The cast of "Cyberforce" is cutting back into the market with this summer's "Cyberforce/Hunter-Killer" and November's "Image United," but they've got their clawed fingers in other pots, too. As announced at the Top Cow panel at Comic-Con International, a new ongoing "Cyberforce" series is launching in the spring of 2010. "Cyberforce/Hunter-Killer" artist and self-declared "Cyberforce" fan Kenneth Rocafort will illustrate the series. A writer has been chosen too, but his/her name is yet to be announced.
CBR News spoke with Top Cow Publisher Filip Sablik about the new ongoing series, the partially mysterious creative team, and – most importantly – why "Cyberforce" is still cool.
CBR News: Filip, take us through the steps – how did the new "Cyberforce" series come to fruition?
Filip Sablik: The interesting thing about "Cyberforce" is that it's actually still technically our best-selling title. When Marc Silvestri and the guys launched Image, the numbers were just crazy. The first issue I think sold over 800,000 copies. Probably early on, it wasn't one of the longer-running titles. It kind of went on hiatus and we tried to bring it back with Ron Marz and Pat Lee four or five years ago. There were some interesting things that Ron tried and Pat was trying to do, but I don't think it quite worked out the way they or we envisioned. After that initial story arc wrapped, we kind of put it back on the shelf again. It was kind of like, "Well, that didn't work." You can only reinvent things so quickly.
But both "Cyberforce" and "Hunter-Killer" were titles that people asked about. When we started looking at our 2009 schedule, we wanted to give "Witchblade" and "The Darkness" a break. We'd done "First Born" and "Broken Trinity" back to back and felt like we should let Ron and Phil Hester do their thing on those titles. So what else do we have to build our summer event around? We like to build our summer events a little differently than other companies, in that we try and make it organic – something that comes out of an idea and is very contained. We want to make it feel like a big deal for the fans, but at the same time we're not going to kill their wallets over it.
We said, "Well, people are asking. Let's do 'Cyberforce/Hunter-Killer' for the summer of 2009 event." Immediately at that time, we were looking at what would be the next series we'd try to revitalize. About that same time, we started talking to a couple of video game companies about a "Cyberforce" video game. We thought we could do something really cool with this where we build upon the idea of customizable heroes. They latched onto the idea of cybernetic attachments and stuff like that. So we thought the timing might be good, and we started thinking what it might be at the core that makes these heroes cool.
That's really where you have to start when you're trying to bring something back – what made it popular in the first place? When we broke it down, what was really cool is that these guys are cybernetic heroes modified by technology. We live in a world where I'm walking around with a computer in my pocket. Other than my iPhone not having a stun capability, it is a tricorder. [Laughs] There's something innately relatable and relevant to that. Also, the idea that these are guys fighting against mega-corporations and the establishment. When we started doing the crossover, we asked, "What are the enemies of these two properties?" It's big government in "Hunter-Killer," and mega-corporation in "Cyberforce." Those are the things that we're scared about. In an age of Bernie Madoffs and Blackwaters, this is the stuff that keeps me awake at night. We just felt there was something there that we could jump back into.
So is "Cyberforce/Hunter-Killer" intended as a launching point for the new series?
Whenever you go into an event, there has to be a reason for it. Ultimately, the reason from a publishing standpoint is to bring back "Cyberforce." It was our flagship title at one point; it was the book that launched the company. It's important. It's important to Marc, it's important to us. It's got history. How do we bring it back? We wanted to lay that groundwork. I can't tell you how "Cyberforce/Hunter-Killer" ends, but the way it ends lays the groundwork for a "Cyberforce" series. At the same time, it's tied into stuff that's happening with "Image United," which "Cyberforce" is a part of. So those two things are going to come together. It's going to be cool. It's bringing back that sense of Image and Top Cow being a universe and being something that is connected.
One of my philosophies when I started laying out what I wanted to build up as a publisher, was to bring back the sense of a shared universe, but not in a drag-you-down-in-continuity type of feeling. You don't have to buy every comic, but if you do, you're enriching the experience. If you read "Witchblade" and "The Darkness," it's that much cooler when Sara Pezzini pops up in "Darkness." It's that much cooler when the "Hunter-Killer" crew crosses over with "Cyberforce." There's a reason for it happening and a feeling that these characters are grounded in the same place. It's all kind of a building process. Even the "Cyberforce/Hunter-Killer" series we built from the "Fusion" crossover from Marvel. Hopefully somebody who picks it up and likes the Avengers can say that the Cyberforce team is pretty cool.
It also doesn't hurt that Kenneth Rocafort is the world's biggest "Cyberforce" fan!
He must've been the only choice for the series – you knew he would say yes!
He was the only guy. I think on some level, one of the many reasons we started thinking about it is I was talking with Kenneth as he wrapped up "Madame Mirage." I asked him who his favorite Top Cow characters were, and he said he loved "Cyberforce." It's what he grew up with, it's his Spider-Man. Obviously, Kenneth's awesome. He's actually Marc Silvestri's favorite guy we have in terms of design. Marc loves his design sense. When we talked to Marc about "Cyberforce," he was like, "Yeah, have Kenneth do it! Have him redesign all of the characters!"
We're bringing them into the next century, both the "Hunter-Killer" and "Cyberforce" teams. Kenneth does these crazy, cool things. He took Stryker – who fans will notice is not in "Cyberforce/Hunter-Killer" – but he did this design for Stryker where he has the three arms, and Kenneth throws a gunslinger's coat on him that obscures the three arms, then he can whip guns out. It's just a cool, very thought-out way to make things work. With Heatwave, he was always supposed to be in this suit that helped him contain his powers, but it always just looked like a costume. Kenneth is putting in all these pumps and valves and wires. He just brings this very cool aesthetic to that entire product that's utterly, utterly unique.
I'm really optimistic when I talk to Kenneth. We're not talking about, "Hey, come in here and do three or four issues." It's more like, "Let's get you on. Let's get you committed." That's the other thing that I love as a fan that we're trying to give our fans – consistency of creators. Let's get guys that you like and let's lock them in and keep them on there. With "Witchblade," people have been loving that [about Ron Marz and Stjepan Sejic].
Why go with "Cyberforce" as an ongoing rather than as a miniseries?
It's a gamble, but we with the creative team we've got in place – I can't talk about the writer, since we're not announcing that yet – but we've got the writer in place just in case fans are wondering. We feel like the lead-in with "Cyberforce/Hunter-Killer," the strength of Kenneth and the writer, the concept… you have to let fans know that this is something we're really committed to and that they can really commit to. Let's jump on board full tilt. We're going to be doing some interesting things with promotion and some incentives for people to get the series when it comes out next year. We're looking at March or April. That'll be the first issue. We're even building up some side projects that'll kind of spin out of it or connect to it in a way that's fun and organic.
Like I said, this is one of the properties that really launched Top Cow. You look at Image, and all the other core books are still going. "Spawn," "Savage Dragon," Jim Valentino is still doing "Shadowhawk" books regularly... "Cyberforce" has been absent in a way that's not good, you know?
If you had to guess, why do you think that's been the case? Why has "Cyberforce" been missing?
The one thing that, for instance, Erik Larsen has is that "Savage Dragon" has been his focus. It's his baby, he's intimately involved every single issue. Even though Todd McFarlane is no longer drawing "Spawn," it's the one book they really put out and he's constantly involved in it. If you look at what we've done, we've done just a ton of books. But the farther away we got from "Cyberforce" being a top priority – "Witchblade" took off, "Darkness" took off – the quality kind of trails off and of course you lose readers. Now it's about getting back to the core idea of what makes "Cyberforce" cool, what makes the characters compelling, and really giving people something they can sink their teeth into. I think for the series, we're going to combine the idea of "Here's this deeper, underlying appeal of the series" with "Let's give people a really fun, interesting, exciting comic book." Something they can pick up every month and go, "That's awesome."
You bring up Erik Larsen and "Savage Dragon," and obviously a reason that book does well is because he's so involved in it. Will Marc have a direct role in the new "Cyberforce" series?
He keeps his fingers on the pulse of every book we do. In this case for him, it's about us running by the fact that we're bringing Kenneth on as the artist, bringing on the writer – those are guys he trusts and believes are really going to do well and represent the brand well. Hopefully, if the timing works out, we'll have some covers by Marc. For him, Kenneth has evolved to the point where as an artist, he doesn't need to be babysat. Marc trusts Kenneth enough to just run with the ball.
Even though you can't talk about who the writer is, can you talk about why the writer is right for "Cyberforce"?
I can tell people this… I thought it was important that we pick somebody who is a genuine fan of the books. As an example, the reason that Geoff Johns has been able to build up "JSA" and the reason why "Blackest Night" is so sensational is that he genuinely loves those characters. You can tell in the way that he writes the book. I think a lot of writers, you can tell when they're sarcastic and tongue-in-cheek with something they're writing. The guy we've picked and has agreed to do the book is somebody who has a genuine love for those original books and gets that excitement in the same way that Kenneth is passionate about these characters.
Are there any "Hunter-Killer" plans in the works?
Out of the end of "Cyberforce/Hunter-Killer," these two teams are going to be interwoven in a very real way, and kind of the way that "Witchblade" and "Darkness" are in the same corner of the universe. One of the things we wanted to do with the crossover is – Waid and I talked about it – if you take the conceit that whenever you do two teams crossing over that they have to fight and have a misunderstanding first, then they recognize their common enemy and team up and fight that guy… typically, nobody gets hurt. They hit each other a couple of times and forgive each other. With these two teams, what we wanted to do, and what's cool about our universe is, people get hurt. At the end of the first issue, one of the "Cyberforce" characters is severely wounded. Our characters have guns and intense powers, so that has ramifications. These guys will team up, but they don't trust each other. They don't like each other. But they have to work together. It's going to set up a very interesting situation at the end of the crossover where these characters realize, "You're a potential ally but I still don't trust you. How can we work together in a way that allows us to keep an eye on the other guy?" That'll play out and I think it'll be really interesting for fans.
And I've gotta tell you – depending on the success of "Cyberforce/Hunter-Killer," and if Waid was up for it, I certainly wouldn't be opposed to a "Hunter-Killer" series, too. I'd love to do it, in fact. It really depends on fan response and how busy Waid is and what would make sense there, but I think they're great characters and they work really well together.
I'm sure you can't reveal much without ruining the ending of "Cyberforce/Hunter-Killer," but will there be any significant roster changes for Cyberforce?
There will be new members and there will be people missing. Some old characters that have not been seen in a really, really long time will be back. When I say that the writer has a genuine affection, we're talking about the same way that Geoff Johns brought back Flash's rogues gallery and made them cool. We're doing that with "Cyberforce."
As a fan and a reader, what are you the most excited about going into the new series?
I'm excited about really establishing the property as something that stands on its own and is separate and unique. There are obviously influences that Marc initially drew from the characters that he was most familiar with when he was working at Marvel. There's no getting around the fact that there are similarities between Ripclaw and a certain other clawed character, but I'm really excited about the possibility of having people pick it up and go, "Wow, these characters are much more interesting and unique than I assumed." That, and seeing Kenneth Rocafort's pages roll in. Every time a page comes in, I'm like a fourteen year-old boy. He's so awesome.
The new "Cyberforce" series is expected to launch in the spring of 2010.