NYCC Xtra - The Dark Horse Panel

Wed, February 28th, 2007 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Justin Jordan, Guest Contributor

The Dark Horse panel on the final day of the New York Comic Con was sparsely attended, but rich in information. That's the bane of having your panel fairly early on the final days of a con - everyone is already shipping out for parts unknown and, particularly at this con, burned out from the mob scene of the previous day.

That didn't stop writer John Ostrander, artist Jan Duursema, editor Randy Stradley, publicist Jeremy Atkins, "Rex Mundi" creator Arvid Nelson and Senior Managing Editor Scott Allie from showing up to talk about the future of Dark Horse comics.

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The panel was lead by Atkins, and the first thing they talked about was 'The Umbrella Academy" an upcoming comic by the Gerard Way, lead singer of the band My Chemical Romance (CBR News spoke with Way and editor Scott Allie last Friday and got a first look at the series). Atkins described it as a "Twisted take on superheroes" about a group of super humans raised by a very bad father. Way himself is a long time comic book fan, having even interned at DC Comics when he was younger. The series features art from "Casanova" artist Gabriel Bá.

Arvid Nelson spoke about his upcoming book "Zero Killer," set in an alternate world where America never dropped the atomic bomb, resulting in the bomb being dropped on New York City in 1973. The holocaust melted the bedrock of the city, causing the buildings to sink thirty feet into the ground. Now the skeletons of the buildings are home to warring gangs, hunted by the lead character, a bounty hunter with dreams of moving to the mythical Africa, a place supposedly untouched by atomic warfare.

Scott Allie talked about the projects coming up in the "Hellboy" universe, which you can read more about in our sit down with Allie from this past weekend.

Lobster Johnson and Abe Sapien will both be getting their own miniseries in the coming year and starting in March there will be a new "BPRD" book every month for the rest of the year.

The first "BPRD" storyline will involve Abe Sapien digging into his past before he was transformed into a fish man, a sub plot that has been running through the BPRD minis for the last few years.

"Umbrella Academy" artwork by Gabriel Bá
That will be followed by "Killing Grounds," which tells the story of what happens when instead of them going after the monsters, the monsters go after the BPRD, turning the Bureau's head quarters into the titular killing grounds.

That story will be followed by a flash to the past with "BPRD: 1946," which will feature a young Professor Broom being sent to Berlin to retrieve occult artifacts after the end of World War II, but comes into conflict with Russian specialists with the same mission, marking the beginnings of a mystical cold war.

The "Lobster Johnson" mini will start in the fall and has been years in the making. They've wanted to do a "Lobster Johnson" series almost since the character first appeared, but the timing has never been right. The story is set in Lobster's heyday of the thirties and forties, and will feature the same sort of bizarre weirdness that Mignola's "Amazing Screw On Head" did.

The Abe Sapien story will take place in the early eighties, detailing Abe's first solo mission without Hellboy. Things do not go well.

Atkins then turned the discussion to the Star Wars side of the table (the left side, as it happens) for talk about the newly resurgent Star Wars line at DH. Stradley opened by talking about "Star Wars: Legacies," which takes place more than a century after the events in the first Star Wars movie.

"We wanted to get out ahead of the Del Rey continuity," said Stradley, explaining that since the Del Rey books license had the universe tied up for the forty years or so after the Star Wars movies end, the Star Wars comics had to work around this, causing the them to be a tail wagged by the Del Rey dog.

They knew at the outset that there were a number of story elements they wanted to include, the elements that made the Star Wars universe fundamentally what it was, and which would provide the bedrock for continuing adventures.

"We wanted a new empire, lots of Sith, because there's nothing better than lots of red light sabers, hunted Jedi on the run and a Skywalker," said series writer Ostrander.

That Skywalker is Cade Skywalker, but he's not the kind of Skywalker you might be used to. He's scruffy and mean, runs with pirates, rarely uses his powers and has forsaken the Skywalker name.

"What if Han Solo had a lightsaber?" was the starting point, according to Ostrander. They'd done heroic Skywalker with Luke, and they wanted to try something different. At the beginning of the series he's in a bad place, something that will allow for much more character growth and change.

"He's someone who has sunk so far that you think they can't sink any lower and still remain alive," said Ostrander.

Stradley briefed outlined the other Star Wars series, saying that they were working to get away from the random mini series approach and into a more structured way of telling Star Wars series.

"Knights of The Old Republic" is set in the distant past of the Star Wars universe, around the same time in which the games of the same name are set.

"Dark Times" is the time directly after "Revenge of The Sith," when the Jedi have been mostly eliminated and the Empire is tightening its stranglehold on the galaxy.

"Things have gotten horrible," said Stradley, "and are about to get worse."

"Rebellion," as the name might lead you to guess, is set in the time of the rebellion, in and around the events featured in the three original Star Wars movies. It won't feature the familiar faces as regulars, instead focusing on new characters who will be fighting for freedom in new battles that we haven't seen.

Allie then stepped up to talk more about the eagerly anticipated new "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" series, which will serve as the show's eight season.

"Can't give away too much," said Allie, "Joss has threatened many things."

The original Buffy series from Dark Horse came to a close with the end of the television show, but they've always wanted to tell more Buffy stories, they've just needed Whedon to tell them what direction to go with it.

They kept working on the issue, off and on, until Whedon was at work on the "Serenity" mini series that came out from Dark Horse. Allie received an email from Whedon with an attachment that, Allie, assumed, was the "Serenity" script.

It was the first script for the new "Buffy" series, wholly unexpected. That was the genesis of the new series, which will run for thirty to forty issues, of which Whedon will right approximately a third, starting with the first arc.

The initial plan was to utilize writers from the series exclusively, but Whedon has spent the last few years immersed in the comics world, which has netted lots of new friends and collaborators, as reflected in the second arc, which will be written by comics writer and newly minted television writer Brian K. Vaughan.

Vaughan's arc will focus on Faith, the former rogue slayer turned Buffy ally. At the start of the arc, Faith has been laying about in England, ducking her duties as a slayer until Giles tracks her down and tasks her with the job of tracking down a new rogue slayer.

The next arc is written by series writer Drew Goddard and will take the Scoobies to Japan where, one assumes, supernatural merriment will ensue.

The Whedon penned first arc will reintroduce fans to the Buffyverse and show them the world that Buffy created after the events of season seven. The arc will slowly catch with the major players, with only Buffy, Dawn and Xander appearing in the first issue.

Later arcs will be written by a mix of comic book writers and television vets, including Jane Espenson and Jeph Loeb. The series is set to debut this march, so look for it soon. For more on "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" with creator Joss Whedon, don't miss CBR's extensive interview with Whedon.

Arvid Nelson talked a bit about his series "Rex Mundi," which recently moved from Image to Dark Horse.

"Rex Mundi is a quest for the Holy Grail told as a murder mystery," explained Nelson.

The series is set in a world where Martin Luther was assassinated before he could spark the Protestant reformation, and so the Church is still a very powerful ruling force, with the Inquisition taking the place of the police. And where ritualized, cabal based magic exists.

The book follows a doctor named Julian Sanuiére, who has stumbled onto an epic conspiracy that goes back to the very foundations of Christianity. The second half of the story will be more of an Indiana Jones type of story with plot elements kicking into high gear.

Another book that recently moved from Image to Dark Horse was Rick Remeder's "Fear Agent," about the last of a race of people tasked with protecting the Earth from alien invasions. The last surviving Fear Agent is now a scruffy drunk, who spends the series trying to continue that survival, whose only friend is the personality program of his ship.

Atkins also discussed a new manga that Dark Horse is bringing to the states, one of the most requested imports in recent years.

"Who here likes extreme violence?" Atkins asked, to a show of hands.

He talked about the manga a bit more without revealing the title, prompting Scott Allie to interrupt.

"The book he's talking about is 'MPD Psycho,'" said Allie.

"I was getting to it," retorted Atkins.

The manga, which tells the story of a police officer with multiple personalities, is so violently insane and generally disturbing that none of the other big companies were willing to touch it.

There will be more "Serenity," following the adventures of the characters from Joss Whedon's short lived series "Firefly." The series will again be written by Whedon and Brett Matthews, who penned the first miniseries, and will again feature the artwork of Will Conrad.

The miniseries will take place before both the previous miniseries and the "Serenity" movie, meaning that the entire crew is alive and mostly well. They've just hit that big score, that one that will set them up for life, and now they have to deal with the consequences of sudden success.

Another Star Wars release is on the horizon as well, as the company will release a graphic novel based on the new Star Wars game "Force Unleashed."

Stradley had an opportunity to see the game, which features new technology that he described as "literally mind blowing" although his head appeared relatively intact at the panel. The characters and backgrounds are nearly photoreal and the game is poised to be a huge success.

The book is written by the game's author, Hayden Blackman, and will feature a huge sprawling story that makes it essentially episode three and a half, and is set to come out in September.

Atkins then opened the panel up for questions, which went right to something even more disturbing than "MPD Psycho," namely "Satan's Sodomy Baby," an issue of "The Goon" that was pulled for its brain rending content.

Eric Powell, writer and artist on "The Goon," has been taking a break from the regular series to do the graphic novel "Chinatown," which will detail the oft mentioned Chinatown debacle as well as reveal more about the Goon's past, including how he got the scars on his face.

The pencils are finished, but the book needs to be inked and colored and will debut later this year. In the meantime, fans can be satiated by the release of "Satan's Sodomy Baby," which Dark Horse has been pushing back to make sure that no retailer gets into trouble for selling it to kids.

It was originally intended as an issue of the regular series, but it's content was so disturbing and self contained relative to the rest of the series that it was decided to hold off on publishing it.

"Believe the hype," Atkins said, the mental scarring obvious, "It's absolutely horrifying."

The next question was on something marginally less frightening, the Internet and Dark Horse's plans to expand its online presence.

Dark Horse has been steadily pushing its online ventures, including a recent teaming with MySpace, and looks at the how various titles are made, from writing to art to finished project.

Atkins also revealed, prompted by a fan question, that there were no current plans for any new "Dirty Pair" comics from Adam Warren, but it wouldn't surprise him if there were more in the future.

What they do have coming out is "Empowered," about a woman who derives her powers from her super suit, but is slowly unclothed bit by bit in what Atkins assures us is a "PG non Satan's Sodomy Baby kind of way."

Asked about the Robert Howard properties, which includes "Conan the Barbarian" and "Kull the Conqueror," Allie said that Conan Properties, which manages the rights to the various Howard characters, has recently secured all the rights to them, bringing them all under the same umbrella for the first time in years. The company has also selected Dark Horse, after their spectacular success with "Conan," to be the company to produce all the Howard comics.

The first series will be "Kull The Conqueror," written by Arvid Nelson for his world building skills, and will debut late this year. Next will be "Solomon Kane," but that will have to wait until the "Kull" series is further along.

Another upcoming project will be "The Hellboy Companion," which will have insights and analyses into the Hellboy stories, as well as thirteen new pieces of art by Hellboy creator Mike Mignola.

Dark Horse will also continue with the "Buffy The Vampire Slayer Omnibus Editions," collecting the original Dark Horse series in the chronological order.

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