Rifkin and Willis book comic king

POW!'s 'Femizons,' 'Double Man,' 'Nightbird' already on slate

MGM and Cheyenne Enterprises have signed a first-look deal for new movie and TV projects from comicbook king Stan Lee’s new company, POW! Entertainment, the studio’s prexy Michael Nathanson announced.

Cheyenne, the production shingle for Bruce Willis and Arnold Rifkin, will develop the projects in concert with POW!, and already has three projects queued up for consideration.

“Stan Lee is the major creative force behind some of the most electrifying heroes in pop culture,” Nathanson said. “We’re thrilled to be working with him on such an exciting group of films, and also to again be working with Rifkin, Willis and Cheyenne.”

The deal’s first projects, all superhero action-adventures, are: “The Femizons,” with writers Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman attached; “The Double Man,” which is being developed with director Antoine Fuqua and scripted by Alan McElroy; and “Nightbird,” with discussions under way to sign a writer. Under the deal, Lee will bring forward new franchise opportunities for film and TV.

“I’ve never felt more creatively excited or motivated,” said the 79-year-old Lee. “There are dozens of high-concept plots and colorful new heroes and villains germinating in my mind, and I can’t wait to bring them to life in the biggest arenas of all — motion pictures and TV.”

Lee’s Marvel-ous pedigree

Rifkin called Lee “one of the most innovative and creative geniuses of the 21st century.” Lee began work for Marvel Comics in 1940 and helped transform the comicbook house’s output beginning in the 1960s with such tortured, psychologically complex characters as Spider-Man, the Silver Surfer and the X-Men.

Lee remains chairman emeritus of Marvel Enterprises. In 2000, he ventured onto the Internet with Stan Lee Media, which made a glitzy Hollywood debut and created a well-received but never very profitable online series called “7th Portal.” But like many online entertainment sites, it spent far more than it made and suspended operations in December. In November, he founded POW! with Champion and New York attorney Arthur Lieberman, who negotiated the MGM/Cheyenne deal, and he began working on new projects for traditional media outlets.

“You meet with this guy and he’s got idea after idea after idea tumbling out of his head,” said MGM vice chairman and chief operating officer Chris McGurk. “If any of them hit, the upside on these projects is incredible.”

Long-term possibilities

That’s because they could be easily spun into long-running franchises, something POW! COO Gill Champion said will be uniquely possible for Lee’s newly minted company under the new deal.

Making franchises has been a big recent push for MGM, which has profited hugely from its James Bond series the past two decades and now is working on sequels to 2001 hits “Legally Blonde” and “Jeepers Creepers.”

The company also has two other easily franchisable properties on the way, “The Crocodile Hunter” and “Agent Cody Banks,” both modestly budgeted kid-friendly tales that could easily become big box office winners.

“The goal is to have it click and then to turn it into a franchise property,” McGurk said.

The deal itself runs only through the end of the year, with an option to renew. But with three projects already on the table, and POW! based at MGM’s Santa Monica offices, an extension beyond the short initial period is considered a strong possibility.

POW!’s only other current deal is with Pamela Anderson, whose pneumatic form will be motion-captured for an animated TV series to run, perhaps beginning in early 2003, on TNT.

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