DC's Comic-Con 2018 experience lets you rage like Harley Quinn

Swinging a baseball bat inside a padded cell may be the highlight of Comic-Con for me.

Roger Cheng Former Executive Editor / Head of News
Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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Roger Cheng
4 min read

CNET's Roger Cheng gets medieval on that dummy. 

Tania González/CNET

The first thump of the baseball bat is the most satisfying.

A second swing and the Joker mask flies off the dummy punching bag. Curiously, the head is coated with the trademark white paint and red lips of Batman's most notorious villain.

Watch this: The DC Comic-Con experience lets you channel Harley Quinn-levels of rage

I don't care. I keep swinging with increased ferocity. With a growl, I turn to the graffiti-filled padded walls of the asylum. I smash a ball by the window and paint flies everywhere.

No, I'm not venting after a day battling the crowds and lines at San Diego Comic-Con International 2018. I'm actually trying out one of several themed rooms -- collectively known as the DC Experience -- set up by DC in the city's Gaslight District just steps away from the convention center and from ground zero for all things geeky this week.

The DC Experience is one of a growing number of unique experiences, known at Comic-Con as "activations" set up both in and around the show that take fans to different worlds or, in this case, the pages of famed comic books. Last year saw fans enter the universe of Westworld and Blade Runner: 2049. And since Comic-Con in San Diego is a beacon of pop culture , with more than 135,000 people descending upon the city, companies are stepping up their game.

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The purpose of all of this, of course, is usually to promote some upcoming movie or project. The stakes are higher for DC, which put on the experience to drum up awareness for its upcoming $8-a-month DC Universe subscription service, which will include access to a back catalog of comics , DC shows and movies, as well as five exclusive original series.

It's no coincidence that almost every room tied into one of the shows. 

In case you're wondering, the DC Experience doesn't feature AR or VR. It's super low tech but effective. From the best the worst, here's every experience ranked.

Harley Quinn 's Chaos Room

Think immersive theater mashed up with a rage room, and you've got Harley Quinn's chaos room. Presumably as the Joker's sidekick, you enter into a ready room, where an armored guard barks at you. Apparently you're a wild one: Drugs and electro-shock therapy don't work on you.

An assistant helps you into a paper jumpsuit, gloves and a helmet. You're handed a rubber baseball bat. The guard opens the door, and you're free to go nuts.

And nuts I went. At one point, I got caught up in the moment and knocked the window -- my co-workers were on the other side -- and the guard cracked open the door and told me I couldn't actually do that. It was a momentary break in the illusion that had me hesitating for a few seconds. 

The dummy and the HAHAHA graffiti on the walls suggest that I'm trying, as Harley, to exorcise my Joker demons. I'm not sure if that happened, but I definitely worked up a sweat. 

Be warned: The wait for this room will be long. Given the need to put on gear and clean up the room after every visitor, you'll need to show some extreme patience to try this one out.

But it's worth it.

Court of Owls

This one is tied into recent comic art, and isn't a promoting a show. It's essentially a haunted maze with some creepily masked actors willing to get up in your face. Be warned: They're truly committed to their work.

"A lack of personal space!" CNET reporter Erin Carson said after her escape. 


The Court of Owls has some creepy surprises. 

Tania González/CNET

Dick Grayson's Titans Loft

This is more a classic escape room. An actor playing a detective helps you solve a handful of puzzles that unlock... a promotion for the upcoming Titans series. (The trailer debuted Thursday.)

Even if the room wasn't fully utilized, DC took great pains to fill the space with little details including a punching bag with a ninja star stuck in it, as well as a "Flying Grayson" poster hanging on the wall.

The actor, like the Court of Owls characters, seemed pretty committed to the part.

By the way, escape rooms are a hot trend at this year's Comic-Con. 

DC Universe Experience

The DC Experience is in the Hilton right across from the convention center. 

Tania González/CNET

Swamp Thing

You walk through a pretend swamp. There's a hard path where you hop along rocks and an easier path I didn't bother to take. There's smoke on the floor to help create the illusion of water below (I took great pains to not fall off the rocks). 

It's short, but there's plenty of atmosphere. "The scariest part was anticipating something might happen," Carson said. 

The path leads you to hanging vines, a second dark room and -- I won't ruin the surprise.

Young Justice Watchtower

There's a little Watchtower set up at the beginning of the experience where you can take a personality test on an iPad. Apparently I'm just like Nightwing. 

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Doom Patrol

DC set up a lab as an excuse to offer you refreshments out of a vial and smoke-filled popcorn. It serves as a great break after swinging a bat around like a lunatic.

I like to think that Harley would be proud. 

The DC Experience will be open to Comic-Con attendees throughout the show. 

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