Graphic Arts As Literature

Kelly Hu takes aim as Lady Deathstrike in the upcoming sequel to 2000's "X-Men" called "X2."

Comic books
come to life
in upcoming movies

Star-Bulletin news services

Superheroes are continuing to make the leap from comic book panels to the big screen, hoping to repeat last year's phenomenal success of "Spider-Man."

This year brings four comic book adaptations to the big screen. "Daredevil" kicked it off this weekend, and it'll be joined by the return of the X-Men in "X2," the rampaging "Hulk" and a coterie of Victorian-era crime fighters known as "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen."

The current wave of comic book-based movies was sparked by the success of "X-Men," a 2000 release that grossed more than $157 million domestically. "Spider-Man" swung open the flood gates last year, becoming 2002's top-grossing film with a take of more than $400 million.

Other similar movies are in various stages of production and development, including new spins on "Superman" and "Batman," along with the "Fantastic Four," a "Spider-Man" sequel and other such men-in-tights.

Here's a look at the remainder of this year's crop of fantastic flicks. (Release dates are subject to change.)

>> "X2" (out May 2)

The X-Men were established by Charles Xavier, the founder of a school for gifted youngsters in upstate New York. "Gifted youngsters" is a euphemism for mu- tants, of which Xavier -- a powerful telepath -- is one. Mutants are feared and hated by humanity. However, Xavier's plan is for his teenage charges to use their powers for good and in service to humanity. Xavier's nemesis Magneto, however, hates the human race and feel that mutants should rule the Earth.

The original X-Men team, created by Marvel Comics' Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1963, consisted of Cyclops, Iceman, the Beast, Angel and Jean Grey, a k a Marvel Girl. The roster has changed many times over the years, with the fearsome Canadian known as Wolverine becoming its most popular member with readers.

The 2000 movie featured Xavier (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellen), Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Storm (Halle Berry), Cyclops (James Marsden), Rogue (Anna Paquin), Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) and Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), among others. All will return for "X2," with other characters making their movie debut as Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), Pyro (Aaron Stanford) and Lady Deathstrike (Kelly Hu).

>> "The Hulk" (out June 20)

Another '60s creation from Lee and Kirby, the Hulk is the monstrous alter-ego of physicist Bruce Banner. The scientist is exposed to gamma radiation during a test of a bomb he developed, after racing from his protective bunker to save a teenager who has driven onto the desert testing range. Banner miraculously survives, but thereafter, whenever he's overcome by anger, he transforms into the massive, green-skinned Hulk.

The movie, directed by Oscar winner Ang Lee, stars Eric Bana as Dr. Bruce Banner. The Hulk himself will be computer-generated imagery, rendered by Industrial Light & Magic. The film co-stars Jennifer Connelly as Betty Ross, Banner's love interest, and Sam Elliott and Nick Nolte as Ross and Banner's fathers, respectively. Lou Ferrigno, who portrayed the Hulk on television from 1978 to 1982, has a cameo role in the movie.

>> "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" (out July 11)

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a team of fictional adventurers, culled from classic 19th-century literature, who are covertly brought together to defend the British empire from its enemies. The Victorian-era agents include Allan Quartermain ("King Solomon's Mines"), Mina Harker (Dracula), Captain Nemo, the Invisible Man and Dr. Henry Jekyll (along with Mr. Edward Hyde). Together, these flawed, misfit heroes battle an infamous criminal mastermind, himself a notorious 19th-century literary villain, intent on firebombing the East End of London.

"The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" is currently in its second volume of the comic book series, having debuted in 1999 under the excellent America's Best Comics imprint, and written by cult British scribe Alan Moore and illustrated by Kevin O'Neill.

The movie version stars Sean Connery as Allan Quartermain, Peta Wilson as Mina Harker, Naseeruddin Shah as Captain Nemo, Tony Curran as the Invisible Man and Jason Flemyng as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The film also features Stuart Townsend as Dorian Gray, a man who mysteriously does not age, who appears in the comic's second series. To Americanize the proceedings, the filmmakers also have taken the liberty of adding Secret Service agent Tom Sawyer, portrayed by Shane West and inspired by Mark Twain's "Tom Sawyer, Detective."

Directed by Stephen Norrington, whose credits include the comic-book adaptation "Blade," the film abandons Moore's original plot, instead pitting the agents against a villain intent on turning the nations of the world against one another.

He's mean, he's green and he's computer generated! It's "The Hulk," out in June.

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