WC10: Dark Horse Panel

In Dark Horse's coming year, Predators will hunt fresh prey, two "Serenity" characters get shiny new tales, "Buffy's" latest season comes to a close, and Terminators live to fight another day. Dark Horse President of Publishing Randy Stradley and Director of Publicity Jeremy Atkins sat down for a panel discussion at WonderCon Friday afternoon to outline what's ahead for the comic book publisher.

They kicked off the panel with a book near to Stradley's heart: "Aliens vs. Predator." Stradley talked about his experience writing "Aliens vs. Predator: Three World War" last year after having written the original "Aliens vs. Predator" series in 1990. Stradley said, "Aliens vs. Predator was one of the hardest things I've ever written."

"You would think...well, it's Aliens fighting Predator, how hard can it be? But I know from long experience that if you give the readers exactly what they expect, they'll be bored to tears. So, I've been doing everything that I can to make it not like you would expect."

Next Atkins addressed the "Serenity" fans in the audience. In addition to the upcoming comics featuring Shepherd Book and Wash, readers can expect plenty more tales from Joss Whedon's "Firefly"/"Serenity" universe. "'Serenity' is something that has definitely been a really successful comic for us," said Atkins. "It's one that we enjoy working on. It's one that I personally love as well. And you're definitely going to continue to see more 'Serenity' from Dark Horse. While the television world may be done with 'Firefly," we're nowhere near it." He briefly discussed the Wash-centric one-shot "Float Out," written by Patton Oswalt, and revealed that "The Shepherd's Tale," written by Joss and Zack Whedon, received the Ron Glass seal of approval.

"I actually got a really great phone call from Ron Glass, because we had to do an interview when we were announcing this.... It's just this hilarious message where he went, 'You know, I read the script.' Silence. In my head I'm thinking this whole thing's falling apart right now.... 'And it inspired me, actually. And what it really did was it made me want to play that role again. And we know that's not going to happen."

Moving from one Zack Whedon project to another, Atkins then turned to the "Terminator" three-issue miniseries, which just launched this week. "Our relationship to 'Terminator' has always been really based around the mythology of the first film, and this new series kind of really delves even deeper into that. So, you can forget about that movie that maybe some of us saw and left in tears after, last year. Because this totally delivers on what makes 'Terminator' great."

Switching over to "Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8," Atkins asked, mock-sheepishly, "So how many people want to throw something at me for the whole Angel-Twilight reveal?" He assured "Buffy" fans, however, that Twilight's identity is a small part of what's to come. "There's still a lot more to find out about why [Angel]'s Twilight and what's happening." Atkins also teased that the next issue contains a huge payoff for fans of the Buffy-Angel romance. "For those of you who are Spike fans, you might be a little disappointed in the outcome of the next issue."

Joss Whedon will be back to write the final arc of "Season 8," which closes later this year. "There are big surprises coming for that," said Atkins. "As you know, if anyone knows how to end a season, it's Joss Whedon."

Along with the Robert Rodriguez film, "Predators" fans will get a triple dose of their favorite alien hunters. The four-issue prequel miniseries starts in June, leading up to the release of the film and its comic adaptation, which will be followed by a sequel series. Atkins stressed that Rodriguez has overseen every step of the comic book prequel, adaptation, and sequel.

Heading into the "Star Wars" universe, Stradley outlined the next story arc for "Invasion," which begins in May. "It picks up where the first story arc ended, with Kaye Galfridian and her mom, who's the queen, along with a bunch of other refugees, take over a Yuuzhan Vong transport ship, and they're using it to destroy the Yuuzhan Vong's other ships. And it's all leading up to a big confrontation on the surface of this planet that has no breathable atmosphere. There are hundreds of refugees and the Yuuzhan Vong Shapers turn them into monsters. And meanwhile Finn Galfridian and Jacen and Jaina Solo are headed back to the Galfridians' planet to try and rescue dear old dad. It's actually a lot more action-packed than the first series, and there's a lot more 'Star Wars' tech that we haven't seen, or that we've very rarely seen in 'Star Wars,' even though we know it must exist." In addition to Tom Taylor's writing and Colin Wilson's interior art, Stradley raved about the "Invasion" covers, painted by Jo Chen.

Stradley also touched on two projects featuring Darth Vader. On April 7th, we'll see "Purge," a one-shot written by Haden Blackman, with art by Chris Scalf - who painted not only the cover, but the book's interior art as well. "Purge" sees Vader in the days before the Rebellion, single-handedly wiping out an army of early alien rebels against the Empire. And this summer will see "The Will of Darth Vader," written by Tom Taylor and drawn by newcomer Brian Koschak.

Stradley noted that the recent issues of "Star Wars: Legacy" have brought readers to the "tipping point" where Cade Skywalker puts aside his life as a bounty hunter to fight the Sith. "In the next few months, you're going to see how that comes together, and really how his involvement spurs so much that happens in the galaxy. I don't even want to get into all the stuff that's going on. But we've got a big surprise coming, and if you thought the end of the current issue was a big surprise, then you really haven't seen anything yet."

Dark Horse has even more "Star Wars" series in the works, including "9th Errand," its joint project with book publisher Del Rey. And there is even more to come. Stradley said there are 11 "Star Wars" projects set to launch in the next 12 months, although he can't reveal them all. During the question-and-answer portion of the panel, one possible clue emerged. When a fan asked if we'd see a comic featuring Darth Vader's apprentice Starkiller, Stradley said, "I can't say anything, but..."

Atkins briefly discussed a few of Dark Horse's other current and upcoming series. He urged fans of the "Mass Effect" video games to check out "Mass Effect: Redemption," pledging to personally mail the "Mass Effect" fans in the audience the first issue. He mentioned Jim Shooter's return to the former Gold Key characters he wrote at Valiant Comics, including Doctor Solar, Turok, and Magnus Robot Fighter, kicking off with "Doctor Solar/Magnus FCBD 2010 Edition" on Free Comic Book Day (May 1). Denis Calero will draw both the Free Comic Book Day book and the ongoing "Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom" series. Meanwhile, Rick Remender and Tony Moore's series "Fear Agent" will wrap up later this year.

During the question-and-answer session, one fan asked if Dark Horse is planning another series of "The Guild," after the current three-issue miniseries wraps. Emphasizing that the Dark Horse team greatly enjoys working with "The Guild" creator and writer Felicia Day, Atkins said, "I can't say for sure, but I'd be surprised if we didn't."

What about a comic book adaptation of the recently canceled television series "Dollhouse?" Atkins said it's been discussed, but "Joss [Whedon] got his heart broken again with another great series that people really got behind. So, if it does happen, and I'm not saying that it is or isn't, it would be a while into the future."

One fan offered an offbeat pitch for a future Dark Horse series. Since Tony Moore, who provides some of the artwork for Dark Horse's "Fear Agent," also draws Marvel's "Punisher," could we possibly see a Dark Horse/Marvel crossover, say, "Punisher vs. Predator?" The panelists laughed. "First, I want to thank you for the millions of dollars you just made us," said Atkins. "Secondly, no. There are no plans in the works."

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