SONY EYES DAREDEVIL: Sony Pictures Entertainment is near a deal to acquire rights to turn the Marvel Comics fixture Daredevil into a live-action feature. The deal comes after Sony fast-tracked “Spider-Man” and earlier this year acquired Dr. Strange (Daily Variety, July 13) for screen treatment. Daredevil is considered one of the most powerful weapons in the Marvel arsenal. Sony hopes to fast-track the story of how a blind lawyer becomes a superhero by overcoming his handicap using the heightened perception of his other senses.

Much like “Spider-Man,” which once had James Cameron ready to direct, Daredevil has its share of big names poised to make the film at Fox. Chris Columbus was set to write and direct, then passed it to Carlo Carlei when Columbus made a deal to do yet another Marvel staple, “Fantastic Four.”

Fox has “Fantastic Four,” the summer 2000 Bryan Singer-directed tentpole “X-Men” and “Silver Surfer” in development. Each is a big-budget special effects-heavy summer pic possibility, and Marvel decided to spread the superhero wealth around town. Impressed by Sony’s quick progress on “Spider-Man” after years of legal entanglements, Marvel Enterprises prexy Avi Arad made the deal there. He’ll exec produce, with Col’s Matt Tolmach steering the project.

NEUFELD ADDS REISS SERIES: With a greenlight for the fourth Jack Ryan film hopefully just a Paul Attanasio rewrite away, Paramount and Ryan series producer Mace Neufeld have closed a deal on another book series they feel will be the next big franchise. The studio and producer have made a six-figure deal to corral rights to a quartet of detective novels by Bob Reiss.

The first feature will be based on Reiss’s still-untitled new novel, which will be published next year by Ballantine. The deal also includes two older novels, “The Broken Heart’s Club” and “Irresistible,” plus a fourth novel yet to be written.

The new novel had strong buzz in the Gotham rights-buying community, and Neufeld said the deal with Reiss grew out of a previous deal for his espionage novel “The Last Spy,” which Neufeld is now developing with Egg as a potential starring vehicle for Jodie Foster. That novel centered around a group of Russian-planted spies who are being bumped off in the U.S. after the Cold War. The protagonist, male in the novel, has undergone a sex change customized for the Oscar-winning actress.

Reiss’ new novel revolves around an NYPD detective in the sex crimes unit, who becomes involved in a government scandal after a friend asks him to check up on a list of people. The cop discovers that most are dead, and that each has a loose tie to a terrorist or suspected terrorist organization. It appears that a government branch might be targeting the people for extinction as a preemptive measure against terrorism. The detective finds himself, and the friend, joining that list.

“It’s a terrific plot for a film, with a lot of complicated twists and turns and an interesting central character,” said Neufeld. “I love franchises, because if you can come up with the right character and it hits, you don’t have to search as hard for the next one.”

Not that the book-based sequels come together quickly. If Harrison Ford and director Phillip Noyce commit to “The Sum of All Fears,” it will be the result of years of work, which comes after a five-year effort to get a greenlight on “The Hunt for Red October.” Neufeld’s latest book hit, the Nelson DeMille novel “The General’s Daughter,” took seven years, and Neufeld’s trying to figure out if there’s franchisability in the military investigator played by John Travolta after the pic grossed more than $100 million this summer.

“The Paul Brenner character is a sustainable one, and if Nelson has another story to tell, I’m anxious to see it,” Neufeld said. The producer, whose next pic is the Kim Basinger starrer “Bless the Child,” has two other novel franchises in tow: the Michael Connelly novel “Black Echo” has a Ted Tally script at Sony and Par, and Neufeld’s also shepherding David Brin’s “Uplift Series” of sci-fi novels. ICM’s Alicia Gordon and Esther Newberg repped Reiss in the deal.

‘BORSTAL’ FIRST OF BEHAN TRILOGY: In what’s been conceived as a potential film trilogy, production has begun on “Borstal Boy,” the story of the teen years of Irish writer/political activist Brendan Behan. The pic’s directed by Peter Sheridan and produced by his brother, Jim Sheridan, and Arthur Lappin of Hell’s Kitchen Ltd. and Pay Moylan. The pic, based on a novel Behan wrote in 1958 and later turned into a play, stars Shawn Hatosy and covers Behan’s years in an English labor camp after he was caught with explosives on an IRA mission.

Hatosy toplined “Outside Providence,” is currently in “Anywhere But Here” and is in the upcoming “Simpatico.” The hope is to cover Behan’s whole life in two succeeding pics with different actors, with Sean Penn mentioned as a potential Behan in the next installment; Penn’s long been interested in playing Behan. Hatosy’s repped by Paradigm’s Sandi Dudek and managed by Mary Erickson.

FARKAS JOINS GOTLER: Judi Farkas, the Gotham vet who moved to L.A. to become a creative exec at Universal and then worked for producer Steven Haft, has been hired by Joel Gotler to work with him in selling screen rights for the many authors he represents at Renaissance, which earlier this year became part of AMG. Farkas spent years in Gotham working for MGM before heading to the West.

TUBE SHOPPING THE APPLE: Despite the recent lagging ratings on music-based telepics, tube types are poring over a book proposal by Richard Dilello for “The Longest Cocktail Party,” an insider’s look at what it was like to work at Apple Records when it became the most notorious label in the world thanks to the Beatles, who were doing more fighting than recording at the time.

It’s a full-blown Austin Powers-like view of London, with the bucks and booze that came with the British Invasion. It’s unclear whether the project would have rights to Beatles tunes, most of which are controlled by Michael Jackson. Manager Ken Gross is shopping the project for Dilello.

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