10 Questions About DC ENTERTAINMENT

While some people will see Wednesday’s announcement of the formation of DC Entertainment by Warner Bros. as a copycat follow-up to last week’s Disney/Marvel mega-deal, this restructuring appears to have been in the works for some time.

Warner Bros. Pictures President Jeff Robinov has reportedly wanted to bring DC Comics under his control since joining the company in 2007. It makes perfect sense, when you consider DC is potentially the best development branch of the WB movie pipeline. Why wouldn’t the head of the studio want the group that provided the source material for Warner Bros.’ biggest hit ever (“The Dark Knight”) answering directly to him?

Just as with Disney buying Marvel, the possibilities with DC Entertainment are enough to make a Fanboy drool in his Count Chocula. And just like last week with the Marvel news, many questions have suddenly risen to the surface faster than Aquaman on a school of flying fish. Here are 10 questions we have regarding the creation of DC Entertainment ...

1) Is an onscreen DC Universe now a distinct possibility?

The idea of seeing DC’s heroes interacting on the movie screen would seem to be one of the long-range goals of DCE. Warner Bros. President and COO Alan Horn seems to see the untapped potential.

“It’s no secret that DC has myriad rich and untapped possibilities from its deep library of iconic and lesser-known characters,” said Horn in Wednesday's press release announcing the formation of DC Entertainment. “While we’ve had great success in films and television, the formation of DC Entertainment will help us to bring more DC properties across additional platforms to fans around the world, while maintaining brand integrity and authenticity.”

Yet in 31 years, despite five "Superman" films (six if you count “Supergirl”) and six "Batman movies", DC’s heroes have existed in a theatrical vacuum. The release next year of “Jonah Hex” and “The Losers”, films based on mid-level DC books, indicates progress has already begun. But Robinov has a much bigger plan in mind, and well he should.

If Nick Fury can drop in on Tony Stark’s pad at the end of “Iron Man” and Stark can do a shot with Thunderbolt Ross in “The Incredible Hulk,” then why can’t Batman and Superman have a rooftop debate over proper interrogation techniques on top of the Gotham PD?

With their first two self-financed pictures, Marvel Studios brought the crossover, a staple of comic books for decades, to the movies. Fans went nuts for these cameos, which laid the initial groundwork for an “Avengers” movie. DC fans want to see their favorite heroes interact on film the same way they’ve been seeing them do on the printed page for decade upon decade. And who better to oversee DC’s properties than Diane Nelson? As head of Warner Premiere, she only shepherded the money-printing "Harry Potter" franchise. The question here is not if a DC movie universe will happen, but when. Which leads to our next question…

2) This is good news for a "Justice League" movie, right?

One of the many reasons the George Miller-directed “Justice League” film was shelved was due to the fact that getting Christian Bale to appear as Batman in it was thought to be next to impossible. The thought of re-casting the Caped Crusader for a fifth time – especially coming off the phenomenal success of “The Dark Knight” – as well as other ‘issues’ with the project forced Warner Bros. to go back to the drawing board. All things considered, this may have been one of the smarter studio decisions in recent years. Primarily because this is one of those once-in-a-lifetime tentpoles that needs the proper setup, the right casting, the right story (read: forget about “Justice League: The High School Years”!). You get one chance at this. Mess it up, and it will take years to wash the stink of failure off. Pulling off a superhero film such as “JLA” will require clearing more logistical hurdles than Edwin Moses did in his 107-meet winning streak. The umbrella of DC Entertainment can help there. Who knows? Maybe Robinov and Nelson can convince Christopher Nolan to direct “Justice League.” That would solve the Bale problem, wouldn’t it?

So 193 words later, yes. This is good news for a "Justice League" movie.

3) Is rebooting Superman the top priority?

If it isn’t, it should be. The Man of Steel has been in movie limbo since the near-Universal yawn elicited by “Superman Returns.” As we touched on previously, Superman is not only DC’s flagship guy, he’s the most recognizable superhero on the planet, bar none. DCE needs to figure out a way to make him relevant onscreen again. Because Superman is the gift that keeps on giving inside Warners, from box-office receipts to trade paperback sales to sheets, pillows and paper weights. He’s simply too valuable to the company to sit on the sidelines.

With a planned reboot already in the works, it doesn’t seem likely that Brandon Routh will return as Superman. Casting the man with the ‘S’ on his chest is key, but not as key as finding the right person to direct the next Super-film. Expect a wide net to be cast to find Superman’s next helmer.

4) And what about Wonder Woman?

Perhaps no single comic book character, DC or Marvel, has had a more frustrating film experience than Wonder Woman. A movie on the First Lady of comics has been in quote-unquote ‘development’ for roughly a decade. But not even Geek God Joss Whedon could get the project in gear.

The future of a Wonder Woman movie, which Robinov has said in the past year is a priority for Warner Bros., is tied closely with the fate of producer Joel Silver’s deal with Warners. His relationship with the studio goes back more than 20 years, and it includes the comic book adaptation “V for Vendetta” and the upcoming “The Losers.” But Silver’s once-golden touch has been tarnished with a string of bombs like “The Invasion” and “Speed Racer.” Warners has reportedly reached out to producers to call back all options on high-profile DC properties. One would assume that includes Silver’s option on "Wonder Woman", which he has had for roughly a decade (but not “The Losers,” which is in the middle of production). Considering Silver has made zero progress on getting a movie off the ground, DCE would be wise to get Diana Prince back under its new roof and start from scratch.

In fact, you wouldn’t have to go all the way back to square one. Just call Whedon and hand him the project. Who else is better suited to give the ultimate female hero her cinematic due?

5) Should DC writers be popping open a bottle of bubbly tonight over this news?

As long as they’re not driving, absolutely. It’s no secret that Hollywood has finally realized that if they want to do a proper adaptation of a comic book, it behooves them to bring the writers of said comics on board. Warner Bros. has been ahead of the pack on this front.

It recruited TV and comic book writer Marc Guggenheim to co-write the “Green Lantern” script, as well as DC super-comics scribe Geoff Johns to co-pen screenplays for “Flash” and “Captain Marvel.” Don’t expect that trend to stop now that the movie guys are directly in charge of DC. If you were Warner Bros., why wouldn’t you bring in a Grant Morrison or a Dan Jurgens to pitch an idea for a movie based on a DC book, especially if it’s one they’re already writing?

Because so many comic book writers come from Film & TV and vice-versa, they no longer have to worry about the stigma of ‘oh, he’s that Teen Titans guy?’

Thanks to the rise of the superhero movie genre, movie producers wait in line now at Comic-Con to talk with the guys who create the comics. The balance of power has shifted.

6) How will this impact the Vertigo line?

Here’s where the creation of DCE becomes very interesting. With titles such as “Fables,” “The Unwritten,” “DMZ” and “Greek Street,” Vertigo offers tremendous potential for moviemakers. More important, not all would involve men wearing spandex and capes or necessitate a budget greater than the gross national product of a banana republic.

Of course, many Vertigo titles appeal to a very specific, more discerning audience. Many Vertigo books won’t exactly contend with "Transformers 3" for the box-office crown. Is DCE looking for a diverse slate of films, sprinkling some mid-range budgeted films among the blockbuster-hopefuls such as “Green Lantern?” Or are they going to focus their energies on developing those projects with the widest possible appeal, for maximum dollar return? The answer to that question will determine how many films based on Vertigo titles we can expect to see at the multiplex.

7) How much input will Robinov (and by natural extension) Warner Bros. Pictures, have over DC’s comic book development?

Referring back to the Disney/Marvel merger, the folks at the House of Mouse went out of their way to say they want Marvel to keep being Marvel. Disney execs swore up and down they had no intention of rocking the House of Ideas’ boat.

Two big differences between that arrangement and today’s announcement. One, Disney needed Marvel to regain cred with young males more than Marvel needed Disney at this juncture in time, so in theory, it makes sense that Disney will take a hands-off approach.

Two, DC Entertainment was created to give DIRECT control of DC Comics to the Warners film division. Diane Nelson now runs DC Comics. Diane Nelson reports to Jeff Robinov, who runs Warner Bros. Pictures. How can he NOT have significant input into the decision-making at DC? How much influence he chooses to wield is up to him. Could it mean that the direction of certain characters could be affected by decisions tied to theatrical choices? Who knows? If he’s smart, and one doesn’t get to Robinov’s position without being smart, he’ll let the comics guys & girls handle the comics, so he can zero in on the movies. Lord knows, he has lots to do on that front.

8) Will DCE look to TV more as a potential outlet for adapting the DC characters?

As much as the corporate synergy of Warner Bros. and DC failed to spark an active pipeline of DC film projects, it has flopped equally well on the TV front. Outside of “Smallville” and “Human Target” (which debuts this January on FOX), no other characters have been scored their own shows (Though “Aquaman” at least scored a pilot) in the past decade. While TV is certainly a crapshoot of the highest level, when you consider “Smallville” began on a channel called the WB, it boggles the mind no other DC character has been the subject of a recent series.

TV should be a priority for the new division. There are literally dozens of channels in today’s TV universe that could be well served by a show featuring a member of the DC family. And the pickup of “Human Target” is proof that you don’t need to have a superhero in it to succeed. In fact, avoiding the longjohns-and-cape route may be the quickest road to success.

Come up with pitches that delve into other aspects of the DCU. Just as “Smallville” focused on a young Clark Kent, why couldn’t there be a drama surrounding the formative years of a young Bruce Wayne? Or a cop show set in Gotham City. An action-comedy zeroed in on Booster Gold doesn’t seem far-fetched, either. The small-screen possibilities are practically limitless. Time to get creative, DCE.

9) How does this affect DC Video games?

One could assume from Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment’s recent purchase of Midway Entertainment, along with a piece of Eidos Interactive, that the company could be eyeing a movie to develop games based on its own characters in-house. But you know what they say about assuming…

In theory, DC Entertainment appears to be Warners’ attempt to gain active control over their characters on all platforms. Video games would be one of the most important, and potentially profitable. But given the timeframe needed to create games, this doesn’t seem to be something that will show immediate results. There is also the matter of already-negotiated deals. Sony, for example is in the middle of developing the DC MMO game, on which Jim Lee is serving as Art Director.

It just doesn’t seem feasible we’ll be seeing a rash of new games featuring DC characters flooding stores anytime soon. More likely, it will mean future game tie-ins such as the inevitable game based on the “Green Lantern” film, would be developed by WB Interactive. That would be the very definition of synergy. Then again, that hasn’t always worked out well for Warners in the past.

10) Is DC Entertainment in a better position right now than Marvel/Disney?

Here’s what Robinov said in Wednesday’s statement:

“Based on the great success we’ve had working with DC Comics to create some of the most popular and successful super hero films of all time, I’ve long believed that there was much more we could do across all of Warner Bros.’ businesses with this great body of characters and stories.”

It’s clear he sees vast room for improvement, and he’s right. Unlike Marvel, DC hasn’t been some lone wolf in the media tundra. It’s been a part of the Warner family for years, yet that supposed corporate synergy fizzled like the 2-liter of soda you forgot to put the cap on. Belonging to the same corporate family with a film studio and several TV channels didn’t prevent DC’s film projects from stumbling and bumbling in recent years. So there is much work to be done.

That said, DC Entertainment has a huge advantage over the recently-formed Marvel-Disney alliance. Because the components for synergizing are already in place.

Production and distribution deals for movies aren’t scattered across Hollywood. All of DC’s major characters are locked into deals with producers on the Warner Bros. backlot (which explains why Robinov was able to call back those top-tier options). Their characters aren’t tied up in a long-term, potentially messy licensing deal with a rival company’s theme park.

It could be years, and perhaps never, before Disney is able to fully capitalize on Marvel’s biggest names, such as Spider-Man, The X-Men and the Fantastic Four. DC Entertainment has no such problem. It can get to work right now.

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