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Comic-book characters wing their way to Hollywood


The movie "Batman Returns" may not have lived up to expectations -- critically or commercially -- but that hasn't dampened Hollywood's interest in the comics. At least four dozen adaptations of comics are currently in production or development for nonanimated films.

"It's hard to find comic characters that Hollywood isn't interested in," says Pam Rutt, publicity director of Marvel Comics. Indeed, filmmakers have optioned the rights to such Marvel characters as Spider-Man, Daredevil, Dr. Strange, the Incredible Hulk, X-Men, Ghost Rider, Thor and Blade the Vampire Hunter.

Dark Horse Comics, home to off-beat characters like Concrete -- a stone creature -- even has its own Hollywood development deal with Largo Entertainment.

The comic-book company and the film company are collaborating on at least 10 projects, including "The American," "Concrete," "The Mask" and "Dr. Giggles," which opened last week.

Nearing completion are three movies inspired by the comics. "The Meteor Man," about an inner-city schoolteacher endowed with super powers, will open next spring. Robert Townsend wrote, directed and starred.

"Teen-Age Mutant Ninja Turtles III," also slated for spring, brings the heavily costumed turtles to Japan, circa 1603. And Walter Matthau will play Mr. Wilson in "Dennis the Menace," a film produced by John Hughes that is expected to open next summer.

Movies that are in the works include the following.

* "Aliens vs. Predators": A monstrous battle on a jungle planet. Darkhorse Entertainment/Largo Entertainment/20th Century Fox, distributor.

* "Annie and the Castle of Terror": The redheaded orphan journeys to pre-World War II Europe. Ray Stark will produce. Columbia Pictures.

* "Black Panther": Wesley Snipes as the African prince T'Challa. Columbia.

* "Blankman": Damon Wayans's spoof of comic book superheroes. Columbia.

* "Blondie": A comedy about the dizzy wife of Dagwood Bumstead. Silver Pictures/Warner Brothers.

* "Casper, the Friendly Ghost": The title says it all. Amblin Entertainment/Universal Pictures.

* "The Fantastic Four": Mr. Fantastic, the Human Torch, the Invisible Girl and the Thing. Constantin Films.

* "The Green Hornet": Hornet meets Kato. Under negotiation at Universal.

* "The Men in Black": Rogue CIA operatives. Columbia.

* "Mr. Magoo": Still nearsighted. Amblin Entertainment/Warner Brothers.

* "The Phantom": A crime fighter with a purple suit. Robert Evans will produce. Paramount.

* "Plastic Man": A superhero who can stretch and reshape his body. Amblin Entertainment/Warner Brothers.

* "Richie Rich": A comedy about the richest kid in the world. Silver Pictures/Warner Brothers.

* "Sgt. Rock": Arnold Schwarzenegger as the square-jawed World War II tough guy. Silver Pictures/Warner Brothers.

* "The Shadow": An invisible crime fighter. Martin Bregman will produce. Universal.

* "Spider-Man": An ordinary fellow has extraordinary powers due to a radioactive spider. Lightstorm Films/Carolco Pictures.

* "Time Cop": A time-traveling policeman. Sam Rami will produce. Dark Horse Entertainment/Largo Entertainment/Universal.

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