Warner Bros. zeroes in on heroes

Studio preps 'Justice League,' eyes other DC faves for bigscreen

With the Batman trilogy winding down and Superman returning to theaters next summer, plans to put more of DC Comics’ superheroes on the bigscreen are coming together nearly three years after Warner Bros. took back control of characters.

This week, the studio revealed it tapped “Gangster Squad” scribe Will Beall to revive “Justice League,” which WB unplugged in 2008, and hired Michael Goldenberg (one of the many writers of “Green Lantern”) to pen “Wonder Woman.”

Those projects now join in development films based on the Flash, Aquaman, Green Arrow, Lobo, the Suicide Squad and Shazam. DC and WB are also facing a decision on how to reboot Batman once “The Dark Knight Rises” completes Christopher Nolan’s take on the caped crusader, featuring Christian Bale in the cowl.

Studio is figuring out whether to bring back Ryan Reynolds as the Green Lantern in a sequel to last year’s actioner or relaunch the character in a completely new way. Goldenberg (“Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”) was brought on board in 2010 to write the screenplay for the sequel, a year before the first film bowed.

Of course, those are nice problems to have.

As Marvel Studios has proved, successful superhero pics can boost the bottomline of every division at a studio through homevideo releases, videogames, consumer products and licensed merchandise, TV and online shows and theme park attractions.

To better exploit DC’s characters, Warner Bros. relaunched the comicbook company as DC Entertainment in 2009, and put “Harry Potter” franchise steward Diane Nelson at the helm. She reports directly to studio chief Jeff Robinov.

At the time, Robinov and Nelson halted development of all films tied to DC characters, taking them back from producers like Charles Roven, Joel Silver and Dan Lin and aimed to start from scratch.

DC’s more focused approach to manage its heroes already has been felt across Warner Bros.

• On TV, the company launched programming block DC Nation on Cartoon Network with new “Green Lantern” and “Young Justice” animated series. CW is bringing a live-action take on Green Arrow to primetime in the fall with “Arrow,” which is notably darker than the net’s previous DC staple, “Smallville.”

• Direct-to-homevid titles have sold well, with “Superman vs. The Elite” and “Flashpoint” forthcoming.

• Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment has scored with its dark and gritty “Batman: Arkham Asylum” and “Batman: Arkham City” games, as well as its lighter, funnier “Lego: Batman” titles. WBIE used this week’s Electronic Entertainment Expo videogame confab to unveil fighting game “Injustice: Gods Among Us,” featuring DC’s heroes and villains, and a “Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition” for the new Nintendo Wii U console, out this fall.

• Meanwhile, Warner Bros. Consumer Products shelled out considerable coin to expand its rights to the classic 1960s “Batman” TV series to launch new lines of merchandise featuring the show’s characters, while brokering deals to unleash a slew of products around next summer’s Superman actioner, “Man of Steel,” which the studio hopes will launch a new franchise.

• And its comicbook division relaunched all of its 52 books last year, with new storylines and art, to boost sales and attract a new readership, especially through digital platforms.

With “Harry Potter” having ended its run, WB is clearly turning to DC to help launch new franchises.

But the studio is being especially careful with the characters now after the disappointing perf of “Green Lantern,” which earned nearly $220 million at the worldwide box office last year.

According to sources close to the development process, the studio learned that when making a superhero pic, it needs to tap creatives that genuinely understand the characters the way Joss Whedon was comfortable with “The Avengers.”

DC execs are excitedly discussing all of the projects in motion with the major exception of its films.

The main reason: Christopher Nolan. With the filmmaker having relaunched Batman (last installment, “The Dark Knight,” hauled in $1 billion globally, now surpassed by “The Avengers”) and producing Superman pic “Man of Steel,” directed by Zack Snyder, WB has increasingly put more control of its DC films in Nolan’s hands.

That’s similar to how WB entrusted producer David Heyman with all eight “Harry Potter” films.

Nolan has long preferred not to talk about his projects until their release, preserving some of that “movie magic” for the bigscreen.

It’s why only one image of Henry Cavill as Superman has been released so far, with the first official footage of “Man of Steel” likely to play at Comic-Con in San Diego next month.

Warner Bros. isn’t expected to make any concrete moves on the DC film front until after the third Batpic opens on July 20. Putting so much power in Nolan’s hands is an interesting move — especially as the filmmaker does not have a first-look deal at the studio. Still, WB is showing signs of veering into adventurous creative territory.

In a departure from normal comicbook-based fare, “Suicide Squad,” for example, concentrates on a group of incarcerated supervillains — well known and unknown — rather than the usual focus on superheroes.