LOS ANGELES -- This week's Comic-Con pop-cultural extravaganza in San Diego may not be as cutting-edge cool as you think.
Several of the festival's franchise favorites are showing off their ages this year as they celebrate milestone birthdays, including Tarzan at 100, James Bond at 50 and those strapping 20-year-olds, the Power Rangers.
Other beloved characters blowing out serious candles at this year's 43rd annual Comic-Con will be Prince Valiant (75), Alfred E. Neuman and his Mad Magazine (60) and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (20). The four-day convention begins Thursday and is expected to drive more than 100,000 die-hard fans to the San Diego Convention Center.
Panels, parties and stunts are planned to pay tribute to the long-running properties, proving that Comic-Con continues to be more than just quizzing of-the-moment celebrities and peeking at never-before-seen footage.
In recent years, as the focus at Comic-Con has increasingly shifted to upcoming offerings from Hollywood and beyond, organizers have been tasked with balancing new and old on the already overflowing Comic-Con schedule. It's all the more apparent this year when so many franchises just happen to be celebrating birthdays that end in either a 0 or 5.
"It's a coming-of-age story, not just for our property, but for Comic-Con," said Elie Dekel, president of "Power Rangers" owner Saban Brands. "You now have generations of parents and children who've had Comic-Con as part of their lives. It's become a popular-culture kaleidoscope for what's resonating with everyone across genres and generations."
"Power Rangers," the kids action TV series that spawned a mighty merchandising empire, will commemorate its birthday with the Thursday panel "Power Rangers: 20 Years and Beyond." Others with anniversary panels include Joss Whedon's "Firefly" TV series, the "Judge Dredd" and "Courtney Crumrin" comics, "Heavy Metal" magazine and Marvel superheros.
To honor the 50th anniversary of Bond -- and stir up hype for the release of a 22-disc Blu-ray box set -- MGM Home Entertainment will park different vehicles from Bond movies in its booth each day on the show floor. Fans can pose for photos with rides like the Aston Martin Volante from "The Living Daylights" and a parahawk from "The World is Not Enough."
"I think there's a little Bond in everyone that will be at Comic-Con," said Michael Brown, the vice president of marketing for MGM Home Entertainment. "I want the fans to come to our booth and experience Bond like they've never been able to before for this special occasion. They've never been able to do this -- and what better place than Comic-Con."
Others marking special anniversaries at Comic-Con include the 30-year-old "American Flagg" publisher First Comics; 20-year-old "Walking Dead" publisher Image Comics; and the 25-year-old "Street Fighter" video game series.
"Not many games get to celebrate 25 years," said Tomoaki Ayano, a Japanese producer at developer Capcom, in a translated statement. "We like to think that the `Street Fighter' series has withstood the test of time. We have some of the best fans in the world, and for the next 25 years until the 50th anniversary, we will continue to work even harder."
The 75th anniversary of the historical adventure comic strip "Prince Valiant" will be saluted at a Friday panel featuring the comic's current writer and artists. Long before "The Dark Knight" arose or "The Avengers" assembled, Harold R. Foster's epic about the Duke of Windsor launched in 1937 and continues to be published by King Features Syndicate.
"At the time it came out, it was a hugely popular," said Mark Schulz, the comic's current writer. "Comics were the visual medium that people turned to then -- much like how people now turn to TV. Millions of people read them. It wasn't just the oddball that was aware of the weekly travails of Prince Valiant, Flash Gordon or Dick Tracy. It was everyone."
This year's expo will be the 22nd for Schulz, who has attended Comic-Con each year since 1990. While many fans argue that the entertainment industry has co-opted the convention for promotional purposes, Schulz doesn't mind the attention that Hollywood has brought to Comic-Con, which first debuted in 1970 at the U.S. Grant Hotel in downtown San Diego.
Despite the abundance of birthdays, there will undoubtedly be more frenzied anticipation for looking ahead than back at this year's Comic-Con: Peter Jackson is unleashing "The Hobbit," the cast of "The Walking Dead" is aligning with two newbie members, Robert Downey Jr. is landing with "Iron Man 3" and Arnold Schwarzenegger is teaming up with "The Expendables 2" ensemble.
But do any of them drive an Aston Martin Volante?