Why are Superman, Batman and the Avengers staying away from Comic-Con?

Now it's official: Marvel Studios won't be promoting The Avengers, or any other forthcoming movies, at Comic-Con. With this news, Marvel joins parent company Disney, plus Warner Bros. and the Weinstein Co., in sitting out SDCC 2011.

That means no John Carter, no Real Steel, no Superman reboot and no Dark Knight Rises, among others. On the other hand, there'll be a big push for Cowboys & Aliens, and 2012's Amazing Spider-Man will be there. So will The Adventures of Tintin. So will The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn. And so will the Ghost Rider sequel.

What's going on?

Some speculate that Disney wanted to save its big properties, like John Carter and Avengers, to push at its own D23 expo in August. Plus Avengers will still be in the middle of shooting, so it might be hard to take a few days off for the con. There are also rumors that the crazy stampede for SDCC hotel rooms left some big stars with noplace to stay.

But there's also no getting away from the fact that promoting a film at Comic-Con doesn't seem to have much relationship to its box office earnings. Comic-Con is a great place to generate buzz among die-hard fans — exactly the people who will go see a film on opening night, no matter what. Just look at some of the huge flops that had a big showing at Comic-Con. Recent Comic-Con sensations have included Scott Pilgrim and Sucker Punch, which bombed, and Tron Legacy, which did okay but not Pirates of the Caribbean numbers. Oh, and then there's Green Lantern, which is already inspiring "what went wrong" pieces.

A New York Times article from a couple of weeks ago lays out the case really succinctly: Positive buzz from Comic-Con doesn't always cross over to non-hardcore fans. And negative buzz from Comic-Con can create a huge nightmare for studios. The article adds:

Warner got burned with "Sucker Punch," which had fans vibrating with excitement in July but failed in its March release. The millions that Disney spent on "Tron: Legacy" at Comic-Con had a less-than-fantastic payoff... "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" was the big alarm. That Universal movie was the belle of last year's convention, and the studio spent heavily to make it so, draping the entire side of a skyscraper with an ad, for instance. Released just three weeks after the convention, "Scott Pilgrim" fizzled and the $60 million movie sold just $32 million in tickets.

And as the Times article points out, SDCC could turn out to be a better buzz-maker for TV shows, which really do need to generate lots of hardcore fan excitement, to keep people tuning in week in and week out. (It's a very different thing than just getting people to show up for one evening.) With fewer gigantic movies hitting SDCC, some of the biggest draws this year will be shows like Terra Nova, Awake, Alcatraz, The Secret Circle, Person of Interest, Fringe, Game of Thrones, Torchwood, and several others which actually can use the exposure.

Speaking of which, the official SDCC schedule doesn't come out for a while yet, but Bleeding Cool has done a good job of collecting what's out there so far, especially for television. Definitely worth checking out.

Top image: Life-sized Sucker Punch statues from the SDCC 2010 floor, via PopCultureGeek.com on Flickr.