Superhero love still strong as Wizard World Comic Con Chicago hits Rosemont

Will superheroes ever go the way of vampires?

Way back in the first decade of this century, love-struck vampires ruled the pop-culture roost, thanks in large part to the wildly popular “Twilight” novels by Stephenie Meyer (and later, their movie adaptations). For several years there, you couldn't take a step without smacking your head into a book, movie or television show that revolved around attractive young blood-suckers.

Today, attractive young (and a few not-so-young) super beings are the order of the day. And though the craze has now been going strong for more than a decade, it doesn't show signs of slowing.

“These characters, and the movies and TV shows based on them, clearly have real staying power,” said Jerry Milani, spokesman for Wizard Entertainment, which organizes multiple comics and sci-fi conventions all over the country. “And the appeal crosses generations, which you don't see too often with pop-culture trends.”

The local installment of Wizard's conventions, known as Wizard World Comic Con Chicago, arrives in Rosemont on Thursday for a four-day stay at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center. Tens of thousands of people are expected to visit during the weekend.

As usual, superheroes will be the guests of honor at the party. Stars from superhero movies and television shows, both past and present, will be on hand, including former Aurora resident John Barrowman (“Arrow,” “Torchwood”), Colbie Smulders (“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” “Avengers”), Michael Rooker (“Guardians of the Galaxy,” “The Walking Dead”) and Lou Ferrigno (“The Incredible Hulk”). There will also be dozens of comic-book creators, comic-book dealers and thousands of fans dressed as their favorite superhero characters.

The Daily Herald spoke to two of the show's guests about their superhero careers and what they like about the convention experience.

Kevin Conroy brought a new level of gravitas to the role of Batman in the moody and acclaimed "Batman: The Animated Series." Courtesy of Wizard World

Voicing a legend

More than 25 years ago, Kevin Conroy, a Juilliard-trained stage actor, auditioned for a voice-acting job on a whim. The decision changed his life.

Conroy landed the title role in “Batman: The Animated Series,” an influential 1990s cartoon that would earn acclaim for its smart writing and moody, Art Deco-inspired look. Suddenly Conroy was playing one of the most iconic and popular characters in pop culture, despite not being particularly knowledgeable at the time about the Batman mythos, or about working in animation.

Kevin Conroy, who has become a fan favorite by voicing Batman in animated TV shows, movies and video games for the past 25 years, is one of the guests who will meet fans in Rosemont during Wizard World Comic Con Chicago. Courtesy of Wizard World

“The whole thing was such a fluke,” Conroy said, speaking on the phone from the recent Comic Con International in San Diego. “I'd never auditioned for an animated series before. I just went in there and winged it. I think what helped me is that I really had no preconceptions about anything. I walked into the booth and let my imagination go.”

Conroy has played Batman steadily ever since. “Batman: The Animated Series” sparked a slew of related superhero programs and direct-to-video animated movies, including “Justice League” and “Batman Beyond.” Conroy also played the character in the blockbuster, award-winning “Arkham” video game series.

Earlier this month, the latest Batman project starring Conroy was released on Blu-ray and DVD: “Batman and Harley Quinn,” which teams the Caped Crusader with the popular character from the “Suicide Squad” film.

“People often ask me how I stay interested after doing this character for 25 years,” Conroy said. “But that's the thing about stage actors - half the trick is making the performance fresh over and over again. It becomes part of your DNA as an actor.”

Conroy's performance as Batman immediately struck a nerve in part because of how he changed the sound of his voice depending on who was on screen at the time, Batman or Batman's civilian alter-ego, Bruce Wayne. Conroy produced a deeper, growly vocal sound whenever the character was in the Batman costume.

“To me, that voice was rooted in the tragedy of the character's childhood,” Conroy said, alluding to the fact that Bruce Wayne is driven to become Batman after seeing his parents murdered by a common criminal. “Approaching the role from that darkness is another aspect that keeps the character fresh for me.”

Conroy's work has been hugely popular with fans, making him a sought-after guest at conventions like Wizard World. He is scheduled to appear at the Rosemont show Friday through Sunday.

“Getting to meet fans at conventions has really been an amazing part of my whole Batman journey,” Conroy said. “I've heard so many amazing stories, some of them very emotional - about difficult childhoods and difficult lives, where one safe space they had was Batman. It's really humbling to hear those kinds of stories. It's definitely a big part of what makes playing a character like this so special.”

Doing it all

In the world of genre comics, Chicago creator Tim Seeley is something of a Renaissance man.

He both writes and draws. He works on well-known corporate comic-book characters and produces original work.

Tim Seeley's writing and artwork are featured in "Tim Seeley's Action Figure Collection," a superhero anthology book out this month from Image Comics. Courtesy of Tim Seeley

“I consider myself very lucky,” Seeley said. “As a kid I loved the Marvel and DC stuff, and still do, but I always knew I wanted to contribute something original. To actually be able to do that is really great.”

Seeley currently writes “Nightwing,” the DC Comics title depicting the solo superhero adventures of Dick Grayson, whom longtime fans know as the original Robin. Seeley has history with the character, as he previously co-wrote the acclaimed comic “Grayson,” which eschewed straight superheroics for a Jason Bourne-style superspy approach.

“I've always loved the Dick Grayson character,” Seeley said. “I've followed him my whole life, it seems. Back when he was Robin, and when he first became Nightwing with the Teen Titans. I think he was the first action figure I ever had! So to work on him, especially given his importance in the larger DC universe, is pretty amazing.”

Tim Seeley's latest book is an anthology of superhero tales called "Tim Seeley's Action Figure Collection." Courtesy of Tim Seeley

Seeley also is part of the creative roster at Image Comics, publisher of original genre works owned by their creators. His horror/sci-fi series “Revival,” which he co-created with artist Mike Norton, recently came to an end after a successful 47-issue run. (A movie adaptation is reportedly in the works.) And his new anthology, “Tim Seeley's Action Figure Collection,” hits stores this week.

That book brings together a variety of superhero stories he's written and/or drawn over the years - material that Seeley describes as “weird, fun stuff.”

“I'm excited for people to see it,” he said. “It's me just kind of letting go and following my imagination where it leads. It's great having a place like Image where I, and other creators, can bring original material. I think the fact that the market has responded to what Image has done in the past few years shows the interest for different types of comics is pretty broad.”

Seeley is expected to meet with fans on Sunday at Wizard World Comic Con Chicago. He said he takes advantage of every opportunity to leave his studio and interact with fans.

“It provides a nice recharge,” he said. “Working as a freelance creator means spending a lot of time alone in a room. It can get lonely, and you sometimes forget that your work actually has some impact out in the world. So I definitely look forward to these conventions.”

Wizard World Comic Con Chicago

What: A four-day pop-culture convention featuring movie and television celebrities, comic-book creators and memorabilia dealers

Where: Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, 5555 N. River Road, Rosemont

When: 4 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 24; noon to 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 25; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 26; and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 27

Tickets: Four-day: $94.95 (advance), $105 (on-site); Thursday: $40 (advance), $50 (on-site); Friday: $50 (advance), $60 (on-site); Saturday: $60 (advance), $70 (on-site); Sunday: $50 (advance), $60 (on-site). See

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