'Green Lantern,' 'Cowboys & Aliens,' 'Terra Nova' Seek to Impress at WonderCon

Is WonderCon ready to graduate from mild-mannered sidekick to full-fledged superhero?

The San Francisco comic and pop culture convention that celebrates its 25th anniversary this weekend is emerging as a key stop for Hollywood ahead of the summer movie season.

The confab is run by San Diego Comic Convention, the same organization behind Comic-Con International, which in the past decade has turned into a massive annual cultural event, drawing more than 130,000 people and becoming an important forum for Hollywood to show its wares to the geek crowd it desperately covets. But as Comic-Con has grown into full-blown media circus, some hard-core fanboys believe Hollywood's all-consuming presence has destroyed the allure of what was once a smallish gathering to celebrate comics culture.

Perhaps that's why last year WonderCon saw a spike in attendance, from the low 30,000 to just over 39,500, with many observers saying that the three-day convention is evolving from a regional show to one now playing on a national stage. Some analogize WonderCon's relationship to Comic-Con as being what the indie Slamdance Film Festival is to the better-known Sundance Film Festival.

Part of WonderCon's rise in Hollywood's eyes is its timing. With Comic-Con taking place at the end of July, most of the summer movies have already hit theaters. The early April date allows studios to make a concentrated push for those movies opening May, June and early July, which is why this year's programming includes panels for Warner Bros.' Green Lantern, Universal's Cowboys & Aliens, Focus' Hanna, and Screen Gems' Priest.

(In the past, Paramount took the cast of Star Trek to WonderCon, something it didn't do with Comic-Con, and Christian Bale made what may be his only ever comic convention appearance before the release of Batman Begins.)

Studios are also looking to get out early on certain movies, with Summit giving first looks at Paul W. S. Anderson's Three Musketeers while Relativity trots out future Superman Henry Cavill for its epic Immortals.

"At Comic-Con, many companies compete for press. If you make a huge splash at WonderCon, you can own the weekend," notes David Glanzer, the director of marketing for both conventions.

Television is also in on the action, with panels for new and highly anticipated shows such as TNT's Falling Skies, Fox's Terra Nova and Breaking In. Fox's Human Target and ABC's V will also have a presence.

One notable absence is Marvel Studios, which will not be showcasing its comic book movies Thor (which opens May 6) or Captain America: First Avenger (July 22).

There are multiple reasons for the non-showing. Cost is a factor, as is having something to show. With both films having just released newly minted trailers, sources say there wasn't anything new the company was ready to present. And as any Con veteran knows, if you don't go big and bring talent and footage, you don't come at all, lest you risk the wrath of disappointed conventioneers.

And quite frankly, Marvel doesn't need WonderCon. The studio brought Robert Downey Jr. to wow them in 2007 ahead of Iron Man's release, but that was when the company had something to prove, and Downey was an actor aching for comeback. Since then, Marvel has hammered out a strong and quality brand.

And it doesn't need to worry about the fans at WonderCon, who will most likely go see their movies anyway.

The same can't be said for Green Lantern, which needs a big pop. The massive Warner Bros. tentpole has hardly been making any marketing and publicity blips ever since it unveiled a trailer that was perceived as weak (especially visual effects-wise) last year.

The movie is deep in postproduction as the studio races to finish ahead of its June 17 opening.

Warners will use WonderCon to right the ship with fans by going all out, bringing in star Ryan Reynolds, among others, and showing new footage.

To keep the Lantern light brightly burning, it is also premiering Green Lantern: Emerald Knights, the new animated DC Universe original movie from Warner Home Video. Also on hand will be the movie's voice cast, director and writers.

Many Hollywood WonderCon-goers praise the San Francisco show for its more laidback attitude and smaller crowds, but still essential programming.

"It's what Comic-Con was 10 years ago," says producer Adrian Askarieh (Hitman), heading up Friday.

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