The Darkness, chronicled in the Top Cow comic of the same name and co-created by writer David Wohl, is a centuries-old power, passed down from generation to generation and manifested in each new wielder on their 21 st birthday. The medium-hopping franchise is now being developed as a major motion picture, and a next-gen console game to be released for the PS3 and XBOX 360 early next year. Writer Paul Jenkins was hired by game developer Starbreeze Studios to pen the script for “The Darkness” game, and he and David Wohl took a moment to talk to CBR news about the future of Jackie Estacado.
“When we first came up with the basic concept for ‘The Darkness,’ Top Cow was still in San Diego, and it was a way different environment,” Wohl began. “Cyberforce” was their one and only ongoing title at the time, so much of Wohl’s time was spent brainstorming new series with Top Cow’s top brass. “One of our favorites was this gothic tale about a guy who basically lived in the basement of this old house. He had this incredible power, The Darkness, which allowed him to create anything he could think of, with only two caveats: He needed to understand what he was building, and it could only exist in the dark,” said Wohl. When some of the company’s other properties took off – “Witchblade” chief among those) – “The Darkness” was put on the backburner until an up-and-comer named Garth Ennis expressed interest in the project. “Garth had been doing incredible work on ‘Hellblazer’ and ‘Preacher’ for DC when we inquired if he’d be willing to work with us,” Wohl said. “We were all huge fans of his in the office and were thrilled when he said yes.” Ennis’ take on the character wound up being pretty far afield from the original concept, but fans have him to thank for the “Darkness” they know today.
When Paul Jenkins first tried his hand at writing “The Darkness” in 2001, he proceeded to kill off the power’s current wielder, mobster Jackie Estacado, at the end of his very first story arc. But as comics readers are well aware, comic characters rarely stay dead, and in the case of Jackie Estacado, he was never meant to. Jenkins always intended that The Darkness would not let Jackie die, and this was the springboard for Top Cow’s launch of the second volume, which was to be Jenkins’ re-envisioning of the character.
When Starbreeze Studios acquired the license to develop the “Darkness” videogame (the trailer for the game can be found right here on CBR), Jenkins seemed like the logical choice to write the game’s script. In the early days of video games, all the writing was done in house. Scripts and stories were penned by the same programmers responsible for every other facet of the game. But there has been a paradigm shift in recent years, with game designers hiring established writers from other mediums to bring their games’ stories to life. More than that, the writers have come to be involved in the process every step of the way. Jenkins, who is a gamer himself, and who already has the scripts for games like “Twisted Metal Black” and “Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction” under his belt, says that’s been his experience on every game he’s worked on, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Jenkins is forbidden to talk about the story of “The Darkness” game in great detail, but he did tell CBR News that it is inspired by his run on the comic. And adapting your own work for another medium, he says, can be more difficult than writing a new story from scratch. The story in the game does differ in some respects from the continuity of “The Darkness” comics, simply because it would be impossible to condense dozens of issues of an ongoing comic series into a script for a self-contained videogame. And despite the fact that he is now a seasoned video game writer, Jenkins said that, unlike a comic or a film, there’s no specific formula for creative a video game script. “You can’t get Final Draft for video games,” he said, referring to one of the entertainment industry’s pre-eminent pieces of screenwriting software. Jenkins also contends that the process is different for each game you work on, because the technology is constantly changing.
Jenkins has not yet had the opportunity to play the game, but he hopes to before its release. “They’re going to get great feedback from the guy that wrote it,” he said.
Jenkins is a firm believer in the pearl of writers’ wisdom that says “write what you know.” He believes that injecting bits of yourself into your characters will make the story more authentic and draw the audience in. When asked what he had in common with “The Darkness’s” Jackie Estacado, Jenkins had this to say. “I’ve never killed anyone,” he was quick to insist. “Not that they’ve found out about, anyhow, I hid the bodies pretty well.
“I think it’s to do with family, that’s what intrigued me,” Jenkins said. “When I was little my family was very, very fractured,” he began. After his parents divorced when he was five, Jenkins and his brother grew up in poverty on a farm. “My brother struggled with [the divorce] really badly. It was a mess of a family. And I see the mafia as being the ultimate dysfunctional family,” he said. Jackie’s dilemma was a metaphor for Jenkins’ own boyhood struggles. Like Jenkins, Jackie was “hoping beyond hope that he could have a family.” And the outside influences Jenkins felt growing up, the adults in his family, were mirrored in Jackie’s involvement with the cops, the mob and the power of the Darkness itself.
To tie in with the video game release, Top Cow is producing 5 comics, the first of which, “The Darkness: Level 1,” hits stands on January 2007. “There are five distinct levels in the game that the player goes through,” Jenkins said, and he and David Wohl struck on an interesting way of narratizing the game in the comic without merely rehashing what the players will have already seen. Traditionally, “The Darkness” comics have been told from the point of view of Jackie Estacado. According to Jenkins, the stories in this series are “…set up to be five very different opposing viewpoints, that always have Jackie in the story, but Jackie’s not the guy with the internal monologue.” Each of the five issues will focus on a different character from “The Darkness” game, and afford us the opportunity to see their reactions to the events of the game as they unfold. “So we have his girlfriend Jenny’s view, as well as a cop’s, a mafia thug’s, a darkling’s, and a British soldier from World War I,” Wohl said of the lineup. “What we show is how Jackie Estacado and The Darkness impact the worlds of these people. Sometimes he’s helping, and sometimes he’s the antagonist. But each one will reveal a new aspect of the character that we’ve never seen before. And they’re gonna look really cool, too!”
Twin brothers Danny and Oxide Pang are set to direct the bigscreen adaptation of “The Darkness.” The big screen adaptation is still relatively early in pre-production, but Wohl has made himself available to the filmmakers. “I do know that the Pang Brothers are very talented filmmakers, and the film is in very good hands with those guys!”