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Men in Tights: Hollywood Embraces Superheroes

George Clooney, Christopher Reeve and Tobey Maguire have done it, and now Ben Affleck is poised to parade around in his hosiery pretending to be a superhero.

Kids' stuff? No way!

Suiting up in a silly costume to play a comic-book figure is the new badge of honor in Hollywood.

Ever since Maguire soared into the superstar stratosphere with his web-slinging role in last year's record-breaking Spider-Man, Tinseltown's A-list has been clamoring for a piece of the action.

Affleck, playing a blind lawyer whose superpowers enable him to battle criminals after dark in the Feb. 14 release Daredevil, is perfectly happy to risk looking ludicrous in red horns with matching hair dye.

The relatively unknown Aussie actor Eric Bana (Black Hawk Down) is staking his Hollywood career on a role as the not-so-jolly green giant in this summer's The Hulk.

And Brendan Fraser, Josh Hartnett and Ashton Kutcher are vying for a chance to replace Nicolas Cage in Brett Ratner's new Superman movie, which will start filming in New York this year.

"There is definitely a sea change in the attitude of actors as far as these superhero roles is concerned," says Paul Dergarabedian, head of box-office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations.

"The proof is there in the box office, but you have to be careful to make the right movie, make sure the script is good and it doesn't come off as a campy send-up."

Clooney nearly destroyed his big-screen career before it even got off the ground with his ill-advised turn as the Caped Crusader in 1997's Batman & Robin, one of the most infamously unwatchable movies of the decade.

On the other hand, Aussie Hugh Jackman made his name here wearing furry sideburns as the hirsute Wolverine in X-Men, a role he'll reprise in the sequel in May.

"What really appeals to these actors is not the tights," says Avi Arad, CEO of Marvel Studios and a producer on Daredevil, Spider-Man, The Hulk and X-Men.

"The costumes are alter-egos and they present ultimate role-playing opportunity. We have interesting, vulnerable characters -- their superpowers do nothing but complicate their lives -- which allows these guys to really show off their acting ability."

With prestige directors such as Ang Lee (The Hulk) and Sam Raimi (Spider-Man) at the helm, many of these superhero movies also come with a classy pedigree.

As well as being extremely lucrative -- Marlon Brando was paid $1 million for what amounted to a cameo in 1978's Superman -- the actors have a chance to make it into history.

"It's pretty intoxicating to think an actor can take the mantle of a comic book that's been around for 40 or 50 years and bring it to life in a way that's respected and brings on sequels," Arad says.

"Besides, they all look pretty good in the costumes."