'Avengers' are heroes on horizon

5:00 AM PST 06/14/2007 by Borys Kit, AP

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On the eve of the opening of "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer," Marvel Studios has begun the process of bringing another of its comics to the big screen: the elite superhero team the Avengers.

Zak Penn, who wrote the screenplay for Marvel's upcoming "The Incredible Hulk," is slated to pen the live-action adaptation that would be titled "The Avengers."

On the other side of town, Warner Bros. Pictures is developing its superhero superteam, "Justice League of America," with Kieran Mulroney and Michele Mulroney having submitted a draft adapting the DC Comics series.

While Penn has not begun his screenplay, those who have read the Mulroneys' draft give it a thumbs-up, and a search for directors is about to begin.

One challenge facing the writers is which heroes to include in their scripts.

While the roster for the Avengers has changed since its inception in 1963, growing to include the likes of Spider-Man and X-Men hero Wolverine, the classic iteration of the team consisted of Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and the diminutive Ant-Man and Wasp. Other members have been the Hulk, the bow-and-arrow-wielding Hawkeye and the probability-altering gypsy Scarlet Witch.

Many of these heroes are getting their own starring portrayals in other movies, with Robert Downey Jr. as "Iron Man" already shooting; "Hulk" scheduled for a summer start, with Ed Norton toplining; a "Thor" script being written by Mark Protosevich; and "Ant-Man" being developed by Edgar Wright ("Hot Fuzz"). Marvel wants to wait until all those films have entered the market before unleashing "The Avengers."

Marvel, which had licensed out some of its characters to various studios, owns the rights to most of the Avengers with the exception of Hulk, which Universal has.

"Avengers" has acted as the company's answer to DC Comics' best-seller "Justice League of America," which was banded together such A-list heroes as Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Aquaman, Flash and Green Lantern as well as the Martian Manhunter.

One question that the respective companies will have to address before either movie is greenlighted is whether to include the marquee superheroes such as Superman and the Hulk in ensemble projects.

If "The Avengers" and "Justice League" ultimately do include the biggest names among the superhero fraternity, then the question would turn to casting. Should Warners try to get Christian Bale and Brandon Routh, who star as Superman and Batman in their respective movies, into the ensemble films? Should Marvel talk to Norton and Downey about starring in "Avengers"?

The answers could be years in the making.
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