As a follow-up to our weeklong spotlight on Top Cow, CBR News sat down once again with Publisher Filip Sablik for an in-depth discussion about the company's plans for 2009, which include a fixed $2.99 cover price for all non-oversized books, a summer event featuring the return of fan-favorites Cyberforce and Hunter-Killer, and the forging of a more cohesive Top Cow universe.
First and foremost, Top Cow's attention will be focused on their two flagship titles, "Witchblade" and "The Darkness." "We've got Ron Marz and Stjepan Sejiic on 'Witchblade' through at least issue #150," told CBR.
At the conclusion of the Ron Marz-penned "First Born," the Witchblade was split in two, part of it remaining with Sara Pezzini and the rest finding a new host in the person of Dani Baptiste. "Readers who have been keeping up with 'Witchblade' have seen that the Witchblade is once again kind of influencing both bearers, and Sara's been acting a little bit strangely in the last few issues, so that will come to a head starting with issue #125," Sablik revealed. The storyline will be called "War of the Witchblades" and begin in March.
Though "The Darkness" has been re-launched a number of times, the series has been in print, in one form or another, for nearly 75 consecutive issues. To celebrate the book's success and longevity, Top Cow has instituted legacy numbering to take into account the prior two "Darkness" series. "In February, we're going to release 'Darkness' #75, the eleventh issue of the current series, and we're working really hard to make that a big, spectacular event," Sablik said. "Phil Hester wrote a story, and then we're going to have a star-studded cast of 'Darkness' artists come in and do various pages."
Additionally, "The Darkness" #75 will be a self-contained story, and is designed as a good jumping on point for new readers.
Michael Broussard, who lent his artistic talents to the first six-issue arc of the current "Darkness" series, will be returning to draw the storyline following issue #75. The current arc is illustrated by Jorge Lucas, and he and Broussard will be switching off on storylines for the foreseeable future. "They kind of offer up two unique styles," Sablik said. "Michael definitely has a style that's reminiscent of Marc Silvestri, which our core audience really responds to, and then Jorge kind of brings more of a realistic noir style to his work. People have been responding really well to it."
Marvel and DC Comics have always been known for their sprawling crossover events, which despite a tendency to become unwieldy and a considerable strain on readers' pocketbooks, remain exceedingly popular. "Events seem to be something folks respond to and get really excited about, but we try to counter-program a little bit in that we're going to keep ours self-contained," Sablik explained.
Top Cow's last two major events, First Born and Broken Trinity, were both three-issue miniseries with three tie-ins. But for their 2009 event, Top Cow is going to do away with tie-ins altogether and produce a five-issue event miniseries they're calling "Cyberforce/Hunter-Killer." Though "Witchblade" and "The Darkness" have been Top Cow's longest running series, Marc Silvestri's "Cyberforce" was the outfit's first book out of the gate, and fans have been clamoring for the team's return since three of its members -- Velocity, Cyblade and Ripclaw -- were individually featured in Pilot Season 2007.
"And we've been getting similar request for 'Hunter-Killer' since the first season wrapped up," Sablik said. As such, comics superstar Mark Waid will be writing "Cyberforce/Hunter-Killer," and rising star Kenneth Rocafort ("Madame Mirage") will be providing the artwork. "So we're thinking it's going to be a really, really special, cool event."
One of Top Cow's goals for 2009 is to create a cohesive Top Cow Universe. That said, when two Top Cow books crossover, it won't always be a big event. "Jackie and Sara share a baby, Hope, so over the coming year you may see either Jackie or Sara appear in the other one's books, but it won't necessarily be something huge that we tell, it'll just be a natural, organic interaction between the two characters," Sablik explained. "And other characters like Aphrodite and Magdalena and to a certain extent Cyberforce and Hunter-Killer may all kind of interact and crossover." Sablik hopes that these characters' interactions will be rewarding to the fans who pick up all of Top Cow's books.
Top Cow is also developing a series with DiVide Pictures, a production company started by "Heroes" star Milo Ventimiglia and his partner Russ Cundiff. "They are doing a comic series right now with Devil's Due called 'Rest,' and the series they're doing with us is called 'Berseker,'" Sablik said. Based on a concept by TV writer Rick Loverd, DiVide thought the project would be a good fit for Top Cow, and the comic book publisher agreed. "The characters in 'Berserker' are descendants of Norse warriors called Berserkers. There is a pseudo-historical, kind of mythological legend about these warriors that, before battle they would just get so hyped up and so angry that they were unstoppable, but the downside of this is that in this rage-fueled power, they can't really distinguish friend from foe."
In much the same way that "Wanted" put a gritty, hyper-violent twist on the superhero genre, Sablik says that "Berserker" is a take on a character like the Incredible Hulk. "Normally, when the Hulk pops up in some city, and he wrecks a bunch of stuff. It's mostly buildings get broken, maybe a superhero or two gets beat up, but for somebody that's supposed to be that powerful, there's not a whole lot of real damage," Sablik explained. But when these modern-day Berserkers start living up to their name, you'd best believe there's going to be a body count. Rick Loverd is penning the book, and the artist has yet to be finalized.
Kickstart, the production company behind the film adaptation of "Wanted," is co-producing a project with Top Cow called "Black Vault." It was Kickstart that came to Top Cow with the idea, which Sablik characterizes as "Guantanamo in space." "It's an alternate, near-future story where the war on terror has continued to spin out of control, and the U.S. has decided to take extreme measures to get information out of terrorists," Sablik said. "They decide that they can't really do what they need to do on terra firma, so they take a few of these suspected terrorists up into an international space station to extract information out of them."
The space station's crew don't know what the U.S. government is up to behind closed doors, and find themselves between a rock and a hard place after they begin to discover what's really going on. B. Clay Moore ("Hawaiian Dick," "76") is writing "Black Vault," and Top Cow-exclusive artist Nelson Blake II is providing the art.
While other companies are selling their books for $3.99, Top Cow has pledged to lock in its $2.99 cover price point for all of 2009. "The only time you'll see a higher price point from us in the coming years is if the book is oversized," Sablik confirmed. The 48-page "The Darkness" #75, for example, will have a higher cover price, but all of the Cow's 22-page books will sell for $2.99. "With the economy being what it is, cover price continues to be a real point of concern for a lot of consumers, so that's one of the ways we hope we can offer fans something extra."
In an effort to stick more firmly to their shipping schedules, Top Cow has decided to curtail its convention presence in 2009. Top Cow routinely attends eight to ten shows a year, and that time commitment has sometimes slowed the gears of production. "Officially, we're only going to do three shows in 2009: New York, Wizard World L.A. and San Diego," Sablik said. "There may be shows where occasionally, a representative will come out and do a panel, or an artist will be a guest of the show, but as a whole, we're going to pull that back. Obviously, we love interacting with the fans and stuff, but we want to get these books on time, and we think that's ultimately more important to fans than occasionally seeing us at a show."
The ever-evolving Pilot Season competition - whereby Top Cow publishes series of one-shots that readers vote on to determine which title graduates to ongoing series -- will return in 2009. Like Pilot Season 2008, next year's event will consist of six all-new concepts, as opposed to revamps of existing Top Cow properties. "We're going to bring in new creators," Sablik said. "Some whom are more established and some fresh faces." When Top Cow first introduced Pilot Season in 2007, they had to approach creators to fill their quota. "Now, on the creator side, people know what Pilot Season is, they think it's a very cool concept, so as far back as June or July of last year, we were getting unsolicited pitches from a lot of really good, established creators."
This year, Pilot Season* has an embarrassment of riches, and Sablik and company have been forced to narrow it down to the best of the best. Explained Sablik, "We're looking at two or three concepts that are equally as interesting, and having to kind of decide, 'Okay, what makes the most sense to run with this year?' So it's a good problem to have."
"Witchblade" #122 and "The Darkness" #8 are on sale now from Top Cow Productions and Image Comics.