Comic-Con finally returns to San Diego this week, where new "Lord of the Rings" and "Game of Thrones" TV series will compete before tens of thousands of cosplaying geeks and nerds at the world's most famous pop culture gathering.
Disney and its Marvel superheroes will also preview their upcoming films and shows to adoring fans at the sprawling convention, which has not taken place in full for three years due to the pandemic.
"I think it'll look like Comic-Con from 2019," said the event's communications chief David Glanzer, even if guests -- whether dressed as hobbits, dragons or princesses -- will be required to wear face masks.
"We weathered it. And now coming back, maybe we're gonna have tears of joy... it's very emotional," he told AFP.
In addition to 135,000 screaming fans, the comic book, science fiction and fantasy extravaganza draws Hollywood's biggest studios and their A-list stars to show off upcoming titles -- kicking off this year with Paramount's "Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves."
Marking the first time the world's most popular role-playing game has received a mega-budget silver-screen adaptation, the movie out next March stars Chris Pine, Hugh Grant and former "Bridgerton" heartthrob Rege-Jean Page.
But the week's headlines are set to be dominated by two huge fantasy series coming to television screens soon: Amazon Prime's "Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power" and HBO's "House of the Dragon."
"The Rings of Power" is Amazon's enormously ambitious saga taking place in the world of J.R.R. Tolkien's books, set long before the events of Peter Jackson's Oscar-winning trilogy of films.
The series -- playing out across five seasons, the first of which launches September 2 -- is reported to have cost Amazon well over $1 billion, and is said to be a personal obsession of founder Jeff Bezos.
Much of that cost went into buying the Tolkien universe rights and on lavish production values, with a healthy sum set aside for "activations," or immersive fan experiences, at Comic-Con.
Amazon on Friday will bring its cast of hobbits, elves and dwarves to the venue's cavernous Hall H, where fans who line up for hours or even days anticipate seeing the first detailed look at the series.
- Rings v Thrones -
The following day, "House of the Dragon" -- the first spin-off to "Game of Thrones" set in George RR Martin's fictional world of Westeros, out August 21 -- will be unveiled by HBO.
Martin has played down talk of a rivalry between the two mega-franchises, insisting, "I want both shows to find an appreciative audience, and give them great television. Great fantasy."
"The more fantasy hits we have, the more great fantasy we are likely to get," he wrote in a blog post.
But HBO hopes its prequel can match the wild popularity of the original "Thrones," which over eight seasons became appointment viewing, spawned countless imitations and delivered 59 Emmys -- a record for a drama at television's equivalent of the Oscars.
Starring Matt Smith, Rhys Ifans and Emma D'Arcy, "House of the Dragon" tells the story of the murderous, dragon-breeding Targaryen family, some 300 years before the events of "Thrones."
Its stars will appear in Hall H immediately after a movie presentation from HBO's sister company Warner Bros Pictures, which is set to feature Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, who is promoting his upcoming superhero flick "Black Adam."
Elsewhere, Disney is keeping its own Hall H presentation under wraps, but rumors abound that it will finally show off its much-anticipated "Black Panther 2" sequel.
The week will also feature a send-off for AMC's "The Walking Dead," as the juggernaut zombie TV series bows out with its final season -- and launches a new spin-off, the anthology-style "Tales of the Walking Dead."
But for Glanzer, the blockbuster studio showcases are secondary to what Comic-Con is all about: a community for its fans.
"To be able to see people have a good time, enjoying comics and popular art is a gift that I look forward to. I really, really do... We get to come home," he said.
"What better thing to be able to do than that -- and share it with your friends." — AFP