Looking to add a significant African-American character to its classic Batman series, DC Comics has reached an agreement with writer Alex Simmons, creator of Black Jack, a self-published graphic novel, to co-create a five-part Batman miniseries entitled Batman: Orpheus Rising.

Simmons will write the new series and Dwayne Turner (who has worked on Spawn) will illustrate; Danny Miki will ink, with Shannon Blanchard working on the color. Batman: Orpheus Rising is scheduled for release in late 2001.

"The series introduces a new African-American character and a powerful force to Gotham City," said Simmons. Simmons also said he was "stunned" at the chance to write for Batman and noted that the offer came after the editors at DC saw and liked Black Jack, which was self-published by Simmons's Dark Angel Productions in 1999.

Black Jack tells the story of an African-American solider of fortune on a secret mission in 1930s Japan as the beginning of World War II looms in the background. The 96-page graphic novel mixes action and adventure with real historical events and has sold about 3,000 copies.

Simmons, a freelance writer, playwright, director and author, told PW he created Black Jack because "I wanted an action hero who looked like me, who was black but could also be universal. I couldn't afford to make a film so I made a comic." Simmons said the book has received praise from teachers (he includes short bios of real but little-known African-Americans whose adventures rival those of his fictional hero). He has also heard from Black Jack fans around the world through his Web site (www.daponline.com). "I get e-mail from Norway, Bulgaria and Cairo about Black Jack. You can create an African-American hero that anyone can identify with," he said.