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  • Writer's pictureDax J Martin-Cheeves

FAN EXPO 2024 REVIEW: The FORCE was not completely with us.

FAN EXPO returns to Philadelphia for the third time under the new brand (formerly known as Wizard World) and the best way to describe this year’s event? I would say it is “a total contrast” and not in a good way unfortunately.

Something this year just felt different. Felt off even. From the cold and distilled weather to the ambience and atmosphere of the Convention Center. It lacked the welcoming warmth of last year which was “a contrast” to this year. Last year they held the event in June which also had other events around the city like the PRIDE parade which was a wild time to see many celebrate in the city and had an enjoyable time. This year it was held in May to celebrate May the 4th as their theme this year. The always hard-working folks at FAN EXPO had many challenges this time around which includes damage control after numerous cancellations and rescheduling of celebrity guests which of course led to fans upset after paying money for autographs and photo ops. Some fans only paid for that day and the idea of their favorite actor no longer attending or having to reschedule is both heartbreaking, upsetting, and warranted. This, believe it or not, is common when it comes to fan conventions. Major promotions like ReedPOP and SanDiego Comic Con International are no stranger to this. However, to their credit, cancelations or rescheduling don’t happen as often than most as they are considered a major event that involves lots of sponsorships and major announcements with hundreds of thousands of people coming from around the world to be at those events.

The cancellations with this year’s FAN EXPO were more than I’ve ever seen in prior years with up to ten celebrities from Ben McKenzie (Gotham), Monrena Baccarin (Deadpool star and husband of Ben McKenzie), Sean Gunn, Jonas Soutamo (Chewbacca), Eli Roth, Jason Lee, Kate Mulgrew (Star Trek, Orange is the New Black), Mario Lopez, Denis Lawson, and Sofia Boutella (Rebel Moon).

As to why they could not make it we will never truly know. The reasons given is normally because of filming commitments or other contractual obligations. But quite often it is believed that the reason for the cancellations could be the result of lack of fan anticipation and low sales of autographs and photo ops.

That could very well be the case for actor Sofia Boutella who received a heavy hit of bad reviews for her recent Rebel Moon movies.

Some celebrities just may not want to attend and cancel out. It was believed in 2019 that Philly icon Sylvester Stallone may have canceled out of ReedPOP’s KeyStone Comic Con here in Philly after receiving backlash from fans when they found out about the astronomical prices for autographs and photo ops.

His replacement was non other than the Ultimate Spider-Man himself Tom Holland which was incredibly received and embraced. So much so that thousands of fans lined up early Sunday morning to get a chance to attend his Panel and thanks to the way ReedPOP set up the main hall they were able to smoothly accommodate many who wanted to see him.

Added to that, Tom Holland extended his time at the event to make sure everyone who wanted a photo op would get one.

But the key word of this article is “contrast.”

Despite the obstacles in front of them they were able to pull through but not unscathed. While the event still had some major players attending with marquee names Rosario Dawson, Hayden Christensen, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Gina Corango, Alan Tudyk and Cameron Monaghan to celebrate May the 4th, along with Rose McGowan and Holly Marie Combs (representing Charmed), Chloe Bennet and Jeff Ward (Agents of Shield), Tom Cavanagh (The FLASH), the cast of The OFFICE, Danny Trejo, Chevy Chase and the cast of National Lampoons Christmas Vacation, as well as the cast of the hit live action series Avatar: The Last Airbender, some of the panels I’ve attended ranged from luke warm to fairly hot due to some production issues in the main theater,  low energy from the fans who attended some of the panels, and timing issues. On top of all that there was a consistent issue involving the treatment of the press. But we will get to that in a bit.

I will also address something I discovered based on some of the vendors at the event that you should be warned about before wanting to purchase anything from this or any fan convention.

Let us begin.

On the inaugural day of FAN EXPO, I decided to walk around the showcase floor to checkout the fan favorite areas like Artist Alley, Tattoo Alley, and of course the Vendor section. NOTE: Every year you will often find an unannounced cult hero at a booth somewhere around the expo. Last year was the legendary Bruce Leroy himself Taimak who had his own table unbeknownst and unknown to many who attended. He was in a very secluded area of the convention and if you didn’t walk past that area, you would have never known he was there. This year was non other than second generation Red Ranger of the iconic Power Rangers Steve Cardenas hanging out in a booth on behalf of a company who had him there to help promote their product.

As always you will find common vendors that sell things from t-shirts, figures, collectibles, and more.

While not as elaborate as what you would get from New York or San Diego Comic Con which provide exclusive items you can’t get anywhere else there is always something worth checking out and buying. One of my favorite vendors to check out is the weapons shops that have replicas blades and swords from your favorite anime or video games.

This year one of the most eye-catching replicas came in the form of the iconic BLADES of CHAOS owned by the legendary game character KRATOS (formerly played and voiced by previous TALK TIME LIVE guest T.C. CARSON and currently voiced by Christopher Judge).

The beautifully crafted and detailed metal blades are worth it for any fan of the long running series.

One must wonder what they are going for. When I asked the person running the vendor told me they go for a whopping $350.

As I continued to walk around the room floor, I came across another weapons shop that also sold the same blades. I then asked them for the price, and they too said it went for $350.

Very steep but would be worth having. But my critical thinking skills were at play as I wondered if they were that price especially online.

So, I decided to look online to our ever-reliable merchant site known as Amazon and searched to see if any online vendors sold them as well and see if the value matches up. Much to my surprise I found them but was blown away at the price they are selling for online.

No, they are not selling them for a higher price but in fact they are being sold for only $150 which is more than 50% less than what they are selling at these vendors.

The lesson here (and reason why I am talking about this) is to make sure you always check online before buying any replica items from a vendor. This was a total disappointment to know that the vendors would hike prices up that much to make a profit. One can understand maybe $25 or even $50 dollars more but over half the amount its worth. That is unacceptable.

Added to that I’m not sure as to whether they were the official replicas of GOW. The scale was shorter in length compared to the ones I saw online (which was said to be scaled at 21-inches).

As I often say when I review something on the podcast or even my “uNBox“ reviews, one should think more like a consumer before a fan.

This year Philly stepped it up with some great quality concepts and well-crafted costume. There was a significant love for anime, Star Wars, Spider-Man, X-Men which includes great Wolverine cosplays. Marvel still holds up as many fans favorite. Oddly enough I didn't see much of anyone dressed as DC Characters.

Check out what I was able to capture this year.

This year’s panels had some hits and misses, mostly in part to the issues I mentioned earlier but I will reiterate this by pointing out that the issues they had this year did not happen in the first two years of this new FAN EXPO era.

2022 and 2023 had some great appearances that fans who attended were not disappointed in the slightest and every panel I went too resulted in the fans being very entertained. While none of the panels made any headlines on TMZ, EXTRA, or even IGN (much like last year where Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd reunited in 2022) they still managed to bring excitement to the city for hardcore and casual fans to enjoy. I thought they did a great job back them. Some of the panels that I’ve attended were for Cameron Monaghan, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Chloe Bennet and Jeff Ward (Main Theater panels), Charles Martinet and Tom Cavanagh (in the smaller panel halls, and the main event with Rosario Dawson and Hayden Christensen back in the main theater.

The panels attended were good but some of them suffered a bit. Once again, they provided the same set up for the Main Theater as the first two years which I was not a fan of. After experiencing how ReedPOP set up their Main Hall for Keystone Comic Con in the same PA Convention Center which was able to hold more than a few thousand people and was able to fill it up with ease. I wish they would do something like that.


The Cameron Monaghan panel I really enjoyed as he spoke about his work on hit shows Shameless, Gotham, and of course his Jedi role as Cal Kestis in the ultra-popular STAR WAR: JEDI SURVIVOR. A game I gave high praise for and considered a great improvement from the first game.

That panel went well with no real bumps and the fans attending seemed like they were enjoying the time with him.

FAN EXPO’s designated moderator did an okay job although he did ask Monaghan a question that he should have known and researched. The question asked whether Monaghan had the opportunity to meet Mark Hamill (aka Luke Skywalker). Had he done his research a little more he would have known that the two did a commercial together promoting STAR WARS: JEDI SURVIVOR last year which was a viral hit that showed Hamill teaching Monaghan the ways of the force.  

A great passing of the torch moment. Overall, an entertaining panel. NOTE: it was during this panel where I began to see the proverbial change in the wind when it came to press covering the panels. More on that later.


Next up was the SAVE BY THE BELL panel with Bayside Boy wonder himself Zack Morris aka actor Mark-Paul Gosselaar who has provided a good body of work outside the cult famed classic Saturday series. The best way to describe this panel in one word would be mellow. While many are fans of him in many of the characters, he has played over the years the crowd just didn’t seem to be that enthusiastic to see him. The best part of this panel was the fan questions. This also was met with the shortest line for questions which led to the panel ending on time while everyone got their questions answered. Credit to the fans who lined up as they asked him some great questions regarding not only his role as Zack but also his other roles in the recent role as the sinister man known as SIR in the NBC/Peacock series FOUND. Gosselaar also spoke about the now defunct SAVE BY THE BELL reboot on Peacock which he like many who watched were disappointed that it was cancelled. Like Mark-Paul, I was a huge fan of the series and loved the direction they were going with it, making it modern and inclusive.

He also talked about how he learned about the famed YouTube series “Zack Morris is Trash” which led to the new series.  He said he absolutely loved it and credited director Dashiell Driscoll as a genius for being able to point out all the things about Zack that no one was able to point out when it came to him being a friend to the gang.

He also spoke about him doing a podcast with him as well. I came out of it enjoying the discussions, but it did leave the crowd underwhelmed a bit. It could have been because originally Mark-Paul was supposed to be joined by Mario Lopez who was one of the guests that canceled due to other commitments. Some joked that Lopez pulled a boss move on by canceling the appearance on Gosselaar but that could be further from the truth. Although if you look at his social media pages he doesn’t seem to be involved in any commitments as advertised nor did he even address his cancelation to the event. Either way, it was great that Mark-Paul came to Philly and remained committed to coming in.


It was then time for one of the panels I was anticipating seeing which was the Agents of Shield panel with guest Chloe Bennet and Jeff Ward. Not only was I excited for this but also many fans who were waiting to catch up with their favorite agents to talk about the long running series that spanned through the Infinity Saga.

I have spoken many times over about my love for Agents of Shield and constantly have discussions on how they can’t be disconnected to the series as some have argued. It was great to not only see Skyy (aka Daisy Johnson aka Quake) like and in living color but also Ward who not only played fan favorite Deke on the show but recently played everyone favorite anime clown pirate BUGGY in the live action adaption ONE PIECE on Netflix which he has received raved reviews over his portrayal of the character. While I enjoyed seeing this and discussing their experiences on the show there were some ongoing issues involving both audio and lighting which you can tell throw the two-off track from talking and answering questions.

The lighting on the Main Stage was far from good. The staff working on the stage were constantly changing the lighting which led to the two actors being blinded and couldn’t see the crowd during some parts of the panel. You can see Bennet trying to keep focused on the conversation but becomes distracted. They then turned it down so they could see the crowd in front of them but by doing so also made the lighting somewhat less than satisfactory to those in attendance. Fortunately, the two were able to get back on track and their chemistry and friendship helped them through.

One of the things that I was always told by Maile Flanagan and other guest that has been on TALK TIME LIVE is that or the live panels I’ve had the pleasure of moderating is that actors often forget have of the episodes they work on, or they never watched them after performing them. They often will tell people at conventions that they may not remember everything that happens in those episodes especially if the show hasn’t been around for a long time. Mostly it’s because they have moved on to other projects and they are always on the go. So, with that reminder you would think that people would remember or understand that so not to ask anything specific regarding certain episodes. But as always you get a few and this time it was more than a few which the two tried their best to answer. Bennet would often toss the answer to Ward who would try his best to answer the episodes he was on.

The panel (although fun) was slightly cringy at times but enjoyable overall. After a nice lunch break in Reading Terminal, I headed back for the second half of the panels I was covering. This time I went to the smaller halls to see the legendary voice of Mario Charles Martinet and everyone’s favorite Reverse Flash Tom Cavanagh.


This is where I once again witness the changes in how press was treated as we were met with a quite unruly staff member with unwarranted aggression towards myself and another member of the press who was given authorization to enter the room for the next panels. Again, more on that later. We start the second half with the Mario panel with guest actor Charles Martinet who is the ambassador Nintendo after retiring his role as the iconic voice of Mario. This is when things pick up in a great way. This hall was the same hall that had both the Kevin Smith Q&A in 2022 and the Peter Cullen Q&A in 2023 which were both very good panels at the time. One thing that I noticed with this panel however is that there have been some production changes. One that I noticed throughout all the panel areas and that is the replacement of man for machine. Last year most panels in that hall (and the Main Theater area) were manned by a team who would record some of the panels in that and other rooms. In its place is what appears to be one of those 4K cameras like this Panasonic AW-UE40 that captures 4K footage without the use of a cameraman.  

This may also lead to the reason why they aren’t allowing the press to get video anymore (although there were plenty of fans that were recording and will most likely be on TikTok as you are reading this article).

But I digress, the Charles Martinet panel was everything I wanted it to be in that he was a man who was very humble about his opportunities not only as the voice of Mario but other roles he has worked on as well. It was helped by very knowledgeable fans who asked him all sorts of questions that went beyond his work on Mario games.

His responses were great followed by some very heartwarming and inspirational words of wisdom. Mr. Martinet had the crowd in his hands and deservingly so. I will also add that the moderator (and to my knowledge the only moderator of color during this weekend that I saw) was awesome here as he was truly a fan of his as we all are, and many were able to enjoy not only Mr. Martinet’s presence but also the moderator’s enjoyment of the experience.

The only weird thing about this panel was the moderator’s warning about his role in the Super Mario movie which to his credit laid down the line on anyone asking him about this role which I thoroughly enjoyed. Obviously, the elephant in the room was the idea that he did not play the actual role in the film as Chris Pratt (who is also taking on the role of Garfield) took over the successful CGI film. To credit the fans in attendance they respected the moderator's request. The panel was possibly the best one I’ve had the opportunity to attend all day up to this point. There were no issues involving audio or lighting, but I believe the panel started a tiny bit late because he was still signing autographs and taking photos which led to the time being cut short. The moderator informed those who didn’t get the opportunity to ask him a question at his booth. Despite the time issue the panel was very successful.


Then we have the second to the last panel of the night which was the one and only Tom Cavanagh who plays the fan favorite who plays Dr. Harry Wells, reverse Flash, and many variants of Wells from different multiverses.

This was a must see for me as I not only loved that series but also loved his consistent standout performances in it. It was great to hear him talk about the show as well as his directorial work on The Flash and Superman and Lois. Also notable here is that the moderator of this panel was the same one who worked on the Cameron Monaghan panel and was better here (although he wasn’t bad during that panel either but just lacked a bit of research. Happens to the best of them). Another fun and enjoyable time here and it was great to see Cavanagh's genius in person. Class act performer and a class act panel.


As fun as the previous two was it was time for the main event of the evening as we headed off to see the stars of STAR WARS: AHSOKA, Rosario Dawson and Hayden Christensen at the Main Theater panel which we would learn was met with quite of bit of issues. The set up for this event was interesting as they sold tickets allowing people to get access to the best seats possible. This was a great idea as they knew people would be excited to see the two in person.

The execution, however, was questionable. For the third time the winds of change occurred when allowing the press to cover the much-anticipated event. I promise by the end of this I will provide full details on it but for now, let’s get the show going. Unfortunately, that was not the case as there was a delay in time for the two Jedi warriors to get to the panel. It was an hour delay to be exact. I thought I was attending a Lauryn Hill concert for a sec but that was not the case. Scheduling issues were due to them having to finish with their photo op commitments which one must wonder how did that time get messy?

While we were waiting the moderator (who previously worked on the Charles Martinet panel) and staff did a great job hyping the crowd and keeping them happy while playing the pandering hits of Journey and Neil Diamond to keep the crowd going until they finally arrive. Something I realized during that moment.

1). FAN EXPO needs a DJ that can provide a diverse amount of music to hype the crowd. Not everyone likes Sweet Caroline, in fact it reminds me of when my wife and I watched the TREVOR NOAH stand up special as he talked about how Sweet Caroline is the anthem for the white demographic. Tell me when he is telling lies after seeing that?

2). It was also that moment where I realized who FAN EXPO’s target audience is. If you’ve been to New York Comic-Con and been in the EMPIRE stage hall at the Javits Center where they have a DJ putting our modern bangers like Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Alicia Keys, and other pop and hip-hop hits you will see that they are catering to a multicultural demographic where there is something for everyone to enjoy. This is not happening at FAN EXPO. Some fans did boo the idea of singing the songs, but the rest ate it up. They also showed some videos of fans who attended the show which brought some of them to tears when seeing themselves displayed for hundreds to see. It was a sweet moment.   

After the hour-long wait, we were finally able to get them in and the two did not disappoint. They had a lot of fun talking about their work and being a part of the Star Wars Universe as well as a surprise moment as they were both celebrating their birthdays. (NOTE: Unfortunately we didn't get images of the celebration because the press will aggressively kicked out of the area from taking any more pics).

Despite the issues and hiccups, they did send most happy.

In fact, it is safe to say that although not unscathed they walked away from the 4th with their heads attached as things could have been much worse.

Overall, the event for me didn’t live up to the first couple of years. What they did in 2022 and 2023 was far better than what they were able to do here, and it wasn’t just because of the cancellations and rescheduling but they did play a significant part in it.

Which leads us to my biggest issue of the night.

As I mentioned in the beginning there was something different in the air this year. As I am writing this article it is currently 58 degrees outside on a spring day which also matched the atmosphere and vibe coming from some of the staff and management this year.


The first couple of years the staff and management were great and warm welcoming to press. They provided us with access to take photos and record what we needed for our outlets to promote the event. However, that seems to have changed in 2024 and with no notification from those in charge of contacting press. This year we were asked to only take photos, which was fine. But it was how some of them approached us was the issue I and other members of the press had. A few red shirt staff members approached me and others to give us a heads up. One red shirt staff at the Main theater approached me and others with great customer service etiquette while others in the smaller hall was a bit more vigilant and aggressive towards myself and another member of the press even though we were told we could go in.

The mood on some of the yellow shirt staff was pleasant towards attendees including the ones that I have known from prior years, but they did give the inference that they were a bit stiff, and rigid in their demeanor. Reminded me of when I worked in retail decades ago when I would work with management who thought being hard nosed and intense gets people to become more diligent to further productivity which we realize that don’t fly these days.  I also noticed management with a similar demeanor, which in prior years were more hospitable to not only attendees but for the press who provides them with the exposure they are looking for.

Could it have been due to the multiple cancellations, the constant complaints from attendees who were upset about the cancellations?

Could it have been because there are two known members of the press that constantly bogart the main theater area while attempting to block other press from getting good quality photos? SIDE NOTE: Thank you to the staff member who yelled at them aggressively to sit down as they were standing up during the entrance of Rosario and Hayden.

Whatever this displacement is directed it shouldn’t have been aimed at everyone in the press. Being yelled at by management and staff to leave immediately and treated the way were where this day felt unwelcoming, unwanted, and embarrassing. Even though they invited us.

The reasons why we can’t get video and audio are also questionable. No one told us until that point that we couldn’t do what we normally do. Why wasn’t a notice sent out to all the press before the event so we would know? Last year they welcomed the idea of us taking video and audio of panels. Staff from last year even provided tripods for us during the Peter Cullen panels so we can get the coverage we needed which was greatly appreciated.

If the reason for the new rules was based on a few bad apples why didn’t management address this to them directly instead of vilifying all press attendees? There were so many better ways to manage the situation both to press and staff and that just did not happen. In the nine years that I have been working on TALK TIME LIVE and covering everything from fan conventions, concerts, and now major wrestling events I have never been treated with any level of disrespect until May the 4th 2024. FAN EXPO’s third year left a cold and damped taste in my mouth. If this is how they will conduct their relationship with press members going forward I don’t see this going too well with their chances of doing good PR. While we are not entitled to anything that FAN EXPO or anyone has to offer we are entitled to a level of respect. This again was not only a contrast of how they did things for the last two years, but this is also a huge contrast to how ReedPOP handles things when it comes to press. Since I first connected with ReedPOP in 2018, I have only had great interactions and experiences with staff and management whether I was covering their events or even moderating live and virtual panels. I had the pleasure and privilege of seeing how their engine runs during NYCC and while moderating and it is nothing short of top notch.

ReadPOP will allow a few minutes of footage for panels at NYCC and the ability to stay and take pictures at the front of EMPIRE stage (and other stages during their biggest panels. You can see my footage of NYCC from last year here to see for yourself. Mostly because they will no doubt bring out a surprise guest that they want press to cover. Again, a contrast of treatment.

On top of that the company prides themselves on being genuinely inclusive providing opportunities for many people of color to shine under their umbrella.

While there are some fans who did enjoy their time there this year others were aware of the number of blemishes that for those who have been going to Philly conventions dating back to the 2010s felt the familiar essence of what was. This year felt more like the final days of Wizard World rather than the new generation of FAN EXPO.

Hopefully they will learn from this and evolve in a more positive direction once again. This was just a knock down but let’s hope it doesn’t result in a knockout.

I wish them the very best in their future endeavors.


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