Phoenix, AZ

Pinal County makes a strong showing at the first Phoenix Fan Fusion since 2019

Jeff Kronenfeld

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Apollo Child as Batman (far left) and Jazmynn McDonald as Starfire (far right) interact with the audience.(Jeff Kronenfeld)

By Jeff Kronenfeld / NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ

(Phoenix, AZ) Phoenix Fan Fusion, Arizona’s largest comic and pop culture event, was back at the Phoenix Convention Center with a vengeance after a two-year hiatus.

If cosplayers, vendors, and fans were rusty on the first day, Friday, May 27, they were old pros again by the last, Sunday, May 29.

Actors like Chuck Norris, Kate Mulgrew, John DiMaggio, and others signed autographs and posed for selfies with fans. Authors like Marissa Meyer and comic book creators like Todd McFarlane were also in attendance.

All three days featured panels covering a staggering array of topics, everything from how to construct foam armor to the ethics of human genetic modification to an analysis of fight scenes by a Krav Maga expert. Other events included a roast of anime characters, stand-up comedy performances, Geek Speed Dating, and a Nerd Poetry Slam.

First held in 2002, the event, then known as the Phoenix Cactus ComicCon, took place in a Best Western Hotel in Ahwatukee with only several hundred attendees. However, it has grown significantly since then, registering 106,000 visitors in 2016, according to the Arizona Republic.

While past years faced challenges like the threat of legal action from San Diego's comic convention, an ill-conceived prop weapons ban in 2017, and a pandemic, this convention avoided any such profile problems.

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The Murder Mystery Players of Casa Grande perform “Murder Mystery: The Super ReDIErment of Superman.”(Jeff Kronenfeld)

Representing Pinal County in spandex

Though the event took place in neighboring Maricopa County, The Murder Mystery Players of Casa Grande donned tight spandex suits to represent Pinal County.

Pamela Karpelenia is the troupe’s director, producer, and co-owner with her husband, Keith. She also wrote a play called “Murder Mystery: The Super ReDIErment of Superman,” which the troupe performed all three nights of the event at 6 pm.

Audience members had a chance to interact with the players and guess who the killer was at intermission. The troupe kept it fresh by changing the murderer's identity each performance.

Correct guesses and even wrong ones that were particularly funny or creative received prizes after the show. Despite not being depicted or mentioned, Amber Heard proved a popular write-in candidate.

Originally scheduled to debut at Phoenix Fan Fusion in 2020, the group's high level of enthusiasm seemed undimmed by delay. Still, for Karpelenia and her actors, stepping on stage at such a massive event took a bit of adjustment.

“Going from being a fan to an exhibitor, it's kind of weird,” Karpelenia explained. “Like, I'm still going to go geek out, but to actually be performing, it's different but it's a lot of fun.”

Before Saturday's, a sneering Superman, played with heelish charm by Jace Tanner, stopped by my table to ask how he'd saved each of us in the past. Soon Catwoman, played perfectly by Tamara Child, cozied up to the Man of Steel, much to Lois Lane’s chagrin.

The performance was full of jokes, including many improvisations based on costumed audience members. For example, during intermission, Superman’s mother, played by Mercedes Hebda, asked two nearby audience members — dressed as Star Wars and Star Trek characters — if they had powers or technology that could bring her son back. Sadly, they couldn't help her.

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Pamela Karpelenia introduces the cast and crew of The Murder Mystery Players of Casa Grande.(Jeff Kronenfeld)

Unmasking the heroes

On Saturday morning, The Murder Mystery Players of Casa Grande ran a panel discussion titled “Creating and Acting in A Murder Mystery.”

The event offered advice for aspiring playwrights and performers. It also explained the group’s history, the story behind their superhero-themed play, and how each actor joined the troupe.

“I blame my husband for pulling me into the lifestyle," said Tamara Child of her spouse, Apollo Child, the troupe's assistant director and resident Batman. "I hadn't acted since eighth grade, but I have been pretending to be human my entire life, so I got that going for me. It's been a lot of fun. I was extremely nervous to be in front of people, but when I’m not myself, it's a lot easier.”

More than one audience member asked about joining the group, which pays its actors and performs regularly at the Radisson Hotel Casa Grande. The troupe holds auditions before every show and has a new season scheduled to open in Fall. They also offered several tips for would-be actors.

“The number one thing we look for when we're trying to get actors is people who commit,’ said Apollo Child. “And when I say commit, it's not just about time. When you come into a role, and you're doing an audition, commit to the character, commit to whatever the theme is.”

The panelists also discussed tips for writing and plotting murder mysteries. These included engaging the audience, planting clues, ensuring multiple characters have motives, and a final suggestion from the man portraying Krypton's last son.

“The biggest thing really for writing a murder mystery is contemplating murder,” Tanner said.

For information on performances, auditioning, or booking a private event, contact The Murder Mystery Players of Casa Grande through their Facebook page, which includes a contact phone number.

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The Murder Mystery Players of Casa Grande perform "Murder Mystery: The Super ReDIErment of Superman."(Jeff Kronenfeld)

More sights and sounds

Here are a few more images from Phoenix Fan Fusion.

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(From left to right) Jace Tanner shows off a Dungeons and Dragons map with Kennedy Anderson and Pam Karpelenia.(Jeff Kronenfeld)

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Seated audience members chat with (L) Lois Lane, played by Kennedy Anderson, and (R) Marth Kent, played by Mercedes Hebda.(Jeff Kronenfeld)

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The team behind Infinitive Game Studios, an Arizona-based gaming company.(Jeff Kronenfeld)

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Chuck Norris chats with a fan at Phoenix Fan Fusion.(Jeff Kronenfeld)

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A cosplayer dressed as a Tusken Raider.(Jeff Kronenfeld)

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Cosplayer Elfyaubrie and another cosplayer at Phoenix Fan Fusion.(Jeff Kronenfeld)

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Cosplayers dressed as characters from the game Blasphemous and Bioshock at Phoenix Fan Fusion.(Jeff Kronenfeld)

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The Arizona Weeping Angels at Phoenix Fan Fusion.(Jeff Kronenfeld)

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Jeff is an award-winning freelance journalist covering news, business, science and the arts. His work has been published in Discover Magazine, Vice, the Phoenix New Times and other outlets.

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