Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

Pulp Culture
Comic-book convention
now starstruck event

July 29, 2004
By Franklin Harris

Blessed are the geeks, for they shall inherit the Earth and seal it in a Mylar bag to preserve its resale value.

A record crowd of 80,000 attended the San Diego Comic-Con International last weekend. By comparison, only about half that many people are in Boston this week for the Democratic National Convention. If John Kerry were as popular as Spider-Man, his wife could start picking out china patterns for the State Dining Room.

Lucasfilm revealed the title of the next ''Star Wars'' movie, ''Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith,'' at San Diego Comic-Con International.
AP Photo
Lucasfilm revealed the title of the next "Star Wars" movie, "Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith," at San Diego Comic-Con International.
Comic-Con has come quite a way from its humble origins. Just 300 people, 299 of them male, attended the first convention in 1970. Today, the convention draws a diverse crowd from around the globe. More importantly, however, it attracts some of Hollywood's biggest names.

You need only look at the box-office gross of "Spider-Man 2" — $328 million and counting — to see why. Every studio wants to cash in. But for every "Spider-Man" or "X-Men" that makes the transition from comic book to blockbuster, a "Catwoman" or "Daredevil" is waiting to cost some studio executive his job.

Staunch comic-book fans may make up only a fraction of the moviegoing public, but they are a vocal and temperamental minority, and they can generate buzz, positive or negative, far out of proportion to their numbers. Welcome to the Age of the Internet.

Given the beating it took from fans before its release, it's no surprise that "Catwoman" was dead on arrival. In making "Catwoman," Warner Brothers departed radically from the original character, and fans of the DC Comics femme fatale made their displeasure known early and often.

The suits at Warner may not yet have learned their lesson. There are rumors that Warner, over the objections of wiser heads at DC, wants to cast Jack Black as Green Lantern.

It isn't enough to make a good movie. If it were, Ang Lee's "Hulk" would have set records rather than struggle to break even. You must also win over the fanboys.

When Keanu Reeves arrived in San Diego to promote "Constantine," he had his work cut out for him. It's difficult to convince a skeptical crowd that your movie will do justice to its source material when you are a dark-haired American portraying a blond Englishman modeled on Sting.

"Constantine" is based on the DC Comics series "Hellblazer." The name was changed to avoid any confusion with the "Hellraiser" film franchise.

Director Francis Lawrence tried to reassure the audience that "Constantine" will be "a character piece" and not an overblown, effects-laden clunker like "Van Helsing." Judging from the trailer, it could go either way.

"Batman Begins" screenwriter David Goyer also faced a tough crowd. Batman fans are still bitter over "Batman and Robin," even if it looks like Goyer and director Christopher Nolan have done everything right this time, including casting Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman and surrounding him with the likes of Gary Oldman, Liam Neeson and Michael Cain.

Even George Lucas knows he must pay his respects at San Diego, even if not in person. Lucasfilm representatives were there to announce the title of the third and final "Star Wars" prequel, "Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith."

Lucas wasn't the only person in San Diego dropping bombshells. Producer Don Murphy ("From Hell") used the occasion to announce movies based on Neil Gaiman's graphic novel "Death: The High Cost of Living" and the Transformers toy/cartoon/comic franchise.

Comic-Con has become such a star-studded gathering that actual comic-book creators must feel like they've been demoted to bridesmaids at their own wedding. They are overshadowed by bigshot Hollywood producers who treat the comics industry as a source of low-cost research and development.

Perhaps the comic-book industry is a victim of its own success.

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