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WB taps into ties at DC Comics

Co. has heroes like Wonder Woman, Flash

When it comes to superhero properties, Warner Bros. couldn’t be sitting on a more enviable source: DC Comics, home to Batman, Superman and other well-known caped crusaders.

But to make its heroes fly at the megaplex, the studio knows it needs to make the right movies. The financial payoff is too big to squander with a creative misfire like “Catwoman.”

“They can really be an evergreen source of enjoyment and income,” says studio topper Alan Horn, referring to the coin a hit pic can collect at the B.O. and from sources like TV, homevid, vidgames and merchandise. The studio earned $1 billion from DC fare alone in 2005, when “Batman Begins” was released. “If you do it wrong, you’re dead, you’re out of there.”

Getting out there, however, has taken time.

Warners and DC (both Time Warner entities) have labored in vain over another Superman, and launches for Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Arrow and Green Lantern. It’s maddening for fans as rival Marvel Comics has successfully begun financing its own slate of pics, first with “Iron Man,” then a reboot of “The Incredible Hulk” this summer.

That could soon change, as Warners is readying to revamp how DC’s properties are developed — changes that could be announced within the next month.

DC doesn’t have a separate film division the way rival Marvel does, which is moving forward with an “Iron Man” sequel and adaptations of Thor, Captain America and the superhero team-up “The Avengers” for 2010 and 2011.

That means Warners doesn’t have a sole cheerleader for its comicbook projects, or someone to work closely with filmmakers to develop them.

Until now, those duties have been shared by production prexy Jeff Robinov and Gregory Noveck, senior VP of creative affairs for DC Comics, who has served as a liaison between the comicbook publisher and the studio.

Some say Robinov’s attention may be pulled in too many directions, given his other responsibilities, which include the rest of the studio’s slate and marketing. Noveck formerly was Joel Silver’s TV topper.

“We’re having a lot of internal discussions on it,” Horn says. “We haven’t committed to any change at DC at this point,” adding that both Warners and DC are committed to turning “the properties into viable movie product in an intelligent way so that we introduce them like planes on a runway. They have to be set up the right way and lined up the right way and all take off one at a time and fly safe and fly straight.”

One high-profile property is “Justice League,” which Warner Bros. had hoped would start production before the writers strike.

But given that it unites Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Arrow, Aquaman and Martian Manhunter, the studio is trying to figure out how such the pic (cast with younger actors) would affect its existing Batman and Superman franchises — and whether the script respects how the characters play off each other in the DC universe.

To put it simply: the studio doesn’t want to piss off the Comic-Con contingent.

“We’re not off the notion of a Justice League,” Robinov says. “There’s a massive interest and knowledge in the comicbook industry and it takes time to sort of catch up and understand the characters and the history, where they’ve intersected with each other and what their worlds are. That’s part of the education that we’re going through.”

When it comes to Batman, the future of the franchise is in Christopher Nolan’s hands. That’s what a successful reboot with “Batman Begins” and breaking records with “The Dark Knight” will do.

There’s a deal for the director to helm a third pic, but he has yet to decide on whether to tackle it yet.

“We have no idea where Chris is going with this,” Horn says. “We haven’t had any conversations with him about it.”

Either way, there’s no question Warner Bros. will produce more superhero pics. The question is when.

“These are big, iconic characters,” Noveck says. “So when you make them into a movie, you’d better be shooting for a pretty high standard. You’re not always going to reach it, but you have to be shooting for it. We’re going to make a Justice League movie, whether it’s now or 10 years from now. But we’re not going to do it and Warners is not going to do it until we know it’s right.”

Dave McNary and David S. Cohen contributed to this report.

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