WATCHING BLACK SKY: Swierczynski Builds The World of "X"

2014 is the year that the denizens of Dark Horse's growing superhero universe will look to the skies.

The line of comics that include books like "X," "Ghost" and "Captain Midnight" will cross over with each other more and more thanks to the shadowy Project Black Sky organization which gives the universe its name. And to track the ever expanding map, CBR presents WATCHING BLACK SKY -- a new monthly feature giving an advanced peek into Dark Horse's superhero series.

RELATED: YEAR OF THE HORSE: Van Lente On "Project Black Sky," "Conan the Avenger" & More!

To kick things off, we've invited "X" writer Duane Swierczynski and Editor Jim Gibbons to not only give an early look at Project Black Sky's May solicitations, but the pair will also dig into some key stories coming in the months ahead. In particular, Swierczynski unveils his plans for how the villains that threatened X in the '90s will return to shake up the good done in Arcadia since the series began and where fans will finally see the origin of the one-eyed killer.

CBR News: Let's start big picture for the line. Duane's "Half Past Midnight" series was really the first step towards a more united universe for the Dark Horse heroes as it included X, Ghost and Captain Midnight. What's the feeling on where the line is at now that the overarching concept of Project Black Sky is doing some similar work in the monthly books?

Duane Swierczynski: Exciting as hell. I thought I was working on a one-off team-up at first, and it's been a pleasant surprise to discover that Dark Horse had something much more ambitious and far-reaching in mind.

Jim Gibbons: It's interesting with Project Black Sky. When we started all these books out, it was, "Let's have a bunch of disparate titles that happen in the same world and have the ability to cross over." But we wanted them all to stand on their own legs, first. The goal was always to bring them together eventually, and maybe fortuitously we all locked in 2014 as the time when that would happen. All of a sudden, 2013 became where 2013 would be the idea of introducing things. It was introducing X and Ghost and Captain Midnight and Brain Boy in their own worlds. Now, 2014 has become the year of seeing how the plotlines of those books and the characters all start to come together and populate a world. It works out nicely, because it gives us an overarching theme for the year: The world coming together.

The nice thing on that front is that we're launching it with "Skyman." That's a book that spins directly out of "Captain Midnight" and has a lot of ties to stuff that we've seen in "Captain Midnight" over the first seven issues or so. It's a nice cannonball shot to say, "These characters aren't quite on their own."

And where will those threads start coming together? Is the "Project Black Sky" Free Comic Book Day issue a part of that?

Gibbons: In a way. We're doing a lot to keep the series their own books while also crossing things over. The nice thing about the FCBD issue written by Fred Van Lente is that it features Brain Boy and Captain Midnight, who are connected for many reasons, but mostly because of Albright Industries being at the core of their origin. They really have the strongest initial connection because that immediately ties them together while it also is a central feature of their own solo titles. They had to meet up at some point, and Fred really, really likes writing Brain Boy, which made for this great old guy/young guy dynamic when they get together. They make the connection about Albright Industries to each other, and that can begin the conversation about these larger connections between them and the other heroes -- because before they meet, why would they put any of these puzzle pieces together?

Within in the page of "X" itself, Duane, you've also been doing some world building. The city of Arcadia has seen the introduction of both an incorruptible squad of cops led by Danny Ruidoso and a new regular villain in Deathwish. What do the recent expansions offer you in terms of your overall vision for the book?

Swierczynski: Yeah, honestly it's one of the my favorite parts of writing X (aside from the unrelenting violence). With each issue I script, Arcadia feels all that more real to me. I started out by basing it on parts of Camden, New Jersey (as well as Detroit and other once-proud cities that have been handed a raw deal) but now it feels like it's taking on its own identity. And now with the Dark Horse world expanding, it's nice to consider Arcadia's place in the nation -- actually, the world. That said, I see no end to Arcadia being handed one raw deal after another -- which means the city will always need someone like X.

On the flip side, you're just about to bring back come classic villains from X's '90s run in mob boss Carmine Tango and lucky hitman Gamble. Why wait until this point to bring out the classic big bads, and how do they mesh with the animalistic villains of the modern X era?

Swierczynski: I'll admit it: I wanted to introduce some new villainous blood before I brought back some fan-favorites. And for a while there, I wanted to figure out Carmine Tango's place in it. This is a guy who plans his criminal empire based on the horoscopes; how was he supposed to do that in a town without a newspaper? (Sure, they run online, I guess...) But that just presented the opportunity to introduce some new, weird-ass characters along with the new. Wait until you meet The Night Watcher...

After your series started with such a clean (well, bloody, but clean in the 'new reader friendly' sense) slate for X, you seem to be drawing some small connections to the original run of "X." Has there been a method to incorporating that material in some larger way into the series?

Swierczynski: Issue by issue, I've been trying to expand the cast of characters on both sides of the law, which just makes for a richer world. When it makes sense, I draw from the old -- but usually blending it with someone (or some element) that's new. I don't want to pretend that the original classic Steven Grant run didn't happen. Instead, I just tell myself that a period of years have passed between that series and this one, so of course some familiar faces would show up again.

And Jim, I understand that expansion, which includes some of the original characters and villains from the '90s versions of these characters, isn't limited to "X." We know the character Ape-X will appear in Dark Horse's "Project Black Sky" Free Comic Book Day special. Are more in the offing across the line?

Gibbons: Yeah. It's been nice working with Joshua Williamson and Duane and Fred and Kelly Sue DeConnick and Chris Sebela. They have the freedom to create their own villains and bring some new ideas in, which is really fun. But also when we started doing this, I got out some of the Dark Horse Comics Greatest World Omnibus collections and took out post-it notes to mark every time a new character was introduced. Now there are like 100 post-its in there because characters were introduced so frequently. [Laughter] So we won't be using all of them, but there are plans to start using some of those '90s characters, giving them a fresh coat of paint and reintroducing them into the world to make fresh connections.

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Ape-X and Carmine Tango are great. I mean, it's super fun when you have a character who's both into astrology and mafia stuff. [Laughs] And with the FCBD special, we tossed some ideas at Fred, and he immediately said, "I like Ape-X!" It's a bit more outside the box, but he found a way to make it work. And as these things come together in more obvious ways, we'll want to populate that world with more of those characters. But we won't overdo it so everyone is in capes and tights. We'll just flesh things out some.

I think the thing most readers are watching out for in the months ahead is the long-hidden origin of X. You've been slowly peeling back the layers here, but from the very first arc, when he was unmasked by Berkshire, there's been a sense that there's more to this character than being a faceless vigilante. How do you plan on delivering a backstory that matches the ruthless quality of your lead?

Swierczynski: I've been talking about X's origin story with Mike Richardson, Patrick Thorpe and Everett Patterson for better over a year now, and we've got it pretty much nailed down. How will I deliver it? In the most suspenseful way I can. Actually, there's a ton of it in the coming arc. Including a proper unmasking -- not the sort-of unmasking I got away with in the first arc. Ahem...

As part of our first column, we're debuting the May solicitations for Project Black Sky, and it seems like the books are well split between big stories ending and some new ones starting out. What's it like trying to balance this broader world-building while also keeping the solo books friendly to people who are jumping on?

Gibbons: We had a story meeting yesterday where we were putting everything up on a big bulletin board. We were rolling out different plot points for different issues and thumb-tacking them down. We wanted to visually put every story together so the Editorial team could stagger some stuff and make sure other pieces hit in synch. In May, "Brain Boy: The Men from G.E.S.T.A.L.T." launching at the same time as a new "X" arc matches up with the end of a "Ghost" arc and of a "Captain Midnight" arc. We wanted to have a lot of opportunities to jump in. There's a handful of titles, and you don't have to grab every single one to enjoy this, but you can jump into any book pretty frequently if you feel like it. That's something Josh Williamson has stuck to with this first year of "Captain Midnight." Issue #3 wrapped the opening story, and #4 was the first of a two-parter so you could start with #6 if you wanted. Then that was a one-shot, so I guess #7 was a pretty good jumping on point too! [Laughs]

We're wrapping work on "Captain Midnight" #11 now, and we've talked about how #0 through 11 is a really great story arc for the character. So you could jump on at a number of points through that first year, but you can also get those first three volumes as trades and get one cohesive story. We wanted to make everything work that way. You can burn through the books like a season on Netflix once they're all out or catch up to the monthly singles at any point.

We're also getting an early look at "X" #13, which seems to be a story that's stripped X down a bit to that core character with a prison break plotline to boot. How does that kind of classic story trope open up X the way you need at this point in the series?

Swierczynski: It's not so much a prison break as a regrouping. This is X's version of "vacation." But, guilty as charged: I wanted to give X the ass-whipping of his carer and really how he came crawling back.

To bring this whole discussion full circle, looking forward do you foresee any time when X and the world of Arcadia might again cross with Captain Midnight, Brain Boy or any of the other Project Black Sky heroes?

Swierczynski: I sure hope so. I'd be disappointed if that didn't happen. Anything (or anyone) that gives X a hard time sounds good to me.

And Jim, what are the prospects for the line growing more as 2014 rolls along? I know we just found out about a return for Randy Stradley's "King Tiger" which will start as a back-up serial in the "Blackout" mini series.

Gibbons: Yeah! One of the things we're looking at will be hinted at in the incoming "Project Black Sky" webcomic that Fred Van Lente is writing. That's a broader view of the whole world through the eyes of the Project Black Sky organization. Rather than seeing what's directly in front of Captain Midnight or X, that story takes a step back to show you this large, world-spanning organization and everything they've been watching for decades. It's different than the more focused storytelling people saw with the solo characters in 2013.

And in these May titles, look out in "Captain Midnight" #11 for a subtle yet big hint for some of the earth-changing events and characters of the next year. It shows some references to characters in a subtle way that will play into the big picture. Though it's the end of an arc, it also teases a future for a character who will be very important to the future of Project Black Sky.

EXCLUSIVE: Dark Horse's Project Black Sky Solicits for May 2014


Blackout #3 (of 4)

Frank J. Barbiere (W), Randy Stradley (W), Colin Lorimer (A/C), Doug Wheatley (A), Wes Dzioba (C), Micah Kaneshiro (Cover)

On sale May 28

FC, 32 pages



The search for Scott Travers' missing benefactor has turned up nothing but mystery and even more trouble. And this time he's up against eight feet  tall, cheetah fast, bulldozer strong, plasma-cannon wielding, made of metal trouble. Good thing there's "only" three of them . . . for now!

• Story by Frank Barbiere (The White Suits, Five Ghosts), art by Colin Lorimer (UXB, Harvest)

• Special King Tiger feature by Star Wars stars Randy Stradley and Doug Wheatley!

• Part of the much talked about Project Black Sky!

The epic finale to the first year of Captain Midnight!

Captain Midnight #11

Joshua Williamson (W), Fernando Dagnino (A), Ego (C), and Felipe Massafera (Cover)

On sale May 28

FC, 32 pages



Captain Midnight has no time to mourn the death of an ally while an old friend is trying to kill him! Fueled by righteous fury, Midnight faces an impossible choice: Should he kill one friend to avenge another? Midnight pulls no punches to achieve a better tomorrow . . . but can he pull the trigger?

• Written by Joshua Williamson (Ghosted, Masks and Mobsters, Uncharted)!

• Beautiful cover by Felipe Massafera.

"Fernando Dagnino nails the action. His art is kinetic and exciting."-IGN

 All-new story arc!

Brain Boy: The Men from G.E.S.T.A.L.T. #1 (of 4)

Fred Van Lente (W), Freddie Williams II (A), Ego (C), and Freddie Williams II and Dan Scott (Cover)

On sale May 21

FC, 32 pages



Agent Price's new mission pits him against a doomsday cult leader with a political agenda that poses a direct threat to the president. But a mysterious hive mind has more menacing plans for Brain Boy. He'll have no choice but to go head to head-brain to brain-with the mysterious Men from G.E.S.T.A.L.T.!

• Fred Van Lente (Archer & Armstrong) and Freddie Williams II (Green Arrow, Captain Atom) team up again!

• A great jumping-on point for new readers!

• Pick up Brain Boy Volume 1: Psy vs. Psy in April, then start the new series in May!


Ghost #4

Kelly Sue DeConnick (W), Ariel Olivetti (Cover)

On sale Apr 2

FC, 32 pages



While Ghost is out busting Chicago's scum, her friends discover a eulogy written for Elisa Cameron's funeral. It speaks of her idyllic childhood . . . and a tragic loss of innocence! One woman's quest for justice comes into focus as past and present meld and the hero now known as Ghost is born!

• Kelly Sue DeConnick (Captain Marvel, Avenging Spider-Man) pens a poignant epilogue to the "White City Butcher" arc.


X #13

Duane Swierczynski (W), Aleksi Briclot (Cover)

On sale May 14

FC, 32 pages



Betrayed by his friends and stripped of his mask, X will have to crawl from an iron prison to wrench his city from Tango's stranglehold. But a new gang, unlike any Arcadia has seen before, may be more than even X can handle! A new episode in the Project Black Sky event begins here!

• X confronts Deathwish -- will he finally get what he wants?

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