DC Comics’ Hollywood Crisis: Our Unsolicited Advice

As the home of such icons as Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, you’d think DC Comics would rule the superhero universe. But no. In fact, rival Marvel Comics is kicking DC’s butt. How can this be?

Movies are where the real superhero action is these days, and Marvel, having scored major hits with the current “Iron Man” and “Hulk” films (and with “Thor,” “Captain America” and the all-star team-up “Avengers” already in the pipeline), is cleaning up at the box office. Meanwhile, DC and its corporate parent, Warner Bros., haven’t quite exploited their own stable of stars — not just Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, but also the Justice League of which all three of those characters are a part, along with Flash and Green Lantern. Turning these revered comics properties into money-minting movie franchises should have been a no-brainer. If the process has been mishandled, DC’s numbers are down, and fanboys are in revolt, what can be done about it? Plenty.

— Observe Neil Gaiman’s “Law of Superhero Movies,” which is that “the closer the film is to the look and feel of what people like about the comic, the more successful it is.” This, Gaiman says, is “something that Warners tends singularly to miss, and Marvel tends singularly to get right.” Warners may prove Gaiman wrong here with the forthcoming “Watchmen.”

— Get a lock on the League. Despite earlier reports, a studio rep told MTV News this one is now a “go.” Don’t let tax-incentive issues in Australia derail the potential “Justice League” franchise, just find another place to shoot the movie. And if there are problems with keeping some of the cast because of the delay, look for new actors who can play superheroes in and out of the League.

— Flesh out the other fellas. David Goyer already has a script done for “Green Arrow,” and that can set the stage for some “League”-like villains if you plan ahead. Then there’s “Shazam,” an unmade movie that already has a star and a director (the Rock and Peter Segal, both coming off of “Get Smart”). Get this picture going.

— Respect your holy trinity. Why, oh, why did Joel Silver not find a way to keep Joss Whedon when he was aboard for “Wonder Woman”? There are very few people who can write both movies and comics, and Whedon is one of them. Plus, he has a knack for connecting with both fanboys and fangirls at the same time. If an in-the-works replacement script by Matthew Jennison and Brent Strickland (version two) doesn’t measure up, it would be worth the groveling to get Whedon back. In the meantime, either start shooting “Superman 2,” or, if you feel like Brandon Routh was miscast, go back and try something that’s more of an origin story a la “Batman Begins.” After all, if Marvel can get away with rebooting “The Hulk”…

— Speaking of worship, get “Preacher” back on the schedule. At different points, this Garth Ennis series was supposed to be either a film or an HBO miniseries, and Cameron Diaz was interested in playing Tulip. But WB waited too long and lost its option on the property, so producer Neal Moritz is now quietly shopping it around to studios once more. Get. It. Back. And then do something with it.

— Sign up Shia LeBeouf. He’s reportedly interested in playing Yorick in a movie version of “Y: The Last Man,” as well as Sexton in “Death: The High Cost of Living.” Both of these prospective films have scripts and directors are in place, but both are languishing because of New Line’s implosion. Neither are superhero stories, but both are smart, funny, wouldn’t cost much to shoot, and have built-in cult appeal for both genders — how often do you get that with comics? “Death” could be next year’s “Juno.”

— Consider “Fables.” You want some name recognition? How about Snow White, the Big Bad Wolf, Little Red Riding Hood…in all-new, super-hip versions? In the ongoing DC/Vertigo series by Bill Willingham, these magical characters live among us — in fact, they live in New York City. Goldilocks is a demented terrorist. Cinderella is a secret agent. Prince Charming is a seductive mayor who’s in over his head. The acclaimed “Fables” has “franchise” written all over it — which one character, Jack Horner, exploits to blockbuster levels in his own series-within-a-series. Consider the possibilities.