Appearing at her first comic convention, Xochitl Gomez said it was “overwhelming sometimes” to be the newest, and youngest, superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
“When you get cast as an MCU superhero, it’s usually adults who are award-winning actors and have a bunch of credits, and I don’t,” Gomez, 16, told an audience Friday at FanX Salt Lake Comic Convention, recounting how she was cast as the dimension-jumping America Chavez in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.”
A few doors down and an hour later at the Salt Palace Convention Center, someone who’s attended countless conventions — 91-year-old William Shatner, Capt. James T. Kirk from the original “Star Trek” — told a crowd that their standing ovation was “embarrassing,” but added that Salt Lake City is “one of his favorite cities.”
The contrast on the convention’s second day demonstrated something FanX co-founder Dan Farr said before the convention: There’s a fandom for everyone, no matter their age.
Gomez, wearing a royal blue suit and with her hair done in space buns, told the audience she was excited to attend her first comic convention ever.
Gomez — whose previous big role was in the short-lived Netflix reboot of “The Baby-Sitters Club” — said she didn’t know she was auditioning for Marvel, or that she would play America Chavez, until well into the testing process. She credited Victoria Alonzo, one of the top executives at Marvel Studios, for seeing what she could do.
“That’s a lot of trust, to put some girl in a big Marvel movie [who’s] going to be in almost the entire thing,” Gomez said.
“I just instantly fell in love with [America]: Her sass, her clothing, everything about her,” Gomez said. She told the moderator, radio personality Valerie Cameron, that it was important to represent as a Latin American superhero. (Gomez is Mexican American.) She said people often stop her in the street and tell her how much it means to see her on the screen.
Recognition, it seems, crosses all ages. In the crowd, a parent was overheard telling their infant that Gomez knew Groot, the walking tree from the “Guardians of the Galaxy” films.
In some ways, she said, being able to represent her community makes her nostalgic. “When my mom first put me in martial arts,” Gomez said, “she was like ‘OK, you’re going to do this because you never know: There could be a young Latina superhero.”
Gomez (her first name, Xochitl, is pronounced “SOH-chee”) dropped a few small hints about America Chavez’ future: Learning new powers, working with her mentor Wong (Benedict Wong), and continuing with “The Multiverse Saga” that Marvel has previously announced.
Gomez also said that, even though she made her MCU debut opposite the “master of the mystic arts,” Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), her favorite character in the franchise is the mischievous Loki (Tom Hiddleston).
After Gomez finished her first comic-convention panel, Shatner entertained the Grand Ballroom crowd like he’s been doing for decades.
Shatner appeared at the first FanX — when it was still called Salt Lake Comic Con — in 2013. He shared the stage then with another ‘60s TV action icon: Adam West, who was starring in “Batman” when Shatner’s Kirk was flying around on the Starship Enterprise.
On Friday, Shatner said he had two major memories of Salt Lake City. In one, he bought a knock-off Rembrandt sketch from someone downtown. In the other, he described how his life changed while he was in Salt Lake City.
A friend of his, playwright Norman Corwin, had entered a program at the University of Utah for original play submissions. Corwin called up Shatner to come to Salt Lake City to star in his play, which Corwin was sure would be heading to Broadway.
While performing in Salt Lake City, Shatner said, he got a call urging him to return to Los Angeles. A pilot for a TV series he had filmed a few months earlier was being sold to a network. The pilot was the “Where No Man Has Gone Before” episode of “Star Trek.”
Shatner also recapped his adventure from last October, when he took his first “real” trip into space, with Amazon tycoon Jeff Bezos.
A fan asked him to describe the experience in one word, and Shatner replied “awesome — which means nothing.”
He told the crowd about the preparations for the trip, and how he sometimes considered canceling, but thought, “I can’t [back out], I’m Captain Kirk.”
“I saw the blackness of space,” Shatner said. “I’ve been intrigued by space, the galaxies, constellations and stars. The universe is incredible. But all I saw was blackness, no stars. What I saw was death.”
Shatner admitted he got emotional, looking back at the blue, beige and white of Earth — how small and insignificant our “rock” of a planet was.
“When we walked out of the spaceship, I found myself weeping, and I realized what I was feeling was grief,” he said. “We’re connected to Earth, nature and the universe,” he explained, noting Utah’s beauty. “But we are these tiny little things on this insignificant planet. I came to the realization: we are nothing and we’re aware we’re nothing.”
One fan spoke for many about the impact Shatner has had on his admirers.
Jill Brown, stepping up to the ballroom mic in a Princess Leia outfit, called Shatner the “father of sci-fi” for her. “I want to thank you for bringing into my life something where I can explore humanity for myself and [has helped] me to work through things that are hard in my life.”
Shatner asked Brown to give a specific example, and Brown talked about dealing with bipolar disorder and anxiety.
“I’ve had sci-fi throughout my childhood to help me work through those things in a healthy manner, and to see characters themselves work through those same difficulties and knowing it’s possible [to get through it],” Brown said.
FanX will conclude on Saturday, with more cosplay, panels, celebrities, autographs, photo opportunities, discussions, and sales on the vendor floor. Two major events on Saturday: An appearance by Steve Burns, the beloved original host of Nickelodeon’s “Blue’s Clues,” and the popular “Twisted Toonz,” where animation voice actors dismantle a movie script at a raucous table read.