Project Black Sky Exclusive: Fred Van Lente Interview

Fred Van Lente spoke to us about Dark Horse's Project Black Sky: The Launch, and gave us an exclusive look at the next pages.

Fred Van Lente and Dark Horse have the cure from your super-hero ennui with Project Black Sky. Fans may complain of the same old same old and event fatigue, but boy, does Dark Horse have the project to wake them up. Almost every day at, writer Fred Van Lente presents a new page of Project Black Sky, a series exploring the superheroes of the Dark Horse Universe.

With Van Lente are some of the top artists in comics, each handling a chapter of the multi-generational cosmic conspiracy. The whole thing started on Free Comic Book Day with the introduction of the event and continued in The Secret Files of Project Black Sky Part 1: The Field (with art by Steve Ellis). The Field takes place in 1938 and combines the panic caused by Orson Welles’ reading of War of the Worlds on national broadcast radio with a familiar event involving a rocket landing and an alien baby. 

Now, The Secret Files of Project Black Sky Part 2: The Launch which features art by Michael Broussard jumps ahead 23 years and centers on a foursome stealing an experimental rocket and gaining “fantastic” powers from cosmic rays. The events may seem familiar, but Van Lente gives each origin tale some very dark twists. These tales will eventually lead up to a storyline involving Captain Midnight, Skyman, Brain Boy, X, Ghost, and Blackout.

It is our pleasure to discuss The Secret Files of Project Black Sky with Fred Van Lente. But first, check out these exclusive screens from Project Black Sky: The Launch!

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Can you talk about the genesis of this project?

Mike Richardson wanted to show the background of the world the Dark Horse heroes to live in, and it occurred to me it might be fun, rather than do a lot of background stuff and the pre-existing characters, to go back in time and see why the Dark Horse heroes’ world wasn’t like a lot of other superhero universes. And the answer was, unlike elsewhere in the universe, DH has the mysterious agency, Project Black Sky, behind the scenes, pulling strings. 

You began your association with the Dark Horse heroes with Brain Boy. Can you talk about your experience with the character?

I have to be honest, I was a little surprised Brain Boy was as well-received as he was. It’s always a little bit of a risk to take a super hero character and make him a bit of a jerk — not just a bad boy like a Wolverine but a kind of smart-mouthed know-it-all — and it was awesome people responded to him so well. 

Please talk about the challenge of synthesizing heroes from vastly different eras. Fitting classic heroes like Brain Boy and Captain Midnight with heroes from the ’90s like X and Ghost?

Brain Boy is a teenager who thinks he knows everything — and as a psychic Secret Service agent, he may be right. He’s the perfect foil for someone like Captain Midnight, who embodies the values of the Greatest Generation — it’s always great when two people who have no reason to like each other are forced to work together. 

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Can we expect any other heroes from the past to take part in Project Black Sky?

Not necessarily in Secret Files, no. But what about villains….? (laughs evilly) 

In “The Field,” you began your story set in 1938 with a very familiar origin involving a rocket, a baby, and a kindly mid-Western couple and gave the whole thing a dark twist, the motif continued in 1961 with a foursome and a rocket. What was the inspiration for this motif and will it continue?

Secret Files became, to me, a kind of Twilight Zone with super heroes, taking familiar origin stories and rooting them, not only in their specific historical antecedents — so “The Field” takes place in 1938, “The Launch” in 1961, the next story, “The Ring,” takes place in 1956, and so on — but in darker twist endings, to take old archetypes and form something new and different out of them.  

“The Launch” features a very familiar kind of foursome, but the foursome happens to be African American. You mentioned in a few interviews that this choice was made because of a certain segment of fandom’s reaction to Fox’s casting of Michael B. Jordan as the Human Torch in their Fantastic Four reboot. Can you expand on that? How did multiple fan rants inspire your story?

It was really nothing more deep than “Oh, you don’t want a black Johnny? Well, how about an all-black Four?” Then I realized that that concept merged perfectly with the theme of Secret Files, which was about basic archetypes repeating themselves over and over again in the multiverse in tweaked forms. So “The Launch” became the perfect way to introduce those concepts into the series, even though chronologically it happens before the third story, “The Ring”. 

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Why go with a digital format for the launch?

That was Dark Horse’s call from the very beginning. It’s a way to introduce as many people as possible to the world of their heroes, which makes it a great call.  

Can you talk about your approach to storytelling in the digital format?

I’m not sure I totally got the hang of it, to be honest to you! At first we weren’t sure at what rate we’d be doling out the panels, but once we settled on a screen a day, I’ve been pleased at how well the story’s been paced.  

What changes do you have to make from page to screen?

Very little. You’re less obsessed with things like page turns and reveals on an even page after an odd page, so it’s rather freeing, as much as like print. 

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Can you tell us about the protagonists of Secret Files?

They vary from story to story, so it’s hard to generalize without spoilers. I will say a minor character introduced in “The Ring” becomes the main protagonist of the final two stories, though. 

Where is this all leading, when the digital event is over, can you drop some him hints on what could be next?

That would be telling. 

Talk about your artists on the project, how do you handle an artistic collaboration on a page a day roll out?

Almost all of the stories were completed before the first story went live. Steve Ellis, who drew “The Field” and “The Ring”, is one of my oldest collaborators and friends — check out our seminal super-noir series The Silencers, which Dark Horse is reprinting as a TPB in September. Michael Broussard, of course, knocked it out of the park with the FCBD Project Black Sky issue, and is doing even better work on “The Launch” and the final story, which I can’t reveal here. And Guiu Villanova I loved so much on “The Base” I’m working on a creator-owned series with him! Keep it in the family, I say! 

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Barb Wire? Maybe?

My lips are sealed. 

Did you have any personal fan history with any of the characters involved?

If I wasn’t a fan of my own writing, what would that say about me?!? 

What are the major differences in working with the Dark Horse heroes and the heroes of the Marvel Universe.

We can get away with a lot more violence. Bloodthirstiness, the Dark Horse credo! 

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Fred Van Lente, thank you very much!

As for the future of The Secret Files of Project Black Sky, it looks like this: Part 3: The Ring features art by Steve Ellis and will post weekdays with forty screens beginning June 26. Part 4: The Base features art by Guiu Vilanova and will post every day of the week with thirty-two screens beginning August 21. Part 5 is a final, top-secret, twelve-screen story, with art by Michael Broussard which will be presented in its entirety on September 24.

Start your Secret Files of Project Black Sky reading with “The Field” right here!

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