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Superhero season starts now

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Hollywood loves comic book movies because they come with their own rabid fan base to resell crappy sequels and spin-offs that much easier. Superman and Batman pretty much held it down cinematically until the 1990s when un-super heroes like The Punisher, The Mask, The Rocketeer or Darkman all hit the silver screens (not to mention the rubber-suited awesomeness that was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles).

Computer animators are cheaper than actors and over the last 15 years digital effects have allowed filmmakers to tell comic stories once considered impossible to film. This golden era of comic book movies actually began in 1997 with Todd McFarlane's Spawn adaptation (which sucked) but in 2000 the X-Men flick placed the new technology into a decent story and by the time 2002's web-slinging, highflying Spider-Man film made $800 million bucks, most all of Hollywood had been bitten by the radioactive comic bug — why come up with new ideas when you can just adapt old ones?

Sometimes it worked (Iron Man, The Dark Knight, Hellboy) and more often it didn't (Jonah Hex, Superman Returns, Hulk, Daredevil, Fantastic Four) but fanboys kept paying the bills and San Diego's Comic Con was suddenly the hottest place for Hollywood to build hype.

Even 2007's Ghost Rider, widely considered one of the worst comic book movies of all time (despite starring Nic Cage and hot-ass Eva Mendes) made over $225 million bucks.

Which explains why they're taking another crack at it this week as Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance opens Friday at the Village 8 and Garibaldi 5. Nic Cage is back as the Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider character, a bounty hunter for Satan, but this time he teams up with a bunch of evil monks to fight back against the devil's curse and maybe save a little kid in the process.

No pre-screenings were available and the mid-February release is almost never a good sign for a movie, but this one is directed by the guy who made Crank (and Jonah Hex), working from a script by David S. Goyer, who helped with all the latest Batman films.

I still remain doubtful that five years of technological advances can make a flaming skull head delivering PG-13 dialogue anything other than laughable.

The upcoming summer, however, has a bit more promise for comic geeks. Spider-Man gets a reboot with The Social Network-standout Andrew Garfield stepping into the red-and-blue unitard and the always-great Emma Stone as love interest Gwen Stacy.

Hopefully director Marc (500 Days of Summer) Webb's The Amazing Spider-Man will be able to salvage the legacy Sam Raimi wiped his ass with in Spider-Man 3. Find out on July 5.

Marvel Comics also drops their multi-year-in-the-making (and narcissistically titled) Marvel's The Avengers this summer. After three years of hype and Avenger solo films it's interesting that Marvel hands the reins to this one over to unproven director Josh Whedon. Avengers drops May 4.

Although G.I.Joe 2: Retaliation looks like a charming meditation on the human condition (and stars Channing Tatum) the only sure bet for 2012's batch of comic book movies will be Christopher Nolan's third Batman offering, The Dark Knight Rises, which hits theatres July 20. Nolan (Memento) is one of America's premier directors and his Batman flicks are the standard by which all other comic book movies are judged. Ghostrider 2 won't hold a flame to it.

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