On the final day of New York Comic Con, Archie Comics revealed to fans the rebranding of their Red Circle Comics line as Dark Circle Comics, a grittier approach to their superhero properties.
The packed hall was joined by Archie President Michael Pellerito, Chief Operating Officer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Editor Paul Kaminski, The Shield co-writer Chuck Wendig, The Fox co-writer and artist Dean Haspiel, The Black Hood writer Duane Swierczynski and Dark Circle Comics editor and panel moderator Alex Segura.
Aguirre-Sacasa thanked the crowd for attending the first-ever Dark Circle Comics panel before handing things over to Segura who set the tone immediately.
“The big thing for Dark Circle is that the core is the story,” he said, before digging into our first looks at The Black Hood.
While Segura praised the script as a “down and dirty crime book” as well as the work of artist Michael Gaydos, Swierczynski explained that he didn’t think the team at Archie would be receptive to his pitch.
The original Black Hood was a cop who dons a mask to right wrongs but Swierczynski’s take imagines him as a cop who is shot in the face and becomes addicted to painkillers who decides to fight crime. He expressed that part of the strength of the story was its medium.
“It’s not only a comic,” said Swierczynski. “It’s a comic. And that’s badass. It’s cool, downbeat and uplifting, hopefully.”
Segura stressed that The Black Hood is not just a superhero comic but instead a book with a frenetic pace that is “noir to the extreme” while showing off Michael Gaydos diecut cover for issue one.
The Shield, written by Chris Wendig and Adam Christopher with art by David Williams, was the second book announced as part of the imprint. The book is a reimagined take on another Golden Age hero that is actually a predecessor of Marvel’s Captain America.
“The great opportunity for us was to tell [the story of] that patriotic character that’s tied to the American experience,” said Wendig. “How can you be a patriot and also support a lot of the things that go on?”
Fans were treated to some art from the series by David Williams, a collaborator that Wendig welcomed with open arms as this is his first foray into comics.
“David is awesome. He took the ideas we had and made them ten times more awesome,” he said. “[It was] nice to have someone who knows what he’s doing take the helm.”
The final book in the first wave of the Dark Circle line is The Fox. Fans may recognize the character from his most recent adventures and the creative team of Dean Haspiel and Mark Waid is back. But Haspiel promised that his return would not be standard superhero fare.
“He quits being The Fox by the end of issue one,” said Haspiel. “But the villain won’t let him not be a superhero.”
Archie President Mike Pellerito took the floor to talk about the reasoning behind the rebranding, explaining that the success of Afterlife with Archie was a big part of why Archie took a new approach.
“I’m a comic book fan first and foremost. I probably like the same stuff you guys like and I got chills reading the pitch for The Black Hood,” he said. “Roberto [Aguire-Sasca] brought a hugely different sensibility to these characters.”
Segura echoed Pellerito’s sentiment.
“The mandate is just to tell good stories,” he said. “Every book will have its dark element. I think that if you’re looking for quality storytelling, Dark Circle has something for everyone.”
The panel then opened up for questions from the audience. Topics ran the gamut from the continuity of the characters that are part of this relaunch to the differences in writing for different mediums.
Dean Haspiel assured fans that The Fox does follow his previous work on the character. “It’s just amping it up more,” he said.
There are no plans for any of the books to have backup stories but Segura mentioned that back matter that enriches the main narrative has been under consideration.
A few fans asked about how deep Archie would be drawing from their well of characters and if characters would be interacting.
“If I was to tell you what was coming, you wouldn’t expect it,” Segura said. “There will be hat tips to the other characters. Maybe down the line they’ll run into each other.”
One fan asked what kind of “guts” it took to start an imprint and why Archie needed to do this and Segura continued to champion the strength of the storytelling. The creators agreed.
“You can mess with origins. They’re open. This is about stories,” said Haspiel. “This is a narrative imprint. Hopefully, you’ll walk away from the first five issues and you’ll feel something.
Diversity has been a hot topic in comics recently and a fan noted that there were no women creators in the initial launch. The panel agreed that they would like to see more female creators in comics in general but that the gender of the writer shouldn’t affect the authenticity of the stories.
“Having a wife and daughter really helps [me] write female characters,” said Swierczynski. “I wish there were more female creators, but don’t discount a male writer to not understand different points of view.”
As the panel wrapped up, Segura summed up the whole of Archie’s mission.
“Archie is a small company. We can pivot fast. We want these books to have personality,” he said. “The tradition of Archie is to put out the best stories with the best talent.”