop's Keystone Comic Con.

It was a long time coming and it was not only great to see her and her wife Lesa who is my other dear friend (as well as Maile's manager) but also to see all of her fans in a packed hall waiting to see the voice behind a character that has inspired them or helped them through some of their toughest times in life.

Maile and I spoke about this on my show on multiple occasions and off air in regard to the impact Naruto had or have on those who have watched the show that spawned over several hundred episodes, multiple movies, and video games (including a brand new one coming sometime this year from Bandai/Namco).

Watching her entertain and control the crowd was like watching some of the comedian greats on stage.

Also having her acknowledge me in front of a packed crowd still brings giggles every time I watch it which you can see below.

I was also happy to hear a fan ask her about the recent A.I. featured song that has gone around social media which featured a pitched perfect voice of her and Goku actor Sean Schemmel doing a duet of a song from The Weekend which we spoke about on Twitter when we found out about it.

The fan said with both conviction and emotion, telling Maile that we all as fans care for her performance and effort and respectfully declines the idea of A.I. taking over any roles of actors by studios, which has become a recent concern of many artists. This concern is one of the reasons for the writer's strike and the upcoming actors' strike according to Maile and others who have mentioned it.

Overall, a great panel and a great weekend for us both. A part of her coming to Philly meant that we would all hang out over the weekend, and we did exactly that. My wife and I took her and Lesa to one of our favorite hot spots in the city in the form of Sampan fusion restaurant.

The place never disappoints.

FUN FACT: while there apparently the chef and some of the staff recognized Maile's voice during our conversation and respectfully approached her asking whether she is Naruto. The results of this led to Maile nicely signing autograph cards to our server, the chef, and other staff members.

She is truly the Hokage.

With so much to do over the weekend at FAN EXPO I didn't get a chance to capture a lot of the heart of what makes a comic convention so great. That of course are cosplayers who without them events like these wouldn't be as special.

The amount of dedication and fandom that each cosplayer brings ranges from good to "OMG THAT IS SPOT ON ACCURATE!!!"

While Philly isn't known for being one of the best in terms of cosplay design it doesn't mean they don't bring it. Not to mention we do occasionally have one or two locals that are incredibly talented and skilled.

Here are just some of them here. Whether you are a newbie buying a costume from a shop or a highly skill "Ya-Ya" level designer we as fans salute you all and thank you for enhancing the experience of this and every convention.

To quote one Johnathan Wick "Yeah, I think I'm back." A big kudos to FAN EXPO for putting out a great follow up this year. I had a hunch that they would be able to do it and I am glad my instincts were correct. Whatever negatives they may have experienced this year I did not detect them. While no convention is perfect this one left us with little to complain about.

The company managed to put together a fine family themed and well-organized event.

Why this FAN EXPO may not acquire the epic city supported presentation of those like NYCC or SDCC, they managed to put together an event with an upper-level feel that is a must come, must see appeal.

I look forward to seeing what they will do to top this one as this one.


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