These days, the superhero movie news is coming faster than a speeding bullet, as new information has been released this week on "X-Men 3," "Superman Returns" and "Spider-Man 3."

Marvel Entertainment and 20th Century Fox have recruited the relatively unknown Matthew Vaughn to take over the directorial reins on the "X-Men" series. Vaughn, whose directorial debut, "Layer Cake," garnered significant buzz at this year's Sundance Film Festival (it'll be released in the U.S. in May) is a longtime Guy Ritchie associate who produced the director's "Snatch," "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" and yes, even "Swept Away." Filming on the third, as yet untitled, X-Men film is scheduled to start in early summer.

There'll be a lot of contract signings over the next few months, as the mutant roles are mostly still up in the air. While it is confirmed that Hugh Jackman will be donning the adamantium claws of Wolverine once more, Fox is currently in negotiations with Ian McKellen (Magneto), Patrick Stewart (Professor X) and Halle Berry (Storm). The makers of the third big-screen adventure of the X-Men, which is currently slated for a Memorial Day 2006 release, were forced to scramble for a director after mastermind Bryan Singer ditched the franchise for ...

"Superman Returns," the upcoming relaunch of D.C. Comics' most famous face, which has begun principal photography in Sydney, Australia. Singer will be directing fresh-faced newbie Brandon Routh in the Clark Kent/ Superman role, supported by Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane and Kevin Spacey as malevolent mastermind Lex Luthor. Those hoping to indulge the bizarre fantasy of seeing Lois and Lex together romantically can officially begin snatching up "Beyond the Sea" DVDs.

"Rather than being a remake of the original movie," Singer said, referring to the 1978 Christopher Reeve flick, "this film explores Superman's influence on our global culture and the impact of his return to Earth after an absence of several years."

"Superman Returns" is shooting a script by Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris, both writers on Singer's 2003 smash X-Men sequel. Warner Bros. currently plans to bring the last son of Krypton back to the big screen on June 30, 2006.

Finally, after years of speculation about Spider-Man's third adventure, director Sam Raimi and producers Laura Ziskin and Avi Arad have announced that the webslinger will be duking it out with ... Lowell, the handyman from "Wings"?

Following in the Oscar-worthy footsteps of such well-respected actors as Willem Dafoe and Alfred Molina, Thomas Haden Church has been cast as the villain in "Spider-Man 3." The announcement caps a career renaissance for Church, recently nominated for an Academy Award for best Supporting Actor in "Sideways" but often remembered as the comic relief on an old sitcom.

"In addition to the ongoing relationship between Peter Parker and M.J., these films are driven by the great actors who have brought our villains to life," Raimi said. "Thomas Haden Church will be a fantastic and challenging new nemesis."

The identity, both evil and/or mild-mannered, of Church's character is being kept under wraps for the time being. Production on "Spider-Man 3" is slated to begin early next year, with Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst both scheduled to return. "Spider-Man 3" is currently scheduled for a May 4, 2007, release.

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