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Leverage and San Diego Comic-Con

on Mon, 08/11/2014 - 00:00

Over the course of five television seasons, Nate Ford and his team of highly-skilled former criminals assisted an assortment of ordinary citizens who were left with little recourse in the face of corporate greed and government corruption. The TNT drama not only provided “leverage” against such injustices but hours of entertainment for fans of the series as well.

Although Leverage the television show ended on December 25, 2012, the story of “hitter, hacker, grifter, thief and mastermind” briefly continued in 2013 through a series of paperback novels published by Berkley. The different medium allowed for longer storylines than a standard television episode and plots that would have been difficult to film for the small screen.

The first release, for instance, almost exclusively takes place during Comic-Con International: San Diego, and is a literal “Geekfest” for both the characters of Leverage and fans of the television show alike. Real life celebrities such as Stan Lee make appearances with the pages of The Con Job, while hitter Eliot Spencer impersonates comic book writer Warren Ellis during the proceedings. The plot, meanwhile, revolves around a fictitious illustrator whose artwork was in effect stolen when the proceeds he was promised for the items never materialized.

Alec Hardison’s catch phrase during the television series was “Age of the Geek, Baby,” uttered any time his technological abilities allowed the Leverage Team to bypass security systems or hack into protected websites and databases. Hardison was likewise a hard-core gamer who even used video game theory to construct his own con during season four of Leverage, and a die-hard fan of Star Trek as well. Thus when the daughter of famed illustrator Simon Curtiss arrives at McRory’s Bar and Grill in The Con Job and asks for help, Hardison immediately advocates on her behalf.

“The man’s out to rob these comic book legends of the last things they want to get rid of,” he explains of swindler Lorenzo Patronus. “They gave the world some of its finest heroes. Saving them’s the least we can do. The worst part is these people really don’t have a whole lot else. Most of them worked as freelancers their entire career. They got no health insurance, no retirement package, nothing.”

While Simon Curtiss is fictional, his fate is similar to many real life creators and illustrators from the Golden and Silver Age of Comic Books nonetheless. The co-creators of Superman, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, received only $130 from DC Comics in 1938 and lived their later years in obscurity and poverty before being recognized for their achievements in the late 1970s. Jack Kirby, meanwhile, co-created many of the greatest superheroes of the Marvel Universe, including The Fantastic Four, Iron Man and the Hulk, but was likewise shut out during his lifetime from the financial benefits that Marvel Comics reaped from those franchises.

Although Kirby, Siegel and Shuster are more famous examples and were eventually acknowledged and rewarded for their feats, many other artists remained anonymous and struggled to pay their bills during the latter stages of their lives.

“He hadn’t created Batman or Superman,” The Con Job says of Simon Curtiss. “He hadn’t invented The Avengers. He’d just kept his head down and done his job and had a wonderful time entertaining his readers. The only thing he had to show for a lifetime of drawing comics was a stack of comics and the original artwork the companies had returned to him.”

Curtiss consigned that artwork to Lorenzo Patronus, who then claimed that the pieces did not sell for the expected prices. To add even more insult to injury, Patronus is falsely advertising that the proceeds from an auction he is holding at San Diego Comic-Con will benefit the Hero Initiative, the real world non-profit organization that offers financial assistance to the actual Simon Curtisses of the industry. The Con Job not only ties the Hero Initiative into its narrative, however, but features the legendary Stan Lee plugging the organization within its pages as well.

“I grew up in this industry, and I’ve made so many friends in it over the years, met and worked with so many wonderful people,” the fictionalized Lee states. “But as they reach their golden years, not all of them are doing as well as we would all hope. That’s where the Hero Initiative comes in. The Hero Initiative provides financial assistance to those creators who need it most, the men and women who created many of the heroes that we all grew up with. Just as they provided us with inspiration and hope, it’s our turn to give that back to them.”

While Alec Hardison may be a Geek and comic book fan, the rest of the Leverage Team is not. Eliot Spencer remarks “who hasn’t heard of Stan Lee” in The Con Job, but that is the extent of the group’s knowledge of the industry. San Diego Comic-Con, meanwhile, is arguably the “Super Bowl” of Geek Culture, the biggest Pop Culture event on the planet. Over 140,000 people annually attend the proceedings, while Hollywood’s presence has increased over the decades as they market new films and television shows to an audience hungry for entertainment. For the uninitiated, San Diego Comic-Con is the perfect primer into the world of Geek Culture, and The Con Job takes full advantage of its setting to introduce Nathan Ford, Sophie Devereaux, Eliot Spencer and Parker to that world.

During their taxi ride into San Diego from the airport, the Leverage Team receives their initial initiation in regards to the actual size of Comic-Con when their cab driver expresses reluctance to take them anywhere near the convention itself. “Kinda crazy down there right now,” he tells the group. “Preview night’s about to start. Hard to get within a quarter mile of the front doors. Sure you don’t want to head to your hotel first?”

Which brings up another issue for attendees of the annual event—finding a hotel can be even more difficult than securing a ticket. Despite his skills as a hacker, the best that Alec Hardison can come up with is located ten miles away from the convention. Even the grifter skills of Sophie Devereaux can do no better than a single room in which the five member crew must squeeze into, although it is located closer to the action.

Comic-Con is held at the San Diego Convention Center, a sprawling facility that features a roof consisting of Teflon-coated fiberglass “sails.” The unique architecture is featured prominently within the pages of The Con Job, with master thief Parker navigating the structure when she attempts to break into the convention hall afterhours. The large crowds are on full display as well, including the increased attendance during the Saturday of the event.

“I heard the convention people were telling people with four-day badges to skip Saturday and go to Sea World or the zoo to avoid the crowds,” Sophie Devereaux explains to the others. Alec Hardison, meanwhile, scores tickets to a late night party that features the main cast from Star Trek: The Next Generation and marvels at being so close to LeVar Burton, who not only portrayed Geordi La Forge on Star Trek but Kunta Kinte in Roots.

Eliot Spencer has his own encounters within The Con Job, but with overzealous fans as opposed to actual celebrities. At one point he impersonates real-life comic book creator Warren Ellis and is forced to examine the works of hundreds of wannabe artists, a task he proves quite adept at despite giving out harsh critiques.

“Either one of two things is going to happen,” he explains when his comments cause a teenage girl to break into tears. “She’s maybe going to quit and go home, in which case I just saved her years of whining about how life’s unfair. Or she’s going to dry her eyes, put on her big girl pants, and prove me wrong. Either way, she’s better off.”

Later, Spencer dons a Star Wars Stormtrooper outfit while Parker dresses as slave Leia from Return of the Jedi in order to keep track on a group of thugs. Instead of the expected confrontation, however, one of the thugs grabs Eliot and says, “You’re a disgrace to that uniform. For one, that FX helmet was deprecated a while back. For two, no Stormtrooper ever came anywhere near Princess Leia in that slave-girl outfit. That happened in Jabba’s Palace, not on the Death Star. You’re totally breaking the setting.” At San Diego Comic-Con, even the bad guys are apparently fanboys at heart.

And in the end, the same can be said of the entire Leverage Team. Author Matt Forbeck has written a novel that not only stays true to the mythology of the Leverage television series, but is a celebration of Geek Culture that can ultimately be enjoyed by anyone.

Anthony Letizia

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