SAN DIEGO, California (Reuters) - Superheroes are enjoying a new career path, heading straight from the pages of comic books into video games and no longer having to stop at Hollywood to collect their credentials first.
For every movie blockbuster like Marvel Entertainment's "Thor" and Universal Pictures' "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," there's a video game counterpart but in many cases comic book games are now launching without any Hollywood tie-ins.
"Not everyone reads comics, although most people know the major superheroes, but the majority of people play video games," said Jim Lee, co-publisher of DC Comics and executive creative director for Sony Online Entertainment's "DC Universe Online" game.
"Games are a portal for us to bring new people into the world of comic books," he said on the sidelines of Comic-Con International, the world's largest comic book and popular arts convention taking place in San Diego this week.
"DC Universe Online," an upcoming massively-multiplayer online (MMO) game, will allow fans to create their own superhero and interact with characters like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman in environments like Metropolis and Gotham City.
Lee said DC Comics will unveil a "DC Universe Online" bi-weekly print comic book that will launch before the new game this fall and tie into the video game's backstory.
"We're going to look for opportunities where maybe we take individual player-created characters from the game and bring them into the comic book and give gamers a thrill by becoming an official part of the DC Universe," said Lee.
Younger gamers will be able to put on Iron Man's suit, steer Silver Surfer's famous board or don the red, white and blue shield of Captain America in Gazillion Entertainment's MMO game, "Marvel Super Hero Squad Online."
Based on the animated TV series, the game allows friends to unite online and take control of pint-sized versions of classic characters like Spider-Man, Iron Man and Hulk in Super Hero City and Villainville.
Gazillion is also developing a more grown-up MMO game, "Marvel Universe," which is a few years out.
Comic book creator Stan Lee, who dreamed up many of Marvel's iconic characters, is lending his voice to Activision's new "Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions" game.
Sony Pictures is rebooting the "Spider-Man" film franchise for 2012 but from this September gamers can take part in an all-new adventure featuring multiple versions of the web slinger.
"You have four different versions of 'Spider-Man' in one game and I don't know what could be more appealing to fans than that," said Lee, who provides the voice of the narrator in the game.
Another Lee creation, "Thor," is getting the video game treatment from Sega which will be released in tandem with the Paramount Pictures movie next summer.
Marvel superheroes like Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, Spider-Man, and Wolverine are expected to appear in Capcom's new fighting game, "Marvel vs. Capcom 3," next spring.
"At Capcom we're good at making fighting games and Marvel is good with creating characters and telling stories, so it's been a great collaboration," said Ryoto Niitsuma, producer of "Marvel vs. Capcom 3."
Marvel Comic writer Rick Remender is one of a growing number of comic book writers who have worked on original video games like Electronic Arts' "Dead Space." His latest effort, Epic Games' shooter "Bulletstorm," blends traditional comic book-style tongue-in-cheek action and violence.
"I hope that these new comic book games encourage more people to get their hands on comics and explore these worlds," said Remender.
Editing by Belinda Goldsmith