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The release of the The Crow in 1994 may have caused a sensation due to the on-set death of its young actor, Brandon Lee, but it also offered the rare spectacle of a serious comic getting serious treatment. Boasting rain-soaked, grimily romanticised visuals, it tells the story of a murdered rock star who comes back from the dead as a kind of fallen angel. Morbid though it may seem, O'Barr's tale was lent added resonance by Lee's death, which only served to reinforce its theme of loss beyond the makers' wildest dreams. So, much was to be expected of its sequel, The Crow: City of Angels, out this week. Unfortunately these hopes are dashed by a slick, empty action flick that goes to none of the extremes which made the original memorable.

Of course, movies have always fed off comics, but back in the good old days the source material was pure enough that they could at least do so without fear of weakening the moral fort. But the 1980s saw the emergence of a new breed of comic which was anything but comforting. Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns recast Batman as a psychopathic vigilante, while Alan Moore's Watchmen strapped its emotionally crippled superheroes even more firmly to the psychiatrist's couch.

Hollywood eventually took up the gauntlet, or rather they fumbled it. Sylvester Stallone played the title role in the futuristic Judge Dredd and efficiently wiped out the original's sick humour, as well as missing the point that it's supposed to be a satire on fascism. Likewise, the anti-heroine of Tank Girl, sticking two fingers up at the world, did not go down well with the suits.

Two more candidates are currently lining up for treatment: the Sandman and The High Cost of Living, both created by Neil Gaiman. The Sandman, to be filmed by Pulp Fiction co-writer Roger Avary, is a haunting mix of gritty urban realism and reinvented myth, which prompted Norman Mailer to dub it "a comic-strip for intellectuals". The High Cost of Living featuring Death, a twentysomething girl with a bizarre affection for Mary Poppins, is to be scripted and will possibly be directed by Gaiman himself. So, the stories are good but will the films be? It would be nice to think that if comics can grow up, then so can Hollywood.