First off, here's a quick lesson about the comic-book industry, for those who are not as well-versed on the subject as we comics-obsessed nerds.
The sales charts are pretty much dominated by the monthly superhero titles released by two companies, Marvel and DC. (Marvel's stable of characters includes Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and the Hulk, while DC features Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.)
The two firms have developed a pretty bitter rivalry over the years, and it's extended to the film adaptations of their respective titles. On the box-office success of the "Superman" films in the late 1970s and early '80s, DC dominated. The same goes for the early '90s, with the "Batman" movies.
During that same time period, Marvel and various studios (as well as director James Cameron) struggled to get a "Spider-Man" movie into production. And an embarrassingly awful, low-budget "Fantastic Four" movie (produced by Roger Corman) was squashed by the comics company.
However, the tide turned solidly in the direction of Marvel as the century came to a close, thanks to the mega-success of the "Spider-Man" and "X-Men" movies, as well as the first "Blade" film.
Subsequent Marvel Comics-based movies like "Daredevil," "Elektra" and "The Punisher" — and each "Blade" installment — got worse as they went along. But the low point to date was this year's little-seen "Man-Thing," which debuted on the Sci-Fi Channel because it wasn't deemed worthy of even a brief theatrical run.
The next batch doesn't look especially promising either. This summer's version of "Fantastic Four" already has bad word of mouth, based on the horrible-looking trailers and some perceived bad casting.
And the third "X-Men" movie has already provided several headaches for Marvel and 20th Century Fox. Director Bryan Singer left the project to make the next "Superman" movie for DC and Warner Bros., and his replacement, Matthew Vaughn ("Layer Cake") left two months before the film was supposed to start.
Also, the news that the film is now in the hands of director Brett Ratner (the "Rush Hour" movies) wasn't exactly cause for celebration in geek circles.
On the other hand, things are looking up for DC. "Batman Begins" (which opens Wednesday) is getting terrific reviews. And Singer's "Superman Returns" already has the comics community "buzzing," as did news that the "Wonder Woman" movie would be made by geek-friendly screenwriter Joss Whedon (TV's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer").
In addition . . .
"SPIDER-MAN 3." Topher Grace (TV's "That '70s Show") has signed on to play a yet-unnamed villain in the film, joining Thomas Haden Church — who will presumably be playing the villainous Sandman. Also, there's a possibility that Sam Raimi may be shooting a fourth film in the series concurrently with the third, which means he could have two Spidey sequels released within a year of each other.
"WE3." New Line Cinema has optioned that DC/Vertigo miniseries about three lab animals — a dog, a cat and a rabbit — that escape a testing facility, still wearing combat armor and software that allows them to communicate with humans.
"X3." In addition to Ratner as director, this film has gained a few more cast members. Former soccer star Vinnie Jones ("Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels") will be the villainous Juggernaut, Kelsey Grammer is playing the blue-furred Beast and Maggie Grace (TV's "Lost") takes over the role of Kitty Pride, seen in limited screen time in the other two films.