By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated April 22, 2003 11:05 AM
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With Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst now at work in New York filming the new “Spider-Man” sequel, the action flick’s studio, Sony, and Marvel Comics, which originated the arachnid hero, are tangled in a $50 million legal battle.

At issue is plaintiff Marvel’s claim that the movie studio broke an agreement by using Spidey to promote other Sony products, Reuters reports.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Alexander Williams ruled on Monday that Sony must make public details of commercial deals for “Spider-Man.” (In Hollywood, financial record books are akin to secret war plans in Washington.)

At stake is Sony’s slice of an extremely profitable franchise. Last summer’s “Spider-Man” was the biggest box-office hit of the year, generating more than $800 million worldwide.

Not that this legal web should halt plans for a successful sequel. “That’s Hollywood,” Marvel chief executive Avi Arad tells the Los Angeles Times. “People make records, make movies and sue each other all the time.”

Sony’s lawyers, meanwhile, have called Marvel’s complaint “utter hogwash” and “a pathetic attempt to renegotiate” a contract signed in 1999. They had sought, unsuccessfully, to let an impartial judicial referee take the case, rather than let it drag into trial.

The franchise’s second installment, “The Amazing Spider-Man,” is slated for release in the summer of 2004, and for the past week its cast and crew have been familiar sights on streets all around New York.

Tuesday’s New York Post, in fact, carries a photo of Maguire, 27, in his Peter Parker guise, carrying a pizza out of a Manhattan parlor.

So that’s what gives Spider-Man his strength.