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The 10 most influential forces in the comic book movie universe

Comic book movies have leaped and bounded past the Bam! Pow! TV shows of the '60s and '70s and the infamous nipples on Joel Schumacher's bat suit. Recent adaptations -- including this year's "Iron Man" (Marvel/Paramount), "Wanted" (Universal) and "The Dark Knight" (Warner Bros.) -- often rake in as many rave reviews as boxoffice bucks.

"More and more, the movies are being done by people who care and know the material," filmmaker Guillermo del Toro says. "The genre is gaining its own footing."

As the fanboy nation descends on San Diego for this week's Comic-Con International, The Hollywood Reporter talked to the figures who are most influencing comic book adaptations today. These are the people who can make the movies the way they -- and the most discerning geeks -- want them to be made.

David Maisel, chairman, and Kevin Feige, president, Marvel studios

Geek cred: Maisel established a $525 million film fund that has allowed Marvel to make its own movies rather than relying on studio licensing arrangements. Feige's career trajectory is the stuff of Hollywood dreams: He was producer Lauren Shuler Donner's assistant on "X-Men," then joined Marvel's then chief creative officer Avi Arad on the production side and ended up running the studio. Maisel and Feige triumphed this year by ignoring naysayers who asked, "Who cares about a second-string hero like Iron Man?"

Next: Lionsgate's "Punisher: War Zone" hits theaters in December, and Marvel is planning a universe of connected films with projects like "Thor," "Captain America," "The Avengers" and, of course, "Iron Man 2."

It's true: Feige skipped junior prom so he could see a triple feature of the "Back to the Future" movies, coming away with a T-shirt that said, "I Saw the Future Back to Back to Back." Yes, he still has it.

Guillermo del Toro, filmmaker

Geek cred: Del Toro wrote his "Hellboy" script in 1998, then endured years of questions from execs such as "Why does he have to be red?" and "Can we change his name?" before finally getting it made his way in 2004. His love of comic books runs deeper than straightforward adaptations like Universal's "Hellboy II: The Golden Army" or 2002's "Blade II": His notebook for 2006's "Pan's Labyrinth" reveals the influence of legendary comic creator Jack Kirby.

Next: Directing two films based on J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit" for Warners and MGM.
It's true: Del Toro has a 300-page collection of original comic book art, including a page from the Grant Morrison-Dave McKean masterpiece "Arkham Asylum."

Frank Miller, filmmaker-artist

Geek cred: As a comic book artist, Miller brought his noir style to Daredevil and Batman in the '80s, invented the heroine Elektra and coined the moniker "The Dark Knight." His creations "Sin City" and "300" -- both of which he helped adapt into films -- further proved that comics movies can feature more than capes and tights.

Next: Miller recently co-wrote and directed "The Spirit," an adaptation of comics pioneer Will Eisner's hero, due in December from Lionsgate.

It's true:
Miller's office contains 200 miniature vintage cars, a collection of gun and knife replicas and a rubber ear -- all for inspiration, of course. "Ears can be annoying and difficult to draw," he says.

Paul Levitz, president, and Gregory Noveck, senior vp creative affairs, DC Comics

Geek cred: Levitz dropped out of college in 1973 to become an assistant editor at Warner Bros.-owned DC, working as a writer and editor since then. He's now in L.A. every month or so to oversee Warners' adaptation of DC properties. Noveck, who helped develop and co-produce Showtime's J. M. Straczynski series "Jeremiah," is the company's man in Hollywood. They are the rare execs known as much for what isn't onscreen as for what is, meaning fanboys should thank them for not seeing Jack Black in a "Green Lantern" comedy.

A revised slate of DC movie titles is rumored to be coming.

It's true: Levitz has a cameo in Frank Miller's upcoming "The Spirit," from Lionsgate. "It ain't turning me into Stan Lee," he says. "But it was a cool experience."

Lauren Shuler Donner, producer

Geek cred: If Hollywood is tough for women, the comic book field is even tougher. Still, Shuler Donner has managed to help bring to the screen the "X-Men" movies as well as 2005's "Constantine."

Next: She recently returned from the Australia set of Fox's "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" and is developing the "Magneto" prequel, as well as "Metal Men," DC's robotic superheroes.

It's true: She's been married to "Superman" (1978) director Richard Donner since 1985.

David S. Goyer, writer-director-producer

Geek cred: Goyer wrote the three "Blade" movies, directing the last one and executive producing the 2006 TV series. He collaborated with Christopher Nolan on the screenplay for "Batman Begins" and the story for "The Dark Knight."

Next: His draft for an adaptation of DC hero "The Flash" is moving forward at Warners, and he's producing a Green Arrow film tentatively titled "Escape From Supermax." Along with BenderSpink, he's producing an adaptation of "Y: The Last Man." His next directing project might be the "X-Men" prequel "Magneto" for Fox.

It's true: In the 1980s, several of Goyer's fan letters to DC and Marvel were printed, including one during author Alan Moore's fabled run on "Swamp Thing."

Thomas Tull, chairman and CEO, and Jon Jashni, chief creative officer, Legendary Pictures

Geek cred: Legendary, which has a co-production and co-financing deal with Warner Bros., has been the money behind some of the biggest recent superhero tentpoles: The first movie out of the company's gate was 2005's "Batman Begins," followed by 2006's "Superman Returns" and last year's "300." Then, of course, there's "The Dark Knight."

Next: "Watchmen," the adaptation of the seminal 1980s comic miniseries by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, is due in theaters in March.

It's true: Tull has a huge painting of Wolverine by Alex Horley hanging in his house. "It was expensive but well worth it," he says. "Not sure if my wife thought it was, though."

Zack Snyder, filmmaker

Geek cred: He established himself as a feature director with 2004's "Dawn of the Dead," then jumped onto the A-list by adapting Miller's "300." The film's striking combo of visual effects and color grading showed it was possible to bring comics panels to life.

Next: Snyder is in postproduction on "Watchmen" and is developing the cult comic "Cobalt 60" at Universal.

It's true: Snyder's mom once bought him a
limited-edition, life-sized replica of Han Solo in carbon freeze, which he now keeps at his house.

Christopher Nolan, filmmaker

Geek cred: He's not a lifelong comic nerd, but he reinvented Warners' Batman franchise and has now delivered one of the first Oscar-buzz superhero movies with "The Dark Knight."

Next: A third Batman movie? "We'll see," he says.

It's true: Nolan was planning only to produce "Knight," but he changed his mind when he saw what writer Goyer had cooked up.

Mike Richardson, president, Dark Horse Entertainment

Geek cred: As founder of the company behind the "Sin City" and "Concrete" comics, Richardson moved into movies with 1992's forgettable "Dr. Giggles" and has since produced 26 film and television projects, including this year's "Hellboy II: The Golden Army." In March he signed a major first-look deal with Universal.

Next: Dark Horse is working with David Fincher and animation house Blur Studio on adapting "The Goon."

It's true: Richardson keeps a list of his 300 top movies that he makes his execs and interns watch. "In order to understand, you should watch movies from other eras," he says.