Darkness Falls Part 2: Hester, Marz + Jenkins talk "The Darkness"

In anticipation of the new "The Darkness" ongoing from Top Cow Productions, CBR News spoke yesterday 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.

In our final part of the interview, the writers talk more about the new "The Darkness" ongoing, as well as the future of the series' video game and film franchises.

Paul, why don't you talk a little about the game? Were you happy with the way it turned out?

Paul Jenkins: When we started doing the game, I basically went up to Sweden to meet the crazy Swedes that were making the game. They're really good guys, they're really inventive, and most of what they were talking about was a series of sort of events and visual craziness. The big trick was to kind of define the character to them. The first thing that I did when I got to Sweden was to basically sit with all the guys and say, "How about we kind of stop for a second here, and look at Jackie Estacado and say, 'Who is he, what's he going to do in this game?'" In a sense, "Are we truly going to commit to making a movie out of a video game, or the closest that's been done so far?"

So my own feeling-- and each writer on the character will have a different idea-- my feeling is the very essence of Jackie is a guy who's an orphan, he has not had a family, and the only family he has is this complete mess. He's the child of a dysfunctional family that desperately wishes to have this family be pulled together. And the way that I was working on him was to say, "Look, here's a guy that sees the other family members being kind of bad, and he feels like there's a reason for the tradition-- even though it's really stupid, there is no honor amongst thieves-- he just feels like it's worth having a tradition for, he's going to kind of aim that way.

And so that's how we started the game, it wasn't on visuals, it wasn't on any of the other stuff you might think, it was actually, "Are we going to dedicate ourselves to telling this guy's story this way?" And there was a bit of a fight with the publisher. They couldn't really understand why we wanted to take that approach. The Swedish guys were completely cool about it; Starbreeze were great, the moment we decided we were going to make the game that way, they said, "Yeah, we never want to destroy the story and the characterization by some of the things that we want to do, which is the first to go in a video game, we want to keep that up there on the level of the art." So that's what we stuck to, and when you see the game come out, all the reviews are, "This is a great story, the characters feel really good."

We just won a BAFTA award --British Academy of Film and Television Arts, which is kind of like the Emmys for Great Britain-- we just won it for Characterization and Storytelling.

I think the trick is, in the way that we're all going to approach this, whether it be "Witchblade" or "The Darkness" or whatever -- take the characters, as a writer, create a sense of what you think this thing is, and then work from there.

Ron Marz: Ultimately, any of this stuff, whether it's the game or the comic, if the audience doesn't give a shit about the main character as a person, it's all just blood and thunder anyway. I think the thing that people have responded to in the video game, and hopefully in "Witchblade" since I've been doing it -- and certainly they're going to respond to "The Darkness" with Phil doing it-- they actually care about the main character and they want to come back every 30 days to find out what happens to them. To me that's what makes a long-lasting comic. It doesn't matter if you've got sexy artwork or really cool monsters tearing people apart. After a while, you get sort of dulled to that, because you've seen it so often. But if you actually care about what happens to these people, you can tell any kind of story with them.

Phil Hester: Yeah, you only have to tear them apart a little bit and it's horrible, if you care about them.

PJ: One thing I go back to is when I was doing "Spider-Man," the issue to which the fans had the best reaction-- they'd come up to me and say, "Wow, this is a really moving story"-- is a story that was set at a baseball game where Spider-Man/Peter Parker goes back every year on the anniversary of his Uncle's death. It was a very poignant story, and it's all about me and my Granddad, because I wrote it the night that my Granddad died. When the fans come by, I always point out one thing that really pisses them off, which is that there's not a single picture of Spider-Man in the book. It's actually a story about Peter Parker.

Both of those characters, Sara [Pezzini] and Jackie Estacado, are really interesting, they have really interesting conflicts. I thought that Sara was interesting because she's a pretty young girl-- When I had a go at her, right?

RM: And by "have a go at her," Paul means when he was writing her, just so….

PJ: Actually, no I didn't, I meant the other thing. But, you know, after I had a go at her… It was along the lines of, like, she's a pretty young girl, it must be really hard to be a detective in New York City anyway, let alone the fact that people aren't taking you seriously because you're young and pretty, right?

That's just me. Other people have different takes on them. But it seems to me that they are pretty well-rounded characters, they have a lot of potential. And Jackie Estacado especially has this great potential, I mean, you've got this brilliant concept and you really kind of care about him.

RM: Even though he's not by any means a traditional hero. In a lot of ways, he's not even a traditional anti-hero. He's a bad guy, in a lot of ways. But sure enough, the audience responds to him and roots for him.

PH: I think "The Sopranos" proved it. People will follow a bad guy. If it's well written, and if the story takes unusual turns from time to time. And that's what we're going to try to do with "The Darkness," we're just going to try and keep shaking it up every arc or so and give people a new place to jump on.

Since we got Paul's take on the character, Phil, do you want to give us a couple sentences about how you see Jackie?

PH: Yeah, I agree with Paul's take, but I see him as one step past that. I think [Jackie] did want to form a family around himself, and he went to extreme lengths to do that, and again it blew up in his face. It keeps blowing up in his face. So I think he's at a certain stage of disillusionment about himself, about what he wants. He can't really trust his own instincts. The only virtue that's ever been rewarded in his whole life is guile and cunning, and that's not really something you can base a world-view on.

So he's kind of at ground zero. All these attempts he's made to reform this family he's never had. And, number one, he's never had a model for a family to build a family around. And then the family he does have is pretty poisonous. So when that all goes to hell, he's really sort of a lost soul at a certain stage. The fun part for me is going to be sort of trying to give him something to care about again, and make the audience care about how he can find that.

After that first arc, are there any plans to have any familiar characters from the previous series show up?

PH: Yeah, they will all show up at some point. We're staying away from the Angelus for a little bit because Ron's doing some stuff with that character right now and figuring out where that's going to go. But yeah, whoever's still alive will turn up again in the future, and maybe some dead ones too.

RM: I think that sort of staying away from a lot of the stuff that's been established previously was definitely a conscious decision on everybody's part, so that the book could come out and really stand on its own for whatever audience was going to be there for it, whether it was the old readers who were interested in the comic, new readers who were coming in because of the video game, to let the thing stand on its own for really the first year pretty much, right, Phil?

PH: Yeah, it's pretty much on its own for the first year. Maybe a little bit longer. I mean, there'll be some tangential sort of character interaction, but nothing gigantic.

RM: I mean, we've done our version of a big-deal crossover, which is three issues, and I don't know, 75 pages, or 120 pages if you count the "Witchblade" tie-in issues, but once that's all done, the books sort of go off in their separate corners and live and breath on their own for a while, rather than being constantly tied to each other.

PH: And I think that it makes it exciting when they actually do intersect if they have healthy lives on their own. To me, when I was a kid, that was the most exciting thing about the Fantastic Four meeting Spider-Man is that it didn't happen every day, like it does now. It didn't happen all the time, and it was exciting to see their worlds intersect, because not only were they different characters, they had different worlds. I think that's what's going to happen, I think that's what Ron and I are setting up. "Witchblade" and "Darkness" will be solid worlds on their own, and when they do collide it will be catastrophic at times.

RM: When they are going to be together, it's going to be telegraphed to the reader that there's a big deal coming. We're not going to have them go out for coffee every other issue because we think it's fun.

Are there any plans to show past or future wielders of the Darkness power in this or any other series in the near future?

PH: I'm just starting to think about that, and I have some stuff that I really need to run by Rob, because I get crazy Darkness ideas every day, and Rob will tell me if that's allowed or not. And I'm getting some crazy ideas about a future Darkness wielder. And in my first issue, we see some glimpses of some past ones, but they're just glimpses. That's something I'm definitely really excited to explore, and hopefully I'll get the okay to do that.

What about the movie, any of you guys know what the status of that is?

PJ: I do. Do you want me to tell you?

Yeah, what do you know about the movie, Paul?

PJ: It's a little bit early to talk about, and that's not because-- I hate that coy crap, where people just say, "I can't tell you, it wouldn't be prudent to tell you right now what's going on." No, it's just it's a little bit early. What I now know about the film industry is that if you push it to quickly, and then you don't do it, then people will sort of look at you sideways and say, "Well, where is that thing that you talked about?" And I think the guys at Top Cow, Marc Silvestri, will probably be able to address this better than I, is a little frustrated that they had everything going the way that they had it, and then the option lapsed, and things fell through, and everybody stood there looking at each other saying, "Well, when's this thing gonna happen?"

Now, I've discussed this with Marc, because I'm actually in the business now of being able to seriously make a movie, and the great part about that is that we're doing it with independent financing. Basically, Marc knew that I had come along after 39 issues of "The Darkness"-- And you can read the original Garth material, and then I read some of the material that came afterwards, and it was difficult to see it moving forward, you know? So what we did was not actually move it forward in a massive way, we didn't do some massive thing, we actually calmed it down a little bit, I thought. Dale [Keown] and I probably got it and said, "Look, this is a great character, couldn't we kind of define him a little bit? Couldn't we just kind of give him a simple story, family revenge, this kind of stuff?" And so we did that.

Then we got a chance to bring that story a little bit to the video game. And what I think most people wouldn't know is that I'm actually a bit of a closet game designer, like, a lot of times when I've worked on games and they've been successful, whether it be "The Hulk" or the new Prototype game that's coming out, I've actually designed a lot of the gameplay. And so people thought I wasn't working at Top Cow for a while, because I actually spent two years behind the scenes making the game, and I was working on it every day.

Marc has talked with me about maybe being involved in getting the film made. We're in really early stages about that because obviously I've got other things to do, and I'm doing them. But I really feel like, I've had some success coming into the comic when it was meandering a little bit and sort of stabilizing the ship. Yeah, this is me patting myself on the back, Ron, sorry. What's happening now at Top Cow might in small part due to the fact that we stabilized it back to where things could be done with it. "Let's get the character back to where he really should be, you know?"

The same is true of the "The Darkness" video game; that we can now go off and do "2" and "3," and everybody's freaking out for us to come and do the next game, because "The Darkness 1" was very, very solid. In talking with Marc, he said, "Look, Paul, you really have come along and sort of helped solidify the Darkness character, let's talk further about what potential involvement you can have with the film." That's why it's a little bit early, isn't it? Because it may be that I don't do it, for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is we're doing "Tatua" right now, and I might not be able to do it, right?  But if it works out, I'd love it. Us guys in the comic industry, we should be working in film more often, that's what I'm hoping to accomplish. Wouldn't you guys agree? We tell better stories more often, on a monthly basis.

RM: I think Paul's absolutely right. If you look at the level of writing and just story craft in most comics, I mean, not necessarily "Superman," "Batman," "Spider-Man," "X-Men," because those are real sort of corporate franchises, but in the vast majority of comics that are out there, it's better than a lot of the writing in TV and in movies. And we're doing it in, like, a fifth of the time. We're turning scripts around that I think have more heart and more depth and more intelligence than half of the stuff that actually gets put in front of the camera.

PH: And I think part of that is because maybe we're suckers, or maybe there are just stories that we're dying to tell, and we're looking for anyplace we can tell them, and comics will let us. There's a lot more of the writer's soul in any sort of self-generated comic book story than a corporate film or TV thing.

You guys talked earlier about how you finally made an origin for the Witchblade. Why don't you guys talk for a second about the Darkness power itself, what it is, what we know of what it is?

PH: To me, that's something that Jackie's going to be exploring along with the reader. I was talking to Ron about this the other day, how it seems like the Top Cow universe is sort of about the personification of human impulses. About good and evil and compromise and things, so all these impulses that people have were sort of amped up and expressed through these characters with fantastic powers. For me, the fun of the book, after this first arc, is going to be about Jackie finding out how deep the Darkness runs. How much of his behavior is due to the Darkness, and how far back in human history the Darkness has had an influence, so that's rich territory to mine, I think.

When is the first issue scheduled to hit stands?

PH: I think December 12, middle of December sometime.

RM: Perfect for all your Holiday giving needs. And I think there's a "First Look" out in November, right?

PH: Yes, November. At Wizard World Dallas, they're going to give you a nice first look for people. It'll give a nice taste of what the first issue's all about. And the real selling point, you'll see Michael Broussard's art for the first time, and then what I'm writing will mean nothing.

Do you guys have anything else you want to mention about "The Darkness"?

PH: I'm just really excited to follow these guys, and I can't wait to see where we get to go from here.

RM: I'm just happy to be able to step back and be a reader.

PJ: Yeah, me too, I like the idea of having done something, and sort of step back and see what other people do with it. Because there's not just one way to do it. There's no right or wrong, is there? You see what someone else does and you go, "Wow, I wish I'd done that."

PH: Yeah, I do that every day with everything.


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