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In a splashy press conference at the Carlton hotel in Cannes, Ghost Rider producer Steven Paul announced Thursday that he has acquired a majority interest in the Atlas Comics library and signed a co-production and co-financing first-look deal with Paramount Pictures to develop, produce and distribute superhero films based on the comic books.
Paul’s SP Media Group has also signed a deal with Akiva Goldsman (Batman Forever, The Da Vinci Code, I Am Legend) and his Weed Road Pictures to oversee a writers room — nine strong — to develop and build out the universe of characters from the expansive Atlas library.
Production on the first project is scheduled to begin during the second quarter of 2020 with a release expected in 2021. The companies intend to produce and release at least one superhero project each year thereafter. The films will be produced by Paul, whose credits also include the Ghost Rider sequel and Ghost in the Shell; Goldsman; and Atlas production president Spike Seldin (The A-Team).
Jon Voight was on hand for the press conference and talked about the importance of comic books in his early life growing up in Yonkers, New York, where he would sneak off from a job to read the latest. The actor said he will be involved in Paul’s venture, noting that “Steven will let me poke around and make suggestions … and maybe play a villain.”
Paul acquired the stake from its owner Nemesis Group and principal Jason Goodman, grandson of Martin Goodman, who was founder of Marvel Comics, which was later run by Martin’s cousin Stan Lee.
“We’re still counting the characters,” said Paul, as he addressed the audience in front of a dozen blown-up Atlas covers including Tiger-Man, Sgt. Stryker’s Death Squad and Devilina. “Marvel has 4,700. I want to be up there.”
Paramount COO Andrew Gumpert also was on hand and explained the studio’s interest in mining the library.
“Intellectual property of this kind is hard to come by in this day and age, and we are excited to be working with Steven Paul and SP Media Group to bring the iconic Atlas comic book library to the big screen,” he said.
Paul did not disclose the price of the acquisition but said it was significant. He also stressed the uniqueness of the library, saying Atlas doesn’t see DC or Marvel as competition, though he joked that he has seen Aquaman 13 times.
Seldin and Weed Road’s Greg Lessans will supervise development. Goodman is taking a stake in the new Atlas company and will be heading up publishing and will be involved in all movie and TV projects and serve as an executive producer of films spawned. SPMG president Scott Karol also will executive produce.
“Steven Paul, Akiva Goldsman and the whole team at the singularly iconic Paramount Pictures bring a level of talent and enthusiasm to this venture that carries my family’s body of work in the comic book industry into filmed entertainment,” said Goodman.
“What an opportunity that we have with the Atlas universe, which spans so many genres: superheroes, sci-fi, fantasy, supernatural, horror, creatures, vampires, cops, cowboys, soldiers,” said Goldsman. “The breadth of this material is extraordinary.”
As a company, Atlas has a long and rich history. In late 1939, publishing magnate Martin Goodman founded Timely Publications. Timely formed the division then named Atlas Comics in the 1950s and became the home to Spiderman, Fantastic Four and Captain America. Goodman assembled a team of comic book icons including Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, Bill Everett and his cousin Stan Leiber (who changed his name to Stan Lee).
In the 1960s, the name was changed again, this time to Marvel Comics, and Lee was promoted to editor. A decade later, Goodman sold his publishing holdings with the understanding that his son, Charles “Chip” Goodman, would stay on at Marvel. That never came to pass. In 1974, Martin and Chip Goodman once again pulled together the top talent in the industry and re-entered the comic book business, relaunching Atlas Comics under the creative direction of young comic book innovators Jeff Rovin and Ric Meyers.
Upon the elder Martin’s death, Atlas became frozen and remained untouched until 2010, when Jason Goodman took possession.
The Paramount-SPMG deal was negotiated by Gumpert and SPMG president Scott Karol. The deal to acquire the majority interest in the Atlas Comics library was negotiated by Stephen R. Stern (attorney for Nemesis/Jason Goodman) and Scott Karol (on behalf of SPMG).
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