Unlike his female counterpart in the Top Cow Universe, Jackie Estacado — better known as The Darkness — is not a nice man. Even before getting her powers, Sara Pezzini (AKA Witchblade) planted herself firmly on the side of the angels as a police officer while Jackie spent his days and nights as a hitman for the mafia, making him the perfect host for the demonic power of the Darkness.
Jackie and the Darkness premiered back in 1997 in the pages of “Witchblade” and soon scored his own series which hit the 100-issue mark last month after combining the issue numbers from all three volumes of the series. Writer Phil Hester helmed the series starting with the current volume that debuted in 2008 and recently wrapped his run with the centennial landmark issue. Now it’s David Hine’s turn to steer the good ship “Darkness” aided by Top Cow-exclusive artist Jeremy Haun. CBR News spoke with Hine about using Jackie to get in touch with his own dark side, how working at Top Cow differs from Marvel and DC Comics and what intrigued him about the character in the first place.
CBR News: What is it about Jackie Estacado and The Darkness that made you want to write his adventures?
David Hine: “The Darkness” is a book that combines all the best elements of horror, noir and fantasy. I feel like there really are no constraints to the stories I want to tell. If I want to introduce supernatural elements I can do that, but the story is also grounded in the real world of crime and gangsters. Jackie is a great character, a conflicted personality who is a true anti-hero. He makes his own rules and that means you can never really predict what he will do in any situation. With the opening up of the Top Cow Universe in “Rebirth,” I’ve also been given the gift of a near-clean slate after the “Artifacts” epic. So when I sit down to write I have all these possibilities and an invitation to write a supernatural horror crime story, with one of the coolest characters in comics, who also happens to have the best visual gimmick in comics. The Darkness can literally be conjured into any form and Jeremy and myself and planning to exploit that to the full, through the plot developments and with the visual experience.
I recently spoke to Top Cow founder Marc Silvestri about the Top Cow Universe in general and he said you have a really good sense of Jackie as a character. What do you attribute that insight to?
I guess through Jackie I’m able to explore my own dark side without getting into trouble. In real life I’m a parent, a taxpayer, a home-owner, but on the inside I’m a murderous sex-obsessed bastard who wants to kick ass and rip up the town. There’s a little of that in all of us isn’t there? I’m half-kidding. What I just described is the character we saw introduced in the earliest issues of “The Darkness,” and that was fun for a while, but the character soon became much more complex. We saw the troubled background that Jackie came from and the loyalties he developed, along with the extraordinary courage he displays when things get rough. I find it a lot more interesting to bring out the good side in an apparently immoral character, than to introduce a few flaws in a basically heroic character so that you can tack ‘gritty realism’ onto the description of a book. I think that’s the problem with most superhero books. You still have good guys and bad guys, even if the heroes have flaws. With Jackie I can explore a character who is genuinely conflicted and unpredictable.
You’ve got an interesting opportunity here because you’re writing a character who has been around for years, but is also getting a new start thanks to “Artifacts.” Has that played into your writing process?
Yes. After 100 issues, I feel like I know Jackie, and I’m sure that’s true of the regular readers of the book. But now I get to take him into totally new territory. I’m being careful to keep his character consistent with what has been established over the years, but the changes brought about by Ron Marz’s “Artifacts” story have really changed all the rules. As I plot the coming year’s storyline, I’m discovering the story as much as creating it. Jackie is such a solid character that he has taken on a life of his own, and I find myself engaging in a dialogue with him.
Marc also said one of the overarching themes of your upcoming work on “The Darkness” is the trouble of getting what you want. How will you be playing with that idea?
When Jackie recreated the universe he couldn’t resist making a couple of changes to give himself what he always wanted. And all he ever really wanted was Jenny Romano. His childhood sweetheart was murdered soon after he acquired the powers of the Darkness and as far as he was concerned that meant he had lost his only real chance of happiness. Now he’s brought her back to life by altering the past. On the surface, he has the perfect life, but that doesn’t last too long. Jackie’s new Universe is flawed and the flaws are centered on those little changes that Jackie made.
Without giving too much away, where are you looking to take Jackie in the coming year?
As the flaws begin to open up, we’re going to see a slow disintegration of everything Jackie has built, both physically and psychologically. It starts with his family and friends, but the cracks spread out from there and we’ll see that there’s something ancient and evil under the surface of the world, that we have never been aware of before. That other world is going to start to filter out into the entire Top Cow Universe. I’m planning to put Jackie through some incredibly intense experiences that will test his sanity and threaten to destroy him physically. This is a fairly long-term storyline. I have the first year outlined, with a loose plot in place for the second year. I’m still not sure what will happen to Jackie ultimately, but I do know where he’ll be in six months from now and at the end of the second arc, a year down the line. I can promise some real surprises for our readers. Beyond the first year, the repercussions will start to impact on the rest of the Top Cow Universe and when that happens I’m hoping there will be some surprises in store for me too. Like I said, what happens ultimately will be down to Jackie himself. I just write this stuff down.
You worked with artist Jeremy Haun on “Detective Comics” in the past, but how has it been working with artist Jeremy Haun so far on this title?
It’s brilliant working with Jeremy. He’s a very perceptive artist who gets under the skins of the characters and brings them to life. He also had a lot of input when I was starting out on the plot last year. We talked a lot about the characters and, in particular, aspects of Jackie’s relationship to the Darkness that haven’t been explored before. Some of Jeremy’s feedback ended up turning the plot in a direction it might not otherwise have taken. The joy of a real collaboration is that the communication goes two ways. One of the great pleasures of working in this business as a writer is when you get new art by e-mail and see how your words have been brought to life. This past week I’ve been seeing the thumbnails for issue #103 and the lettered proof of issue #102 has just arrived in my inbox. In two days I’ll have the printed version of #101 in my hands at last. Thanks to Jeremy it’s all looking fabulous.
How does working on the Top Cow Universe differ from some of the Marvel and DC comics you’ve written?
There’s much more freedom working in the Top Cow Universe. Marvel and DC are such vast and complex universes that it can be a real headache to keep all the continuity in mind. It often interferes with the flow of the story because of all those threads crossing over. Top Cow is smaller, there are less creators involved and in the end our ultimate boss is Marc Silvestri, who is a very cool person. Then there’s Matt Hawkins and Filip Sablik running the show and editing. All cool guys who are willing to trust their writers and artists to do their own thing. It’s still work for hire, but it doesn’t feel like it. We have the space to follow our creative instincts on these books and I think that shows.
“The Darkness” #101 by David Hine and Jeremy Haun is on sale now and #102 follows on April 18th.