Hundreds pack the Harbor Drive Pedestrian Bridge at a pre-COVID Comic-Con. Photo by Chris Stone

Superheroes won’t be the only ones wearing masks in downtown San Diego this weekend.

After a two-year absence, Comic-Con International returns to San Diego on Friday to entertain, inform and tantalize pop culture fans the world over.

But this won’t be the Comic-Con you remember. This is Comic-Con Special Edition, a stripped-down, three-day event being held over a holiday weekend to limit crowds during an ongoing pandemic that has forced online-only versions of the last two conventions.

Comic-Con organizers said they wanted to hold an in-person event but do it safely. So, that meant fewer days, smaller scope and a return to the intimate gathering that longtime attendees fondly remember.

And it means attendees will be asked to show proof of vaccination or recent negative COVID-19 tests. They will also have to wear masks or face coverings regardless of vaccination status.

So far, mission accomplished. Tickets were still available on Comic-Con’s website Thursday, just hours before the first day of the Special Edition event.

What will fans find?

There will still be onsite exhibitors, anime screenings, an autograph area, film showings, board, card and role-playing games and the popular Masquerade costuming contest.

And, of course, there will be the many panels where artists, creators and the fans get to discuss their favorite movies, television shows and graphic novels.

Here’s a look at some of the highlights:

Friday

The first day of Comic-Con Special Edition doesn’t kick off until the afternoon, giving people time to wake up from their turkey-induced coma.

Must-see sessions include panels on the future of the Dr. Who sci-fi series, the new interest in UFOs in light of government studies on flying objects, Latina superheroes, a discussion on the work being done by the Comics@SDSU’s Comics and Social Justice Initiative and a screening celebrating the 20th anniversary of Studio Ghibli’s treasured “Spirited Away” animated film.

Saturday

The “Changing Face of Pop Culture” with highlight the new opportunities for cultural diversity and the barriers that still exist. Other panels will focus on the interconnection of the samurai mystique and the “Star Wars” universe, NBC’s new “La Brea” TV show, the Bronze era of Mexican comics and a fantasy draft of superheroes to compete in missions.

Sunday

The Con wraps up Sunday with a how-to panel on breaking into the comics industry, a look at the Teenager Mutant Ninja Turtle franchise and a discussion on how the Christmas holiday has been celebrated and shaped by pop culture over the years.

There has been word yet on whether Comic-Con will return to its next year at its full size and to its usual summer schedule.

But to satisfy your pop culture fix until then, this weekend also marks the public opening of the new Comic-Con Museum in Balboa Park. The Museum will be open Friday and through the weekend and will then operate on a regular schedule. For more information, visit https://www.comic-con.org/museum.

Luis Monteagudo Jr. is a freelance writer and pop culture enthusiast. He has written for The San Diego Union-Tribune, USA Today and numerous other publications.

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