There are laws against yelling ''fire'' in a crowded theater. So far, there are no laws against releasing Halle Berry into a 4,500-seat ballroom packed with comic-book and science-fiction/fantasy fans. But San Diego might consider implementing some for next year's annual international comics convention, known as Comic-Con. Held July 17-20, 2003's Con was bigger -- 70,000-plus attendees -- and more Hollywood than ever. Berry was on hand to promote ''Gothika,'' her upcoming thriller set in a women's prison, but, this being Comic-Con, she fielded questions like ''Have you ever kissed a girl?'' and endured shouts of ''You're hot!''
Much like Hugh Jackman, who showed up to plug ''Van Helsing,'' Berry was peppered with ''X-Men'' inquiries. (Sorry fans, neither star has signed on for ''X3.'') Other celebrity guests stayed on topic: Alfred Molina brought along a buzz-inducing clip of his nefarious Dr. Octopus from ''Spider-Man 2,'' Quentin Tarantino showed a bizarre, partly animated new trailer for his two-part assassin flick ''Kill Bill,'' and ''Lord of the Rings'' stars Andy Serkis and Dominic Monaghan appeared with 3 minutes of a 14-minute ''Return of the King'' trailer from the upcoming ''Two Towers'' DVD. Warner Bros. had the biggest single studio presentation, with behind-the-scenes videos from ''Troy'' and ''Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,'' but the studio stretched the definition of ''comic-book convention'' by pushing Tom Cruise's Asia-set epic ''The Last Samurai'' and the Ice Cube motorcycle flick ''Torque.''
Historically, the star pandering and advance trailering have paid off: Interest in movies like ''X2'' and ''T3'' was ignited by snippets shown at last year's Con. But what does this mean for the 34-year-old extravaganza's inky roots? ''I feel like comic books are being farmed, broken down for parts,'' says Michael Chabon, 40, a repeat attendee and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning comic-biz opus ''The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.'' He notes that the movie and toy trades seem to have supplanted comics, sales of which remain unspectacular despite the media's interest in comic-book characters. ''The guys going through the comic bins are getting older and balder. Like me.''