Even though they have a history that dates back to the '40s and a roster of legendary creators that includes Alex Toth, the Red Circle superheroes have always been the least-loved Archie properties -- and considering that I am possibly the only person in the world with a genuine love of Jughead's Time Police, that's saying something. Over the past few decades, characters like The Shield and The Black Hood have been relaunched and repackaged time and time again, even going as far as to have different publishers give it a shot, and they've never really found their place.

Now, though, in a time that's seeing Archie take huge steps forward in expanding its line into horror titles and more serious takes on everyone's favorite small-town teens, the publisher seems to be putting as much as it can into a new line: Dark Circle.

The line was announced last year, anchored by Duane Swierczynski and Michael Gaydos's mature-readers take on The Black Hood, Adam Christopher, Chuck Wendig and Wilfredo Torres's new redesign for The Shield, and Dean Haspiel and Mark Waid's return to the bizarre adventures of The Fox. Today, Archie revealed that it will support the titles through digital platforms that also feature older takes on the characters. To find out more, I spoke to editor Alex Segura about the new direction for the characters and how they're different from previous attempts, the fate of the New Crusaders that were relaunched only a few years ago, and whether Archie's continued move into other genres means that Riverdale's days are numbered.

 

 

ComicsAlliance: So let's talk about Dark Circle Digital, and how it's going to support the new titles.

AS: We’ll have hubs for Dark Circle across the board with all our digital partners – from iVerse to Comixology to Google and Amazon. We want anyone that’s interested in these titles – whether the future Dark Circle Comics offerings or stuff from our expansive archives – to be able to dig in and really immerse themselves. It’s also a great way to gauge what people want to see more of, as in the case of the New Crusaders: Dark Tomorrow Special, which hits next month via digital. If fans want more, we’ll be able to tell.

We’re extremely excited to not only have the new Dark Circle titles offered via our digital platforms, but to try and provide fans with an added incentive to buy the books digitally. For the first time ever, we’ll be making the critically-acclaimed Impact interpretations of the characters available through our digital platforms, along with select titles from the 80s Red Circle offerings. These books match up in terms of quality with what we’ll be offering with Dark Circle, so it made sense to not only be forward-looking with the new books, but also to select and curate the backlist so people get a fuller, more thoughtful digital experience. Plus, the Impact stuff is so good! Black Hood and The Shield were personal favorites of mine as a kid, so I’m excited to see fans respond to the material – which I think holds up very well.

 

Previous Red Circle relaunches, click for full size

 

CA: Since you mentioned the previous attempts, the characters we're going to be seeing in these comics have been through a lot of different incarnations in their time in comics with a lot of different takes. How did you come to the decision to try rebranding them as Dark Circle?

AS: I don’t really see this as a relaunch of the imprint or characters. I think we’re starting from the ground up – taking these concepts and names and reimagining them for today’s reader. That doesn’t mean what came before doesn’t “count,” but it does mean that this is a definite starting point – so we needed to give this iteration its own name and brand, so we decided to go with Dark Circle. To us, it’s a new launch. While we love a lot of what came before, we’re taking a new approach and that merits a new name.

CA: What sets Dark Circle apart from those previous attempts?

AS: These books aren’t event-driven. They’re not one of many. Each book is being treated like its own, unique thing, more along the lines of a cable network or book publisher. We want the creators to think less of the greater universe tying their books together and more about their books specifically and the story they want to tell. The Dark Circle titles are all extremely different, but similar in terms of quality and aesthetic. While I guess these books are super hero titles, because of the properties they’re based on, they veer more closely to genres like crime, noir, thriller, action and the like.

Most importantly, we’re letting the creators really cut loose on these books and tell the stories they want to tell. Obviously, in any kind of company-owned environment, there’s going to be some level of back and forth, but if I’m bringing in Creator X, I have to keep in mind what their strengths are and let them play to those. It’d be unfair of me to try to impose things on them that goes against their own aesthetic. These books will have a clear vision and style, put together by some of the best and most underrated talents in fiction.

 

Click for full size

 

CA: There's a little bit of carryover from the Red Circle comics with the Fox, but are any of the other ideas from the last run continuing? I know we've got a new incarnation of the Shield to look forward to.

AS: I think you’ll see hat tips and nods to the past when it fits. You get one in the first issue of The Black Hood, for example. That’s for the longtime fans – so they get a sense that, yes, this is happening in a bigger, wider universe. To new fans who are just coming in, those Easter eggs will just fly by – and that’s OK, too. We have to make these books as accessible to new readers as possible.

That being said, we are aware that there are long-time fans of these concepts and characters. Which is why, for example, we’ll be debuting the New Crusaders: Dark Tomorrow Special as part of our digital plans. A lot of people really enjoyed that book and we solicited a second story that many fans thought lost forever. Well, it’s not. It’ll be on the Archie app and with all our digital offerings in the coming weeks and it continues the story Ian Flynn started in the first New Crusaders mini. Now, if people want more – if they really want to see these characters – they can vote in the clearest way possible, by grabbing a copy and moving the needle.

 

 

As for The Shield – I think we had to reinvent the character. No matter what we say about the original Shield coming first, before Cap, he still strikes many as a Captain America clone. That’s just the story as it has been written by history. We wanted the new Shield to not only break away from that, but also be defined as the Shield – since the beginning of this country. That’ll be explained in more detail and probably more clearly in the first issue of The Shield. There’s still room for Joe Higgins to exist, but that won’t be explored until we think it’s time. Our main concern is establishing the Shield as a strong and vital character on her own, without the trappings of an old super hero universe weighing her down.

 

 

In terms of The Fox – what came before happened. It was a really fun story that got a lot of good buzz and everyone should red it. However, if The Fox #1 from Dark Circle Comics is your first book, you’ll be fine. You don’t need to have a lot of knowledge about what’s come before. Like Black Hood and Shield, you can come in with zero ideas or preconceptions about these characters and you’ll be OK. Does it add texture or bits of info to the experience? Sure. But it’s not essential.

CA: The first book that's launching with Dark Circle, Black Hood, is a pretty violent, mature-readers crime book, which is something that we've never seen Archie publish before. Between that and Afterlife With Archie, which has obviously been a huge success, the "Death of Archie" story last year, and the reboot of Archie coming up soon, we're seeing a lot of high-profile stuff that doesn't fit the traditional image of what Archie is.

So the obvious question here is, are the days of the all-ages Archie comics numbered? Are we moving towards a version of Archie Comics as a publisher that doesn't have double-dates to the movies and Jughead scheming for hamburgers?

AS: I don’t think the rise of one thing means the demise of the other. Archie’s for everyone – that’s been Jon Goldwater’s rallying cry since he took over the company. The new Archie #1 will not be “mature” in terms of content. If anything, it’s going back to the humorous, all-ages roots of the characters.

I think what you’ve seen is a widening of what we as a company are comfortable publishing. Archie is diversifying not only its content, but its publishing to include drama, super hero titles, horror and so on. I think you’re seeing the evolution of a brand to meet the demands of the time, where the audience is more varied in their tastes and desires. And I think it’s good – and if it helps change the perception, where people don’t think of Archie as just one thing, but as a company that’s good at any number of things, then all the better.