Top Cow Surprises Fans @ WW Philly

The best laid plans of mice, men and convention planners. Sometimes things just don't go the way you'd like. In theory, the Top Cow panel was supposed to consist of the top writers and artists from Top Cow talking about their upcoming projects.

In theory.

In practice, scheduling conflicts with artist signing and the like intervened. Matt Hawkins showed up early with a couple of DVD's about Top Cow's upcoming media projects. The rest of the crew never showed, so Hawkins gamely handled the whole panel himself.

After a few technical difficulties, the DVD started rolling with scenes from the upcoming "Aphrodite IX" anime, featuring lots of surprisingly bloody violence, and, not very surprising, some fan service.

The anime will be a 98 minute movie that will likely get a theatrical release in Europe and possibly Japan before going straight to DVD in the US sometime in 2007 or 2008.

Hawkins then showed a trailer for the upcoming "Darkness" game, due out for the PS3 and X Box 360 next February. The game was one the three picks for best game at this year's E3, and has been getting raves from the game critics.

The trailer he was able to show at the panel was an older trailer, well over a year old at this point, although there was a new version made, he wasn't allowed to show it to the crowd.

The game, which is a hybrid of first person shooter and a strategy game, will allow players to use a full range of Darkness' powers, from creating Darklings to using the Darkness to rip off enemies' heads. Next year will also see a new "Darkness" comic book series, starting with a five-issue arc that synchs with the five levels in the game. Not an adaptation exactly, but a story taking place around the game.

There was also a little bit regarding an upcoming "Witchblade" game, mostly character studies and some weapons use, all still very early in the development process.

The trailer for "Tomb Raider: Legend" was up next, showing the game that reinvigorated the franchise. The game is selling so well, in fact, that they are bringing the Lara Croft series back in 2007.

"We're very excited to be back in business with Lara Croft," said Hawkins.

Eidos, the company that produces the Tomb Raider game, has an equity stake in Top Cow, an arrangement that gives the company full access to the games company's properties. Hawkins revealed that Top Cow is currently looking at the titular character from "Hitman" for his own series.

Top Cow will also be working with Marvel on two upcoming series, one "Phoenix" series and a new "X-23" series. There's also a "Witchblade/Punisher" crossover by Ron Marz and Mike Choi that will team the two sort of heroes up for the first time.

The "Witchblade" anime is doing well in Japan, and is the first time an American character has been brought in and reimagined as a Japanese character. The series takes place in the future, featuring an illegitimate wearer of the blade fighting evil two hundred years in the future. Funimation will bring the series to America, and talks are going on to attempt to air the series on Cartoon Network's "Adult Swim" block of mature audience programming.

There's also a "Witchblade" manga available that features yet another Witchblade wearer, and plans are underway to bring this wielder to the US as well. For people that want to be follow the Witchblade story from the beginning, they can pick up the new Compendium Edition, a thirteen hundred page monster that includes the first fifty issues for just fifty bucks.

The next DVD included images from the "Cyberforce" relaunch, and Hawkins told the crowd about the plans for an "X-Men/Cyberforce" crossover. One of the original criticisms of "Cyberforce" was that Silvestri, going straight from X-Men to Image, had simply recreated the X-Men. By having the characters in a story together they hope to show people how different the characters really are from Marvel's Merry Mutants.

There are also plans to bring back "Weapon Zero," and Hawkins was up front about the reasons for it. Top Cow has shifted over the years from being a comics company to more of a multimedia company, developing properties to be made into videogames, movies and television shows.

Because of this, they are bringing back old properties, which were mostly visually impressive but lacking in story, and relaunching them as something that could be viable for development.

Top Cow has weaned its number of titles down with a specific philosophy in mind. They have no desire to do twenty series a month, since they can't compete with the vast array of titles that Marvel or DC, or even Dark Horse put out each month.,

"One thing Top Cow is to do is fewer, better books," said Hawkins.

"Robot Chicken" and "Buffy" star Seth Green's "Freshmen" comic book series was a huge success, selling lots in singles and ten of thousands of copies of the trade- so naturally, they're going to do some more of them. They're looking for a name right now, deciding not to go with "The Sophomores" in spite of the fact that it is, indeed, the characters' sophomore year.

Hopefully starting in September, Top Cow will be offering digital downloads of its comics, starting from their earliest titles so they're not competing as much with their print books. Hawkins was realistic, slyly acknowledging that most of them were available in pirated form on the Internet so they might as well try to make some money with it. The downloads will follow an iTunes model, with downloads available for around a buck an issue.

Aspiring creators should especially take note. Some titles will have enhanced downloads, with the script, uninked pencils and uncolored images all available, effectively taking the buyer through all the steps that went into creating the book.

There are two "Witchblade" films in the works. The movies will be filmed in China, and the company is in the relatively unique position of having all the funding but neither a script nor a creative team. The films will hopefully start filming next year, back to back, for a 2008 and 2009 release.

That won't be the first Top Cow movie to make it to the silver screen, though. In September, Screen Gems will release "Covenant," directed by Cliffhanger director Renny Harlin, based on one of Top Cow's lesser known properties.

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