Move over, Astro Boy and Iron Man -- Bat Boy could be stepping up to the plate soon.
The half-bat, half-human character is just one of 30-odd wacky creations spawned by the erstwhile supermarket tabloid Weekly World News (WWN) and now up for grabs in Hollywood.
Creative Artists Agency (CAA) has signed WWN to a representation deal, and DreamWorks is developing a TV show that likely will be the first to tap into the company's library of characters and its tens of thousands of offbeat stories.
Founded in 1979, the tongue-in-cheek tabloid made its mark with stories about conspiracies, cover-ups, aliens, Bigfoot, Elvis sightings and supernatural phenomena. The publication, whose tagline is The World's Only Reliable News, went online-only two years ago.
Ownership of WWN changed hands a year ago and CEO Neil McGinness set out to revive the brand. McGinness thinks Hollywood and audiences will embrace the firm's cast of characters, which he said are different from superheroes because they are cuddly but dangerous.
You're seeing an embrace of the fringe, he said, pointing to such TV hits as Lost, Heroes and Fringe. Zombies were big two years ago. Vampires are the rage this year. And we think 2010 will be Bat Boy's year.
McGinness describes Bat Boy as our Superman or Batman, pointing out that fans have uploaded more Bat Boy images on the Internet than Scooby-Doo pictures. He is in the genre of the trickster hero -- like Huckleberry Finn, he said.
Other recurring WWN characters include neo-conservative columnist Ed Anger, whom McGinness calls the original blueprint for Bill O'Reilly or Rush Limbaugh; the UFO Alien, a brainy political pundit who correctly predicted every U.S. presidential race since the Reagan era before switching allegiance from Barack Obama to John McCain at the last second; the Lake Erie Monster, a.k.a. Lemmie, who last year tried out for a female cast member role on Saturday Night Live; Scooter, the world's richest hamster; Ph.D. Ape; Man-agator (half-human, half-alligator); and Tonya, the world's fattest cat.
It isn't clear which WWN characters the DreamWorks project will exploit or whether it will be a live-action or animated series, but Bat Boy is expected to play a key role.
McGinness, a veteran of sports agency IMG, National Lampoon and Lorne Michaels' Broadway Video production company, led a group of investors under the moniker Bat Boy Llc. that bought WWN from American Media in October 2008.
I've always been a fan and used to read them in college, McGinness said, comparing the satirical approach to that of the Onion. I saw it as a mini-Marvel. And I wanted to take the focus off the page and into film and TV entertainment, theater, comic books and merchandise.
To that extent, a series deal with comic-book publisher IDW will explore key WWN characters in more depth, and a Bat Boy autobiography will be published by Simon & Schuster. Deals have also been done for an iPhone app and assorted merchandise. A Bat Boy musical can be seen in 50 stagings around the U.S., and there's talk of a Broadway play.
Hollywood has repeatedly paid homage to WWN. Most notably, in Men in Black, Tommy Lee Jones' Kay refers to the paper as doing the best damn investigative reporting on the planet. Similarly, So I Married an Axe Murderer saw Mike Myers' character get clues about his fiancee's secrets from copies of WWN, which his mother read.
More recently, WWN landed cameos in the upcoming alien comedy Paul and last year's Tropic Thunder. And Johnny Depp once was quoted as saying: The only gossip I'm interested in is things from the Weekly World News. 'Woman's bra bursts, 11 injured.' That kind of thing.