Dec. 05--An affinity for superheroes no longer is viewed strictly as a geeky, boys-only thing.
Comic-book creations like Batman, Superman, Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man and the X-Men characters are embraced by male and female fans of all ages these days, said Ariel English, a video manager for Hastings Books Music & Video.
"I know the superhero DVDs sell really well," she said. "Both guys and girls are buying them -- they're all ages, really. People are buying these movies because they are fun for most people."
Among the best-selling DVDs with caped crusaders are "The Avengers" the "Iron Man" movies and "Thor," while the "Thor" sequel, "Thor: The Dark World," continues to be a favorite of fans at the movie theater, English said.
"The next big movies people will like will be the new 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' and the new Superman movie they're working on, "Batman Vs. Superman," I would think," she said.
To date, "The Avengers" stands as the top-grossing superhero movie of all time with a U.S. gross of more than $623 million, according to www.imdb.com. Following "The Avengers" on the list are "The Dark Night," "The Dark Knight Rises," "Iron Man 3," "Spider-Man," "Spider-Man 2," "Spider-Man 3," "Iron Man," "Iron Man 2," "Man of Steel," "The Amazing Spider-Man," "The Incredibles," "Batman" and "X-Men: The Last Stand."
English said director Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" trilogy that presented a darker Batman and even darker villains has been the best comic-to-big-screen translation to date. The three movies -- 2005's "Batman Begins," 2008's "The Dark Knight" and 2012's "The Dark Knight Rises" -- have been partially responsible for shifting the public's perception of comic-book adventures, she said.
"I thought Heath Ledger was a great Joker in 'The Dark Knight,'" English said. "I thought 'The Dark Knight Rises' was pretty good -- it had a good ending in how it wrapped everything up."
When asked what she thought of the controversial casting of Ben Affleck as Batman in the upcoming "Man of Steel" sequel, "Batman Vs. Superman," English was more hopeful than many fans.
"Batman is my favorite, so I hope Ben Affleck does well," she said.
Jody Birchfield, a local musician and fan of superhero-based films and television, also was optimistic that Affleck will hush the naysayers' still-loud sarcasm.
"I was surprised that Ben Affleck was cast at first, but as I get older, I'm less worried about stuff like that," he said. "It will be another version of Batman, and Ben will take it somewhere it hasn't been before, which I'll like.
"I also remember the uproar people had when Michael Keaton was cast as Batman in Tim Burton's 'Batman' from 1989," Birchfield added. "At first, I said, 'What?' But then I saw the first photo of Michael Keaton in the Batman costume in Starlog magazine, and I said, 'OK, I'm now on board.'"
Birchfield said he remembers the day he stood in a lengthy line to see "Batman" for the first time in the movie theater.
"Seeing that film was one of the biggest movie events of my whole life," he said. "I remember that being such a huge event back then."
Birchfield admitted he was less enthusiastic for "Batman & Robin" movie, a 1997 action flick that starred George Clooney, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Chris O'Donnell and was pulverized by critics and most fans of the genre.
"Oh, 'Batman & Robin' was cringe-worthy," he said with a laugh. "I saw that one in the theater and I was in denial for a few days, saying, 'That wasn't that bad.' Oh, but it was awful."
From top to bottom, "The Avengers," which starred Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man and Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk, was a better, more enjoyable movie, Birchfield said.
"The main thing with 'The Avengers' was, they finally got the Hulk right," he said. "With the first 'Hulk' movie by Ang Lee, I enjoyed it for what it was, but I didn't feel like it went with my concept of the Hulk as a superhero. The way the Hulk interacted with the other heroes in 'The Avengers' was better.
"Plus, as far as special effects go, the Hulk looked right in 'The Avengers,'" Birchfield added. "The Hulk had more personality and looked more realistic in 'The Avengers,' instead of being just a raging, out-of-control Mr. Hyde."
Continuing the "Avengers" theme is ABC TV's "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," the hit show that airs at 7 p.m. Tuesdays, said Birchfield. The show stars Clark Gregg ("The Avengers") as a quick-thinking, fast-moving leader of a young team designed to uncover and stop evil forces.
"I think part of the public's attraction to superheroes is, maybe, the secret identity part," Birchfield said. "For me, when I was a nerdy kid, I thought it would be cool if I had a secret identity like Batman.
"With that, I could then live out my fantasy of being cool, and nobody would know who I was because I would have that cool secret identity," he added. "I think that kind of escapism -- having an alternative identity -- is what draws a lot of people into comic-book characters."
Some of the public's attraction to superhero movies and comics can be found in the numerous villains who create ongoing havoc for the human race, Birchfield said.
"You have to admire the villains," he said. "You have to, because they're the only ones smart enough to challenge these superheroes, who are above and beyond the normal person. You have to admire the villains' audacity, really."
One of Birchfield's favorite superhero-themed movies is 1980's "Hero at Large," which starred the late John Ritter as a shopping-mall employee who dressed up as a superhero. The film was much less successful than "Superman II" at the time, but it had as much of an impact on Birchfield.
"John Ritter played a normal guy who ended up stopping a robbery in the city," he said. "I thought that would be really cool -- to stop a real-life robbery from happening."
Many people harbor affection for the "Man of Steel" movie, as well as the older Superman movies that starred the late Christopher Reeve, English said.
"I thought 'Man of Steel' was good, but I don't really like Superman," she said with a laugh. "Superman is just a little too, um, good, I guess."
English laughed again.
"Batman is my favorite, because Batman is a little darker," she said. "Batman is a little more real."
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