ECCC: Dark Horse Spotlights Superheroes

The past year has seen a radical expansion in Dark Horse Comics' stable of superhero characters. The publisher has recently re-imagined several of its past heroes, including Ghost and X, as well as bringing brand new characters to the page.

Friday afternoon at Emerald City Comicon, Dark Horse gave the lowdown on its existing heroes and hinted at characters to come in their "Dark Horse Superheroes" panel discussion. Kelly Sue DeConnick ("Ghost"), Michael Avon Oeming ("The Victories"), Francesco Francavilla ("Black Beetle"), Joshua Williamson ("Captain Midnight") and Frank Barbiere ("Blackout") joined Dark Horse Associate Editor Patrick Thorpe and Public Relations Director Jeremy Atkins on stage for a look at the range of Dark Horse heroes and some of the inspirations behind them, as well as to announce the launch of "Ghost," "X" and "Captain Midnight" as ongoing titles.

Many of the characters the publisher has introduced in the past year, including "Ghost," "Black Beetle" and "The Victories," have done stints in the publisher's anthology, making "Dark Horse Presents" something of a proving ground for new creator-owned properties, and a trove of new talent and new ideas.

Oeming's "The Victories" began as a short miniseries, but Oeming said that while writing the first series he was planting seeds for something larger.

"'The Victories' is a continuation of the first series, which centered on the character Faustus and his struggles with the origins of his powers and how they fit into the rest of his life," said Oeming. "While I was doing that first series I always hoped that we'd get to do more 'Victories.' I planted the seeds for larger story arcs...I like to see what's going on in characters heads and what kind of brought them to where we see them be heroes -- what motivates them."

DeConnick spoke about her miniseries "Ghost," a re-imagining of the character made popular in the 1990s. While DeConnick said that her take on the character did include some themes and character notes pulled from the original series, she joked that the two were "about as alike as the two 'Battlestar Galactica' series."

DeConnick went on to say that the central character of the book, Elisa Cameron, was inspired in part by the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya -- Politkovskaya was murdered in October 2006 under circumstances in connection, it is thought, to her work.

"That kind of fearless commitment to justice and to the ideas of journalism is at the heart of the character Elisa Cameron," said DeConnick. "She's kind of a bad ass."

Joshua Williamson explained the origins of "Captain Midnight," a "pulp superhero from the late '30s, early '40s who, basically, fought Nazis -- and he was a genius. At that time he was saving the world, and trying to make a better future for us -- and then he disappeared. He comes back, and he's super disappointed in the present day. He's very much, like, 'Where is my jetpack?'... He's really fun to write. He's very matter-of-fact about things, and he thinks he's right about everything."

Frank Barbiere is penning "Blackout," debuting in the pages of Dark Horse Presents' May issue. The character was created by Dark Horse publisher and founder Mike Richardson, and is intended as an everyman story. Barbiere described Blackout as a character-driven piece about a young man who comes upon a suit that allows him to enter a "blackout dimension," and move in and out of space and time.

Jeremy Atkins touched on several titles Dark Horse has in store for 2013. "Bloodhound," a character created by Dan Jolley, originally was published by DC Comics in 2004. After a brief run, the series was cancelled. Jolley has brought the character to Dark Horse Comics, with the publisher committed to publishing a new story in "Dark Horse Presents" as well as a collection of the original series.

"Trekker," created by Ron Randall in the mid-1980s and originally published by Dark Horse, will be re-imagined for a contemporary audience with stories debuting in "Dark Horse Presents" and a collected omnibus. "Catalyst," again a Dark Horse property from the mid-1990s, is also receiving a facelift with a nine-issue arc by writer Joe Casey.

Atkins summed up Dark Horse's philosophy when it comes to crafting their stable of superheroes as character-driven.

"We're really trying to take the time to be thoughtful about the characters themselves in all the books that we're doing, whether that be creator-owned books these guys are doing, or the Dark Horse line that we're doing," said Atkins.

Atkins then touched on an upcoming story by Duane Swierczynski, "2 Past Midnight," featuring Ghost, X and Captain Midnight, hinting at the possibility of a shared universe and further crossovers to come.

The writers then spoke about the influences they feel carry through their work. They cited a range of sources, from Mike Baron's "Nexus" to the "X-Men" animated series and noir cinema.

"Even before I knew what a creator-owned comic was, I knew I wanted to do something like 'Nexus,'" said Oeming. "At the same time I was also reading 'Spiderman,' 'X-Men,' all that stuff, but 'Nexus' just stood out to me because it was doing that same kind of exciting superhero stuff, but it was just so different. You learn a lot about who the characters were."

Francavilla cited several early Dark Horse series as influential, including "Hellboy" and "Sin City."

"I've always been a fan of classic noir movies," said Francavilla. "Just being black and white, the fact that you can't rely on color -- so the staging, the lighting the shadow. That kind of cinematography has always been fascinating."

Joshua Williamson lauded James Robinson's "Starman." "It's one of the few books that -- it made me cry," he said.

Aside from the expansion of Dark Horse's roster of heroes, several characters will be getting an expanded role as the publisher rolls out its new titles in 2013. After well-received miniseries, "Ghost," "X" and "Captain Midnight" will all be moving forward in new ongoing monthlies. "X" is the first of these books, debuting in May, followed by "Captain Midnight" in July and "Ghost" sometime in the fall.

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