This has been quite a violent summer on the screens of our friendly neighborhood movie houses. As the 1960s "Batman" TV show used to say, it's all "Pow!" "Zap!" "Bam!"

Except that the movies are 40 feet high, in amplified stereo, with slow-motion mayhem and dizzying edits and, of course, digital enhancement as vehicles crash, high-rises collapse and bullets tear at human flesh (or, in some cases, bounce off).

The other night, while watching an old '50s crime film on TV, I couldn't help but notice that when someone was shot with several bullets and fell to the ground, there were no visible wounds and no blood.

Compare that to all the comic-book movies in theaters now where the havoc is so graphic and over-the-top that it's sometimes rather disgusting — and yet no more realistic.

Hey, just because modern movies show blood, and you see bullet holes and a lot of splatter, doesn't make it any more real. Hyper reality is as phony as restrained reality.

But that's the name of the game. If you're going to see movies about "superheroes," whether they are Batman or Indiana Jones or the Hulk, you're going to see violence. And most of it is going to be treated lightly, frivolously and, in some cases, simply ignored.

The latter is what's most on my mind. All of these movies feature an enormous amount of death or injury that isn't even commented upon — which came home to me as I was watching "Wanted' (easily the worst of this summer's lot).

There's a scene where the film's hero — if that's the word — boards a train that is packed with passengers, and a subsequent fight leads to the train falling into a canyon. The protagonist survives and nothing is ever mentioned about the massive number of lives apparently lost in the crash.

Now add to "Wanted" all the buildings and vehicles that contain human beings and are crushed, smashed, blown up and otherwise destroyed in "Iron Man," "The Incredible Hulk," "Hancock," "Hellboy 2: The Golden Army" and "The Dark Knight" — an amazing amount of implied carnage.

And in "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," how about the downwind fallout from that nuclear explosion? (Which is played for laughs, by the way.)

Apparently, the value of human life in our video game-comic book culture isn't much.

Of course, you may say that all of this violence is meant to provide thrilling action, and that we're not supposed to be distracted by nearly invisible collateral damage.

And besides, it's only a movie!

Well, it's hard to argue with that. And I'll admit that I enjoyed "Iron Man" and "The Dark Knight." And in the past I laughed when the guy with the big sword was shot by Indiana Jones and when James Bond uttered quips after dispatching bad guys.

But with all the real-life violence brought home to us via TV and the Internet these days, I'm having second thoughts about destruction as entertainment.

Has it really only been two years since "Superman Returns" with the Man of Steel racing around Manhattan (OK, Metropolis, Gotham City, whatever) rescuing people as high-rise buildings start to tremble and falling objects threaten people on the ground?

Two years later, our heroes are saving mankind by killing off half of the city's work force.

Maybe Superman needs to return again and set the other guys straight.


E-mail: hicks@desnews.com