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The long Comic-Con wait for an 'Avengers: Infinity War' peek

Comic-Con's famed Hall H has been the spot for some of the biggest announcements in geekdom. I find out how hard it is to get inside.

I'm sitting in a parking lot that juts out into San Diego Bay. A fleet of docked yachts flanks the spit of asphalt, a Joe's Crab Shack nearby. Lines of yellow caution tape divide the lot into rows, with thousands of people around me sipping coffee and/or quietly talking while sitting in camping chairs under large beach umbrellas.

The shade isn't necessary -- yet -- as a cool breeze blows by this Friday morning. The sun is just peeking out. Four military V-22 Osprey aircraft fly in formation overhead.

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The fans woke early on Friday to line up for the Hall H panels. 

Roger Cheng/CNET

Behind me is the back of the San Diego Convention Center, home to this week's monstrous Comic-Con. It's less than 500 feet away, but it might as well be in another world.

That's because I'm in line for the panels being held in the convention center, only they don't start for another 27 hours. And even though I arrived here at 6:30 a.m., I'm nowhere near the front. The line winds along the waterfront, stretching to the neighboring Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel. There's another long, winding stream of people closer to the front of the convention center for Friday's panel, and the queue I'm in won't get to their spot until Saturday morning.

Welcome to Comic-Con International, the granddaddy of comic book conventions, and the place to get peeks at the biggest films and televisions shows and the hottest stars. Aside from its status as a premier stage for Hollywood, Comic-Con is also a big helping of chaos, with more than 135,000 visitors flooding the convention center and surrounding the downtown area for their fill of geeky goodness over five days.

The show is also infamous for its lines, from a three-hour wait to get into the "Blade Runner 2049 Experience" to more than 10 hours to see the "Game of Thrones" exhibition. But nothing beats the intense wait for the San Diego Convention Center's Hall H. Year after year, the 65,000-square-foot room has housed the heaviest hitters of pop culture, from the cast of "Game of Thrones" to the lineup of the original Avengers.

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All those headliners make Hall H the place you really, really want to be. That means it takes patience and perseverance to get in. The lines have only gotten longer each year. Earlier this week, fans were greeted with the cast of "Kingsman: The Golden Circle," who got to watch Halle Berry down a healthy serving of bourbon (a signature drink in the movie). The casts of "The Walking Dead" and "Game of Thrones" were expected to drop by late Friday.

But with the promise of glimpses at films like "Justice League," "Thor: Ragnarok" and "Black Panther," along with high-profile TV shows like "Westworld" and "Stranger Things," Saturday looks to be the day to be in Hall H. I'm most looking forward to the clip of "Avengers: Infinity War" that was shown at Disney's D23 Expo just last week, and hasn't been seen by the public. 

Which is why I'm now sitting outside in the parking lot.

By the time I join the line Friday morning, it's long enough that I can't see where it actually begins. Someone explains where it starts, but my eyes glaze over at the details. As a Comic-Con newbie, though, I'm determined to get the full experience, which means attending a Saturday Hall H presentation. So what if it costs me a few hours of my life?

"At this point it's almost like a yearly mecca you dread but still find relaxation in," says Jeremy Wong, a 33-year-old project manager for a construction management firm in San Mateo, California. Wong, who's waited in the Hall H line at the last six Comic-Cons, sits next to me, at one point modeling an umbrella hat he picked up for when the vicious San Diego sun really starts to burn.

Blame 'Twilight'

Why is Hall H the phenomenon it is today? Thank the Twi-hards.

"Twilight" was a monster hit in 2008, and the following year the cast of the teen vampire love story descended on San Diego to promote the sequel, "New Moon."

twilight

It's all the fault of 'Twilight.'

New Line Cinema

Thousands of hard-core fans, who'd walk through fire for a peek at Robert Pattinson or Taylor Lautner, queued up early to see them speak at Hall H. That made an impression.

"Once people see something, they repeat it," said David Glanzer, chief communication and strategy officer for Comic-Con.

From Star Wars to DC's unveiling of its cinematic universe, Hall H has hosted sessions worthy of a geek freak-out.

The Marvel panel in 2011, which showed off a teaser and brought out the entire cast of "The Avengers" for the first time, "solidified Hall H as one of the must-see places for SDCC attendees," Wong said.

Why do this?

For fans who track every detail of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or speak fluent Dothraki, waiting in line for hours or days for an hourlong panel makes sense.

I'm no stranger to long lines. As a veteran tech journalist, I've covered my fair share of Apple product launches. In the end, though, people walk away with a product. I love Marvel and DC flicks as much as the next person, but I struggled to see why you'd want to wait so long for a few sound bites from some star.

As with Apple, there are always diehards who just have to be at the head of the line, the physical manifestation of people who yell "first" in the comments section.

Two days earlier, I ran into Angelica Contreras, the first person in line for the Thursday panel. Last year she was stuck at the back of the auditorium. This year she vowed to get the best seats in the house, and she would likely be the first to step into Hall H this year.

The 18-year-old student from San Diego State said she was looking forward to the "Kingsman" panel and, in particular, to hearing from Channing Tatum. "I've loved him forever," Contreras said.

She planned to wrap up the panels and then get right back in line for the Friday sessions. When I asked how she was going to get a good seat, she told me her plan: "I already have my sister waiting in the Friday line."

Jane Goldman, the screenwriter for both "Kingsman" films and "X-Men: First Class," recalls being on both sides of Hall H. She spoke on panels (for the "Kingsman: The Golden Circle" session Thursday) and also lined up for favorite shows like "Game of Thrones."

"I admit I got up very early and lined up for 'Glee' one year," she says, before adding, "It was for my daughter."

For many, the big driver is the appeal of seeing something no one else will get to see for a while. Wong explains that anyone can order an iPhone, but some of this footage the public will never see.

Fan Ryan Page waxes nostalgic about seeing concept art that showed the Hulk wearing gladiator armor, months before the girded green one appeared in the "Thor: Ragnarok" trailer. "To be the first to see it, that was really awesome for me," says the 32-year-old San Diego native.

The networking effect

Page and Wong are part of the group I was introduced to that offered to help me on my journey to Hall H. They form a loose collective of fans who assist one another, covering when someone needs to duck out. It's how I was able to get some work done throughout the day.

And get some food. And go to the bathroom.

I just met all these people. 

Roger Cheng/CNET

They aren't alone. I met several groups of people who band together to make waiting more bearable.

Truthfully, it isn't that bad. The people near me include first-timers, along with veteran showgoers whose visits to Comic-Con now number in the double digits. The eclectic mix of friends, acquaintances and strangers opens the door to making new, like-minded friends with similar interests.

"You come to San Diego and there's 150,000 fans," says Dave Gibbons, who co-created the "Watchmen" graphic novel and "The Secret Service" comic that formed the basis for "Kingsman." He's spoken at several Hall H panels. "You've found your nation."

Having a few allies around helps since they also bring their own camper chairs, tents and inflatable couches -- handy when you're that asphalt starts wearing down on your body. 

So how strong are these relationships? Wong admits he rarely sees anyone in the group outside of Comic-Con, communicating only through Facebook Messenger.

Badge of honor

It's Friday night and I'm back in line, eager to get my wristband for the Saturday lollapalooza.

The linegoers are folding up their chairs, rolling up their tarps and unpitching their tents as convention staff periodically come out to tell us those wristbands are coming.

The details are inconsistent.

The coveted wristband.

Roger Cheng/CNET

"Less than an hour," one shouts.

"It's starting now," another says, though that would mean at the beginning of the line -- two hours away from us.

There are reports of counterfeit wristbands, and word of people cutting lines ahead of us make their way back. But in the end, volunteers came by, barking at you to show your badge and to immediately put on your paper bracelet. It's a system the conference introduced two years ago to better manage the insane lines here. 

The organizers of Comic-Con actually have a department that looks at this issue, but Glanzer concedes that some panels will inevitably fill up quickly.  "While we are sad that we have lines, our fans and attendees make the most of it," he says. "They almost wear it as a badge of honor."

But is that badge really worth it?

Ask me again when Saturday's over

Originally published July 22 at 5 a.m. PT.
Updated at 8:45 a.m. PT: To include additional details about the Avengers and background throughout. 

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