Strategy in works for comic catalog

It’s not quite a gathering of the Justice League, but there’s a superhero summit under way at Warner Bros.

Warners and sibling DC Comics are holding high-level talks to hammer out a master strategy for their stable of superheroes.

Warners has never had such a strategy, and there have long been complaints the studio has been slow to exploit a potential treasure trove of franchises. And while the studio is basking in critical love for “The Dark Knight,” it has watched studio rivals rake in big bucks from Marvel Comics characters, and Marvel itself get into the tentpole business.

While it’s assumed there will be another Batman pic, there’s been no formal announcement. And Warners has no movies based on the classic DC universe to preview at this year’s Comic-Con.

Warner has scripts it likes for “Justice League: Mortal,” which teams up classic DC characters, and “Green Lantern.” “Justice League” was close to getting a greenlight until the writers strike hit, and “Green Lantern” has gained heat lately.

All plans, though, depend on the course the studio charts in its summit.

The studio is keeping details of its meetings under wraps, but issued a statement saying, in part, “We’re constantly looking at how best to exploit the DC Comics characters and properties.”

But Warner and DC have often appeared lethargic in getting comic properties developed into films, with only Batman and Superman established in movies. In fact, Warners watchers may feel a certain deja vu, though, with all this talk of giving DC more attention.

Five years ago, WB was getting ready to hire someone to kickstart its development on the DC characters (Variety, July 14-20, 2003). WB said then that it was aware it could lose an entire generation of fans if it didn’t get its characters into the movies. “We’re not going to let that happen,” said a senior VP.

Warners has long been the only studio home for DC heroes. It must pass on any DC character before it can be licensed to another studio, and Warner almost never passes. It keeps the characters in development. (One exception: Summit recently acquired rights to DC/Wildstorm’s “Red” — not one of the classic titles fans have been clamoring for.)

Many recall the painful development attempts to revive the Superman franchise, as handfuls of scribes, directors and stars came and went. Tim Burton and Nicolas Cage famously had pricey pay-or-play deals that the studio had to cover when “Superman Lives” bit the dust.

To be fair, Warners has not ignored its DC legacy: Besides “The Dark Knight,” “300” helmer Zack Snyder’s adaptation of DC’s seminal “Watchmen” is slated for winter release. And DC characters have been more successful than Marvel’s in TV, most recently with “Smallville.”

Yet this year, Warner Bros. has been unable to point to anyone at the studio with responsibility for overseeing the DC characters. While DC’s senior VP of creative affairs Gregory Noveck pegs Warners toppers Jeff Robinov and Alan Horn as “the ultimate decisionmakers,” they’re the decisionmakers for pretty much everything at the studio, and neither is in a position to dive into active development of the DC universe.

Besides “Green Lantern,” which Greg Berlanti is set to write and direct, DC characters that are known to be in line to become movies include Wonder Woman, which Joel Silver has long had in development; and the Flash, which has David Dobkin attached to direct. There has also been internet chatter about an Aquaman movie, much of it inspired by references in HBO’s “Entourage” to a faux James Cameron-helmed “Aquaman” pic.

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