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The power of 'X'

Turning comic books into box-office gold

By Todd Leopold

Famke Janssen, left, and Halle Berry return in "X2: X-Men United."

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"Eye on Entertainment" talks about the Dixie Chicks on CNN's "Live Today," between 10 a.m. and noon EDT Thursday 

(CNN) -- We laughed at my brother.

It was the mid-1980s, and my brother had just paid $40 for "Giant Size X-Men No. 1." Forty dollars for a comic book. Now, I understood the importance of classic comics -- who wouldn't want "Action Comics No. 1," starring Superman? -- and my brother was the kind of person who would take his newly purchased Marvel mags and immediately place them in plastic, but $40? For the "X-Men"?

A quick eBay search indicates that that comic book has quintupled in value, at least. Not a bad investment.

Twentieth Century Fox can only hope its own "X-Men" is as financially successful. Friday marks the release of "X2: X-Men United," the follow-up to the blockbuster 2000 film. "X2" is supposed to be bigger, badder and more colorful than the original. If that's the case, the "X-Men" franchise will prove to be a dandy investment for the studio.

Meanwhile, my collection of '60s and '70s Mad magazines are maybe worth a couple bucks apiece. Not that I'm parting with them, you understand. ...


What made the comic book "X-Men" different, my brother tells me, was the creative work of Marvel staffers John Byrne and Chris Claremont, who gave depth and dimension to the various characters, mutants who have been shunned by much of society. The two movies have the benefit of several terrific actors -- Halle Berry, Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen -- and talented director Bryan Singer ("The Usual Suspects") to give the characters some character, too. And this time around, according to advance reviews, they also have a better script.

Seems the X-Men have to join forces to battle an evil military leader, William Stryker (Brian Cox), who wants to destroy the mutants once and for all. Will Stryker succeed? Will there be an "X3"? Bet on the latter.

On screen

• The premiere of "X2" marks the beginning of the summer movie season, and nobody wants to battle the mutants' behemoth -- except little Lizzie McGuire, the teen sensation played by Hilary Duff on the Disney Channel TV show of that name. In "The Lizzie McGuire Movie," McGuire goes off to Rome and is mistaken for a pop princess.

• Opening in limited release: "Blue Car," starring David Strathairn and Agnes Bruckner as an entangled teacher and student; "Owning Mahowny," with Philip Seymour Hoffman as a bank manager with a gambling problem; and "The Dancer Upstairs," John Malkovich's directing debut.

On the tube

• The current season of "Alias" concludes Sunday night with a two-part, two-hour finale. Sydney (Jennifer Garner) finally confronts her mother (Lena Olin) about what's really going on. Given the twists and turns of this show, one wonders if Olin will peel off a mask and reveal herself as Number Six from "The Prisoner." ABC, 9 p.m. EDT.

• The makers of "Lucy" wisely decided to avoid the title "Life With Lucy" with their biopic of Lucille Ball. Better to remember the comedy queen as she was in her heyday, instead of as she was at the end of her life. Rachel York plays Lucy and Danny Pino plays Desi Arnaz Sr. in the movie, which follows Ball's life to 1960. The program airs at 8 p.m. EST Sunday on CBS.

Sound waves

• The Dixie Chicks launch their U.S. concert tour Thursday in Greenville, South Carolina. Much of the tour is sold out, but observers are wondering what impact the tempest over the group's political comments will have on attendance.

• Also opening a U.S. tour is Fleetwood Mac, who will begin Wednesday in Columbus, Ohio.

• John Hiatt's new album, "Beneath This Gruff Exterior" (New West), is due Tuesday. His songs may have mellowed, but his voice still cuts deep. The record was recorded live in the studio with his longtime band, the Goners.

Paging readers

• Her last book, "The Blind Assassin," won the prestigious Booker Prize. Now Margaret Atwood is back with "Oryx and Crake" (Doubleday). Atwood, always one to mix things up, ventures into sci-fi territory with this tale set in the wasteland of an out-of-control, genetically engineered world.

• April Smith had critical and commercial success with her last novel, the thriller "Be the One." Her new book, "Good Morning, Killer" (Knopf), brings back Ana Gray, the FBI agent from Smith's first novel, "North of Montana," as she searches for a serial rapist.

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