Dark Horse Editor Unpacks 'Star Wars' Comic Exchange Program

Many fans thought it was an April Fools' joke. Turns out, Dark Horse was very serious.
John Cassaday/Marvel Entertainment

When Portland, Ore.-based independent publisher Dark Horse Comics announced last week that it would give comic book retailers exclusive copies of the launch issue of its new Barb Wire series in exchange for unsold copies of Marvel's Star Wars comic book, many fans thought it was an April Fools' joke. Turns out, Dark Horse was very serious.

"The whole point of the announcement was to get attention for the new Barb Wire series," editor Randy Stradley tells The Hollywood Reporter. "The promotion is completely real. But, because we thought it was funny, it occurred to us that we could announce it on April Fools' Day, get a laugh, and then come back a week later and say, 'No, we're serious,' and get additional attention. Why take just one bite from the apple when you can take two?"

The response to the April 1 announcement of the program — which will see retailers receive a copy of the new Barb Wire series with a cover by artist Adam Hughes unavailable anywhere else in exchange for 20 copies of Marvel's recent Star Wars No. 1 — proved that it was an attention-grabber, according to Stradley.

"We were glad to see that so many people got a laugh from it," he says, adding that it was interesting to see who didn’t get the joke. "Mostly die-hard Marvel fans who seem to have been offended for Marvel’s sake, conveniently forgetting that a couple of years ago, Marvel pulled a similar kind of promotion with DC as the goat," the editor recalls, adding "I somehow imagine that Marvel can survive our 'barbs.'"

The selection of which Marvel title should be returned was hardly random; before Marvel gained the comic book license to Star Wars at the beginning of the year, Dark Horse had been publishing Star Wars comics for almost 23 years. "I personally ran the franchise at Dark Horse from 2001 to 2014, and I think, if you talk to any of the fans who were reading our stories, they’ll tell you that we did Star Wars right," Stradley says.

"After Disney bought Lucasfilm, the license was summarily given to Disney-owned Marvel," he went on. "There was a bit of bitterness there, but we understand that business is business. What I personally didn't appreciate was the posturing from Marvel as if they had somehow won back the rights. So when the idea for this promotion was discussed, I was all for it."

When it came to the creation of the exclusive cover, Stradley says that he was relatively hands-off. "I pretty much turned Adam Hughes loose on the covers," he explains. "I’ve known Adam for nearly 30 years, and had no qualms about telling him to indulge himself. The problem is, the series of paintings he’s done is an embarrassment of riches. Every time a new painting arrives, we’re like, 'No, this one should be the cover to issue number one!'"

For those only familiar with Barb Wire from the 1996 Pamela Anderson movie, Stradley says that the comic book version is "very different." He explains that, "as Barb’s creator Chris Warner writes her, she’s like a lot of people, torn between what she’s good at, and what she wants to do — like everyone who works a day job while they struggle to be a screenwriter, or a rock star, or whatever. Barb wants to run a night club, but what she’s good at is bounty hunting."

Stradley says the character is "simply not geared to deal with the gentrification and corporate homogenization of urban America. Bringing a superpowered felon to justice is all in a day’s work for her, but rounding up the dough to pay for rent increases brought about because Salt & Straw moved in next door is a different story." The new series, the editor promises, might be an action-packed adventure, "but it also has a definite point of view, and more than a little humor."

The new series launches in July, with artist Patrick Oliffe joining Warner on the creative team, and covers by Hughes. But for those looking for the exclusive variant, they'll have to convince their local comic store to help. "The promotion is aimed at comics store owners, and only redeemable by them," Stradley said. "There is no method by which comics fans can obtain the variants directly from Dark Horse."

He did, however, tease, "I’m thinking they would make great prizes in a future contest."