Some Steven Universe cosplayers and an admirer at C2E2 2016

Every year around this time, the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo (a.k.a. C2E2) is unleashed upon the city for the weekend, a deluge of comic books, cosplay, toys, and film and television spanning the pop cultural landscape. Fans can get their picture taken with Supergirl, chat up legendary X-Men scribe Chris Claremont over in Artist Alley, or just enjoy the attention that comes from spending weeks putting together a painstakingly knitted World Of Warcraft costume. That last option—cosplay—is a particularly common one at C2E2, as seemingly every third person is outfitted in some tribute to pop-culture iconography. It’s a lot of fun to observe, but it’s also not hard to feel like you’re living in the Capitol from The Hunger Games.

This year, The A.V. Club decided to send four of its staffers out onto the convention floor, tasked with a highly competitive mission: Find the most dangerous weapon you can among the endless offerings on display, and secure it for yourself. The catch: The item must be $20 or less. This is an economically equitable operation, after all, and no one should feel like they can’t afford a sensible implement of violence. (Also, we’re cheapskates.) Staffers Gwen Ihnat, Danette Chavez, Alex McCown, and Cameron Scheetz braved the crowds and venture deep into the belly of the pop-culture beast. This is what they found.

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Cameron Scheetz

As a convention virgin, I learned rather quickly that danger lurks around every corner at C2E2. Within a few minutes of entering McCormick Place, I spotted samurai swords, comically oversized mallets, Krampus, lightsabers, and mounds of goopy, heart-stopping concession stand nacho cheese. After ducking under the 6-foot wingspan of an impressively assembled Hawkman get-up, I found myself in a quiet, unassuming corner filled with toys and collector’s items. It was there that I laid my eyes on the most threatening item of all: A 12-inch figurine of Walter “I Am The Danger” White, complete with a removable Heisenberg hat and stunner shades.

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Is there anything more threatening than the pork pie hat of “the one who knocks?” I mean, yes, that little piece of plastic is a damn choking hazard, but also symbolically, you know what I mean? The impressively detailed figure features a most intimidating Bryan Cranston scowl, as well as a “con exclusive” sky blue shirt, which you’ll recall is the color of Mr. White and Jesse Pinkman’s signature drug. And what’s more dangerous than meth? After all, we witnessed it slowly tear apart a loving family and community every week on Breaking Bad. I know you might be thinking, “Come on, there’s no real danger—it’s just a foot-tall plastic toy,” but you haven’t seen what Heisenberg can do with a pocket knife.

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A.V. Club verdict: Very threatening, indeed. And dangerous! Also, Cameron earns bonus points for his item only being $15. However, the pocket knife addition is cheating, so we’re forced to eliminate him from the contest. Anything under 20 bucks looks dangerous when you add an actual tool for stabbing people.

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Gwen Ihnat

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Yesterday marked my family’s second C2E2 outing, after some run-ins with R2D2 and Spider-Man a few years ago. While my husband wound up with some new, interesting kid-friendly comics for the youngsters to read, I did what I always do: Pay $2 for comics I remember from childhood that cost me a quarter at the time, especially if the cover seems familiar. Last time, I found the four-issue run of DC’s Rima The Jungle Girl that was my bible as a 7-year-old. This year, in the hopes of getting the kids some new reading material (comic books count for their reading logs at school, right?), it was the Harvey titles of Little Audrey And Melvin and Casper And Wendy. My 9-year-old son rolled his eyes at me (for a change) and picked up a graphic novel in which Iron Man takes on Whiplash.

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We then wandered right into the Lego mini-figure table, a riot similar to what lovers of Cabbage Patch Dolls must have lived through in the ’80s. It was a pretty good deal: six superhero minifigs for $20, so parents were gleefully shoving their kids to the front of the crowd to get them to grab as many as possible (myself included). We wound up with White Deadpool, Red Hulk, Wonder Woman, Star Wars’ Rey, and a really cool see-through Vision. I am ashamed that I happily snatched the Vision figure, as it was the last one. I blame the crowd mentality. Kylo Ren had already sold out by the time we got there.

The lower-level Family Area advertised the chance to hit some Stormtroopers with Nerf guns. Who in their right mind would turn down such an opportunity? The long line was energized by some really jovial members of the New Order, and a completely in-character Darth Maul. The kids all received strict words of warning before going into the battle: Namely, to only shoot the well-protected Stormtroopers and not each other (no friendly fire). My son was so excited that he nailed three bad guys in about .02 seconds (after a 15-minute wait), and subsequently slinked out of the training field.

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But as always, the best part of C2E2 is the people watching, and the creativity that people come up with for their costumes. One giant Transformer, who looked like he had a hard time even moving around, boasted that he spent 300 man-hours making his outfit, and now just hung around the photo area posing with people. We saw Muppets and aliens, a Deadpool dad pushing his toddler in a stroller, and a girl in a full-on Cinderella ballgown who cheerfully plunked herself down in the middle of an aisle, while her Prince Charming boyfriend dutifully waited on the sidelines. (She soon had a line of little girls who wanted to check her glass slippers out.) A dance-off outside the main entrance featured a mini-Joker break dancing. My favorites are the people who change it up, like the girl who somehow added a light saber to her Elsa from Frozen costume, or a Stormtrooper helmet parked atop a business suit. At C2E2, at least, everyone gets a chance to be whoever they want for a day. I can’t even think of a better creative lesson for my kids than the one C2E2 offers, which is why I hope they’ll still let us go with them for at least a few more years.

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I was intrigued by the Snow White & The Huntsman’s official “Hatchette” because of its handy two-pronged approach to deflecting attackers: One side looks like a hammer, the other a reasonable facsimile of an ax. Even in plastic, it’s sturdier than it appears, and certainly looked menacing to the people I passed on the street when I carried it into work today (if there was ever a day I should have hit the Starbucks drive-through instead of taking my hatchette inside for a coffee…). It was also a bargain at $9.99: I should have purchased two! Take that, Evil Queen or dwarves or trees or whatever the Huntsman is supposed to be fighting!

A.V. Club verdict: Calling it “plastic” is deceptive: This is a sturdy weapon capable of inflicting pain. By simple virtue of having purchased an actual weapon, Gwen is winning.

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Alex McCown

This isn’t my first C2E2 rodeo. While my co-workers may have been enjoying themselves via people-watching or fun interactive games, I purged any sense of entertainment or pleasure from my senses the instant I arrived—not a difficult trick, as it’s the same routine I experience any time I come within 50 yards of grown-ups who haven’t lost their sense of childhood fun and whimsy. Life hasn’t beaten them down and crushed their spirits, and frankly, it makes me sick.

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I criss-crossed the showroom floor, taking each row in order, and scurrying past the Revolution Brewing stand at one end, a painful reminder that I could be drinking somewhere. The barrage of geeky treats is almost enough to rouse me from my steely demeanor—I nearly smiled when I stumbled upon a light-up Captain America poster, for God’s sake—but eventually every potential weapon in the convention had been closely examined and evaluated. The most appealing option was immediately disqualified for price: The official top-of-the-line Kylo Ren lightsaber was going for no less than $225. I thought about going the “pen is mightier than the sword” route when I found some exquisite bolt-action pens, but the $50 price tag blocked them from consideration, too. The final contenders included a cheap plastic scythe ($17), a foam hatchet ($15), and a wooden ninja sword for only 10 bucks, which actually seemed worrisome, like the seller didn’t realize you could do real damage with a curved hunk of hardwood brutality. But eventually, it came down to statistics: Alcohol is one of the leading causes of death in America, ergo, there’s nothing at C2E2 that contains more potential harm than this butterfly knife bottle opener, a liver-shredding steal at $15.

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A.V. Club verdict: Ah, the scourge of alcohol abuse. Still, we think Alex overanalyzed this a little too much. Gwen would absolutely murder him with her hatchet.

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Danette Chavez

Although the AVQuest’s objective—to find and buy the most dangerous thing available at C2E2 for $20 or less—was at odds with my usual convention-shopping goal of snapping up the most adorable items I can find (like this Vulcan-salute oven mitt), I was no less determined. On Sunday afternoon, armed with multiple denominations of cash, I set off on my mission, hoping to come across a bargain-basement bat’leth dealer. I would have no such luck, but I did find something to keep me well kempt.

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I made my first stop at the Weta Workshop booth, which had multiple suits of armor on prominent display. Though it was highly unlikely that any of swords would be available for less than $20, I did consider that a defective greave would be for sale. I was wrong but not soundly scorned by the reps, so I moved on to admire what appeared to be a wooden replica of Sting (the sword, not the singer). It was only $15, which would leave me without a scabbard, which was actually ideal in this situation because a sword hanging from my belt loop would surely pose a danger to someone. Still, I pressed on in the hopes that I’d find a poorly made Ecto-Containment System.

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After seeing multiple “Tom Bakers,” I considered buying a scarf in the style of the death trap the Fourth Doctor wore around his neck. I ride public transportation every day, which would provide numerous opportunities to be strangled by that knit contraption. The ones I saw were more than $20, though, so I moved on to a booth that boasted the freshest fresh- or saltwater pearls. Interested parties scooped up oysters on a “pearl hunt,” but since the salesperson could not guarantee that the one I’d pick would be cursed, I had to nix that idea as well. I wandered into Chicago Costume’s booth, where I quickly learned that one of my competitors had already assessed the lethality of the shop’s goods, so the salesman recommended that I buy the Donald Trump mask, because “nothing’s more dangerous than that lunatic.” Unfortunately, the mask was $25, so I left empty handed.

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After getting Chris Claremont’s autograph, I returned to my quest with renewed vigor, i.e., a second helping of coffee. But I was still hindered by my $20 limit, which wasn’t quite enough to secure a convincing six-shooter replica. As I stopped to admire what another attendee tried to convince me was a bedazzled Mjolnir reproduction, I spied what I took for switchblades and butterfly knives but turned out to be adult novelty combs. The price was right ($15), and when closed, the metal combs looked convincing enough. Although I probably couldn’t cut butter with the thing, this novelty comb is exactly the kind of thing that would get you some face time with a cop or a TSA agent, which makes it potentially dangerous indeed.

A.V. Club verdict: We’re not sure what’s wrong with Alex and Danette, but these two choices are both equally ridiculous. Perhaps they could take turns pretending Cameron’s Walter White figurine loves to open bottles and comb his nonexistent hair, while Gwen bludgeons all three of them to death.

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Winner: Gwen Ihnat, for being the only one smart enough to purchase an actual weapon. She looks forward to taking on any challengers in the arena at next year’s C2E2.