ECCC: Dark Horse Builds Characters - Project Black Sky

Dark Horse Comics assembled a line-up of writers and artists in charge of shaping its Project Black Sky line of titles for an Emerald City Comicon panel discussing the origins and future of the publisher's still-growing superhero universe. Joining the panel to discuss their series were Frank Barbiere ("Blackout"), Joshua Williamson ("Captain Midnight"), Tim Seeley and Mike Norton ("The Occultist"), Christopher Sebela ("Ghost"), Fred Van Lente ("Brain Boy") and Joshua Hale Fialkov ("Skyman"). On the screen behind the panelists flashed the logo for Project Black Sky, along with with its motto: Quis Nisi Nos.

Williamson's "Captain Midnight" was the first PBS series to launch, setting the stage for everything that's happened in the line. The series follows a Golden Age superhero who disappeared in the '40s, only to reappear in the present day. more than just the imprint's name, Project Black Sky was a group that came to Captain Midnight, utilizing technology he created to grow from a group comprised of a few G-men into a shadowy organization.

For Williamson, one of the most challenging -- but also most satisfying -- aspects of the book is writing in a way that treats the current series as a continuation of the Golden Age comics. "It's fun hearing from old fans who feel like it's a continuation," Williamson said.

WATCHING BLACK SKY: Williamson, Van Lente & Fialkov Prep "A Better Tomorrow"

"Skyman," written by Fialkov, spun directly out of the pages of "Captain Midnight." "One of the ideas that the powers that be at Dark Horse had was the idea of unifying these books, that there has been this line of guys who have been black-ops superheroes, [all] named Skyman." Fialkov admits that the book is politically charged, but that's one of the elements of the project that appeals to him. "I think there's no point in doing safe comics. People have expectations for what you do with superheroes, but Dark Horse is ignoring that," Fialkov said, citing the fact that a government building weapons without thinking about the consequences would not be out of character, considering many of things real world governments regularly do.

Asked about how the books seem to be pointing towards an idea of a socially conscious superhero, Fialkov said that part of the ability to tell a story like that was due to not having a huge universe that needs to be serviced in some way. "It's because we don't have years of continuity, we have to find something very specific to say," Barbiere added.

As far as the truth behind Black Sky, everyone was on the panel remained mum. "We're building towards Free Comic Book Day," Van Lente said. "Lots of awesomeness will be unleashed in the book, which will feature Captain Midnight and Brain Boy teaming up."

Turning to "Brain Boy," which is being released as a series of miniseries, Van Lente said "The Man from G.E.S.T.A.L.T." will feature the return of Freddie Williams II to drawing the character.

"The original Brain Boy was forgotten," Van Lente explained, calling the original series, published by Dell Comics in the '60s, "one of the craziest things I've ever read." One reason the book was so "batshit crazy," Van Lente explained, is because it was not published under the auspices of the Comics Code Authority. "We don't follow the Comics Code either," he said, laughing.

The Free Comic Book Day book teams Captain Midnight with Brain Boy. "They get sent by the President to stop a biological weapon codenamed Apex that escaped from Project Black Sky. Apex is an escaped telepathic gorilla," Van Lente said. "It's awesome, and it's free."

Van Lente also gave a shout out to the book's letterer Nate Piekos, who Van Lente called "one of the best letterers in the business." As evidence of this, Van Lente said that Apex speaks in sign language, so Piekos created a sign language font.

In discussing "The Occultist," Tim Seeley admitted that it's the most peripheral of the Black Sky books, describing it as being about a kid who becomes the bearer of a spellbook, as if Doctor Strange were Peter Parker. The story utilizes a framing device , which makes its Black Sky connection clear.

"He's got his own thing going on," Mike Norton explained, "but he's being watched by this group."

With its next arc, current "Ghost" co-writer Christopher Sebela takes over the title as solo writer. "The first arc Kelly Sue DeConnick and I wrote, which was collecting all the pieces from the initial miniseries she did with Phil Noto. Basically, this new arc is Ghost versus a local TV horror host who's gathering a cult. Then there's a mystery dude lurking on the fringes." Sebela also expressed admiration for the book's new artist, Jan Duursema. "It's her first non-'Star Wars' book in I don't know how long."

Barbiere spoke up about "Blackout," which stands out in the PBS line since it's not a revival of an old character, but is instead a brand new character. "It was a lot of fun, because I knew Dark Horse was doing superhero stuff and I was thinking, what can I get? What do I have to read?" Barbiere said. "It was both terrifying and fun to write someone dragged into the Black Sky drama.

"It's an honor to bring a new character to Dark Horse and this line," he continued. "You don't have that safety net of people knowing who he is, but by the end of the miniseries, we'll learn more about Scott and the suit."

When it was pointed out that little is known about Black Sky from the readers' perspective, Williamson said not to worry. "[Dark Horse publisher] Mike Richardson has a plan. He has this huge bible."

"He handed it to me while I was drawing 'The Occultist,'" Norton said. "I asked, do I have to know all this?"

Barbiere made the point that while there is a bible, "it doesn't say, 'This is what happens.' We're not locked into other people's outlines."

Asked if there will be a conflict between "Ghost" and "The Occultist" since those titles are more magical while the other books are more science-based, Sebela made the point that when the book talks about demons and ghosts, there's a scientific basis of sorts -- though he admitted that after years of Catholic school, that's not the first thing he thinks of when he hears of demons and ghosts.

"In issue #16 of 'Captain Midnight,' there will be werewolves," Williamson added.

"I'm a big fan of 'Ghost,'" Seeley said. "If there's a crossover, I'm down for it."

As for planning ahead and the level of freedom each creative team has in crafting their own stories, Williamson admits that it's something he thinks about. "I'm working on year three of 'Captain Midnight,'" Williamson said. "I have a plan for an end which will wrap up what I want to do, but if someone wanted to do something else, they could." He admitted that it would be weird to see someone else write the book, but praised the FCBD comic written by Van Lente as "awesome."

"I'm a big fan of the 'Captain Midnight' book," Van Lente said, explaining that he thinks about "Brain Boy" as having an ending as well. "'Brain Boy' has a three act structure, and G.E.S.T.A.L.T. is the second act."

As for whether the creators with Big Two experience learned anything from working at Marvel or DC that they were trying to avoid in the new line, Seeley joked, "working with Fialkov."

For Sebela, though, the answer was easy. "You should be able to pick up any book you want and shouldn't have to read another to understand it." While all the books are tied together, he wants to make sure that people don't have to read other titles to understand what each of them are doing. "I hate that and don't want to do that."

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