Comics co. signs icon to development pact

Just as adaptations of his creations Iron Man and the Incredible Hulk are set to unspool this summer on the bigscreen, Stan Lee is going back to his roots, namely comicbooks, inking a deal with Virgin Comics to create 10 superheroes he’ll unveil early next year.

As part of the publishing pact between Lee’s Pow! Entertainment and Virgin, Lee will initially write and edit 10 graphic novels that introduce the original cast of characters.

Characters and books will also be tied to a series of animated shorts to be launched on the Internet.

Lee is famous for co-creating the Spider-Man, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Hulk and Iron Man characters while working for comicbook giant Marvel.

He plans to use the development process he originated at Marvel to work with writers and artists to develop the new properties.

“Stan Lee is unquestionably one of history’s greatest storytellers,” said Gotham Chopra, Virgin Comics’ chief creative officer. “To collaborate with him, and have him guide and nurture artists and writers through Virgin Comics, will be one of the legacies of this company.”

Richard Branson formed Virgin Comics in 2005 and has been on a mission lately to ink deals with filmmakers, actors and musicians, including John Woo, Terry Gilliam, Hugh Jackman, Jonathan Mostow, Nicolas Cage and Duran Duran, to develop properties for the publisher.

Virgin Comics has also been setting up pics based on its books, including Guy Ritchie’s “Gamekeeper” at Warner Bros. for Joel Silver to produce and “Virulents” at Fox for John Moore to direct. It’s also developing “The Stranded” as a TV pilot with Sci Fi Channel, based on a graphic novel the two co-developed. Lee’s already created “Who Wants to Be a Superhero?” for the cabler.

Lee’s Pow!, which he runs with Gill Champion, landed a first-look pact with Disney last year and has since set up three pics at the studio: “Nick Ratchet,” “Blaze” and “Tigress,” based on another set of original superheroes he recently created.

The animated feature “Legion of 5″ is also set up at Rainmaker Entertainment.

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