Cross-overs. They've been a part of superhero comics almost since the very beginning. It's hard to imagine a Marvel Universe that didn't include Marvel Team-Up, which usually featured Spider-Man teaming up with one of any number of other Marvel heroes. Similarly, where would DC Comics be without World's Finest or Brave and the Bold?

Books like those, and various superhero team titles, like Justice League of America and The Avengers are what helped the various publishers create superhero universes - instead of a series of stand-alone titles.

Movie PictureSuperheroes in the movies, however, don't ever seem to benefit from this. Part of this is due to licensing restrictions - it's hard to let Spider-Man share a scene with the X-Men when Sony owns the Spider-Man films, while Fox has the rights to X-Men. Over on the DC end of things, the situation remains similarly complicated, since within Warner Bros. there are various licensing restrictions between departments.

Generally speaking, every superhero movie or television show takes the approach that the hero or heroes who are the focus of the show are the only, or at least the first, superheroes to exist within that universe. You occasionally get a nod towards the existence of other characters from the comic books - such as the mention of other Marvel heroes (via their secret identities) in the database of mutants from X2: X-Men United - but generally speaking, each superhero movie features only the title characters and their supporting cast as the sole super-beings in a world that is otherwise much like the normal one.

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Television has gotten around this a little bit better. Ever since the days of Challenge of the SuperFriends and Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, all the way through the recent Legion of Super-Heroes, animated superheroes have tended to exist in a world that more closely resembles the pages of the comics. Heck, even Static Shock co-existed in a world with the Justice League. (Though that said, the mentor heroes of the Teen Titans were oddly absent from that cartoon.)

On the other hand, live-action television heroes have had it a little rougher. Not counting the disastrous guest appearances of Thor and Daredevil with the Hulk (in the forgettable, made-for-television Return of the Incredible Hulk and Trial of the Incredible Hulk), it has only been on the later seasons of Smallville that we've seen the title hero interact with other, pre-existing superheroes. Even on the short-lived Birds of Prey we heard mention of Batman and the Joker, but we only ever saw Huntress, Oracle and Dinah.

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But it looks like this trend is changing. Warner Bros. is finally making a big-budget Justice League of America movie, which will include such big-name heroes as Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and the Flash. This film, if rumors are to be believed, will not be an origin story for either the different characters or for the team, but will instead take place in a world where superheroes are established. Indeed, it is believed that the film starts with the death of the second Flash, with his former sidekick taking the mantle to become the third Flash.

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And Marvel is getting into the game as well. Joe Quesida, Marvel's Editor-in-Chief, spoke about the very real possibility of an Avengers film - and expressed his belief that such a film would need to include, at a minimum, Captain America, Iron Man and Thor. Well, fortunately, Iron Man and Thor are both being made by Paramount, and Paramount has also optioned the rights for a Captain America movie. Furthermore, it was recently reported that Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk may be filming a scene that would appear in both films - possibly linked through the character of Nick Fury. In the comics, Nick Fury put together the Ultimates - an alternate universe version of the Avengers. Ultimate Avengers: The Movie animated film used the same set-up, and the vision of Nick Fury from The Ultimates comics and Ultimate Avengers: The Movie animated film is one who strongly resembles Samuel L. Jackson - who will play Fury in Iron Man. All of which is a convoluted way of drawing connections that may add up to a live-action Avengers movie which includes Nick Fury, Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and the Hulk. Now, since Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk are both several months away from release, Thor is still in pre-production, and a film starring either Captain America or the Avengers don't even have a first draft of a script, it's impossible to say if these connections will play out or not. But the possibility is tremendously exciting.

We got off to a slow start as we got the format for this column set up, but check back next week - and every Tuesday - for another look at what's happening in superhero film and television that goes beyond the surface. Until then "Excelsior!"

What do you think about the idea of upcoming cross-overs between superhero films? Leave your thoughts on our forums! And if you have a topic you'd like to see explored here, leave an idea on the forum, or e-mail me at [email protected]