By:Buddy Scalera
Date: Wednesday, November 01, 2000

CrossGen's universe is expanding. And writer Barbara Kesel knows to start with the first things firstliterally. Fans who tested the new universe with CrossGen Chronicles #1 may recall the appearance of an all-powerful group of beings called 'The First.' In the introductory story, they were surprised to discover that a number of people on different worlds had been branded with the Sigil mark and granted great powers. These new 'Sigil-Bearers' form the foundation of the CrossGen Universe and its growing line of comics, which currently includes Mystic, Scion, Sigil and Meridian. And, up 'til now, The First and their agenda has remained a mystery.

Now, with artists Bart Sears and Andy Smith, Kesel plans to dig deeper into this ageless society, which stands as the ultimate creators of everything CrossGenor so they think. This is why Kesel, who as CrossGen's head writer reserves the right to choose plum assignments, is writing the series. And to make room in her already busy schedule, she'll be handing off Sigil to incoming writer Mark Waid. To say that The First is integral to the CrossGen Universe and will integrate into its tightly knit titles is an understatement to say the least. 'The First is the nexus of the CrossGen universe,' explains Kesel. 'Every title stands alone; you just get more of the big picture if you read them all.'

Setting the Stage

Like many of CrossGen's existing titles, Kesel and Sears hope to pack The First with thrilling conflict and situations. And while the company's current series recount tales of average humans who have been suddenly imbued with confusing new powers, the duo will spin yarns about beings with unimaginable power. The first issue revolves around an ancient warlord, Todosi, who is branded with the Sigil's power on the eve of an epic battle. To him, The First stand elevated as eclectic and unpredictable gods, whose reality and behavior may upset the foundation of his very beliefs.

Like other CrossGen books, The First defiantly avoids mainstream superhero stories. Instead, the characters and situations revolve around non-traditional genres, many of which have not been successfully produced in many years. In fact, the opening story, 'In the Beginning,' pulls strongly from mythology, with all the larger-than-life trappings of Akira Kurasawa films.

Of course, Kesel's challenge is to make cosmic stories about these celestial giants interesting to mere mortals. 'Real people relate to real people,' explains Kesel, who oversees the writing staff at CrossGen's Tampa, Fla., headquarters. 'The job of the writer, whether you're writing about men or gods or fish or vegetables, is to give those characters recognizable human characteristics and personalities.'

The job of the artist, on the other hand, is to bring those characteristics and personalities screaming to life on the page. And for that, Kesel has the complementary talents of penciler Bart Sears and inker Andy Smith to provide striking visuals. 'The First needs to be filled with majesty and power,' explains Sears. 'I am approaching it from a more illustrative viewpoint, rather than an in-your-face, leaping out-of-the-page kinda style. I feel this will give the book a more classical feel, more fitting with the scope and grandeur of the book.'

The grandeur is rounded out by Smith's inksSears' frequent collaboratorand Mike Atiyea's colors. Kesel, for one, couldn't be happier with the results. 'Bart's artwork is shocking people,' extols Kesel. 'He's taking every little cue and turning it into a work of art.'

Things to Come

That type of creative energy may have to do with CrossGen's somewhat controversial founder and guiding light, Mark Alessi, who insists all creators work in the company's Tampa bullpen. Alessi's retro-style work arrangements, which harkens back to the old days of Marvel's infamous creator-centered bullpen, have forced dozens of former FedExing freelancers to relocate. It also means that traditionally deadline-challenged artists like Sears will be forced to stay on schedule for the monthly series. '[Bart] has got a schedule, he's been sticking to it,' assures Kesel, 'and we see no reason why that pattern won't continue indefinitely.'

With so many cards on the table and a solid work environment in place, the creative team plans to devote their energies to delivering high-octane adventures. '[The stories] will all have the 'over the top' feel that comes from a group of high-powered characters, but different stories will have a slightly different feel,' explains Kesel. '[The First] can probably be best categorized as fantasy mixed with political intrigue, but the first story [in the opening issue] is a war story.'

Kesel's unwilling to reveal much more than that about upcoming stories, so as not to ruin the surprises. She does promise, however, that fans will be seeing more of the personalities behind the power. She also freely admits that The First bear the striking symbol that brands the other CrossGen characters and serves as CrossGen's red-yellow logo. But while it resembles the yin/yang, a symbol of balance and harmony, it's anything but peaceful. 'Our symbol comes from one meaning two sides in permanent opposition,'' explains Kesel.

Given that premise, Kesel says fans should look for other patterns of intrigue and politics, as well. As power is wielded among certain ambitious and unethical beings, sparks will fly through the CrossGen universe. And like a lightning rod, Kesel will be waiting at the center of the storm, writing it all down.