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Superheroes to the Rescue: Comic Book Movie Update

Even though Spider-Man is finally swinging into theaters everywhere, we just know your craving for cinematic super-heroic adventure still isn’t satisfied. You won’t have to wait long for your next fix, though, as some of the world’s greatest superheroes are already working on hitting their marks and rehearsing their dialogue on soundstages throughout Hollywood and beyond.

Marvel Comics, home of the wall-crawler himself, has the lead in getting their trademark characters–who are typically as angst-ridden as they are muscle-bound–to the big screen. The charge is led by executive producers Avi Arad (the former head of action-figure maker Toy Biz, which now owns the legendary comics label) and Stan Lee (the co-creator of Spidey, the Hulk and other Marvel headliners), who’ve doing lunch all over Tinseltown to make a deal for their spandex-clad clients. (Blade 2, another Marvel property recently sunk its fangs into big box office.)

More mutant madness will hit the big screen in 2003 with the release of X2, the sequel to 2000’s smash hit X-Men. Hugh Jackman will again be slicing and dicing with his adamantium claws as the feral-yet-noble Wolverine, and Oscar-winning Halle Berry will also re-create her tempest in a c-cup as the sexy, weather-controlling Storm. Back on board are Patrick Stewart (Professor X), Famke Janssen (Jean Grey), James Marsden (Cyclops) and Anna Paquin (Rogue), contending once again with the malevolent Magneto (Ian McKellan) and his band of evil mutants, including Mystique (Rebecca Romjin-Stamos) and Sabertooth (Tyler Mane).

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Director Bryan Singer returns to introduce new members of the X-team, rumored to be comics stalwarts Nightcrawler and the Angel, along with an unrevealed mutant, rumored to be a teenage girl–Shadowcat? Jubilee? God forbid, the Dazzler?. Shooting on the New Line film is set to commence in Canada in June.

Marvel’s heaviest hitter will also be unleashed in 2003, when Universal Studios releases The Hulk, a big-budget summer feature featuring the less-than-jolly green giant–and no, Lou Ferrigno won’t be slapping emerald paint on his pecs for this one. Director Ang Lee has opted for a virtual Hulk this time, a CGI-creation designed to unleash a maximum amount of devastation on his environment.

On the flesh-and-blood side, the fortuitously named Eric Bana will be playing Dr. Bruce Banner, the more passive side of the gamma-rayed giant’s Jekyll-and-Hyde equation. Oscar winner Jennifer Connelly will be the beauty to the Hulk’s beast as love interest Betty Ross, while Sam Elliott plays her father, the Hulk’s nemesis Gen. “Thunderbolt” Ross. Nick Nolte, Josh Lucas and Brooke Langton round out the cast.

The dashing Daredevil, a blind lawyer gifted with heightened senses after (you guessed it) a radioactive mishap, is already in production under director Mark Steven Johnson (Simon Birch), with Ben Affleck taking up the athletic mantle of ol’ Hornhead. Jennifer Garner adds to her butt-kicking resume as the exotic assassin Elektra, caught in between her ex-lover Daredevil and his foes, the mammoth crime lord the Kingpin (Michael Clarke Duncan) and fellow hit-man Bullseye (Colin Farrell).

Jon Favreau plays DD’s hapless attorney partner Foggy Nelson, Joe Pantoliano is reporter Ben Urich, Ellen Pompeo is secretary Karen Page, David Keith plays DD’s boxer father and filmmaker Kevin Smith, who has written the crime-fighter’s comic book adventures, cameos as a lab assistant.

The Fantastic Four, the cosmic-ray powered quartet who launched the new era of Marvel Comics in the 1960s, are also expected to carry their own film, written by Chris Columbus and directed by Peyton Reed (Bring It On), but no casting or shoot date has been announced. However, the FF’s sometimes-enemy, sometimes-ally, Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner, is also getting the big-screen treatment at Universal in an undersea adventure to be penned by screenwriter David Self (The Bourne Identity>).

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Marvel hopes you’ll forget–please, please forget–the lame, late 1980s Dolph Lundgren film, as it teams with Artisan Films and writer-director Jonathan Hensleigh to revive The Punisher. As you no doubt know, the Punisher is the gun-toting superhero vigilante with no compunction against killing, who bedeviled both Spider-Man and Daredevil before becoming a comic book sensation as a solo act. Artisan has also optioned Captain America and Thor, among others.

Meanwhile, Columbia Pictures has already given the go-ahead to a Spider-Man sequel, with Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst and director Sam Raimi signed to return.

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