Perhaps, in times like these, more of us should turn to superheroes. All the news seems bad and depressing, yet the thousands of people who turned out yesterday for day two of Wizard World Philadelphia, the comic-book/action-figure/pop-culture convention, seemed an unusually happy lot.
You'd think they'd be grouchy after shelling out $25 for the day ($45 for a three-day pass), plus having to pay for transportation, parking and food. But they were as pleasant as suburban gardeners at the Flower Show - with a slightly different dress code.
You won't see outfits like Jessi Gantert's at any flower show. She was the tall, raven-haired creature posing for pictures in her black leather jumpsuit, black plastic breastplate, and knee-high boots - with knee pads - and aiming her long black (fake) gun at passers-by with startling nonchalance.
No need to tell this crowd her character's name. It knew. She was the Baroness, the voluptuous and villainous intelligence officer for G.I. Joe's enemy, the Cobra Organization.
"The Baroness is my favorite character. She's sexy and bad," said Gantert, 22, whose real-life role - optician from Reading - is pretty much the opposite.
That fact of life - and the chance to role-play and fantasize with like-minded folks - may help explain why organizers expect more than 30,000 people to attend Wizard World, which wraps up today from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Convention Center.
"It's an escape. It's fun," said Brady Hartman, 22, who works at a radio station in Williamsport, Pa., and has been watching G.I. Joe cartoons since he was a toddler.
The attraction of escapist fun to Hartman's demographic - males ages 18 to 34 - has made a very wealthy man of Gareb Shamus. He is the founder and chief executive officer of the Wizard Entertainment Group, which publishes magazines for fans of comic books, games, toys and collectibles, and holds Wizard World conventions in Los Angeles, Chicago and Arlington, Texas, as well as in Philadelphia.
"Here's something very interesting," Shamus said in a telephone interview yesterday. "Attendance actually has very little to do with the economy. People might not go on trips or vacations or buy houses, but they're not going to stop doing things they enjoy."
Especially this year, with so many superhero movies out or planned, including Iron Man, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Incredible Hulk, The Dark Knight (Batman), and The Punisher.
"This has been an unbelievable movie year for comic-book characters," Shamus said.
Cruising the aisles of Wizard World yesterday, you'd know what Shamus was talking about. The hall was jammed, mostly with males in Shamus' favorite age group, but there were women, too.
And quite a few of both persuasions were in costume.
Brad Worrell from Drexel Hill is a security guard - "always on the side of right" - in real life. At Wizard World, he's "a human raised by Wookies, Chewbacca's people," from Star Wars.
His character wore tattered clothes, as befit his primitive status, as he engaged in martial-arts-like, staged combat with other members of PA Jedi (www.pajedi.com). They "fight" with light sabers glowing with energy-saving LED bulbs.
"I'm a 37-year-old kid, pure and simple," Worrell said.
Roy Kaiser is the real deal, a senior at La Salle College High School. He went with an all-black outfit and scary face paint for his character, Darth Malice, a serial killer.
"Bad guys are funner to play. Heroes have to live by a code of honor," said Kaiser, who knows martial arts and wants to be a filmmaker. "Plus, you get to wear makeup."
One crowd favorite - not sure if it was the makeup, skimpy duds or character - was Poison Ivy, the eco-terrorist and Batman temptress. She was but one of the day's many memorable sights and sounds.
There was the guy in a bright-red Mohawk haircut, looking more like Woody Woodpecker than a superhero. There was a wild voice in the crowd yelling, "You are a biohazard!" There was the wrestler known as Eugene, dressed in blue Spandex, who complained that WWE owner Vince McMahon - a bit of an action figure himself in the wrestling world - dumped green paint on him once on live TV.
"He wrecked my outfit," Nick Dinsmore said, still sounding hurt as he lifted his white shoes to show a visitor the green smudges that remain.
Besides the often bizarre array of characters, Wizard World offers for sale toys, comic books, T-shirts, artwork, light sabers, action figures of all sizes, and lots more. There's also a gaming area.
Today's special guest is Katee Sackhoff, who plays kick-butt pilot Kara "Starbuck" Thrace on the TV series Battlestar Galactica. Sackhoff is known for fighting evil robots.
Perhaps we should say that's what Sackhoff's character is known for. Here at Wizard World, same thing.