In true Top Cow fashion, attendees to the 12:00 PM panel were rewarded with a free copy of "The Darkness" #83, featuring a variant cover by the artist Whilce Portacio. Aside from heralding the return of the Foreigner character to the Darkness narrative, the issue is significant in that it features the last interior work on the title by reigning "Darkness" artist Michael Broussard. Broussard, the panel announced, is moving on to a bigger and more notable gig: he’ll be one-third of the art team for Top Cow’s upcoming mega-series "Artifacts." "Artifacts," which aims to follow up on long-gestating plot threads form a number of Top Cow titles, will unfold in three chapters of four issues each with a different art team on each chapter. The reasoning behind this decision, Sablik explained, was that Top Cow didn’t want to disappoint its readers with delays or an art change midway through the series—problems which have plagued a number of big event titles in recent memory. This desire to avoid repeating the mistakes of other publishers extends to the way the company is approaching the tie-in issues for "Artifacts," which Sablik stressed will feel organic with the "Artifacts" series itself designed to be friendly to new readers and function as one self-contained narrative. "We’re going to try and do a crossover right," Sablik explained.
In elaborating on the series, the panelists emphasized how stories in the Top Cow universe have the capability of being truly high-stakes – with no large parent company looking over their shoulder (Sablik rather patently referenced the major corporations which own comics’ "big two" publishers), writers of books like "Artifacts" have the freedom to make sweeping, dramatic changes. "When we want to tell a story," Sablik said, "and have [it have] a lasting impact on the universe, we can." Seattle writer William Harm, who pens the vampire horror miniseries "Impaler," seconded this, saying that he loves doing a creator-owned book at Top Cow, where it’s okay to take risks.
Apart from the big "Artifacts" news, Sablik doled out some other interesting tidbits, including word that there is a new "Cyberforce" ongoing series on the horizon, and that new material featuring the Pitt character "looks likely."
The funniest and most engaging moment of the panel occurred when Sablik called writer Ron Marz – who had to back out of his ECCC appearance due to looming deadlines and a computer failure – and had him interact with the audience and answer questions. When Sablik first put his iPhone up to the podium’s mic, it was clear that Marz was feeling a little cranky and a little silly. "I can’t say hello to anybody, I’m working too hard," Marz began. The writer revelead that issue #3 of his "Angelus" series will go to press this week ("come hell or high water," he joked), and Sablik offered a peak at the cover for the series’ issue #5. It depicted a mysterious figure holding a sundial, of which Marz would say no more, though it seems worth noting that the same enigmatic sundial is shown on the solicited cover for "Artifacts" #1.
Following this, Sablik steered the discussion toward the book that Marz "is most excited to write in April." The writer jokingly replied "Captain America?" before correcting himself: "Oh, you said write, not read."
Sablik, or course, was referring to "Magdalena," a new ongoing book featuring the religion-tinged character, the first issue of which will hit shelves April 28. The crowd was treated to some uncolored pages from the book, which features the art team of Nelson Blake II, Sal Regla and Dave McCaig (who worked together before on "Pilot Season: Murderer"). They were also privileged with a peak at some preparatory sketches by Nelson Blake II, who apparently did a great amount of research before starting on the book.
Finally, the panelists took some time to hype Top Cow’s upcoming slate. Write Phil Hester reaffirmed that he’ll be leaving "The Darkness" with issue #100 and will conclude his "Sovereign" storyline with some intense "widescreen action." "You’ll feel like you’ve been on a journey with Jackie [Estacado]," Hester said. "He’ll have changed forever." He cited Alan Moore’s run on "Swamp Thing" as a huge influence and said that his last year on "The Darkness" will be "totally balls out" and will feature a number of call-backs to the series’ formative issues.
Ultimately, despite the unexpected changes to the panel’s line-up (like Marz, Eric Basaldua was notably absent), Sablik led a panel that was for more revelatory and newsworthy than any prior Top Cow appearance at ECCC. He closed things out by teasing that the 13th issue of "Artifacts," for which an artist has yet to be announced, "is going to be something special."
Check back to CBR across the weekend for more news from Emerald City ComiCon 2010!