Upon his return to Archie Comics, Editor Alex Segura was tasked with giving a facelift to the publisher’s superhero characters. More than a fresh coat of paint, he accomplished his goal by inviting some completely new faces to their world.
Launching next year, the imprint formerly known as Red Circle gets relaunched as Dark Circle Comics, and the trio of ongoing titles involved are placing a premium on the visions of their creative teams. Returning for another run with the wild world of “The Fox,” Dean Haspiel and Mark Waid will launch their “Fox Hunt” storyline. Meanwhile, Michael Gaydos offer their unique crime and nor sensibilities alongside cover artist David Mack for “The Black Hood.” And finally, newcomers to comics novelists Adam Christopher and Chuck Wendig team with artist Wilfredo Torres for a new female iteration of Archie superhero icon “The Shield.”
CBR News spoke with Segura about his long term editorial vision for the line, and he explained why Dark Circle is a change that’s more about diversity than it is about being grim and gritty, how the books will present new definitive takes on their heroes without jettisoning what came before and why even creators and characters fans may be familiar with will be offering surprises in 2015.
CBR News: Alex, when you came back to Archie, it was announced that you’d be taking on an Editorial role, overseeing Archie’s superhero characters. Were there ideas in place for how the line should work that led to the creation of Dark Circle as the new face of the imprint?
Alex Segura: It’s interesting because, to a degree, I was involved in the previous launch when we did “New Crusaders.” I wasn’t in an Editorial role, but I’ve always been invested in the characters. So coming back to Archie, the chance to do some actual editing was a huge enticement mainly because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and working at a bigger company, it can be really hard to change tracks like that or wear more than one hat. But Archie is really flexible in terms of catering to what your skill set is.
With Dark Circle, it’s a situation where we have an entire library of characters who have been around since the Golden Age. That’s a really great commodity to have, and aside from DC and Marvel, I think we’ve got probably the biggest superhero library out there. And this goes to why we rebranded; for better or worse, when people see this, they haven’t gone, “Oh, cool!” They’ve gone, “Oh yeah, this is the umpteenth time you’ve rebranded these characters.” That’s not a criticism of any of the past attempts. It’s just that’s the reputation the Red Circle brand has.
So this time, we’re not just doing what we did the last time — putting all the characters in on one book that appeals to as many people, which even though it wasn’t an all-ages book, people thought of it that way. Instead, we’re flipping that and doing character-specific titles that do happen in the same universe but are very tonally different. Somewhere down the line, you may see some of these characters interact with each other. In these early discussions, we’ve been saying, “Oh, that’s a good moment to have a hat tip to ‘Shield’ in ‘Black Hood.'” But that’s more the long view as opposed to starting everyone all together. We want to start each of these characters in their own individual books, with unique voices and talent. When we get some momentum, we can bring them together, but for now we’re starting slowly, with a long term plan for what we can do.
The name “Dark Circle” is a change from the previous Red Circle branding, but it’s also telling — what? What do you think it says about how the books will look and feel?
I think a lot of people meant that things were all instantly going to be dark and gritty. It’s not that way at all. These aren’t going to be kids books. They’re very much in the same ballpark of Marvel, DC or Image — though, ideally, different and better. We don’t want this to feel like they’re the same old books. The goal is to not only feel different from the competitors, but also have each of these books feel different from each other. “Black Hood” is going to be a pretty gritty noir book, which is very much in my wheelhouse outside of comics. “The Shield” is more of an action ‘punch ’em up’ with some espionage and the dark underbelly of the government thrown in there. And “The Fox” is the creators doing the same crazy stuff they did in the first one. It reminds me in a way of a lot of classic Spider-Man stuff, where they’re throwing everything and the kitchen sink at the hero, and he’s bouncing off and continuing to do his best. This is a story of him and how he handles those pressures, and it’s a lot of fun.
I saw a lot of people, after the new logo was announced, asking, “Is ‘The Fox’ still a part of this?” or “What became of what went before?” The books coming out do not at all negate what came before. And really, “The Fox” was a proto-Dark Circle book in that it took one of the classic characters and gave it a creator-driven voice in the work from Dean Haspiel and Mark Waid. That gave us some momentum in looking at these other characters. The new “Fox” series is the one we’ve got the most pages from in right now, and Dean is pulling out all the stops on this one.
Dark Circle is much more of an overarching thesis. Each of these books is going to be different and unique, and it’s not all going to be gloom and doom.
It’s interesting how these characters from the Golden Age have that iconic shape that feels more open to interpretation than it does retro or dated. When you were putting together the line, did you cast a wide net in terms of picking the characters you’d use or the creators you’d tap?
It varied. There were some situations where creators asked, “What’s available? What can we play with?” and really, everything was on the table. But there were other situations where I approached a creator with a specific plan. For example, with Duane on “Black Hood,” I said, “If you would want to write this character for us, I think it’d be ideal.” And then he read up on the character’s history and felt like that was exactly right for him.
So many different versions of these characters have been done, but I do feel like they’re really flexible in the same way that Captain America or Spider-Man are. So it was really about linking up the writer’s and the artist’s sensibilities with the character we thought would play best. With “Shield,” Wilfredo has such a clean, dynamic line, so he fits strongly with real iconic characters. When you see his first picture of the Shield, you don’t go, “How does she compare to Joe Higgins?” It’s more, “This is the Shield.” He draws her in such a classic way. And I think it was really a coup for us to get Michael Gaydos because, to me, he drew one of the best crime comics in the past 20 years with “Alias.” So having him with Duane — whose career outside of comics has always been about crime fiction — is a dream come true for us.
So let’s look at each of the titles and their particulars. “The Fox” people knew was returning after the initial “Freak Magnet” miniseries, and that book definitely held its title like a badge of honor for the story. What does the “Fox Hunt” subtitle of the new series say about where Dean and Mark go from here?
It’s interesting because the title plays on different levels. It’s a “Fox Hunt” because there are a group of criminals hunting the Fox, but on the flip side, the Fox has to find his own son, who’s gone missing. The series still has that manic energy of “Freak Magnet,” but it’s a little more focused in terms of it being Paul Patton’s story. We should really bring in Paul Kaminski, who’s the direct editor of the title to get the full picture.
Paul Kaminski: The new series, “Fox Hunt,” takes place just as ol’ Foxy is ready to hang up the costume for good. Just one problem — his son thinks being a superhero is the coolest! Paul has a hard enough time beating down super villains and assorted weirdos on his own, but when his son wants to play superhero too (and be just like dad), things turn deadly.
“Fox Hunt” is a story about family, responsibility and what it means to be a “superhero” in a day and age where real monsters are all around us. “Fox Hunt” is also brought to you by two of the most brilliant creators in comics. It’s comics at its best, and that’s the essence of what Dark Circle is all about.
Segura: And while Dean and Mark’s voice was really established in that first series, this is an ongoing title now. I think that lets readers know how committed we are to these characters. I think fans generally aren’t as invested in miniseries unless they’re huge events. So we’re locked and loaded with these characters, and you can come into “Black Hood” or any of these titles without having ready any of the work before. We’re shooting to make definitive takes on these characters that’ll last a long time.
With “Black Hood,” it feels like that creative pedigree is pretty much everything you wanted to hang the title on. Once Duane was signed on with Michael and cover artist David Mack, what became the primary focus of how the story was told?
I don’t say this as a disservice to Duane’s other comics because he’s a great superhero writer, but my favorite writing of his is his novels. I’ve known Duane for a long time as a friend in crime fiction circles, and his books are so hyper intense and so well plotted out that I really wanted him to bring some of that sensibility to “Black Hood” and not treat it like your typical vigilante superhero.
The first arc of this series is called “The Bullet’s Kiss,” and it’s an origin story that doesn’t feel like an origin story because it moves so quickly and he layers on the levels of noir and despair that the character feels so well. It did evoke his books for me. Going back and forth with him on this book has been a joy. He really gets the character, and I hope he sticks around for a long time.
Adam Christopher and Chuck Wendig are the writers joining Wilfredo Torres on “The Shield.” They’re known for their novels but not at all in comics, really. What can you tell me about how their sensibilities matched this franchise? I know that Adam isn’t American himself, so what does the creative team have to say in playing with an American icon?
[Laughs] Yeah, Adam is based in the UK, and Chuck is American, so we’ve got that going for us. But what I like to say about Dark Circle is that it’s more like a cable channel where these are all different shows that we’re putting on. They are in a shared universe, but it’s really about focusing on each of these characters and how we can present them tonally that makes them stand out from other books in the market.
And so, a lot of that idea involved reaching out to new people who weren’t necessarily names in the market. Sure, Duane is very well known, but the tone he brings to his book is novelistic. With Chuck and Adam, I went further out. They’re both huge comic fans, but they just haven’t been able to play in this wheelhouse yet. Adam, Chuck, Paul and I will go back and forth all day on favorite comics or favorite issues of “Starman” and things like that. The geek level gets really high on our e-mails, and they really are aware of what’s going on in comics right now. As fans, they known what they like, but they also brought great ideas for an overarching story that could define this character while also being respectful to what’s come before — even in regard to the mystery. The first question you’re going to have reading the book is, “Who is this woman that is the new Shield? How does it tie to what’s come before, and more importantly, what does she stand for?”
The challenge is that, yeah, the Shield debuted before Captain America in terms of being the first patriotic hero, but that really doesn’t count for much now. Today, you just want to make the Shield a cool character independent of who was first. That was 70-odd years ago, and it’s not a race at this point. So how do we make her stand out, not only amongst the Dark Circle characters, but amongst all patriotic heroes as well? I think we’ve defined a really empowered and definitive character with her. Chuck and Adam have brought a real unique take there because they’re looking at this from a different perspective as their first comics gig. We’re all really excited to have them on board.
You’ve mentioned that these books technically build on the universe that stretches back to the Golden Age, so I wonder what that means for the proposed “New Crusaders: Dark Tomorrow” series and some of the characters we had met there?
Obviously, I was around when we launched “New Crusaders,” and Paul Kaminski has been involved on all the Dark Circle stuff. He’s been on every e-mail, and between the two of us, we’ve got a nice little Dark Circle corner in the Archie offices. Having that continuity was huge. We’re all fans of what “New Crusaders” did and those characters, and it’s always on my mind how we can get back to that story, or at least show what happens in that miniseries. It’s not off the table, but it’s also not something that’s on the front burner right now. I know a lot of fans have been asking about it, and we’re as big of fans as what went into that book as anyone. So you’ll probably see all that filter in down the line with some of these new books. That’s not something we’re ready to get deep into yet, but we’re not sweeping it under the rug.
Overall, what’s the aspect of the line you’re looking forward to getting out there first?
I’m just excited to see how people react to the art and the creative teams. We’ve really been thoughtful about who we match with whom on the line, and there is some continuity between the books. Rachel Deering is lettering two of the books, and Kelly Fitzpatrick is coloring “Black Hood” and “Shield” as well. There’s been a real team feel just getting these things going. We’ve got a huge bulletin board up in the office where we hang up new art, and it’s been great to see that and feel like this is finally real. Aside from driving the Editorial, it’s been great to see the theoretical become reality. It’s all just words on paper when you’re dealing with scripts, but when we got that first die-cut cover from Gaydos for “Black Hood” #1, that was a watershed moment for us. That’s when we knew these would be the new, definitive versions for a lot of classic characters that will hopefully be around for a long time.
Dark Circle’s comics line debuts in 2015. Stay tuned for more from Archie Comics during Comic-Con International in San Diego.