Is the superhero genre dying?

A general lack of originality, the upcoming end of Christopher Nolan's high-water mark "Dark Knight" trilogy and great skepticism over the upcoming reboot "The Amazing Spider-Man" would seem to be bad signs. Counteracting all of that: "The Avengers" just became the third highest-grossing film of all time, racking up $1.36 billion worldwide.

So get ready for "Iron Man 3," set for release May 3, 2013. That first-weekend-in-May slot has become almost totemic for Marvel movies: Both "Iron Man" films opened in that frame, as did "Thor" and "The Avengers." Essentially, Marvel has staked a claim to the unofficial launch-date of the summer blockbuster season and is not about to give it up.

"Iron Man 3" will be written and directed by Shane Black, a screenwriter and onetime Hollywood golden boy (1987's "Lethal Weapon") whose career has been a bumpy one (1993's "Last Action Hero"). Jon Favreau, who directed the first "Iron Man," returns as an actor in the role of Happy Hogan, a supporting character from the comic-books. Production on the film recently begun in Wilmington, N.C., according to Disney/Marvel.

Disney also announced it's staking out another big weekend, July 3, with "The Lone Ranger." Though not technically a superhero film, it is a revival of a masked, crusading do-gooder. Armie Hammer plays the title role, though it's said that Johnny Depp, as Tonto, is more the star. His "Pirates of the Caribbean" collaborator, Gore Verbinski, will direct.

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