Top Cow Opens A PANDORA's BOX Leading Into ARTIFACTS

Bursting out of the stories of Greek mythology and into the pages of Top Cow comics comes Broken Trinity: Pandora’s Box. This mythical box is said to contain mysteries and ominous gifts that was given to a human by the gods as revenge for stealing the secret of fire. And in this upcoming miniseries recently announced, that box is at the center of the search for the 13 artifacts of Top Cow lore. Standing on either side is a woman hoping to collect them for herself, and a man wanting them to remain lost forevermore.

Scheduled to begin in February and last six issues, Broken Trinity: Pandora’s Box will act in many ways as the transition point between last year’s big event book,Broken Trinity, and 2010’s summer event series Artifacts beginning in July. After years of hints, teases and rumors, Top Cow has begun laying out the mythology of the Darkness, Witchblade and Angelus as three of thirteen artifacts that are key to the Top Cow Universe. While not all of the remaining 10 artifacts have been revealed yet, two have in last year’s miniseries. Pandora’s Box takes that reveal of two new artifacts – and their bearers – and explores it in-depth in this six issue Spring 2010 series.

For more, we talked with the miniseries’ co-writers Bryan Edward Hill and Rob Levin.

Newsarama: So guys, what can you tell us about Broken Trinity: Pandora's Box?

Bryan Edward Hill: It's a continuation of the Broken Trinity story created by Ron Marz, centering on Michael Finnegan and Glorianna Silver, the bearers of the Glacier Stone and Ember Stone respectively. When a sociopathic villain seeks out one of the 13 Artifacts, Finnegan and Glorianna set off to stop him, while managing their own private war.

Rob Levin: And the shill in me would be remiss in saying that it's also a lead-in to next summer's much ballyhooed Artifacts series, also by the good Mr. Marz.  He's been gracious enough (along with the fine folks at Top Cow) to give us enough rope to hang ourselves in terms of where we take these characters.  And he didn't say anything about not breaking them before we hand them back, so...  He might come to regret that.

Nrama: Now that you're no longer an editor Rob, you have a free reign on that sort of things. [laughs]

For those that may be coming in new to this, can you tell us about the leads in this – Finn and Glorianna – and the powers they wield?

Hill: They're very different characters, compared to each other and the rest of the Top Cow universe.

Finn is an ex-gun runner from Northern Ireland who fell into this when he was given the Glacier Stone, a stone filled with power based in the element of ice itself. What's really interesting about Finn is that he's not a believer in the occult. He's a good Irish catholic boy turned criminal and the occult power of this stone crashes into his life. He's not a flashy playboy gangster like Jackie Estacado, Finn's roots are in the long-standing conflicts of Northern Ireland. He's seen a lot of loss, and grew up in a world of bullets and concrete. He might be the most grounded character in the Top Cow universe, so even though he can turn into an ice-giant...he's not all that happy about it.

Glorianna is a true believer. Since she was a child, she was raised with this prophecy, told that she would be the bearer of the Ember Stone. The stone gives her control of the element of fire and the ability to manifest those powers in a majestic, dragon-form. She's the opposite of Finn. She's a child of privilege, in command of a Norse fortune given to her by her lifelong mentor, a man named Wulfgar who has literally spent his entire life building a financial and political empire for Glorianna to command when she became old enough to fulfill her prophecy and wear the ember stone. Finn's roots are in the gutter, his black market contacts and experience. Glorianna, like many multi-millionaires, is politically active, socially influential and very broad in her ambition. She wants to use the power of the Ember Stone to remake the world as she sees fit, and depending on your point of view, you might not mind that.

By prophecy, Glorianna and Finnegan don't like each other. They're destined to fight over the Stones, but they also think for themselves so their conflicts might not get resolved in the ways readers have come to expect, and frankly have grown tired of. There will certainly be fireworks, but it's gonna come out of the story, in an organic way. I'm a comics reader myself, and I get very tired of characters that just fight without real motivations, just because they're "supposed to." We're going to do our best to avoid that here, keep things exciting and hopefully a little provocative.

Levin: Provocative and unexpected are the name of the game with what we're doing.  A lot of people read the Broken Trinity miniseries and got a brief sense of the characters and what they were all about. Finn works with Jackie so he must be a gangster.  Glori wanted to kill folks and take their Artifacts, so she's probably like previous incarnations of the Angelus.  But if they wrote these characters off, they were wrong.

Neither Finn nor Glori were written as one-note, but there were two problems working against them.  First, people make snap judgments.  We need characters to fit into nice, archetypal boxes in order for readers to feel comfortable with them suddenly showing up in the world of Witchblade, the Darkness, and the Angelus.  And secondly, they were competing with all those established characters for screen time, so they invariably got the short end of the stick.  The Broken Trinity: Aftermath issue gave them a little more time to shine, but they still haven't really been explored.

Bryan mentioned a lot of the back story for our leads, but we're going to be fleshing out the world they live in, which is a much different corner of the Top Cow universe, as well as who they are as people.  This is a character-driven series where things just happen to explode, and nothing quite fits into a mould.  

Nrama: Although this is said to focus on this new two additions to the Top Cow universe, will the big two of Top Cow – Darkness and Witchblade – be showing their faces in these six issues?

Hill: My mission here, and I know Rob agrees, is to make sure that Finn and Glorianna stand on their own as characters. That being said, anything is possible. You get no more than that from me. [laughs]

Levin: One of the challenges of working in a shared universe when you're working with the fashionably late characters is how to properly integrate them into something that's already a cohesive whole, and how to make sure you're not giving them the short end of the stick in the process.  While we won't have any "Guest-starring the terrifying DARKNESS!!!" blurbs on the covers, we're working in the same world as Ron and Phil Hester and the other talented creators that have come before.  It's all connected, even when we don't have roundhouse kicks flying between characters in our book and characters from other titles.

So, um, maybe...

Nrama: So I'll put you down for "Yes" and "No".

Moving on, is the Pandora’s Box in the title figurative, or does it refer to a literal Pandora’s Box out there in the top cow universe? Is it one of the 13 artifacts?

Hill: It's literal in the sense that it is an object that contains great power and an even greater potential for destruction. Is it one of the 13? Well, that's a question that Finn and Glorianna will face over the course of the series. The nature and the definition of the 13 Artifacts will be something that we'll engage quite a bit over the course of the series. I'm not allowed to tell you if our "Pandora's Box" is one of the 13, but I can tell you that it certainly will influence Glorianna, Finn and the 13 Artifacts...and the greater world of the story.

Levin: Smart readers will recall that there are still a few undefined Artifacts in the greater TCU.   Some have been mentioned and never seen, and some that we seen have gone by more than one name.  Over the next year or so, Top Cow's going to have a few less secrets.  But one of the rules of dramatic writing, especially in a serialized context like monthly comics, is that every ending should be a new beginning.

And I think that's all we can say for now.

Nrama: Seems like I'm pushing the limits of what you cay say about the book without spoiling it, so lets switch gears and talk about the story behind the story. Bryan, this isn’t your first foray into Top Cow & Broken Trinity – you worked with Ron Marz on the Broken Trinity: Aftermath book earlier this year. Is this a continuation of that?

Hill: Filip Sablik invited me to write a short story in Broken Trinity: Aftermath which frankly surprised me because anyone familiar with my work knows that I'm a very grounded writer with a background in journalism so when you think "Top Cow", I don't think you automatically think "Bryan Hill". That being said I'm a student of Greek mythology, Shakespeare and high fantasy, and I got a chance to flex those muscles a little. Filip and Ron are some of the best human beings in comics so writing that was an honor.

I imagine Filip thought putting a fella like me on that task would make something interesting happen, and thinking like that is why Filip is much better at his job than I would be.

Is this a continuation? Sure. We've got Glorianna and Finn, but our events take place a little time after those two stories. What I'm excited about is the opportunity to dig deeper into these characters with Pandora's Box. and really explore all their potential. Top Cow's really letting me off the chain here, and I appreciate that, so in addition to the epic set pieces and the mystical power we're used to getting in Top Cow stories, readers are also going to get an  unflinching look at these two people, Glorianna and Finn, and the effect of their actions on the world and themselves.

Nrama: And Rob, correct me if I’m wrong but this is your first big foray into the big story arc that’s been going on in the Top Cow U  -- the story of the 13 artifacts. Going from the editor to writer, what’s it like to be able to put down the words that move on this story?

Levin: That is correct, at least in terms of the writing end.  I'm no stranger to the overall direction of the TCU on the other side of the desk.

Nrama: Says the long-time Top Cow editor who recently jumped into freelance writing…

Levin: [laughs] But let me just say that there's a big distinction between being a good editor and being a good writer.  As an editor, I would offer up suggestions to creators, but I never forced my story down anyone's throat.  That's not collaborative, and it's not the job of an editor.  You're there to support the creative team, not get your way.

So getting a chance to tell a story I'm passionate about and having editors who are down for the cause and willing to nurture that story as it fits into the larger tapestry of what they're doing with Top Cow is pretty awesome.  It's a daunting task, to be sure, but it's also really fulfilling to now steer the ship of characters and a world I've spent so much time with.  My time with Top Cow also comes in handy when Filip Sablik and Phil Smith, our excellent editors on the project, try to give notes.  I just respond with things like, "Are you kidding me?  I AM BROKEN TRINITY!" and then get my way.  

Nrama: Yowza. Before we break things here, let's talk community – Bryan, Rob, isn’t this is your first collaboration together? Tell us how it all works between you two.

Hill: I met Rob in San Diego Comic Con 2008, when he was still editing, and we just hit it off on character and plot. Since then, I put him on my list of people whose opinion I very much respect and when I found out he was also a writer, it just seemed like a natural extension. I write in all forms, other comics, screenplays, I'm working on a novel right now, I'm also writing a non-fiction book about the world of modern mercenaries in the age of Iraq and Afghanistan. Most of the time I'm writing alone...unless you consider a bottle of Killian's Irish Red Lager a writing partner. [laughs] I love collaborating whenever I get the chance.

Writing with a partner frees me up creatively because there's someone else to catch your nonsense and pull you back. Knowing Rob has my back, I can write from the gut straight from the beginning of the process and usually the best stuff comes from that place. Rob also brings his own talent and perspective to everything and that talent is major.

As far as the actual process is concerned...I'm obsessed with authenticity, so I started with a lot of research. I've got a lot of friends in law enforcement and the military so I conducted interviews and got a whole lot of information about how gun smugglers work in Northern Ireland. I've had some small arms training myself, so I went in familiar with the hardware. Also explored and learned about the culture in the Irish north. Finnegan is Irish, but I'll never write a stereotype that says "top of the mornin' to ya" and "boyo" in every line. [laughs]

What I found is a culture where people have to make difficult choices every day and maintaining a moral compass is a challenge. In my work on this series, I'm putting as much of that into Finn as I can.

For Glorianna, I explored other charismatic, powerful and ambitious women through history and made her an amalgam of them. The cardinal thing I saw was that women are always underestimated and so I used that to inform my work on Glorianna. She's a fun character to write because even though she has the Ember Stone, she's got a little chip on her shoulder from being underestimated her whole life so she's prone to....demonstrate....her power when her temper flares, which is often considering she's bearing the element of fire. Get it. "flares" ? Heh, I'm cheesy.

As far as Pandora's Box, I just went out to this hidden temple, found it, opened it and wrote down what happened. I think I put all the demons back in before I closed it back up, but if you see one, email me and I'll get right on it.

Levin: I like how you told Chris to email you if he finds a demon.  Because getting on the phone would take too much time...

Nrama: He's a busy man. Bryan, check your email box…

Rob , while Bryan does that, can you fill us in on your side of the story before we sign off?

Levin: Yes, this is technically our first collaboration.  We've been talking since right after SDCC when we met, and it started with Bryan hitting me up with some ideas for a story I was working on, to becoming guys who bounce ideas back and forth when we're in the early stages or hit a snag.  Eventually I started reading some of Bryan's stuff and became smitten.  He told the kinds of stories I wanted to tell, and he told them well.  And there's this amazing sense of authorial voice in everything he does.

One day he tells me he's working on an idea and asks if I want to jam.  Well, big mistake there... Not only had I somehow convinced this awesome writer to work with me, thus making my own work appear that much better, but now we have too many stories.  At this point, one of us will have an idea, give the obligatory, "You want to work on this...?" and then it's another IP in progress or in development.  Broken Trinity: Pandora's Box is the first of those that's seeing print, but we've been "collaborating" for over a year now.

Each project is different, but they all involve lots of emails and IM, hours on the phone every so often, and promises to significant others that we'll give them quality time soon.  We're a few issues in on this series, and each issue has been written differently, so there's really not a set process.  We just talk and write back and forth until there's something we're both in love with.  Hopefully the fans will feel the same way when they get a chance to read it.

Check back with later this month for an interview with series artist Alessandro Vitti (Secret Warriors), as well as behind-the-scenes sketches of this upcoming miniseries.

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