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SAN DIEGO (AP) – The pop culture extravaganza that is Comic-Con International is back to its old extravagance. Stars, cosplayers and hordes of fans are filling the San Diego Convention Center in full force for the first time since 2019. Here’s a look at this year’s version of the four day festival.

The pandemic necessitated virtual versions of Comic-Con in the summers of 2020 and 2021, and a scaled-back in-person version in November, but none were anything like the usual spectacle, with lovers of all things geeky descending from around the globe and arena-sized panels on films and TV shows that resemble sporting events.

It’s not clear whether the convention will draw the estimated 135,000 people who flooded San Diego before the pandemic.

But when the doors of the Convention Center opened for Wednesday’s preview night, the fans came in droves, mobbing the convention floor. As required, nearly all wore masks – the protective kind, not the super-villain kind, though there were plenty of those too – and the excitement amid the crowd was palpable.

“Everybody’s just been cooped up for a while, and they’ve been anticipating this,” said Dinh Truong, 34, who came to Comic-Con for the second time from Minneapolis.

“It’s nice just to see everybody in the same atmosphere. I’m excited to see the programme, see what’s going on, see everybody cosplaying and all that, and just getting back to what we used to be.”

An attendee looks at small-scale statues of the characters Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed from the ‘Rocky’ film franchise during Preview Night at the 2022 Comic-Con International at the San Diego Convention Center
Jay Acey dressed as A-Train from the television series ‘The Boys’ poses with Maddox Cruz, 1, of Orange, California
A Comic-Con attendee walks past a life-size model of the creature from the ‘Alien’; and Leslie Acosta, of Escondido, California, poses alongside the Patrick Star character from the animated television series ‘SpongeBob Squarepants’. PHOTOS: AP

Far bigger crowds were expected yesterday, when the events begin in earnest.

It’s likely no one has missed the in-person convention more than the captains, queens and connoisseurs of cosplay. Comic-Con is their Met Gala, and no getup is too elaborate.

Lorelei McKelvey, 54, who is from San Diego but now lives in Yokosuka, Japan, was dressed as Captain Carter, Captain America’s British, World War II-era counterpart.

“I had to do one that I could authentically replicate,” McKelvey said.

“I went and did my research and found out what were the authentic British officer leathers worn in World War II, and I found manufacturers to actually make those leathers.”

She walked the Convention Center floor in real-as-possible officer cavalry boots and Royal Air Force gauntlets, and carried a five-pound steel shield.

McKelvey came to Comic-Con and worked a booth for 20 straight years. This is her first time coming as a cosplayer and she’s excited to be reunited with the cherished friends she’s made here.

“This is their first time to see me four years later and to see how much I’ve grown since then,” McKelvey said.

Others wandered the halls on Wednesday as Star Wars Stormtroopers, the Mandalorian, Wonder Woman, and Sailor Moon. Chuckie from Child’s Play emerged from one cosplayer’s stomach.

Comic-Con makes most of its news as a venue to show off trailers and footage from forthcoming films and TV shows during star-studded mega-panels held in Hall H, which holds some 6,000 people. Announced panels include Warner Bros and the DC Universe’s Black Adam.

It will include Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, who plays the titular antihero, director Jaume Collet-Serra, and the stars playing Hawkman, Dr Fate, and other members of the Justice Society.

“Get ready, because the hype is real,” Johnson said in pro-wrestler promo mode on Instagram earlier this month.

“Guess who’s coming to town, the most electrifying man in all the DC Universe.”

Warner Bros will also provide a preview of Shazam: Fury of the Gods. Marvel may hold back its best material for Disney’s forthcoming D23 Expo, but is expected to tease its next film, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and the Disney+ TV series She-Hulk: Attorney at Law.

A pair of much-anticipated fantasy prequels will also give fans a taste of their worlds.

A new trailer dropped on Wednesday in advance of a panel from HBO Max that will show off the Game of Thrones spinoff House of the Dragon, set 200 years before the original series.

Amazon is going back in time 2000 years for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, a tale of the emergence of evil among the elves long before Frodo and Bilbo walked Middle Earth.

Their panel this year comes 21 years after director Peter Jackson presented footage from the first of the original films at Comic-Con.