This week, Dark Horse’s “Captain Midnight” #2 hit shelves, and the retro futuristic superhero series is only the latest release to carry a new branding which will unite a group of characters that the publisher is still proud to say stand firmly on their own.
Along with classic Dark Horse properties like “Ghost” and “X” as well as other revivals like “Brain Boy,” “Midnight” is leading the charge for Dark Horse’s growing superhero universe which now carries the name “Project Black Sky.” The mysterious title reflects the roots all these comics will share in the Golden Age adventures of Captain Midnight -Â whose civilian identity has had an impact on how this universe developed while he was trapped in the Bermuda Triangle -Â but as Editors Patrick Thorpe and Jim Gibbons explain to CBR, the growing connections will never trump the solo work of creators like Joshua Williamson, Fred Van Lente, Kelly Sue DeConnick, R.B. Silva, Duane Swierczynski, Eric Nguyen and more.
CBR News continued our discussion with the Editorial pair behind Project Black Sky this month, and below, the two describe their hopes for the future of the superhero line. From the introduction of more characters like the reinvented Skyman to the incoming events on ongoing titles like “X” that will continue to develop each character’s world, the pair promise a superhero universe unlike any other in comics.
CBR News: Let’s talk about what unites Dark Horse’s superhero line. Though all the books have been standing on their own, you’ve had stories like “Two Past Midnight” that bring some of them together, and elements of the world like Albright Industries have worked their way into multiple titles. Is there a ball that’s starting to roll down the hill faster
Jim Gibbons: I suppose so. But at the same time I feel that for a lot of us here, we’ve been talking about these books internally for so long that we can never gauge how fast that ball is rolling. [Laughs]
Patrick Thorpe: Yeah. I think I’ve got plans through “X” #10, and “Captain Midnight” is plotted through, what?
Gibbons: I think it’s #11 at this point. The thing that I always go back to is that when Mike [Richardson] started talking to us about doing these books, he loved the idea of how back in heyday of the Marvel Universe the Human Torch would just fly through the background of “Amazing Spider-Man.” You could tell that they were a part of the same world, but you didn’t need to read “Fantastic Four” to enjoy your Spider-Man comic. That’s the kind of way in which this works. These books live in a universe, but for at least the first six issues, you don’t need them on one page punching each other to understand that.
We can start seeding some stuff throughout, but we don’t want to alienate readers by saying, “You’ve got to read all these books to enjoy this.” That’s just not true. These are five unique books, and if someone sees Brain Boy in the background of “Captain Midnight” and feels like, “Oh hey, what’s that all about?” then that’d be awesome. We want to provide that as well. And hopefully, little bits of piecemeal stuff like that will build some interest across the books, and people will tell us that they want to see more stuff like “2 Past Midnight.”
Let’s talk about the next steps for all these series. “Captain Midnight” has just launched as a monthly. “Brain Boy” isn’t far behind, and stuff like “Blackout” and “The Occultist” are about to follow suit. In all these books, what are the things you think prove the hypothesis of what you want them to be?
Gibbons: One of the most exciting parts of working on any of these books for me has been talking about “Captain Midnight” with Joshua Williams. He’s local, so he’s been able to come in for a number of lunch meetings. We just sit down and talk about these ideas, and one thing we really hit on was that Captain Midnight is a guy from the past who comes to the present, and of course that makes you think about Captain America. But we felt that there wasn’t just one kind of story to tell with that concept of time travel from past to future. We asked, “Who is Captain Midnight as a hero?” and it brought us to this realization that he was basically a futurist in the 1940s. What does that more modern term mean when you’re describing someone from the World War II era. It’s a differet thing. He’d get here, and he’d understand some things, but the idea of software is something he’d not understand because he was a builder in the classical sense.
Josh describes this as “Where is my jetpack?” It’s our school of thought on the future of the ’50s that never happened, and as we go through this first arc, it’s a lot about Captain Midnight not knowing what’s going on. And then in the following arc, we really dig into this idea of him learning that the world is a different place. But it’s not him learning things are different in terms of going, “My goodness! You have electric cars!” He’s not a fish out of water. He’s trying to play catch up because he’s a guy who wants to fix things. He sees the world in the shape it’s in, and he wants to fix that, but first he has to get his own house in order.
We just had these constant conversations about building this character because even though Captain Midnight has been around for 50 years as a property, most fans have no idea who he is. It’s great because it lets us take this idea and play with it, but we don’t have to worry about continuity of the last 50 years. We can just figure out the most exciting way to tell this story and make this character fun to read about. That’s not the sexiest thing to say, but I’m so excited that the story we’ve been talking about for the past year is finally something people can go and buy!
Thorpe: I have something more specific that I’m excited about for “X.” Issue #4 wraps the first arc, and X has a knock-down, drag-out fight to the death with this villain who became a pig-faced monster. I’m very excited to let that play out.
I’m also really excited that we’ve been able to announce everyone working on the next “Ghost” series. It’s a hell of a creative team, and I could not be more excited about the direction we’re going in. Generally, one of the most exciting things about these books don’t have to maintain continuity. We can introduce characters and watch them play out. We can introduce ideas that can change everything. All of these characters have large character arcs they’re on that can change them as people as well.
Gibbons: Exactly. We just put issue #1 of “Brain Boy” to bed and R.B. Silva did an amazing job of it. I liked his work on “Jimmy Olsen” a lot, but this is a totally different level for him. And in his first three-issue arc, Fred Van Lente has written a crazy James Bond movie where everyone is a psychic. It’s got amazing concepts that is going to blow everyone away. I love all these books, but I hope “Brain Boy” is the one people will really flock to. It’s less traditional, but I think it’ll be well received. Fred has really made the character a real person as opposed to the blond kid from the old series.
And Skyman coming into “Captain Midnight” with issue #4 is a really fun chance to take another Golden Age character and revamp him without having to necessarily make him in any way like he was in the past. Captain Midnight is definitely still a hero, and Skyman comes along and gives us leverage to play around with that idea a lot more and have some fun with it.
When you guys released the Freddie E. Williams image that brought together all the Dark Horse superhero characters, it caught a lot of people’s eye. While this isn’t a tightly woven universe where each book is vitally important to the others, is there a common name by which you refer to the series?
Gibbons: Yes! [Laughter] As far as that piece of art goes, Dark Horse is not the kind of company that people associate with superheroes, and we realized as we did this that we had a ton of superhero books that included a bunch of cool creator-owned series that people maybe didn’t know about.
Thorpe: That image wasn’t so much about a brand as it was about letting people know that we had a ton of cool superhero books to try out. We were just super excited about these books because we all love superhero comics, and we wanted to go out and work with the best creators we could find to make some great stuff. And though we’re not historically a superhero publisher, we’re hoping that people will try out books like “The Answer” and “Dream Thief” and “Buzzkill” and everything else.
Gibbons: I think it really shows the Dark Horse model that we do a lot of different stuff. We do horror books and sci-fi books and everything imaginable. “Black Beetle” is a superhero book, but it’s also a crime noir book. Where does that live in the world of the big two? Who knows? But here we can do that as well as “Captain Midnight” or any other kind of pulp hero.
But for the universe that includes Captain Midnight and Ghost and X, we refer to it as “Project Black Sky.” You can see a little indicator of those titles underneath the Dark Horse logo. It’s a visual indicator that the books are connected in a small way. Hopefully, people will really love these books and we’ll get the chance to expand on that idea even more in the future.
Well, with a name like “Project Black Sky,” I get the feeling that there’s a story begging to be told there.
Thorpe: That’s legitimate, and the story surrounding Project Black Sky is steeped in a lot of the history of this world.
Gibbons: As a company, we want people to know that we have intentions to making these more than just a series here or a series there. But we don’t want to overwhelm and say, “It’s going to be this gigantic thing!” We want to keep our focus on making the individual books great.
Thorpe: Yeah, I think our main focus is on character and making sure every single one of these books has a unique and interesting character with a very cool take by the best creators we can recruit.
Gibbons: I agree!
“Captain Midnight” #2 is on sale this week from Dark Horse.