A hero's welcome

The Baltimore Sun

The big boys of comic books like Batman and The Hulk all have movies on the way this summer. But a slew of films based on lesser-known superheroes (ever heard of Ant-Man?) are also in the works.

The runaway success of Iron Man, which grossed $200 million worldwide its opening weekend and has already spawned plans for a sequel, proved that an able cast and solid storytelling can turn a second-tier superhero into box-office gold.

"A good story, good filmmaking and a talented cast can make all the difference in the world," said Tom Ortenberg, president of theatrical films for Lionsgate Films.

Ortenberg is hoping the same formula will work for The Spirit, a film set for release early next year.

"The Spirit is a very well-known and beloved character to some core genre fans but not a particularly well-known character to the movie-going public at large," he said. "But it has turned into an incredible motion picture."

Here are five coming films based on less-prominent comic-book heroes.

Punisher: War Zone

This sequel, slated for a December release, is the Punisher's - and the franchise's - shot at redemption. The first installment, featuring Baltimore native Thomas Jane as a man avenging the deaths of his wife and family, was largely panned by critics and received a lukewarm reception at the box office. Ray Stevenson assumes the lead in War Zone, where he faces Jigsaw (played by Dominic West of The Wire).

The Spirit

Heavyweight graphic novelist/writer/director Frank Miller (Sin City, 300) is at the helm of this action romance. It stars Gabriel Macht as a crime-fighting cop who comes back from the dead to square off against the Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson). The film is in post-production and should hit theaters next January.


Marvel Studios said yesterday that it plans to release this film, directed by Matthew Vaughan (Stardust), on July 4, 2010. Thor, a superhero based on the Norse god of thunder and lightning, sports long gold locks and carries his trademark hammer. The comic-book character performed incredible feats of strength and grappled with mortality. No word on casting, but Fabio has the look. Also announced yesterday: A movie about Ant-Man, a shrinking scientist, is in development.


Retired superheroes coexist with the rest of society in this film - until one is assassinated and a plot to murder more is uncovered. Then ex-heroes emerge to try and stop the scheme. Originally published as a 12-part series in the 1980s, The Watchmen is regarded as a classic in the comic-book world. Writer Alan Moore introduced adult themes and cinematic storytelling that would influence the next generation of comic-book (and comic-book movie) creators. The movie is expected to premiere in March.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Next year, the side-burned superhero breaks away from the X-Men pack to star in a film about his beginnings. Wolverine, played by Hugh Jackman, is joined by other lesser-known X-Men and villains such as Gambit (Taylor Kitsch) and Sabertooth (Liev Schreiber). The film could clear up a good deal of Wolverine's semi-cloudy past - including his involvement in the Weapon X program.


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