The Saturday afternoon Dynamite Entertainment panel at Chicago Comic-Con saw its front stage stacked two rows deep as the publisher talked up its biggest titles with a hefty number of creators on hand. Dynamite Publisher Nick Barrucci and editor Joe Rybant hosted the meeting of minds that included Jeff Katz, Jim Krueger, "The Boys" colorist Tony Aviña, Jai Nitz, Phil Hester, Elliott Serano, James Kuhoric and painter Doug Kaluba. News from the panel included announcements on the future of the "Project Superpowers" universe of comics as well as future plans for "Zorro" and "The Green Hornet."
Krueger gave the assembled fans an update on the status of "Project Superpowers Chapter 2" and how he and co-creator Alex Ross have shaped the reinvention of Golden Age heroes like the Black Terror. "I've written the first six issues, and it's right at the point where everything's turning and stuff from the first series is coming full circle. To a certain degree, the first series was almost a teaser, a preliminary, for what's going on here. If you've been following 'Superpowers' the whole reason for the urn, the whole reason for these heroes coming back and exactly what's happened to them over the years is all going to be revealed. That's at the midpoint of the second series."
Barrucci engaged the economic side of the burgeoning superhero universe, saying, "One of the things we wanted to bring in with the new 'Project Superpowers Chapter 2' was to give all the fans more for their money. We're been able to keep the book at $2.99 thanks to your support, thanks to the success in sales." Barrucci added that Dynamite doesn't want to inundate the market with more than four series at a time to make sure the growth of the franchise is natural.
Dynamite proved that the "Superpowers" brand extended beyond the main series in announcing an upcoming "The Ghost" miniseries written by Nitz and Hester. Nitz explained of the big idea behind the series: "I'll be launching The Ghost, who is a World War II pilot who's been stuck in the urn, and though he was unpowered before he went in – just a guy in an airplane fighting alongside superheroes – when he comes out he's got superpowers from this magical urn he's been in for 60 years. How's he going to cope with the world that he didn't intend to be in?" The writer joked with Hester that after doing "El Diablo" for DC, they thought, "Hey, this would be a natural fit. It's another guy with a skull, so we could kick some butt on it." The book is tentatively planned for January release.
Hester announced he'll be taking over the writing duties on "The Black Terror" ongoing series. "Black Terror's one of those characters that everyone likes. Even if they don't know him, as soon as they're exposed to it, they like it. I felt that way about it as a reader, and as a writer I figured out what's great about is that he's the world's finest. He's Batman and Superman for the Dynamite/Superpowers Universe. It's just a joy to work on," Hester said.
A fan inquired about the painted origin sequences that Klauba has been producing each month in "Project Superpowers: Chapter 2" in collaboration with Ross and Krueger. "I've done Black Terror, Devil, Boy King... we just finished up Green Lama, and I'm starting to work on Man-Cat, Fighting Yank and immersing myself in these Golden Age characters, reading all these Golden Age stories and loving the scripts and the layouts that come from Jim and Alex."
As for future plans for the classic time period with the characters, Rybant said, "We do want to and myself in particular has been pushing Alex to get back into the pre-urn stuff and the World War II stuff specifically. Right now though, the focus is on making what we did in 'Chapter 1' make sense in 'Chapter 2' and setting a linear path for the characters and all of their stories. There's a lot of characters and a lot of teams in that book, which is why we're doing the spinoffs as well.
"’Superpowers’ is currently planned out through a 'Chapter 3' which covers all of Alex's initial outline... and as that outline has kind of expanded, the miniseries opportunities and a couple of other things like some characters getting their own spotlight [are coming.]"
Another attendee wanted to know exactly how the rights issues for the superheroes worked in terms of both Dynamite and other publishers being able to tell new stories with the same heroes. Barrucci explained that for his company, all material made was copyrighted as their material and often the slight tweaks and name changes in the characters were owned wholly by Dynamite, meaning the more unique stories they tell the more ideas they ultimately own.
Katz likened working with the characters to how old movie and literature properties worked, saying, "A very common example is Dracula. If you do something with Dracula, you can do the character, but you can't do Bella Lugosi because that's a known image. At some level, that interpretation of that character is licensed and owned separately."
"Honestly, this is these heroes' Golden Age right now," Barrucci said, urging readers not to dwell too much on past attempts to revitalize the heroes. "At the time they were first released, they failed for a lot of reasons.
This time, they're succeeding for all the reasons that they should." Krueger agreed. "I think the biggest challenge has been taking those characters and making sure when telling their origins or who they are – even with the changes that come with them being trapped in Pandora's Box – that they still ring true. Alex is so dedicated to making sure that we're aware to the history of the characters.”
Discussion often turned to Zorro and Wagner, whose booming voice carried across the room without a mic. An upcoming arc of the series brings back together its initial creative team. "The next story line will feature the return of Francesco Francavilla, who is going to be coloring his own work this time around as well,” Wagner said. “I'm really, really excited about that. It looks great with this nice, flat, pulpy flavor. The next story line is called 'Fox Tales,' and it involves the fact that General Mercado, the California governor who at this point in the early 1800s [rules from] the capital in Monteray, has just started to hear rumors of this bandit in the south and the troubles he's causing. He's a very cautious strategist, and he starts to gather information about Zorro. Each of the issues is people spinning different tales about their encounters with Zorro, and so he gets many different accounts and opinions about who Zorro is, what he wants and what he's going to be facing against this lone rogue that's proving to be more a problem than he suspected."
Both Barrucci and Wagner teased more announcements concerning the creator would be coming at October 11's Baltimore retailer summit, but much of Chicago’s panel revolved around digging a little into the minds of their characters and even the creators. At one point, Wagner recounted how, after being nominated for cover artist and writer awards at this year's Eisner's, "The guys announced me as Marv Wagner, and I yelled out really loud, 'It's Matt, you asshole!'"
In a more serious moment, Wagner described his feelings on playing with such long-standing characters as Zorro as it related to Dynamite's overall focus of keeping to the core of properties like the Lone Ranger and Buck Rogers. "I'd take that a step further where on Zorro. On the cover, we don't have any creative credits because I just want the comic to say 'Zorro' and capture that flavor of what comics were like when I was a kid, and you didn't have 20 credits on the front. Somebody asked the approach I'm taking to the stories inside, and it's not 'an earth-shaking, very special episode' of 'Zorro' every time. You tune in and just get more cool Zorro stories every time."
The connection between the Lone Ranger and the Green Hornet (in the original radio serials, the Hornet was the great-grandson of the Ranger's nephew) came up when a fan asked if Dynamite had plans to cross the two characters over now that they'll be publishing both. "To a degree, we're going to be allowed to [cross them over], but it's two separate licensors," Barrucci explained. "It's something that we have to get both licensors' approval to do that we're going to hopefully eventually get done. There is a story to be told. It's 'When will we be able to tell it?' Let us build a little bit of attention around the Green Hornet when we launch him as a character."
The Publisher pointed fans towards "Lone Ranger" #17, which features John Reid's nephew investigating a hornet's nest as a tease of the connection that hasn't been explored since the creator of the characters sold the rights to the Ranger decades ago. Wagner also explained, "If you think about it: they both wear masks. They both operate outside the law. They both have a ethnic sidekick. They both have a special means of transportation that's named after a color. It's pretty much the same character in different time zones, which is damn cool."
Other Dynamite projects included Katz's "Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash," issue #1 of which is out August 19. The status of the Red Sonja movie also came up, of which Barrucci said, "It's happening... movies take longer than everyone expects. With the economy last year, they're being more careful with the budget. And in the last year, Robert Rodriguez signed up for one of his dream projects: 'Predators.' He wants to do to 'Predator' what they did with 'Aliens,' and there are so many moving parts in Hollywood, having everything come together to make it happen is one of the hardest things to have. But when it does, it's usually gratifying.
Katz added, "The larger movie business is moving in a direction where the stuff that's going to get made is going to lean to that end."
Kuhoric talked about his role in writing from Katz's story ideas for the universe of "Freddy/Jason/Ash: Nightmare Warriors," whose third issue is due soon from Dynamite and WildStorm. I'm having a lot of fun playing with Freddy, Jason and Ash," he said adding that the hardcover for his own "Dead Irons" is "going to feature some behind the scenes stuff like some really nice turnarounds from Jason Alexander [and] some of Jae Lee's work, his original designs for the characters. I think it’s got something like 20 extra pages of goodies you haven't seen yet." A sequel comes next year at four-issues with both Alexander and Lee back for more western horror.
A young fan in the audience, maybe ten or eleven years of age, proved an astute reader of online news, asking Barrucci after several Dynamite projects in limbo including the announced re-launch of The Phantom. "We put it on hiatus," the Publisher said. "It's just waiting an extra year. What's going on is we were able to work it out with the licensor where they're going to give us two more years on our license, and we're going to start after Moonstone finishes their run. It allows both of us breathing room."
The kid also asked, "How's it going with Fighting American?" to which Barrucci replied, "Not well" to laughter from the panel. "That one was a disappointing situation. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, [Fighting American co-creator] Joe [Simon] decided that he didn't ever remember agreeing to it, so it's something we're not moving forward with. But we're still working with the Kirby family to create the Kirby-verse. And that's something where we'll be bringing more information out about it later this year."