Given the publisher’s reputation of producing dark-tinged fantasy titles such as Witchblade and The Darkness, something sounds a bit disarming when seeing those words strung together, right? Phil Smith, writer of the lead story in this week’s Top Cow Holiday Special thought so, too.
“I kind of wanted to make this the 'anti-holiday special,' and show what makes Top Cow separate and distinct from other companies,” Smith said in a phone interview with Newsarama. “Everything in the Top Cow Universe is much more gritty and grounded, and that’s what I wanted the Holiday Special to be.
So, don’t expect to see Velocity helping Santa deliver presents, or the Magdalena teaching a lesson about the true meaning of Christmas. There is an auspicious birth, though, plus appearances from nearly all of the major players in the Top Cow Universe. The plot even involves human trafficking — something typically left out of the Rankin/Bass seasonal classics of yesteryear.
All that being said, this is still a story that’s designed to be emotionally resonant, albeit in a uniquely Top Cow fashion.
“Part of the point of the story is to get a message to someone you love that’s far away,” said Smith, who said he took most holiday special inspiration from past Batman comics. “I was in the Navy for four years. There’s definitely that feeling of isolation and being alone.”
Readers of the Top Cow Holiday Special will be greeted with several familiar faces. In just 20 pages of story, Witchblade bearer Sara Pezzini, Darkness wielder Jackie Estacado, the Magdalena, Cyberforce members Velocity, Heatwave and Ripclaw — plus a few more established characters — all show up.
For Smith, the challenge wasn’t just to use all these characters in a way that made sense and didn’t feel forced, but to also not interfere with continuity, as the story is before current universe-spanning miniseries Artifacts.
“It was very tricky, especially because I did not want anything in the Top Cow Holiday Special to contradict anything that Ron Marz had planned for Artifacts,” Smith said. “Some of these characters have never met, and will only meet for the first time in our crossover Artifacts.”
Despite the tour of the Top Cow Universe, Smith stresses that the story isn’t meant simply as a sample platter of the company’s offerings.
“Featuring characters that were popular for this reason or for that reason wasn’t my goal,” Smith said. “I wanted to be able to put on the cover, ‘Top Cow Holiday Special.’ For me, that would naturally include all the characters, not for marketing reasons, but just for fans of our universe to have something to latch onto.”
Fitting the theme of inclusion, a driving force in the Top Cow Holiday Special is a somewhat obscure character that happens to be one of Smith’s personal favorites — Tilly Grimes, a clairvoyant introduced in the 2001 Paul Jenkins-written series Universe that hasn’t been seen much since.
“I find stories that involve people who are forced to deal with the knowledge of future events very appealing,” Smith said. “A lot of people argue, ‘if you can see the future, then you’re trapped by it.’ But there’s other people who argue that, ‘if you can see the future, then maybe you have power to change it.’ It’s this back and forth about what to do with knowledge of future events that I’ve found very enticing, and why Tilly’s always been my favorite character.”
Smith previously worked with Top Cow Holiday Special artist Alina Ursov, on August’s Witchblade: Due Process one-shot, and she was the writer’s first choice for this project.
“We really loved what Alina did on Witchblade: Due Process,” Smith said. “Luckily, it worked out for her schedule, so hopefully we’ll get to do more with Alina in the future.”
Smith also serves as managing editor at Top Cow, but is definitely interested in continuing to add to his writing credits.
“It’s not unheard of for editors to take on writing,” said Smith, who started his career in comics as a writer. “In 2011, I definitely want to have a multi-issue series in the works, either a Top Cow Universe, or an original property, or whatever else comes out of the woodwork.”
He makes it clear, though, that his editorial position at Top Cow isn’t a guarantee of a steady stream of writing work.
“Every project’s on a case-by-case basis,” Smith said. “Each thing that Top Cow does, it doesn’t matter who it comes from, it’s always based on the merits of the project and if there’s something new and exciting to say.”
But no matter what, he’s going to continue to try and get Tilly Grimes in more comics.
“I’m going to pitch Tilly again,” Smith said, with a laugh. “I think this will be my fifth or sixth pitch for a series on Tilly.”
The Top Cow Holiday Special is out this week in trade paperback format, with Smith's lead story accompanied by a new Jingle Belle tale by Paul Dini and Stephanie Gladden, a preview of Marc Silvestri's September Mourning, and a reprint of 2008's Jingle Belle: Santa Claus vs. Frankenstein.
Intrigued by a TOP COW HOLIDAY SPECIAL?