Following a week-long teaser campaign asking “What is the key?” leading up to New York Comic Con, CBR News has the exclusive first details of Dynamite’s new Gold Key line, which starts in February 2014 with “Turok: Dinosaur Hunter” by writer Greg Pak and artist Mirko Colak, then continues in March with “Magnus: Robot Fighter” from writer Fred Van Lente and artist Cory Smith. Things continue in April with “The Occult Files of Doctor Spektor,” written by Mark Waid and an artist to be announced, followed by “Solar: Man of the Atom” in May from “Five Ghosts” writer Frank Barbiere, also with an artist to be named.
Though each series has roots in the ’60s and ’70s comics from long-defunct publisher Gold Key (in Turok’s case, even before that), each of the four titles will start fresh with new interpretations of the concepts while incorporating elements of the original premises. The Gold Key characters come to Dynamite after a recent stint at Dark Horse Comics, and a famed run as part of the Valiant universe in the ’90s.
CBR News spoke with Pak, Van Lente, line editor Nate Cosby and Dynamite editorial director Joseph Rybandt about the new Gold Key line, the new twists that are set to unfold, what makes these classic characters unique, and whether any amount of crossover with previous Gold Key license-holder Valiant might be a possibility.
CBR News: Joseph, I wanted to start with you for the in-house Dynamite perspective on the Gold Key news — how long has this been in the works? And among all of the different properties Dynamite has the rights to, what makes Gold Key special?
Joseph Rybandt: Gold Key, in terms of where we’re at currently in the creative process with Nate [Cosby] at the lead on the day-to-day, has been in the works for the better part of this last year. Putting the deal together in order to get to that point has been in the works for the last couple of years. It’s taken a pretty good amount of time, not any shorter or longer than anything of this scope normally takes, but we’re happy that the news is finally coming out, all of our creative people are in place, and we’re actually active in the production process.
As far as “why Gold Key?” I think if you look at what Dynamite has done, coming up on our 10th anniversary, classic properties are always something that we go after. We have a relationship with the rights holders to begin with, the opportunity came up, and we took it.
Nate, once you got involved, shepherding the project creatively and putting the teams together — did you find that there was a lot of interest in these characters out there? It seems that while there’s some definite fondness, there’s also a challenge in finding the right take and a way to make it not seem like it’s completely nostalgia-based. What was your task and your challenge in moving forward?
Nate Cosby: Starting with the four titles, I think different writers of different ages growing up in different times have different touchstones with these different kinds of characters, in the same way that any kind of nostalgic property would have. My area of expertise tends to be my ignorance — which Fred and Greg will absolutely attest to. [Laughs]
Fred Van Lente: He has several degrees in ignorance.
Cosby: I was certainly aware of these characters, passing by the titles when I was younger, but I didn’t know a ton about them. I knew the basic premises and those kinds of things, and obviously I loved some of the art from Barry Windsor-Smith and Bart Sears, but my biggest priority on this was to tell really, really good fresh, modern stories. And if that meant culling some great stuff from past stories, if that meant starting from scratch to a certain extent, so be it. My biggest priority was to find the right writers, the right artists, to be able to tell these new kinds of modern takes. I was just really lucky to be able to get four guys that I feel very confident about; some I’ve worked with, some I’ve not. But that was my goal: To be able to hire the right guys, then get out of the way and get them the freedom to be able to create something new that they can have a personal perspective on.
Greg, Fred, what can you share about both of your books at this point?
Van Lente: “Magnus: Robot Fighter” is in premise the exact same as it was in its previous two incarnations in that it’s about a human with extraordinary fighting abilities who was raised by a robot to basically liberate humans from robots. The twist in our particular series is that technology is so advanced, it’s now become very difficult to tell the difference between robots and humans. Magnus can tell the difference, but the fact that the technology’s so integrated with humanity, it begs all sorts of questions like, “What is really authentic?” “What does it mean to be human?” These are the kinds of questions we’ll be getting into along with the action. Magnus will be heralded as a liberator to some and a terrorist to others, and that’s for both robots and humans. Some will see him as a very positive thing, other people will be scared shitless of him.
Greg Pak: “Turok” is the story of a young Native American who is essentially exiled from his tribe. He’s an outcast for reasons that we will explore. He doesn’t belong anywhere, and into this world come the dinosaurs. It turns everything on its head, and our hero will end up having to decide who he’s going to stand with, and who he’s going to stand against, in a world turned upside down by the arrival of dinosaurs.
Greg and Fred, both of you recently revived some dormant concepts over at Valiant Entertainment. Was it something of a similar approach — taking the basics of what was originally there, and putting your own 2013 spin on it?
Pak: I guess it is a kind of similar thing. I’ve also had a similar experience starting out at DC this year, with the New 52. I’m a big fan of being able to start a story at the beginning — it’s frankly a rare thing to do in comics. [Laughs] It’s been exciting in the last couple of years that there have been a number of opportunities that comic companies have made for themselves to do that. I think it’s important to be able to give new readers a really easy way to leap into a story, and it’s very liberating as a writer — to grab a hold of a classic character, which has a really solid crazy, big idea behind it, but then be able to launch right into a fresh story that everybody can pick up at the same time. That’s a huge gift, frankly, to be able to do something like that. I’ve had a huge amount of fun doing it for all of these companies.
Van Lente: “Magnus” is unique as a science-fiction property that was big in the ’60s and the ’90s — the creators of those strips couldn’t have really conceived of the technological advances we have now. We basically all walk around with supercomputers in our pockets that we can use to access data, take pictures and speak to each other. It was sort of a necessity to update Magnus beyond him karate-chopping the heads off ’60s robots. That was very exciting; to conceive of a completely different science-fiction world in which machines have complete control, in the sense that not every intelligent machine in “Magnus” is a robot.
Pak: I think there’s a similar fun to working on “Turok” in that you’ve got this amazing high-concept of a Native American fighting dinosaurs, which is just insanely fun. There are a million different ways you can go in trying to set up and explain that world, and Nate was very clear that the door was wide open to come up with whatever felt right. Similar to Fred’s experience, we had a lot of fun exploring this world, and coming up with some pretty surprising twists. When you get to the end of this first issue, you’re going to see something you’ve never seen before, and I think it’s going to open up really great storytelling possibilities, and great world-building possibilities.
Are you two coming to the project with similar background as Nate, being familiar with the premises of the book, but maybe not intimately well-versed in their complete history?
Van Lente: No one could be as ignorant as Nate. We would never try. It’s just a fool’s errand to try. [Laughs]
Cosby: Fool’s Errand is the name of my new solo acoustic band, by the way.
Van Lente. I actually read a bunch of “Magnus” comics, because Western has reprinted those a million times. I remember reading those as a kid. From having worked at Valiant for the last couple of years, I had read a bunch of the “Magnus” series. I wasn’t totally ignorant, and Dynamite got me the complete run of the series, which I read and really loved. Those were really spectacular comics. The challenge to me was to take this and do a remake that introduced new advanced technologies, and new concepts of robotics and what it means to be human, into the series, that simply weren’t around even 30 years ago.
Pak: I was definitely aware of both “Magnus” and “Turok” back in the day. I didn’t read a lot of them; I read some of them, and enjoyed them back when they were first coming out. I probably actually read a few more of the “Magnus” books — there was a certain point where I went back and read some of the very earliest “Magnus” stuff. I’m a real sucker for that time period, and they were just a ton of fun.
I had a huge amount of fun reading a bunch of the very early “Turok” books. They’re so primal. It’s just awesome. Issue after issue is really focused very closely on killing and eating dinosaurs. There’s a huge amount of killing and eating going on.
Cosby: You really admire the consistency of their life goals in those early ones.
Van Lente: “Turok: Dinosaur Chef.”
Pak: I was thoroughly entertained. This sounds silly, but it’s totally true: I was a boy scout, so I grew up camping. That kind of outdoor adventure has a huge amount of appeal to me. I haven’t written something like that in a while. And dinosaurs, my friend! Dinosaurs. It was all a big win.
Right, the job has you doing research about dinosaurs, which has to be a fun thing to do for work.
Pak: Yeah, totally. In recent years, there has been a lot of new evidence and new arguments coming out that are pretty convincing about what dinosaurs may or may not have looked like. We’re going to take a stab at making these dinosaurs pretty realistic, and we’re going to see what we can do to incorporate some of this latest research. It’s always fun to work actual science fact into these sci-fi stories. When you’re exploring from a place of verisimilitude, you will often be surprised when you end up getting inspired in ways that you never would have imagined. Reality is so strange and remarkable that it will inspire stories that are better than anything you would have come up with just making stuff up entirely from scratch. We’re going to see some pretty cool dinosaurs.
There is a whole historical element to this story that I don’t want to spoil, but will be a huge amount of fun to explore. There are some definite shockers coming.
Art-wise, what’s being announced initially is Mirko Colak on “Turok” and Cory Smith on “Magnus” — Nate, what made them the right choices for their respective books?
Cosby: We are crazy lucky to have had Mirko and Cory sign on as equal collaborators for “Turok” and “Magnus.” We’ve basically asked them to design brand-new characters and create whole worlds, and they’ve done it. Cory’s many robot designs really bring a sense of texture and diversity to Magnus’ world, giving a sense of depth and history, and underlining the idea that not all robots are created equal.
And for “Turok,” Mirko’s exploring Native American culture in such an interesting way, taking pains to be respectful and accurate… and that accuracy extends to the new dinosaurs you’ll see in the series. They’re going to be like nothing Turok has ever faced. It’s been a joy to see all this great stuff come to life in their hands.
Nate, can you give some background on the other two books in the line?
Cosby: We’re starting it with four books: “Turok” will be first in February, followed by “Magnus: Robot Fighter” in March, and then “The Occult Files of Doctor Spektor” in April and “Solar: Man of the Atom” in May. “Spektor” is by a little-known writer named Mark Waid. I think he’s written something called “Valor” at DC at one point, but that’s all I know about him.
Van Lente: Greg and I have been mentoring him.
Cosby: He’ll find his voice, just give him some time.
“The Occult Files of Doctor Spektor” by Mark Waid is going to be amazing. It’s basically Mark’s take on, “What is magic in the modern age?” How would someone that thinks that magic is real deal with magic, and would that person use it for celebrity? It deals a lot with the idea of cynicism towards awe and wonder — when the cover comes off of your eyes, and you actually see that there’s more than just when you see in front of you, it’s pretty remarkable. It’s a really fun story that Mark is weaving.
“Solar: Man of the Atom” has been one of the of most interesting books that I’ve dealt with. Frank Barbiere is the greenest of all these writers that we’re working with on Gold Key, having had incredible success with his creator-owned project “Five Ghosts” over at Image. He’s come up with such an interesting take on what energy, what power is, and how it relates to everyday life; to family and relationships, and things like that — matter cannot be created or destroyed, for every action there’s a reaction. He’s really taking these scientific principles, and applying them to everyday life. It’s weird, because it’s not really a superhero story; it’s not really a space story; it’s not really a family drama; and yet it’s all of those things combined. It’s a unique take that I’m really excited for people to see for the first time.
Are these books all planned on being standalone, or is there any room for a degree of interconnectivity?
Cosby: These are four books that are under the same banner. They’ve communicated in the past in past iterations. I’m thinking there’s a pretty good chance that at some point maybe there will be some interactivity.
Now, it was said that the Gold Key line is “starting” with four books. Does that mean that more might be on the way?
Rybandt: There are actually another couple of Gold Key characters that are part of our deal. We’re not going to tip the hand yet. All of the stuff that’s in our license has been thought up and considered; these are the four that we’re going out with to start.
Given that Turok, Magnus and Solar have a very specific and significant history in the past when they were licensed by the previous incarnation of Valiant, and that Fred and Greg are two of the major creative voices at the current Valiant — is there any room for collaboration between the two companies, or is it something that’s completely separate at this point?
Rybandt: In terms of two companies, ourselves and Valiant, we get along with those guys, we’re friendly with those guys, and if an opportunity comes up to do something down the road, we’d certainly explore that, just like we would explore anything else. We’re talking today after a couple days of Dynamite making a couple of announcements of crossovers with Dark Horse. Those things have been in the works for a good long while. Things take time; anything can happen. For the start, we’re concentrating on what our publishing plan is, which involves these four titles, and these creators.
Van Lente: I also think it’s important for every series to stand on its own initially, and get the breathing room to really establish itself before we start crossing over all over the place.
Cosby: I wanted to get [the Gold Key creative teams’] perspective on their story. I wanted them to really be able to put a stamp and establish their own world. Crossovers, when we get there, and who’s to say we’re not planning something — but these characters have been out of commission for a little bit, and some people have never even heard of them. I think the emphasis that we all wanted to strike was accessibility, really introducing the core, what’s important about each of these properties and these characters, and being able to see these different worlds in unique fashion. And they’ve all really done that. I’m really excited about all four books.
Stay tuned to CBR News for more on Dynamite’s Gold Key revival.