Hot on the heels of the successful "The Darkness" videogame, Top Cow Productions is gearing up for the release of new ongoing series starring Jackie Estacado. In anticipation of the new book, CBR spoke with "The Darkness" writers past, present and future: Paul Jenkins, who wrote the title's critically acclaimed second volume and hit videogame; Ron Marz, the man who's currently turning Jackie's world upside down in the crossover event "First Born;" and Phil Hester, the writer/artist behind graphic novels like "The Coffin," who's penning the new series with art by Michael Broussard.
For the uninitiated, The Darkness is an age-old power passed from father to son in a lineage dating back to the dawn of mankind. The power of The Darkness is kept in check by its light counterpart, a being known as the Angelus. Angelus' female hosts have waged war with the male wielders of The Darkness since time immemorial. Both primal powers became inextricably linked to Top Cow's other flagship title, "Witchblade," when it was recently revealed that Sara Pezzini's famous gauntlet is in fact their offspring.
Phil, how did you come to write the new "The Darkness" ongoing?
Phil Hester: I think Ron probably had a hand in recommending me. [Editor] Rob [Levin] was casting around, looking for people to take the character and the title to new places. I'd written a few things, but I'd never written a regular series. I think Ron put in a good word for me, and Rob was a fan of a graphic novel I did a while ago called "Deep Sleeper," that sold about 20 copies, but it hit the right note with Rob, so he came after me.
I never thought about writing "The Darkness" before, but I'd been an occasional reader of the book. You know, I read Paul's run and Garth Ennis' run. So when the opportunity came up, I boned up on it and the ideas started flowing, and we went from there.
Ron Marz: The truth is, we just flipped a coin.
PH: Don't demystify it.
RM: I haven't told you who the guy on the other side of the coin was.
PH: You need more Stan Lee in you.
How about the artist for the new series, Michael Broussard?
PH: I think Michael sprung fully formed from the head of Zeus. I think most guys are supposed to struggle at some point at the beginning of their career. Michael's style is fully realized. I asked him when I met him what he'd done before, because like I said, you're supposed to struggle. And Michael's never struggled; he's been good right out of the box. He worked with Ron on a crossover; that might have been his first solo book. Was that his first book on his own, Ron?
RM: Yeah, he was terrible until I got a hold of him. Actually, he was a name that Rob threw at me for this crossover book that we were going to do at Marvel. I hadn't really seen much of his stuff, just a couple of half-finished sample pages. I just didn't know, this guy had never drawn anything before. "These pictures are pretty good, but maybe it took him three months to draw three pages." So I asked Rob, "What's the guy's speed like, can he do a book in five, six weeks?" It seemed like that was the supposition, that he could handle the pace. And we tried him on the crossover book, and I was just floored when I started to get the pages. Because as Phil said, he'd never drawn anything before, he'd never drawn an entire issue before, and the stuff that he was doing was just stunning.
So, yeah, he's absolutely one of these guys that just kind of steps from the womb able to do this. And I'm sure Phil can speak to this more than I can, being an artist. It hardly ever happens. Once in a while somebody like [Bernie] Wrightson or Neal Adams comes along that can just draw right from the start, but most guys, there's blood sweat and tears over years to get to the point where Michael is already starting.
PH: I'm still waiting to get good. And Michael's already there. And, frighteningly, he gets better every time he hands pages in.
I know there's been a movement in recent years to unify the Top Cow universe. Have the three of you been taking pains to see that the new "Darkness" series jibes with the other Top Cow books?
PH: Well, there's a little irony there, because I think in my first storyline [Jackie's] sort of off on his own for like six or seven issues, he's not really integrated into the Top Cow universe that much. But the overall goal of all the writers being on the same page, knowing what's happening, yes, that's definitely something that Rob's pursuing and Ron's been very helpful with. Just yesterday, we had a conference call about where we plan on taking our characters, and how they plan on interacting. I'll let Ron talk about that.
RM: We can't talk about that, because we made secret plans to take over the world. It's interesting, Phil and I have known each other before any of this came about. I think just naturally, because Phil and I know each other, and I think we have a somewhat similar story sense, things are kind of falling together a little bit more naturally.
I also think there's a definite push on Top Cow's part to have "The Darkness" and "Witchblade" integrated. The way I've described it is that they're really the twin pillars that the whole Top Cow universe is built on these days, both in terms of the comics and in terms of other media stuff. I'd say "The Darkness" is king right now, thanks to the video game that Paul worked on. Those are the two properties that I think really are different for Top Cow from what everybody else is doing. Those are the ones that have the most legs, so it just seemed natural to me that they should be tied together.
And a couple of years ago when we decided that we really should tell the Witchblade's origin, because it hadn't really been explained where the hell this thing came from or what it was, I just felt like, after getting to almost a hundred issues, the readers kind of deserved some sort of origin story, instead of playing fast and loose with it. So we did that in issue 92 of "Witchblade," and got a very specific origin for it and what exactly it is. And tied the concept of the Witchblade to The Darkness as well as to the Angelus very specifically so that those three concepts are sort of the basis of the Top Cow universe. With that and everything that's happening in "First Born," I don't think there's any way that the Darkness and Witchblade cannot be related.
PH: Yeah, they're inseparable now.
How is Jackie affected by the events in "First Born"?
PH: I don't want to give too much away, but my first issue is a big leap away from the last issue of "First Born." There's a big time passage there. Ron can tell you exactly what happens after issue 3, but at the start of my run, he's chucked it all and decided to get out of the country even, and try to start over somewhere else. I guess he's Pablo Escobar more or less by the time we see him six months later.
RM: I think that's one of the really cool things about the take that Phil came up with for the book is that it didn't just regurgitate what Garth did initially or the re-set that Paul did on it. Obviously, both of those were terrific runs, but if the book was going to have some legs of its own, it had to be something different, rather than just imitating what's come before.
PH: That was sort of my motivation. I read Garth's run over again, I read Paul's run over again, and I thought, "I can't do this better, I'm not going to go over this ground again. I have to go somewhere else." I think other people have a fixed image of "The Darkness" in their heads, so a lot of the pitches that they were getting were sort of like rehashes of what Paul had done. I didn't have the good sense to do that, I tried to do something different.
RM: So really you wanted to be as unlike Paul as possible.
PH: That's a good philosophy for your whole life.
Paul Jenkins: That's pretty much how most people react that have met me, "I won't do that, then."
One thing that's worth mentioning, going back to how the universe is tied together. Because that was something that you guys re-established in the last year or so, right? You got back to, "Let's try to define the Top Cow universe." But when I was actually spending a little bit more time with the books and a little less on the video game, we made an attempt to bring this stuff together. This was the universe project that we started doing. And in those times, I remember having a conversation with Marc Silvestri, and saying, "Look, you know, can you tell me what the Witchblade is?" And it was really good because, Marc's a pretty smart guy, and he actually couldn't. And it wasn't because he hadn't thought of it, it's that he had lots and lots and lots of possibilities. I think what you guys are doing now is you're actually pulling the stuff all together.
RM: I think all the pieces were there, but none of the pieces had ever been really committed to.
PJ: Ron, I think you and I sat with Marc and we talked this through one time at dinner in Chicago about the whole idea of what the Witchblade actually is and what the Darkness is and what the Heartstone and all these other particular things that we had hinted at but we'd never actually shown were. I don't know if you've followed that path or not.
RM: Yeah, we're using a bunch of it. Now, I think things aren't as random anymore. And part of it is Rob being the editor now, somebody's actually keeping track of all this stuff. It's not just like random stuff that happens to show up in a book and it gets out on the stands and somebody goes, "Oh, shit, did we want to reveal that? Is that right?" And now there's a little bit more cohesion to it. And stuff is actually figured out that's not in print. We know stuff that we haven't actually put in the books and probably won't end up in the books for a year or two. We've got the framework set up so that we're not going to paint ourselves into a corner by just throwing things against the wall.
PH: Although that seems to work everywhere else right now.
I know the first arc of the new series takes place in Sierra Munoz. What brings Jackie there?
PH: At the end of "First Born," it's a natural break in the character's arc. He's sort of gone everywhere he can go as a mobster, he's sort of gone everywhere he can go as a not good guy or not bad guy, stuck in the middle. I just really wanted to take him out of everything he's familiar with. And I think that's where he wanted to go, he wanted to go somewhere that he could start over. I mean, in Sierra Munoz, he has a new name, he's not even Jackie Estacado. It's the closest you can get to doing a little mini suicide, he's killing his old life and trying to start over. But a lot of the bugaboos from the old life keep cropping up. When you have the Darkness curse, you know, things tend to go off the rails pretty quickly.
RM: His life in New York, as a part of the mob family, is really kind of wrecked in the first issue of "First Born" anyway. A lot of his crew and a lot of his guys end up dead within that issue. And that was actually something that we had talked about ahead of time, "Do you want me to waste a bunch of these guys, so there's an even more natural break?" And at the end of "First Born," there's a reason and there's a scene where Jackie says, "I gotta go somewhere else." And when he leaves at the end of "First Born" #3, the somewhere else is what you're gonna get in the new "Darkness" #1.
Since it's a fresh start for Jackie, I guess the new series is pretty new-reader friendly?
PH: Yeah, almost too new-reader friendly. I think that was a little bit frightening for Rob at first, because the game has been so successful and brought so many new people to "The Darkness," I think so many people are ready to read about the character. Our first issue is sort of not quite like the game, and I think Rob was a little worried that people would come expecting the character from the game. And he is the character from the game, but you know, the setting and the situations are a little different. So we wrote a nice little intro to sort of warm everybody up, to remind them of what The Darkness is all about. There's a nice little prologue to reintroduce everybody to The Darkness. And then there's a nice fresh game changer at the very beginning to draw in those people that have been following Jackie for a long time and are ready for something new.
RM: Phil isn't the first guy to pat himself on the back, he's usually number two or three. But he did a really great job of sort of encapsulating who Jackie is, what The Darkness is, all in about three pages. So you get that information early on in issue 1, and then you're into this new story, into this new status quo for Jackie. So I think readers that have been with the book since the first, first issue came out long ago are going to be signed on for it immediately, and people that are just picking it up because they really got off on the video game should have a pretty definite comfort level with it. It's not a retread of what's come before, but it's very much in keeping with the spirit of what's come before.