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One of the most innovative concepts coming out of American comic companies in recent memory has been Top Cow’s Pilot Season. Every year for five years, Top Cow has released a slate of one-shots that are voted on by fans for the possibility of getting a longer limited series down the road. Originally centered around company-owned concepts, after the first year the company expanded to include creator-owned concepts from names like Robert Kirkman, Marc Silvestri, Jonathan Hickman, Joshua Hale Fialkov and others. And with the full announcement of 2011’s titles, I thought we should look back on the previous herds of titles and where they’re at today.
The inaugural Pilot Season grouping saw a-list talent putting new spins on Top Cow heroes, from Jason Aaron on Ripclaw to Joe Casey on Velocity and more. After a competitive voting process that tallied over 4.1 million votes, Velocity (by Casey & Kevin Maguire) and Cyblade (by Joshua Hale Fialkov & Rick Mays) won out over three other contenders. The Cyblade team did a four-issue series in the fall of 2008, but shake-ups on the Velocity side led its original creators to bow out over disagreements with the publisher. Top Cow exclusive creators Ron Marz and Kenneth Rocafort took over, and the finished product came out over two years later.
In 2008, Top Cow switched up the contest to allow both company-owned characters as well as creator-owned affairs. This year’s contest had two clear winners in Twilight Guardian (by Troy Hickman and Reza) and Genius (by Marc Bernardin, Adam Freeman & Afua Richardson), who each claimed over a quarter of the total votes, beating out the likes of Jonathan Hickman, Jeremy Haun and others. Twilight Guardian got its own series beginning last year, with Genius still in a holding pattern for a full series debut. Despite not winning the contest, Fialkov & Haun’s Alibi received considerable Hollywood attention and Top Cow said at the time that even some of the losers in the Pilot Season contest could see life again in comics.
In 2009, Top Cow shook up the contest big-time when Robert Kirkman and Marc Silvestri came together to pioneer five unique one-shots that would vie for a shot at a full miniseries commitment. Four one-shots came out at a steady clip over the end of 2009 and beginning of 2010, with one-stand out — Hardcore — being delayed indefinitely with still no word some 16 months after its original solicited release date. This delay has delayed the voting for the entire batch of Pilot Season books, leaving readers with a big question mark on if they’ll ever read Hardcore and ever get to vote on the 2009 Pilot Season books.
Learning a lesson from its previous year, Top Cow’s 2010 Pilot Season titles were released over five consecutive weeks in the fall of 2010, featuring a host of Top Cow regulars and even a few staffers. In the end, the heist comic 39 Minutes (by William Harms and Jerry Lando) won the contest, with plans for a full-length series announced for 2011.
Despite some hiccups and snafus, Top Cow’s Pilot Season remains an invigorating concept allowing creators to throw a story at the wall and see what readers decide will stick. I’m looking forward to the 2011 titles and what comes next in the 2012 iteration!