Marvel-ous highlights from C2E2

Well, the second edition of C2E2 was a rousing success in bringing a bit of Comic Con craziness to the Midwest. Chicago’s McCormick Place was buzzing with fans looking to get up close and personal with some of their favorite personalities from the geek world. I trawled the floor on Saturday, sitting in on some of the convention’s biggest events, as well as getting lots of one-on-one time with some heavy hitters. Here are the highlights of the day:

* Thor star Chris Hemsworth shared some goodies with the eager crowd, including a demonstration of his vocal pipes by yelling “For Asgard!” to ravenous cheers. He refused an odd request to show off his bulked-up physique, but did reveal how he got to be so massive. The rigid diet consisted of chicken breasts, potatoes and rice. It was so relentless that nowadays when the Aussie actor sees a chicken, he says he just wants “to kill it, and not eat it.” After which, the moderator offered a humorous apology to any PETA members who might be in the audience. Hemsworth said he asked his nutritionist if he could substitute tofu once in awhile for his strict protein-by-meat diet, and the stern reply he got was: “Have you ever seen a herd of tofu? Then, no.” Hemsworth also hinted that there might have been a bit of Avengers influence in him getting the Thor gig. Working for future Avengers director Joss Whedon on Whedon’s film, The Cabin in the Woods, Whedon asked Hemsworth if he was in the running for Thor. The actor said he had auditioned and been in talks, but the process seemingly had stalled. Whedon then got insistent/encouraging and said he’d put a good word in with Thor director Kenneth Branagh.

You can also catch Hemsworth in the upcoming remake of the ’80s flick Red Dawn, about a group of U.S. teenagers fighting off an invasion from North Korea, playing a role originated by Patrick Swayze. (Note: The original also starred Charlie Sheen, and Hemsworth answered a tongue-in-cheek question from the audience saying he has not, in fact, received any tips from the notorious bad-boy actor. “He’s been a bit unavailable lately, hasn’t he?”)

* When I asked Walking Dead star Laurie Holden to talk about the difficulty of filming the scene in the first season where she (SPOILER!) loses her sister, she immediately sought clarification: “You mean when she got bit by the zombie or when I had to shoot her in the head?” I said she could take her pick.

Talking with Marvel's Joe Quesada

* Marvel Comics had a huge presence at C2E2. They brought head honchos Joe Quesada, the former editor-in-chief who is now Chief Creative Officer, and Jeph Loeb, a longtime writer of many of the industry’s classic characters (Superman, Batman, Hulk) who is now head of the TV division. “The goal with anything that we do whether it be a movie, a video game, a comic or an animated series, when we finally do get to TV, it’s going to be to try to pass on the Marvel formula and make sure that our shows feel like a Marvel product,” Quesada told me. “There are some characters that are really wonderful for feature films, and there are other characters and properties and we have that lend themselves more to something serialized like television. That’s why I think it’s an important venue for us, because we’ll be able to take properties like that and give them the attention they need, and put them in a format that will be suitable for them.”

Though they were notoriously tight-lipped about specifics, they did preview a new episode of The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, which will return to Disney XD in May and run through July. The timing is such that it will get Marvel diehards through the period right after Thor hits theaters and until Captain America: The First Avenger follows suit. They also offered a sneak peek of an animation test for Ultimate Spider-Man, which is slated for Disney XD in 2012. Loeb said the goal is to make the series feel like a Marvel Comics product as opposed to an animation studio’s version of a Marvel comic. (He was referencing specifically the partnership between DC Comics and Warner Bros. animation, but in the nicest way possible.) Once again, they didn’t confirm much of anything, but they didn’t deny it when audience members said they thought they heard the voice of J.K. Simmons in the footage, reprising his role as J. Jonah Jameson from the Spider-Man movies.

The C2E2 audience also got to see the full pilot for the Wolverine: Anime series, which is being produced by Japanese animation studio Madhouse, a pioneer in the anime field. There are also anime versions in various stages of production for X-Men, Iron Man and Blade. Some have already aired in Japan, and the 12-part series are set to air on G4 this year.

Loeb dropped a hint that Runaways could be a future live-action series, goading the crowd into saying it sure would make a good one, amirite? He also brought up the effect of Disney’s purchase of Marvel — news that struck fear into many comic-book fans who foresaw a dystopian future filled with lame Donald Duck-Daredevil crossovers — saying it had been an overwhelmingly positive development, and that there simply wouldn’t be a Marvel TV division without Disney. It also means that the series will end up on Disney-owned channels such as ABC, ABC Family and Disney XD.

Marvel also brought writer Brian Michael Bendis, who in addition to writing for Ultimate Spider-Man, is also involved in another TV series based on one of his comics. Powers, — about a homicide division devoted to cases involving superheroes — is being produced as a live-action pilot for FX. Casting is going on now, with Bendis serving as executive producer. He says he’s thrilled that the long-gestating project is finally happening. Shooting is set to begin this summer, aiming for an early 2012 premiere.

* The cast of A&E’s Paranormal State: The New Class, Christopher Lien, Savahanna Lien Wise, Daniel Hendry and John Tenney talked with me for a bit, sharing what life is like after their first season on TV. They do get recognized once in awhile in their small town of Greencastle, Ind., but it hasn’t affected their ability to investigate supernatural claims. They also said there is nothing but respect between themselves and the original cast of Paranormal State. Too bad for those of you hoping for a bitter, jealous rivalry. New episodes are expected to air this spring on A&E.

* Vik Sahay and Scott Krinsky of NBC’s little-series-that-could Chuck stopped by to talk about their cult hit, which has seemingly been on the brink of cancellation for each of its four seasons. I asked them whether that perpetual uncertainty had any noticeable effect on-set. “Obviously, that’s on the periphery of what our lives are, but for me that’s not at all in my job description,” said Sahay, who plays Lester. “I’ve got to go in and just bite into Lester, and when I get to do that, I’m in that bubble. That’s all that counts.” Krinsky, who plays Jeff, said, “You sort of felt it a lot that first season when there was a writers strike. … But now being in the fourth season, you feel so much gratitude that you get to be back. We’ve made it four seasons! We’ve had to worry about coming back and here we are. I guess, in a weird way, we’re kind of used to it. We’ve come this far. … It’s probably [affected] how they’ve told the story, because you’ve thought every season, ‘OK, this could be the finale.’ Maybe it’s pushed the story along a little quicker than it might have.”

Photos: Thor: TM & ©2010 Marvel ©2010 MVLFFLLC. Quesada: Credit: Joe Vince