Batman banters with Duff Man. Two Jedis jeer at a seedy old Spock and a paunchy Lieutenant Worf. X-Man (or Woman) Storm talks about the weather with a handful of Stormtroopers, while a slightly overage Wonder Woman gossips with two Gandalfs, a Greedo and a Gollum.
Oh, and there's a Playboy bunny in the corner signing her photo, "To Frodo, with love."
Once again, it's Comic-Con (search), where fantasy worlds collide.
Besides the unusual suspects who always show up at these kinds of events, Comic-Con, which ran July 14-17, is the world's largest annual pow-wow (or, in comic book parlance, "POW! WOW!") for everybody who's anybody in the worlds of comics, gaming, film, animation, television and merchandising, merchandising, merchandising.
According to Fred Sainze, vice president of public affairs for the San Diego Convention Center Corporation, Comic-Con is the single largest event held at the center — a "full-facility user" — bringing in over 100,000 visitors with an economic impact of $45 million on the San Diego area.
That's a larger turnout than the latest Republican National Convention held there, which boasted only 60,000 guests, leading one to believe that there are perhaps more comic book fans in the world than ... Republicans?
"Remember," said Sainze, "one is a public event, one is very exclusive."
With over 300 conferences and almost 800 exhibitors, if you can't see it, learn it or buy it here, then you'll have to start exploring other planets.
The conferences offered cover too many subjects to list, but it's safe to say that Comic-Con is the only place where you can attend something called "Is That Your Sword or Are You Just Unhappy to See Me? Writing Fight Scenes for Science Fiction and Fantasy."
The majority of the Comic-Con cons relate to getting into the business, doing it yourself or preparing for that big break in writing, illustration or movies.
There's "Comic Book Law School 101," "DC Talent Search Orientation Session," even a demonstration on "Resin Casting and RTV Mold-Making," basically an update on the cutting-edge processes used to craft figurines.
Indeed, a quick look at the 2005 sponsors shows that what started in 1969 as a small haven for die-hard comic-bookers has grown into a mecca for all things entertainment-related.
Paramount Pictures, Variety magazine, Nintendo and Upper Deck Entertainment were all there — DC Comics is the only actual comic book company that sponsors the event.
Back in the early days, marketers used Comic-Con to promote their new comics, their new merchandise, their new anything that could even marginally appeal to that one demographic known as "geeks" (not "nerds" — not ever "nerds").
George Lucas (search), under pressure to save what Twentieth Century Fox was about to write off as a huge misstep, went there in the summer of 1977 to do emergency last-minute promotion for "Star Wars" before it came out. Now the Star Wars "booth" at Comic-Con is so big it practically has its own ZIP code.
Other success stories are also born at Comic-Con.
"Every year the Tokyo Pop bag has gotten bigger and bigger," said Tom Maletta, owner of Best Comics and Hobbies in Long Island, N.Y.
Maletta has been into comics "since he was like, 12" — a late bloomer in geek terms — and for him, as with everyone in this industry, a business trip to Comic-Con is also pure pleasure.
He comes to meet the distributors whose books he carries and to network with other shop owners, but most of all he comes for the "exclusives."
According to Maletta, buying a Comic-Con exclusive item is a no-risk purchase (unless you count waiting in the theme park-length lines with hundreds of other devotees, half of whom are carrying swords.)
Exclusives are bought and then resold in hobby stores, other conventions or the most likely place, eBay.
Maletta's target: "Planet of the Apes Statue, Bleeding Edition," his girlfriend reports with rolling eyes.
When they started dating, she couldn't tell Daredevil from Hellboy (like, duh). But now, as Malleta puts it with professorial pride: "She knows who Green Lantern is."