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Talking pictures: There's lots to love in comic-book films

We comic-book geeks really don't realize how good we've had it.

Obviously, I'm not talking about comic books themselves, although there is some genuinely good stuff coming out right now. (I'm a sucker for anything written by the prolific Robert Kirkman, and Craig Thompson's award-winning graphic novel "Blankets" is very moving.)

No, I'm talking about movies based on comics. Admittedly, there have been some really bad ones — "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen," "The Punisher" and especially "Catwoman," which may be the worst comics-to-movie project ever.

But at the same time, we've seen two "Spider-Man" and "X-Men" movies that were very good.

Also, there are a few things coming up that look or at least sound quite good, including next summer's "Batman Begins," from director Christopher Nolan and screenwriter David Goyer, a fine comics writer.

So here's my list of the best comic-book movies to date, and while it may be a little predictable, there are at least a couple of curve balls:

1. SPIDER-MAN 2 (2004): What makes this one the best of the bunch is that, even if the superhero stuff were stripped from the movie, it would still be a good one. Though the superhero stuff is also terrific.

2. SPIDER-MAN (2002): Yes, the Green Goblin looks like something out of the "Power Rangers" TV shows, but the origin sequence is the best such scene in any comic-book movie, and the character drama is solid.

3. SUPERMAN (1978): A serious contender for the best of all time — if not for some too-goofy humor and the disappointing ending, which features an incredibly convenient and contrived time-travel device.

4. GHOST WORLD (2000): There's no superhero-ing going on, but this odd — and pretty dark — little comedy was based on stories from the acclaimed independent comic book "Eightball." The performances, particularly by Thora Birch, are terrific.

5. SUPERMAN 2 (1980): The two very different halves — romance and action — of this sequel don't really fit together, but the film also features perhaps the best villain in Terence Stamp's General Zod.

6. X2: X-MEN UNITED (2003): Even Halle Berry's unbelievably awful performance — which becomes even more apparent on repeat viewings — can't ruin this sequel, which improves on its predecessor in many respects.

7. HELLBOY (2004): Thanks to Ron Perlman's wisecracking performance as the lead character, this one is a lot of fun, and director Guillermo Del Toro did wonders with a limited budget.

8. X-MEN (2000): Though it pales in comparison to its even better sequel, this one is a solid superhero adventure with more than a few things to say on the subject of tolerance.

9. BATMAN RETURNS (1992): Believe it or not, Tim Burton's Bat-sequel has improved with age. The Expressionist stylings and Michelle Pfeiffer's sexy turn as Catwoman are the best things about any of the Bat-films.

10. BLADE (1998): Its style-over-substance tendencies — and over-the-top violence — make it an acquired taste, but Wesley Snipes is convincing and effective as the half-vampire slayer.

Honorable mentions to "American Splendor" (great performances by Paul Giamatti and Hope Davis), "Men in Black" (diminished a little by its repetitive sequel) and even the first "Swamp Thing," which is good, campy fun.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com