by Beau Smith
You can read Part One here.
It took two years before I could get my Black Terror ducks all in a row. This project was very important to me and I knew that I had to make sure the clip was fully loaded and there was one in the chamber before I flicked the safety off.
I had written my proposal for The Black Terror. It wasn’t going to be a standard superhero story. True, the main character would be wearing a mask and costume, but this story was going to be crime noir in an alternate universe a lot like our own only a bit distorted, perhaps even twisted.
In this world, the Al Capone family and the Joseph Kennedy family reversed roles making the political and crime landscape of the United States very rough terrain. The C.I.A, F.B.I and N.S.A are allies and enemies at the same time, but the government branch that truly ruled from the shadows was The Department of Agriculture.
It was from the D.O.A that a long line of covert operatives maneuvered through the veins of government law enforcement fighting crime with extreme prejudice and impunity based out of the government blank spots. When one of these agents died or retired, another would take their place building on the legend of this agent known as “The Black Terror.” The intimidation factor was just one of the many weapons at The Black Terror’s disposal.
One of my best friends is Chuck Dixon, noted writer of every comic book character you can imagine and then some. Chuck is also the co-creator of one of Batman’s most powerful and popular villains, Bane. Back in 1989, Chuck was the regular writer on Airboy at Eclipse Comics. I had always admired Chuck’s style of writing and the fact that he could seamlessly work in any genre and with any character. Chuck and I had always talked about co-writing together and I knew that The Black Terror would be a perfect place to perform this alliance. I had sent Chuck my proposal and he really liked the alternate universe and the way crime and politics meshed. He agreed to come on board and then proceeded to add even more interesting layers to my proposal enhancing it to an even higher level. I was stoked.
Chuck and I also came up with a unique style to our collaboration. We had the beginning, the middle, and the end of our story all laid out, but what we added was this: we would each write scenes in the story using the plot as our guideline, BUT we didn’t tell each other everything that went on. Example: I would write the first scene then send it over to Chuck and he would find that I wrote him into a corner with the characters and he would in turn have to continue to move the story forward with the surprises I left him and then hand it back to me putting me in a corner. Each issue went like this giving us a chance to inject complicated double crosses and story twists that were fresh and emotionally hooked the reader into each character and their actions.
Speaking for myself, I couldn’t wait for the mail to come with the scene that Chuck wrote so I could see how deep in the mud he had left me and start figuring out just how I was going to get out. We enjoyed this style so much we used it on our next co-ventures Batman/Wildcat and Catwoman/Wildcat.
With our proposal adjusted, we sent it over to Dean Mullaney, the publisher at Eclipse Comics. Dean is a huge fan of politics, crime noir, and the history of comic books. Not only did he like what we set up with the story, he also liked the fact that Eclipse Comics would be bringing back the Golden Age character, The Black Terror.
Dean believed in this story so strongly that he thought it should be done in what was then called the “Prestige Format”. This came after the way Frank Miller’s Batman work was formatted during this time period. The series would be on slick paper in a square bound format of 42 pages each with a cover price of $4.95. That was not cheap in 1989.
Dean turned the book over to Editor-In-Chief, Cat Yronwode who then assigned the direct editing to editor Fred Burke. Chuck and I had talks with Cat and Fred and we all decided that a story like this should be fully painted to give it a more cinematic look and feel. Fred was in charge of wrangling new talent for Eclipse and had recently hired a young artist just out of art school on some anthology projects at Eclipse. This artist was not only a whiz with pencils, but he was also an innovative painter with his own style that fit perfectly with what we had written. The artist’s name was Dan Brereton.
Fred had told Dan about the job, the character, and a rough idea of what we were going to do. Dan was pretty excited and on his own, painted 11 pages of what would be called “The Nightmare Scene”. One of the reasons is because it had The Black Terror fighting blood sucking vampires, even though there were no vampires in our story and the other reason it was called “The Nightmare Scene” was because Cat and Fred liked the pages so much, they wanted Chuck and I to use them in the story. They didn’t want to waste these beautiful pages so that forced Chuck and I into making them work as an opening to the real story.
It wasn’t the easiest thing to do, but then good writing is never easy. Chuck and I used this as a literal nightmare for the main character, The Black Terror. I have to admit, we ended up incorporating the theme of the nightmare into the rest of the story and the character’s background and it worked out quite nicely. We could’ve been all pissed off at having to use these pages, but in the big picture, it was a blessing in disguise and really added to the story. Good move on Dan, Cat and Fred’s part. I thank them.
The series subtitle was “Seduction Of Deceit”. It was given that because what we wanted to do was show just how alluring the perks of crime can be even to a man who’s dedicated to doing what’s right. Could the undercover agent, Ryan Delvecchio, A.K.A. , The Black Terror, be seduced by the power and riches of organized crime? Could his moral compass find a true reading in this Bermuda Triangle of treachery? That was what we wanted to find out in this complex story of good vs. a man’s inner evil. Sometimes nightmares are the mirror to our inner reflections.
The three issues series did pretty good for a book that carried a $4.95 cover price. Each issue sold an average of 55,000 copies to the direct market. The part that thrilled us the most was that The Black Terror story was well received by the readers. Critical acclaim for the book traveled well through word of mouth and the icing on top of this piece of cake was that Dan won the Russ Manning Award for his work on the book. We were all really happy for Dan. Needless to say, his career in comics continued to rise after The Black Terror. Dan has gone on to do high profile work for other publishers as well as his own creator-owned work such as The Nocturnals.
The down side to The Black Terror is that it was never collected into a trade paperback. In 1994, Eclipse Comics went bankrupt before the series could be put into hardcover or trade paperback form. Soon after that, Todd McFarlane of Spawn fame bought the remains of Eclipse Comics but has not done anything with it since it’s purchase and it doesn’t look like he will anytime soon I’m sorry to say. Please remember, at the time Todd bought Eclipse Comics, I was working for him. At first, he was all stoked about it and even had Ted Adams and I write a new resource book for all the characters called Total Eclipse. This book was a very limited direct market retail incentive and only about 3,000 were printed. It’s a true collector’s item and well worth digging for a copy.
The Black Terror was also supposed to be the first issue of the new Eclipse under Todd’s publishing banner. I wrote the new issue with Clayton Crain and Mark Irwin doing the art. It was done, bought and paid for. Then everything stopped. This was about the time Todd and Neil Gaiman were having their well covered disagreement on the ownership of Angela and a few other characters that Neil had written.
Being the self-serving guy that I am, that all sucked for me. Once again, the original series didn’t get collected and the new series was sent to limbo. Many years passed. I went on to work freelance, Ted Adams went on to co-found IDW Publishing and Todd kept on making millions and a lot more toys.
I have no ill feeling towards Todd. I only have frustrations in that the series has never been collected. Without any conceit I feel that The Black Terror: Seduction Of Deceit not only stands the test of time, but I honestly believe that it is in the same league of The Dark Knight and The Watchmen. I know that’s pretty big talk, but I really do believe it. The Black Terror was a break-through series for superhero crime noir. If you read it, I think you’ll agree.
I hope that one day you’ll have the chance to read it in a collected form. I hope to see that happen before I shuffle off from this mortal coil. In 1989 I still felt invincible. Here it is 2011 and some of my paint is beginning to fade.
Here are a few other interesting Black Terror facts:
** When The Black Terror debuted in 1989 it made the cover of The Westfield Newsletter using my favorite black and white art from Brereton’s pencils. A great piece.
** When noted artist Brandon Peterson was still in art school, he did an eight page Black Terror tryout story from one of my scripts. I remember showing his work around to everyone at the old Chicago Con.
** I have a beautiful pin up of The Black Terror that was penciled by Dan Brereton and inked by Tim Bradstreet from circa 1990.
I would love to write The Black Terror again as well as see it collected. It’d be a lovely tribute to my dad who introduced me to The Black Terror all those many years ago. I miss my dad and I miss The Black Terror.
The Flying Fist Ranch
Editor’s Note: Want to read Beau’s work on Black Terror? We have a limited number of sets of the complete miniseries available, all signed by Beau! You can find them here!