Dark Horse Comics showcased "Project Black Sky," "The Goon" and other original titles at its Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo panel Saturday on Character Building. The panel featured Dark Horse Director of Publicity Jeremy Atkins, Associate Editor Jim Gibbons and creators Eric Powell, Tim Seeley, Donny Cates, Joshua Williamson and Ally Fell.
As the panelists settled into their seats, "Ghost Fleet" writer Cates held his phone up to the microphone and started playing Katy Perry's "Dark Horse," which got laughs from audience and other panelists.
"How awesome is it that you can drink beer on the floor of the convention," said Atkins, who was equally impressed by C2E2's offering of Galaxy Hero, an IPA-style beer from Chicago-based Revolution Brewing Company made specifically for the convention. "It makes me a little sad I don't have one right now."
Later in the panel audience member Tom Kopczynski would eventually walk up to the stage and give Atkins an ice-cold cup of Galaxy Hero. Asked why he did this, Kopczynski said he did it because he wanted to give the panelists a chance to taste the exclusive beer.
"Sir, you have just won yourself a Dark Horse trade paperback of your choosing," said Atkins.
"Not from me, because you didn't bring me one," Powell joked.
That entertaining intro set the tone for the rest of the panel, as Gibbons started talking about "Project Black Sky," the latest element in Dark Horse's burgeoning superhero universe.
At the beginning of the series, the current Skyman, who was recently defeated by Captain Midnight and fired by the government, decides to get angry and drunk, all before dropping a man to his death from the sky before going off on a racist tirade against the president. "So in a PR move they bring in a young war vet named Eric Reid who's an African-American soldier that was wounded in Kandahar," said Gibbons. The people running the program play upon Reid's sense of patriotism to get him to be the new face of Skyman. "And then once he gets into the program he realizes this is terrible.
"They're having him do a bunch of bad stuff, so he ends up going rogue because he wants to be doing things to be helping people and not hurting them," Gibbons continued. Reid ends up joining Captain Midnight and decides to to take the fight to the Skyman program to right the wrongs they've committed. "It's a lot of flying around and action fun," said Gibbons.
As for parent series "Captain Midnight," which Williamson has been writing since 2012, the character's roots are in radio serials from '30s and '40s. When Dark Horse reintroduced the pulp character in a limited series, Williams wrote him as a "man-out-of-time."
"Captain Midnight is essentially, imagine if Nikola Tesla came to the present day and was really pissed off that all his inventions were being used by people the wrong way," Williamson said of his series. "He accidentally went through a portal in the Bermuda triangle and wound up in the present day."
Gibbons elaborated on the shared "Project Black Sky" universe that the "Captain Midnight" and "Skyman" titles are building for Dark Horse. "Over the first year of these books we introduced all these characters," the editor explained. "And this year all the characters' connections to each other are becoming evident." Moving forward readers will see Project Black Sky as a "shady" government organization tasked with protecting earth from alien threats and will do anything they can to stop them, which will help flesh out these connections.
"Captain Midnight was one of the guys who helped found [Project Black Sky] when he thought it was a noble thing," said Gibbons. "And then he shows up 70 years later and sees they are not very good guys."
Readers who visit their local comic shop on Saturday, May 3 will be able to pick up Dark Horse's Free Comic Book Day offering, "FCBD: Project Black Sky" by Fred Van Lente and Michael Broussard.
"We talk about this idea that Captain Midnight has to learn the world has changed," said Atkins. "And to learn something that big for him, it's going to come at a cost." He added that in issue #10 Captain Midnight finally gets slapped in the face with the reality of how different the world is.
Speaking of crossovers, Cates said he had tried unsuccessfully to pitch a crossover between two other film characters. "I wanted to do a crossover between the Crow versus Robocop called 'Crowbocop,'" said Cates "But for some reason people didn't want to do it."
Instead Cates is writing "Ghost Fleet," a series in the vein of Roman Polanski's "Chinatown" and The CW's "Supernatural" with art by Daniel Warren Johnson and colors by Lauren Affe.
"This is actually a real thing," said Cates. "Whenever the government has to transfer hazardous or secretive cargo they hire out these fleet of big rigs called the ghost fleet. They can't be pulled over, they can't be tracked and the drivers don't know what they're hauling."
He said his 12-issue series would focus on two handlers who are charged with riding alongside the big rigs as an escort.
"If shit goes down, they handle it," he said. "This is a big Macguffin book."