We’ve spent the last few weeks looking at how Hollywood operates, optioning properties, including comic books, which they think might work as a movie or television series. With the success of 300, we also paused to examine how full the calendar was getting the next few years and wondered if a glut was coming.
If that’s the case, what alternatives might there be?
Television remains skittish with comic book properties despite the runaway success of Heroes. Beyond Smallville, there are no comics-related shows on prime time and none likely to be added to the 2007-08 schedule (to be announced in May). Cable, with dozens and dozens of channels, has one: Painkiller Jane on Sci-Fi.
Animated fare, either for Saturday mornings or weekday afternoons, has turned away from comic books for source material, preferring anime imports or original productions. The last handful of attempts have not been resounding successes such as the WB’s Legion of Super-Heroes.
But there are new signs of life in the still growing Direct to DVD market, a.k.a. D2DVD. Here, producers go for the familiar as they crank out sequel after sequel on shoestring budgets and churn them out like so much shovelware, clogging the shelves at mass merchandisers from Sam’s Club to Best Buy. In 2006, D2DVD releases generated $1.3 billion in revenue, and that’s expected to grow 5% to 7% this year, according to Variety.
This is fertile ground for all the comic book publishers but so far only the majors are exploiting it to the fullest.
The earliest releases were not from DC, but from Warner animation, starting with Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. The story worked and the look matched that of the successful Bruce Timm/Paul Dini animated series and played better than expected so got upgraded to feature film release. Unfortunately, the subsequent efforts: Batman & Mr. Freeze: Sub-Zero, Batman vs. Dracula and Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman fared less well both creatively and financially.
The nadir may have been hit last year when they rushed out the ill-conceived Superman: Brainiac Attacks which resembled neither the animated continuity nor the Superman Returns feature film. Both were played off on the Cartoon Network.
Fortunately, it came and went with little fanfare and was totally eclipsed last summer when DC announced they were finally working as full partners with Warner animation in creating animated adaptations of classic DC stories from the company’s rich and deep library.
The first four announced releases, for those who missed the news, are: