It’s “Pilot Season” time again and you know what that means…actually, no you probably don’t know what that means anymore and that’s the problem. See way back in 2007, Top Cow had the great idea of taking comic book pitches and giving them the go ahead for one issue. They wrangled up several creative teams and essential had the fans pick which series was chosen for a continuation. These “pilot” issues where basically used to mark a new season of books at Top Cow. Now each year, sure enough they launch a brand new set of “pilots”and get readers in on the voting. But there is one big reason you won’t care about the new “Pilot Season” this year and that’s that the system is broken, in fact the whole division of Image Comics seems to be broken and I have to wonder how it got this bad. Top Cow was one of the first sub-divisions of Image Comics and it was mainly due to the claims that their talent was being scalped by others within the company. Instead of doing a clean break from Image they stayed on under their own imprint. Now a days it’s common place to have your own imprint at Image and you can look no further than at the newest Image partner Robert Kirkman’s “Skybound” line that houses The Walking Dead and Invincible.Other notable lines used to include Jim Lee’s Wildstorm which was sold off to DC and currently Jim Valentino’s Shadowline; both obviously meet with their failures and successes with the company. With Top Cow, they managed to do something in their universe that few other companies have accomplished and that’s keeping their lore/continuity in order from the get go. The world was rich with titles/characters like the Witchblade and the Darkness which were connected in the same world, but very differently than other comic books. The only time an event from one book would affect the other was when there was a crossover.
But in the last few years and really since the beginning of Artifacts, Top Cow has become less and less of a, well a comic company. Even from “Pilot Seasons” inception, the concept has been plagued with flaws. Mostly notable the delay in getting the follow-up series out after it was picked as a winner. In fact, some winners are still waiting for their follow-up mini-series to happen as is the case with Genius. In the case of the first batch of “pilots” they were all one shots of existing Top Cow characters and the competition was basically to pick which creative team you liked the best. Two winners were picked and Cyblade was the first character to actually get a follow-up series and has since been the only book to have the same creative team to work on the follow-up. Cyblade’s co-winner Velocity wouldn’t receive its series until three years later from a completely different creative team. The sadder part was that the scripts were so delayed that four issue mini-series took nine months to finish.
And that’s why this years “Pilot Season” is a joke. Can you honestly even tell me who won last year? What the book was about or who was working on it? Can you even remember the year before? You can’t because Top Cow can’t ship a book on time or even produce a product to keep up with their self-generated buzz. Last year saw the completion of another “pilot” series Twilight Guardian which was a co-winner in 2008. That’s a full two years after the book was dubbed winner and Top Cow still had the audacity of branding it “Pilot Season Winner” on all the covers.I’m not sure that really helped the book as it’s not a brand you can trust.
The last big example of the “Pilot Season” failure is the “season”in which Robert Kirkman and supposedly Marc Silvestri co-created five new series for fans to vote on: Murderer, Demonic, Stealth, Stellar and Hardcore.Which one did you vote for? If you said any of them then you’re wrong because voting was never held. I don’t know what the point of these books were, maybe they wanted to do some cute little one shots with Image’s newest partner or maybe Kirkman didn’t have enough time in his schedule to take away from ripping off Zombie movies. Either way this “season” was nothing more than putting a broken brand onto Kirkman’s name to sell some issues. Yet here we are again,about to launch into more “pilots” from new creative teams that are probably hoping that they’ll get picked up for a mini or even an ongoing series and I really feel like contacting the creators and telling them just to move on. Even if you do win you’ll just end up waiting two to three years to put your book out and by then Top Cow might not be around anymore.
When I said that Top Cow was broken I meant that they’re circling the toilet and on their way out. This company can’t even put their flagship book out on time. Witchblade is switching creative teams after 150,supposedly. Artifacts marketing said that it was going to change Top Cow forever, but I don’t think that they meant it was going to crumble and stop putting books out on time. Artifacts have been running for over a year now and it still hasn’t even hit 12 issues. In fact it’s become an ongoing series for some crazy reason.
What it boils down to is that Top Cow has a major problem putting books out on time and hasn’t even finished the four to six issue mini-series that it launched earlier this year. If you start adding up all of these problems they’re having in actually putting out product, it makes you wonder how long they plan on being around for. Witchblade is already solicited up to issue 153 on some sites, but it's barely hitting the one book a month as it is.If you actually look at the release dates the series is bouncing between four and six weeks to get an issue out and completely missed one month already this year and may miss October as well.
Even their go-to-guy Ron Marz who has been the architect for the company for the last six years is doing most of his work for DC or Image proper. After all he is the writer of Artifacts and Witchblade and neither series has been meeting its deadlines. But something tells me that he’s only part of the problem and that most of the blame for delays lies with Top Cow.
Now I don’t have a magic ball or even a look at the company’s financials, but when the creator and head of the company is working on the Incredible Hulk rather than helping get its books out on time you have to wonder what the hell is going on with the company. As it stands I would say they’ve got maybe one year left of severally delayed books and special final issues before one of two things happens. 1) The company will be sold off to a competitor and more than likely Marvel will buy them or 2) Image will dissolve the brand and shelf the books or see which other partners want to be in charge of production on them. Either way it will spell the death of the world created.
Again though, I don’t have any hard facts other than what’s glaringly obvious to me about the company’s business practices. I say this as someone who watched companies like Dreamwave shoot up and fall down just as quickly and others have followed since. Just look at Virgin Comics, Devil’s Due and Alias Comics for all the reference you need. All of these companies are pretty similar to Top Cow in size and production and none of them are around anymore (you can argue that Devil’s Due is still doing digital comics, but they’ve yet to actually release one). Whatever is in store for this company is yet to be seen, but I can tell you that I’m not buying any stock in their product or production until something significant changes and I’m not talking about a creative team shake up either.