Comic-Con, the annual mecca of pop culture, returns to San Diego this weekend, with more than 130,000 fans and fanatics flooding the city to celebrate the comics, movies, TV shows and stars they love. What’s surprising folks this year, though, is who won’t be there: Despite releases slated next year for two of the world’s biggest superheroes, Batman and Superman, there won’t be panels for The Dark Knight Rises or The Man of Steel.

And as for Marvel Entertainment’s hero-packed The Avengers, while Captain America (Chris Evans) and the movie’s director, Joss Whedon, will be in attendance for other reasons, the studio insists there’s nothing planned for the star-studded 2012 summer tentpole. (The superhero team-up stars Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson and Chris Hemsworth.)

Some studios and directors, including Warner Bros. and Disney, have claimed they’ll be sitting out the convention altogether, suggesting the massive festival’s power might be waning.

“It’s getting harder and harder to stand out amid the din,” director Andrew Stanton (next year’s John Carter of Mars) told the L.A. Times’ Hero Complex blog recently.

But Morgan Spurlock, who is completing a documentary about the convention, isn’t buying it.

“They say that every year,” Spurlock tells Metro. “It’s one of those things like, ‘No, we’re not going to go this year, we’re not going to go.’ And then suddenly one studio jumps in and says yes, and the next thing you know two more climb on board. It’s one of those where I don’t buy into it.”

But the big surprises at this year’s convention are as much who is coming as who isn’t. Mingling with the science-fiction and horror mainstays, prestige directors Steven Spielberg (The Adventures of Tin-Tin), Stephen Soderbergh (Haywire) and Francis Ford Coppola (Twixt) will be heading to the massive Hall H to pitch their work to the Comic-Con masses.

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