Since beginning to roll out new incarnations of its superhero characters last year, Dark Horse Comics has been focused on solo adventures more so than developing an interlocking universe. From "Ghost" to "X" to "Captain Midnight," and with "Catalyst Comix" not far off, the publisher has been reviving heroes both classic and company-owned with an eye towards stand-alone adventures.
This May, Dark Horse's superheroes head into idiosyncratic territory with the introduction of new serials "Brain Boy" and "Blackout" into the Dark Horse heroes line. A relaunch of the left-of-center '60s teen hero whose adventures the company reprinted last year, "Brain Boy" is written by Fred Van Lente. Meanwhile, "Blackout" is a new conspiracy-tinged concept from writer Frank Barbiere and artist Micah Kaneshiro, created by Publisher Mike Richardson, who gave CBR News the exclusive early scoop on both characters.
"A lot of the characters we do from the 'old days' are characters that attracted my attention back in my comics reading youth. Brain Boy is one," he explained. "You call it eccentric, but it's very different than the other superheroes out there. The name is enough to catch your attention, but the fact that he never wore a costume and his powers were telepathic and could levitate made him seem much more grounded compared to other heroes. With the idea of us building out a line of heroes now, it seemed like Brain Boy was a natural fit. He's a grounded character who finds out he has a secret past, and things aren't turning out exactly as he thought. That offers lots of storytelling potential."
When casting for a writer on the property, the Publisher lit upon Van Lente's imaginative, humorous style. "It was an easy choice," Richardson said. "We talked about writers, and he seemed to be a perfect choice. He's got some interesting ideas for the series, and we're excited in his direction. It all fits under this larger world. Of course, I'm not saying it's a 'universe' or a 'shared universe' or any of that. I want to stay away from the clichés of the '90s."
That said, Richardson notes that "Brain Boy" will hold a similar feel to already launched Dark Horse heroes like Captain Midnight, Ghost and X. "I think that we're trying to ground these heroes and give them fantastic adventures while the characters have an everyman persona. It's 'What would happen to someone who finds themselves in a situation that they never imagined?' That's an idea you'll see in a lot of these books."
The idea will cross over to "Blackout" as well. "We've been talking about some different ideas for different characters, and I want to keep it fresh and moving forward. I want the character base to always be evolving," he said of the addition to the group. "Blackout was an idea about an everyman character, which is my favorite kind of story going back to 'The Mask' and all sorts of Dark Horse projects. This is a person who finds himself in an extraordinary situation and a mystery. He ends up in the middle of a vast conspiracy that has given him the ability to step in and out of our reality. It's going to be a lot of fun. He's the first new Dark Horse character in our own pantheon of heroes in quite some time.
"I'm working with the writer on the plot right now. I have so many writing projects, and I don't want this to become the Mike Richardson Publishing Company," he laughed. "I want to be the Publisher and not just publish things I write. I'm loaded up right now doing '47 Ronin' with Stan Sakai and a project called 'The Atomic Legion' which is a retro, fun alternate universe 200-page graphic novel. That's a project that an artist named Bruce Zick and I have been working on for about four years."
As for where these characters will populate the Dark Horse line, Richardson explained that like the launches before, Brain Boy and Blackout will divide time between their own releases and the occasional appearance in the publisher's marquee anthology title. "'Dark Horse Presents' was always meant to be a place where everything went whether they be creator-owned, licensed or company-owned characters. So all of these characters I'm sure you'll see pop up in 'Dark Horse Presents' from time to time."
Overall, the key for Dark Horse in doing more superheroes is to keep each title working on its own merits as Joe Casey's incoming "Catalyst Comix" plans to do its own thing. "When we launched our superhero universe in the '90s, through a fluke of bad timing we released around the same time as the launch of about 45,000 other superhero universes," Richardson recalled. "Despite that, we launched books in the hundreds of thousands, but the collapse out there affected our titles – even the ones that were successful at the time. We're in a much better position now to launch these titles. We've always had enthusiasm for them, but now we can launch them in a way where they're an alternative to the Marvel and DC worlds. It's an attractive alternative as opposed to us trying to copy what they're doing."
But there will be come threads that connect the line as a whole. "We're letting each title stand on its own, and the connections that are there will be for the reader to find. They won't be obvious. We're hoping the reader will play along, and as we go, they'll start to see some patterns emerge."
Stay tuned for more on "Brain Boy" and "Blackout" as it becomes available.