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Batman Is Everything and Other Lessons Learned From the Summer of the Superhero

Nick Nadel’s Tuesday column examines the increasingly busy intersection between comic books and the movies.

With the release of The Mummy 3: Mummy Trouble, the summer of the superhero has officially come to an end. And what a summer it’s been. (Though with The Dark Knight‘s runaway success, it’s safe to say 2008 is the year of the superhero.) So what have we (and Hollywood) learned from the summer’s big comic book movie hits?

Batman Is Everything to Everyone
Superman may be
America’s golden boy and Spidey’s a hit with the kids, but no one can
explore moral gray areas and flip over a truck quite like Batman. When
handled as expertly as he was in The Dark Knight, Batman has it all–
action and romance for the mainstream crowds, dark shadings and ethical
debates for the arthouse. Not only is The Dark Knight appealing
to popcorn movie junkies, it’s also managed to hit the zeitgeist in a
way few recent mainstream films have even attempted. (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
didn’t inspire any  “Indy is Bush” debates.) Hollywood studios are
constantly on the hunt or that elusive franchise that appeals to
everyone. With The Dark Knight, they now realize it’s been the Caped Crusader all along.

Comic Book Films Don’t Always Resemble the Comics
Fans of the Wanted
graphic novel who hoped to see some hardcore supervillain action on the
big screen were in for quite a disappointment. (Ditto any moviegoer who
rushed to the comic book store expecting to read about Angelina Jolie
and that magical loom nonsense from the film.) While still a box office
hit, the Wanted 2 team would be wise to cater to the fanboys
for the second installment and give us Mr. Rictus and the rest of the
super-villainous gang.

Guillermo del Toro Has Some Crazy Nightmares
Though somewhat lost amid the Dark Night hype, Hellboy II: The Golden Army
offered some breathtakingly freaky imagery and a story that left the
door open a sequel. While the franchise has veered further into del
Toro territory and further away from Mike Mignola’s original comics, it
has filled the
supernatural action comedy void left by Men in Black and Ghostbusters .
Box office analysts were skeptical that a sequel to a moderate hit
would fly during a crowded summer, but del Toro’s fanbase (and affection
for the stellar cast) proved the franchise has legs (and multiple
arms, and creepy giant eyes).

Audiences Prefer the Classics
Hancock was a
hit, but I have to ask — do you know anyone who actually liked it? While I admire the
effort of creating a new superhero character for a major summer
release, the end result was a bit lackluster. (And encumbered with
more hokey supernatural backstory than Dr. Strange.) With the buzz this
summer around tried and true characters (or in Watchmen‘s case,
characters with intense fan followings), Hollywood may be wary to step
outside of established comic book characters in the future. (Sorry, the
ten of you waiting for Sky High 2.)

2010 Will Be the Next Summer of the Superheroes
Next summer will be a bit of a come down, with only X-Men Origins: Wolverine to tide us geeks over. But 2010 looks to supremely cape-filled, with Marvel unleashing Iron Man 2, Ant-Man, and Thor while DC tries again to reboot Superman with The Man of Steel.
(Assuming all projects stay on course, that is.) But the real “summer
of the superhero” will be whenever Christopher Nolan, Christian Bale, and
the rest of The Dark Knight team decide to return to cinema’s
top masked vigilante. If the rumors of a Johnny Depp (Riddler),
Angelina Jolie (Catwoman), and Philip Seymour Hoffman (Penguin)
villain-trifecta for the third installment are actually true, Batman could quite possibly surpass himself
as the summer’s favorite superhero.

When not writing, Nick
Nadel is in line at the comic book store alongside the other geeks, er,
fans of speculative fiction. His most prized possession is a 1960s
Batman comic wherein
the Dynamic Duo are trapped inside a fortune cookie factory. He lives
in Brooklyn and updates his aptly named website ( with comedy writing and videos

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