Film Review: Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope

Excessively kind look at the obsessive fans who descend on San Diego’s popular Comic-Con convention.

Aimed squarely at unregenerate lovers of comic books, pulp novels, action figures, Dr. Who and other pop-culture ephemera, Morgan Spurlock's gentle documentary, shot at the world-famous San Diego Comic-Con, is a corrective—deliberately or not—to movies that treat such fans as emotionally stunted freaks. But a little more bite would make it a far better movie.

Spurlock's strategy is basic: His focus is a handful of fans who hope to one day write or draw comics, create high-end special effects or work in any of the other fields that intersect annually in San Diego. For the uninitiated, the first revelation will no doubt be that the Comic-Con isn't all about comics: Spurlock makes a point of including the laments of longtime fans—guys and girls (but mostly guys) who remember when comic-book conventions were about comic books, not vintage erotica, Aurora models, Hot Wheels, pulp paperbacks, sexy cigarette cards and other stuff that folks of a certain generation stashed under the bed (or in the closet or the climate-controlled garage) but never put behind them.

His subjects include an aspiring makeup artist, a would-be writer and an illustrator whose parents were comic-book convention pioneers, along with a genial young man who met his girlfriend at Comic Con one year earlier and intends to propose during a Kevin Smith panel, and a middle-aged fan who hopes that selling an incredibly rare and much-loved book—volume I, number 1 (the first and only issue) of 1940's “Red Raven,” which debuted Marvel's first superhero character (Batman and Superman, as any buff will be happy to tell you, came earlier but were created for DC—whole other universe, dude)—will save his foundering store, Mile High Comics.

They all seem like nice people, and anyone who has a secret passion for any offbeat thing, from Lladró figurines to vintage porn paperbacks, who claims not to understand the fundamental desire that makes people want to possess a little piece of the world for their own and mingle with people who share their passion is either self-deluded or a liar.

But it's a sad truth that the allure of other people's passions, like that of other people's sexual fetishes, can rarely survive a bracing blast of sunlight. They just look silly, no matter how many celebrity spokespersons (okay, spokesmen; no matter how hard Spurlock tries to include the women of comic-book culture, the fact is that most of them are girlfriends or models paid to swan around dressed like Vampirella or Sailor Moon), from the Seths Rogen and Green (who met his wife at a convention) to Guillermo del Toro, lend their impassioned voices to the cause.

And not to be nasty, but they're among the cheerful exceptions to the generally splenetic spokesmen, notably Kevin Smith and “Walking Dead” creator Robert Kirkman, who are comic lovers' worst enemies. They're the guys who've made it, the ones who are living every fan's dream, and they come off like colossal jackasses still nursing grudges against the jocks and prom queens who shunned them in high school. A few more Thomas Janes (for those who first noticed him in HBO's “Hung,” Jane once played The Punisher, Marvel's tormented vigilante) would have gone a long way to counteracting their dyspeptic bitterness.