Warner gears up for new superhero property

With his glowing green ring, the Green Lantern can conjure anything he can think of.

Now Warner Bros. is positioning the DC Comics superhero to light up not just the box office but cash registers, with a big push for the character to become as important a franchise for the studio as Batman and Superman.

Warner Bros. Consumer Products, which earns more than $6 billion annually, has built an enviable business of releasing DC and Looney Tunes products year-round. But with its parent studio launching “Green Lantern” in theaters on June 17, the division has what is arguably its first major new property since “Harry Potter” in 2001 to focus its considerable resources.

“We’ve been waiting for this,” Brad Globe, prexy of Warner Bros. Consumer Products told Variety. “This is what our business is all about.”

Heading into Toy Fair, which takes place Feb. 13-16 in Gotham, and the MAGIC apparel confab, in Las Vegas at the same time, Warners has recruited more than 100 licensees to create a wide range of products, from t-shirts to toys. The studio will use the two trade shows to court retailers to stock the wares on their shelves starting in April.

The division will also use the venues to push a reboot of the “ThunderCats” TV series bowing on Cartoon Network in the fall.

WB compares the “Green Lantern” campaign to what it has launched around “Batman” over the years; it’s high on the character given how broadly he plays to audiences. Whereas Batman can skew toward the dark and edgy side, Green Lantern is more of a traditional wise-cracking superhero who appeals to kids and adults the way Spider-Man does.

“Retail now really requires these events,” Globe said. “To be successful at retail in the current mass-market environment you really need a great big piece of entertainment that you feel will be successful at the box office and then as a merchandising program.”

The “Green Lantern” products won’t just push the actioner that Ryan Reynolds stars in this summer. They’ll also help hype subsequent videogames, DVDs, direct-to-DVD animated movies and the TV show bowing later this year on Cartoon Network. The success of those products, in turn, could also supplement the box office to help greenlight a sequel.

Having the additional entertainment projects to follow “not too far after, while the film is still fresh in the audience’s mind,” helped excite licensees to put more money into products to release around “Green Lantern,” Globe said. “It’s the first time we’ve been able to execute the movie and then an animated show.”

In addition to an exclusive deal with Mattel for action figures and, of course, rings, there’s a plethora of other products. Bioworld Merchandising, New Era Cap Co., Kids Republic, Wet Cement, nOir and Junkfood, among others, will produce lines of apparel and other goods.

Studio has also brokered deals with mass merchants that give them exclusive product and displays.

“That’s part of what we have to do today,” Globe said. “You want to get the consumer’s attention when they walk into the store and highlight the property.”

Product will start hitting store shelves in April, a couple months before the film hits theaters. And those products arrive on top of efforts by the pic’s promotional partners, like fast food and packaged goods brands, that the studio has lined up to hype the film’s release.

Warner Bros. has certainly given its partners a lot to play with.

Green Lantern essentially serves as DC’s version of “Star Wars” or “Star Trek,” spotlighting a slew of alien creatures from various races that make up the Green Lantern Corps., an intergalactic police force.

“‘Star Wars’ is the biggest toy property of all time,” Globe says. In fact, the franchise earned $510 million in merchandise sales for Lucasfilm last year, without a film in theaters. and only the animated TV series, “Clone Wars,” playing on Cartoon Network. “If this were ever to come in the range of that, we’d be ecstatic. We have a long way to go.”

While Reynolds stars as Hal Jordan in the film, his ring has been handed to other human Green Lanterns in the comics, opening the doors to sequels and reboots for years to come.

But WB finds itself in a similar position Marvel did in 2008 when it introduced “Iron Man” to the megaplex: It had to educate millions of potential moviegoers on who the character is, given that he’s not as well known as the Dark Knight, the Man of Steel or Spider-Man.

“We have a great plan to educate audiences on how big the world is,” said Geoff Johns, chief creative officer of DC Entertainment, and a scribe of previous comicbooks. “It’s about seeing the images (that upcoming trailers, posters, series of prequel comicbooks and online content will show off). “When they do, everyone will know.”

But the products on store shelves will also help do that.

“At the end of the day, we hope we add value in terms of creating awareness,” Globe said. “Having the products out there and having people look at the packaging and seeing who the characters are should help. But the marketing of the movie is what drives everything and ultimately makes it successful.”

Having DC’s full support should help get the fanboy faithful behind the property, as well.

“Superheroes are very aspirational,” Johns said. “People want to be them.”

With “Green Lantern,” a movie Johns has wanted to see on the bigscreen since he was 8 years old, the property deals with a character whose message is “inspirational” about “overcoming fear and bravery and will power. Kids are going to want to put that ring on.”

Warners’ strategy and the amount of products it’s surrounding “Green Lantern” with is also a gauge of how the studio might launch future adaptations of DC’s characters (which include the Flash, Wonder Woman and Green Arrow, among others), a high-priority for tentpole-loving executives.

“Everything we’d done with the property strategically has been about the long term for the property,” Globe said. “Having promotions in place is how you create a franchise.”

But the success of the products will all come down “to the success of the content,” Globe admits. “You have to put a great program together and execute to the level people expect, but it’s all about the content. After that, you just hope the audience will respond and find the products highly appealing.”

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