Wizard World LA, Day 3: Top Cow 2005 & Beyond

On Sunday afternoon, as Wizard World LA was beginning to wind down, and with both Kevin Smith and Joss Whedon as direct competition for the fans, Top Cow held its panel, discussing the books and other projects coming in its immediate future, as well as hints of far future projects.

First up, Top Cow President Matt Hawkins introduced himself, commenting on how the competing panels appeared to have led to a small turn out. But, he promised, for those who did come, a rare misprinted "Wanted" #4 would be handed out at the end as thank you gifts for the faithful fans who were there. While this was going on, there were technical problems preventing Hawkins from setting up the planned slide show. This seems to have been a common theme through much of WW:LA's weekend. Hawkins was determined to soldier on and let the fans know what's in store for Top Cow.

Joining him on stage initially were Marc Silvestri, the studio's founder, and Renae Geerlings, Publishing VP and Managing Editor. Within a few minutes, artists Tyler Kirkham and Mike Choi, and writers Ron Marz and Mark Waid joined the panel, each coming in one at at time. The sparsely occupied but very Top Cow friendly room waited patiently as Matt Hawkins tried in vain to get the slide show up and running.

When that didn't happen, like any other good trooper, Matt Hawkins went on with the show.

First up, Hawkins talked up "Hunter-Killer," the new series drawn by Marc Silvestri and written by Mark Waid. As far as Top Cow is concerned, this title is a big book, very important for many reasons. One of which was it being the creative platform which allows Silvestri to continue pursuing his renewed interest in creating comics, an interest sparked by his run on Grant Morrison's "New X-Men."

From there, Matt mentioned that May will see the launch of the "City of Heroes" comic, written by Mark Waid and drawn by David Nakayama, who sat in the audience rather than on stage. The covers will be painted by Rodolfo Migliari (whose planned painted comics may hit stands in late 2006), with Dale Keown contributing a cover as well. Hawkins added that he is personally interested in this book, as he plays "City of Heroes" himself, on what he called the Champion server, a reference to the Champions RPG. The initial story arc is planned for three-issues, but Waid plans on doing the book for a long time. He added that the "City of Heroes" creators have allowed him and Top Cow a lot of creative freedom, which helps with the writing. However, the series bible has caused Waid some trouble, mainly because he "put the 'City of Heroes' bible on my coffee table and it broke." Hawkins used a question from the audience as a chance to mention how having the City of Heroes license is providing an excellent opportunity to promote Top Cow's books and characters to the many people who play the game but are outside of the direct market. He added that there are plans in the works to place ads for Top Cow in the "City of Heroes" game itself as well as plans to place some Top Cow characters in the game, ones not tied up with other gaming rights at this time, that is.

That comment led Hawkins to talk about the "Darkness" and "Witchblade" video games. The "Darkness" video game is being developed by the same company who created the "Chronicles of Riddick" game. Plans call for the "Darkness" game to hit consoles by summer of 2006. The "Witchblade" game will probably appear some time in 2007, as the release is being timed to happen after both X-Box 2 and Play Station 3 are released.

Hawkins continued on with his slide show-less presentation, coming to the "Freshmen," the comic written by Seth Green of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Robot Chicken" fame, and his writing partner Hugh Sterbakov. Green is a huge comics fan, having spent most of Saturday on the WW: LA show floor, looking at toys and comics and girls. Hawkins referred to Green as a smart guy. The series focuses on a group of college freshmen who find themselves gaining super powers after an accident in the science lab which is serving as a temporary dorm. The project has been pitched to Hollywood as well, so some of the comics' characters are being based upon actors who have taken an interest in the project. For example the leader of this group of misfit heroes is Wannabe, the only one who doesn't have the super powers he so desperately desired, and Seth Green sees himself playing Wannabe in the potential film version of the project. An initial six-issue arc is planned, with art and designs by Leonard Kirk and painted covers by Rodolfo Migliari. If the book is successful, there are plans to do more issues.

Next up were the two "Rising Stars" spin-off books, written by Fiona Avery. "Rising Stars: Voices of The Dead," focuses on Lionel Zerb, the special who can see and speak with the dead. Art on this book will be handled by Staz Johnson. It is set to begin in April. After that is "Rising Stars: Untouchable," which digs in to the background of special and CIA assassin Laurel Darkhaven. This series was delayed to allow artist Brent Anderson the time needed to finish other commitments. Plans are for this series to start in the fall of 2005.

August sees the arrival of "Necromancer." The writer, Joshua Ortega, comes to this title from the science fiction field; his first novel, "((Frequencies))," receiving critical acclaim and buzz. Ortega is joined on this project by former "Witchblade" artist Francis Manapul. The story follows a young preacher's daughter who chooses to go through her rebellious period by taking up magic, which takes a disastrous turn when a summoned demon kills her whole family. This turns her into a fugitive and the series will follow her adventures on the run. According to Marc Silvestri, "Necromancer" features Manapul's best work to date. There are plans to post the first few pages online to preview the book to interested readers.

Jumping back a bit, June will see the release of the "Top Cow Triple Play," a sampler book priced at .99 cents. The book will feature eight pages each from three upcoming titles: "Necromancer," "Freshmen" and "V.I.C.E."

The big news is the return with a vengeance of Top Cow's flagship title, "Cyberforce."

First up is the story planned for the Image Anniversary Hard Cover, which is expected to come out some time this century. Marc Silvestri has created a 28-page story which sets the team on a new path of change.

That path is continued in the "JLA/Cyberforce" crossover book, written by Joe Kelly and drawn by Doug Mankhe, coming later this year.

And the path ends with the relaunch of "Cyberforce" in its own book. Spearheaded by Ron Marz and featuring the spectacular, tech oriented art of Pat Lee. Lee has redesigned most of the cast members in very detailed ways; as Marz put it, "that poor bastard's gonna have to draw that all the time." Both Marz and Marc Silvestri warned the audience that not all of the original team will be back on the scene. Silvestri continued, saying how "Cyberforce" means a lot to him, and that it was hard to find others to play with his favorite toys. But he was willing to take a chance on the ideas of Marz and Lee. When asked why he was doing "Cyberforce," Marz basically said he picked the team as something new for him to do at Top Cow. He wanted to do a team book and feels he has a new take on the concept. Silvestri said the tag line Marz used to get the assignment was "Queer Eye For The Cyber Guy," which he felt was a great new take. After the laughter died down, Ron Marz said he was really gelling with Pat Lee in wanting to do this book. He added he hopes each book will be better than the last and wants to keep the readers on their toes. Finally, Marz said that issue #1 will be a ground floor read, so that people new to the "Cyberforce" could enjoy as much as the old fans.

Matt Hawkins then shifted to speak on Top Cow's long-term projects. One is a "Witchblade" animated series in Japan. The creative force behind this project are the creators of "Blood: The Last Vampire." This "Witchblade" will be a young Japanese woman named Masani Yakimoto. No dates were mentioned for this project, or what its availability to the U.S. market will be. But as Matt Hawkins put it, this show is "gonna look amazing."

Another long-term project is "Downfall," conceived by Tyler Kirkham. The concept has no writer attached yet. The basic story is about an angel kicked out of Heaven for a major sin, cast down to Earth, and haunted by images of the girl he loves floating through his mind, which is further clouded by amnesia. According to Ron Marz, the overall plan is for the hero of "Downfall" to become a Superman type of character for the Top Cow Universe, since it is lacking such a character.

By this time, the laptop was fixed and the slide show began, going over some previously discussed areas.

Hawkins pointed out 2005 is the tenth anniversary of "Witchblade" and there are many plans in place to celebrate this milestone. The regular creative team of Ron Marz and Mike Choi will continue on the book. Upcoming cover artists include Greg Land (#84 and 85) and Adam Hughes (#86 and 87), with Terry Dodson taking over as permanent cover artist. Guest artist on the interiors include Keu Cha on #86 and Chris Bachalo on #87. Ron Marz plans to finally tell the origin of the Witchblade itself, telling the readers where it came from. The tenth anniversary book will feature an all-star roster of creators, including Mike Choi, Marc Silvestri, George Perez, Francis Manapul, Keu Cha, Terry Dodson, Chris Bachelo, Bart Sears, Brandon Peterson, and others. Ron Marz wants to match the right artist with the sequence of story that suits their talents best. There are also plans for a new statue and new trading cards.

"V.I.C.E.," or Violent Incident Control Enforcement, is based on a concept created by Matt Hawkins and will be brought to life by "Crossing Jordan" writer Aron Coleite and artist Tyler Kirkham. The idea can best be described as "The Shield" with super powers. This F.B.I. critical response unit is considered a weapon of last resort to cope with difficult situations because of the devastation the team tends to leave in its wake. The book is still in development, with plans to hit the stores by the end of 2005 or early in 2006.

With a "here's a book that doesn't suck," Matt Hawkins reintroduced the crowd to "Hunter-Killer," a definite "marquee book" for Top Cow. When asked how long the book will run or how long will he stay on the title, Mark Waid answered by saying he "wants to do the book until the end of time," particularly because of a new twist on the concept dreamed up by Marc Silvestri during the course of WW: LA. Silvestri had wanted to work with Waid for some time, and saw this idea as a chance to do so. Waid joked about the title of the book, saying that at one point he and Silvestri "were going to call it Hunter-Gatherers," but that didn't work. For Silvestri, this title is "a buddy book," something he said wasn't really done in comics. And that he and Waid are dedicated to "turning absolutely everything on its ears." That the two creators are challenging each other idealistically and creatively to keep the audience on its toes. Readers on "Hunter-Killer" should "expect the unexpected," Silvestri warned, using the cliché knowingly. That the status quo in the book will shift from time to time.

Towards the end of the panel, Matt Hawkins announced two new film initiatives for Top Cow. The first is "The Darkness," which will be produced by Dimension Films. The second is "Wanted," placed at Universal. Hawkins warned fans the film will be PG-13, as per the contract with Universal.

Final announcements include the shipping of the "Wanted" hardcover to stores in four weeks and a hardcover containing all 24 issues of "Rising Stars," with a suggested price of $60, plus a slipcased version, limited to 500 copies, going for $100.

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