When Batman soars across the Gotham City skyline in The Dark Knight Rises this week, it joins the ranks of high-profile superhero movies dominating the box office this summer.
The Dark Knight Rises is the final chapter of the critically acclaimed Batman film trilogy by director Christopher Nolan, which also includes Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. With its midnight release tonight at and , the highly anticipated film could pose a worthy challenge to this summer's box office king, The Avengers, which was a hit with broad audiences with its crowd-pleasing assembly of iconic superheroes Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and Hulk.
To date, The Avengers has earned more than $1.5 billion worldwide.
While all the superhero hubbub has meant big money for movie theater chains, it also has delivered a "POW!" to the kinds of shops where these heroes' tales originated.
Stephanie Smethers from in Canton said this massive superhero summer has boosted interest in comic books and memorabilia featuring the movies' characters.
Earlier this month, The Amazing Spider-Man, a Marc Webb-directed reboot of the webslinging film series, debuted No. 1 in the U.S. after its July 3 release.
Smethers said she personally is most excited for The Dark Knight Rises, and that excitement is prevalent in her customer base, too.
Smethers said the store has a hard time keeping its Batman endcap in the store fully stocked, as anticipation has built for the film and its onscreen interpretation of Bane, an antagonist from the comic books.
"Now with The Dark Knight Rises," Smethers said, "People are actually excited over the fact that it is Bane, he does look different from what we know in the comic, and what we know from (a much-maligned interpretation in 1997's Batman & Robin film)."
Smethers said the character, written as having brute strength — and intelligence — that rivals Batman's skills, was prominently featured in the Knightfall story arc of Batman lore, in which the villain broke Batman's back, crippling the hero.
Smethers said she saw an increase in sales of Batman books featuring the Joker after the late actor Heath Ledger portrayed the iconic villain in an Academy Award-winning turn in 2008's The Dark Knight. Books such as Joker and The Killing Joke remain popular to this day largely because of the film, she said.
With each new superhero film, Smethers said, comes new customers interested in reading more about their favorite heroes.
In the past year alone, films have been released featuring the X-Men, Thor, Captain America, Ghost Rider and Green Lantern, and Smethers said each time a new superhero movie hits screens, shoppers come in to read up on the characters and, in some cases, buy their first-ever comic book and develop a new hobby.
Part of what makes the films so compelling, she said, is that there often is a relatable human story at the center of the special effects-laden spectacle that draws viewers — and eventual readers — deeper into the characters' adventures.
With the runaway success of the AMC TV series The Walking Dead, which also is based on a comic book series by Robert Kirkland, Smethers said collections of the zombie-themed comics are consistently hot sellers, even among those who never would have imagined themselves buying comic books.