At this weekend's Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo, Top Cow fans were treated to a panel filled with some of the company's most prominent creators including Phil Hester ("The Darkness"), Bryan Edward Hill ("Broken Trinity: Pandora's Box"), Nelson Blake II ("Magdalena") and Ron Marz ("Witchblade," "Angelus"). Top Cow Publisher Filip Sablik moderated the panel and covered a wide range of topics, starting with the company's major summer event - "Artifacts."
Launching in July and set to play out over the course of a year, "Artifacts" is written by Ron Marz and illustrated by a rotating lineup of artists beginning with Michael Broussard for the first four issues. The remaining artists are currently unannounced, though Sablik said the final issue's artist would raise several eyebrows. Three different covers for the first issue were displayed - a Dale Keown cover depicting a distraught Sara Pezzini restrained by Jackie Estacado was described as the story-oriented cover, while John Tyler Christopher's cover profiling Sara was revealed as the first of thirteen Artifact bearer-centric covers.
The cover that received the most attention was a jam piece illustrated by several different Top Cow artists. Marz and Blake identified each artist's contribution as follows: Michael Broussard drew Tom Judge and Jackie Estacado, Sheldon Mitchell drew Sabine and Alina Enstrom, Kenneth Rocafort drew Michael "Finn" Finnegan and Glorianna "Glori" Silver, Marc Silvestri drew Danielle Baptiste, Stjepan Sejic drew Sara Pezzini, and Blake himself drew Necromancer and Magdalena. The panelists were quick to point to three mysterious emblems on the cover pertaining to the three Artifacts whose bearers have yet to be revealed.
"We've done a couple of events in the last three years," Marz told the audience, referring to "First Born" and "Broken Trinity," both of which introduced new Artifact bearers, characters and concepts into the Top Cow Universe. "This is the big one. This is the story we've been leading up to for a number of years and seeing hints in a bunch of books about what might happen when the thirteen Artifacts are brought together - and it's something very bad. It's worse than tax day."
Marz said that "Artifacts" would have permanent, lasting ramifications on the Top Cow Universe, rather than "the illusion of change" as rendered by publishers like Marvel and DC Comics. "Some of these characters that have been around for a while are not going to be coming back," he warned. "And when we kill them, they'll stay dead."
Top Cow's offering for Free Comic Book Day is "Artifacts" #0, an issue designed to provide all of the information that a reader needs in order to understand the upcoming event. Additionally, with each passing issue of "Artifacts," retailers will have the opportunity to qualify for a set of custom playing cards. Four suits of thirteen cards featuring original art are planned to synchronize with each of the thirteen Artifact bearers. By the end of "Artifacts," retailers will have a complete set of cards. Sablik stressed that the card incentive was designed purely for fun and excitement over the series, and that readers would not have to purchase books outside of the core "Artifacts" title in order to enjoy the series - however, reading accompanying stories in "Witchblade," "The Darkness" and other titles will make for a richer reading experience.
Moving on from "Artifacts," the panelists turned their attention to "The Darkness," specifically the convention exclusive cover to issue #84 featuring Chicago Bears linebacker Lance Briggs. The issue, titled "The Three Deaths of Jackie Estacado," is illustrated by Whilce Portacio and features several Hunter-Killer characters and the return of the Foreigner, described by Hester as "an anti-Yoda."
Briggs joined the panel, prompting an elated Hill to grin ear-to-ear. "I'm sitting next to Lance Briggs," he enthused. The football star revealed his lifelong status as a comic book fan, with Jackie Estacado being his favorite character of all.
"When I started reading 'The Darkness,' I had no recommendations - no one told me to check this comic out. It was purely by chance that the cover kind of sold me," said Briggs. "But what I love about Jackie is that he has so many issues. He has a lot of issues. At times he can be really cold, but he also feels bad about some of the things he's done and feels like he can make up for it by doing something good."
Briggs said his favorite issue is "The Darkness/Superman," saying that the cover really sucked him in and that he loves crossovers. Marz joked that there is probably a very similar percentage of comic book creators who watch football to football players who read comic books - something of a crossover in and of itself.
Before Briggs left the panel, Sablik announced that the football star would write the introduction for the upcoming "Darkness" trade paperback collecting issues #76 – 79.
In further "Darkness" news, Sheldon Mitchell is drawing the next two issues while "American Vampire" artist Rafael Albuquerque is supplying the cover for issue #85. In August, writer David Hine and artist Jeff Wamester will collaborate on "The Darkness: Four Horsemen," a four issue limited series about Jackie hunting down a biker gang as a favor for an old employer, but nothing is as it appears to be.
The conversation shifted to "Broken Trinity: Pandora's Box," the currently releasing miniseries from Hill and his co-writer Rob Levin. Hill, somewhat new to the comic book game, began by praising the cover art of Tommy Lee Edwards: "That's like putting DeNiro in your first movie. It's awesome."
Hill described "Pandora's Box" as a globetrotting action-adventure story surrounding Glori of the Ember Stone and Finn of the Glacier Stone. Both have been told that they must fight each other but are joined together to stop a mad man and his cult from acquiring an Artifact called Pandora's Box, described as "a mystical weapon of mass extinction."
"It won't be easy for you to pick a villain between Glori and Finn," said Hill. "It's crucial to me as a writer that I'm doing my job to give you an emotional reality that you can connect to, not just preach to you with cardboard characters."
While "Pandora's Box" isn't required reading in order to enjoy "Artifacts," the panelists noted that the miniseries would give readers a deeper understanding of Glori, Finn and other characters.
Next on the docket was Marz and Blake's "Magdalena," a series that Marz said he's been looking forward to writing for years. He credited his collaborator's behind-the-scenes work for the authenticity of lead character Patience's design and combat style, saying that Blake researched how a warrior would fight with a spear and cloak.
Blake modestly said that the research process was effortless due to his love for the character. One of Blake's research attempts involved asking a slew of comic book creators, including Hill, the following question: "If you guys had a 'Magdalena' video game, what do you think the controls would be?" Beyond the research process, Blake enjoys working on the series because he's very interested in conspiracies and the other subject matter that Marz is exploring throughout "Magdalena."
Sablik quickly highlighted the upcoming installments of "Pilot Season," currently in its third year and commanded by co-creators Robert Kirkman and Marc Silvestri. The next issue, "Stealth," is slated to hit stands in early May with "Stellar" coming out just four weeks later, and "Hardcore" four weeks after that. Once all five issues have shipped, fans will have the opportunity to vote for their favorite concept to become a full-fledged miniseries.
The next topic was "Velocity," a May-releasing miniseries about the popular Cyberforce heroine written by Ron Marz and illustrated by Kenneth Rocafort. "I haven't written a lot of superheroes in the last few years because I've kind of had my fill," said Marz. "To come back and write a full-on superhero story and use a cool character like [Velocity] and have my script drawn by Kenneth is awesome."
Sablik provided the C2E2 crowd with an exclusive first look at Rocafort's art from "Velocity," with the first double-page spread yielding an audible gasp from the audience. Marz said that the entire story takes place in 60 minutes with a literal ticking clock on each page of the series starting with the second issue. It's up to Velocity to save herself and her teammates from certain doom before the clock runs out. She'll need to act quickly, however, as according to Marz, Velocity dies on page five of the first issue. "You'll have to read the rest to find out what happens next," he teased.
Moving onto "Witchblade," Sara Pezzini will face an ancient and evil creature in the coming issues, while another issue focuses on Sara's sister Julie. In "Angelus," Danielle Baptiste is preparing to battle Jackie Estacado, while the end of the miniseries will reveal another Artifact-bearer.
At the panel's conclusion, Sablik announced a redesign of Top Cow's official website including a brand new storefront. The website is set to relaunch at some point this week, and fans are encouraged to visit www.topcow.com for further news on the forthcoming update.