Having penned some of the grittier heroes in the industry, from Batman to Spawn, David Hine is quite familiar with the darker corners of the comic book landscape — and he’s not anywhere near finished with this sort of storytelling. Hine continues to weave dark tales as the current writer on Top Cow’s now-flagship title “The Darkness,” where he crafts tales about a mob boss who controls an army of supernatural gremlins that do his bidding and also happens to have become powerful enough to create the new Top Cow U to his liking.
But even that’s not enough for the writer who is currently working on his first ongoing creator-owned Image Comics series “Storm Dogs” with artist Doug Braithwaite. The book, which focuses on a group of space cops heading to a backwater planet to solve a particularly curious murder, delves into everything from science-fiction and westerns to crime noir and police procedurals. CBR News spoke with Hine about shepherding Jackie Estacado along in “The Darkness,” building the world of “Storm Dogs” and the long-gestating relationship between himself and Braithwaite that lead to the creation of “Dogs.”
CBR News: One of the first things people will notice about “Storm Dogs” is Doug Braithwaite’s art as it has a very distinct and different feel from a typical comic book project. How did you and Doug get to know each other and what made him the right man for “Storm Dogs?”
David Hine: I have known Doug since the late eighties when we were both working for Marvel UK; we first collaborated in 1990 when I inked his pencils on a story for “Strip Magazine.” We’ve kept in touch ever since, and over the years we often chatted about the kinds of comics we would like to create. We both love science-fiction and felt there wasn’t enough solid science-fiction world-building in mainstream comics, so when Doug had a gap in his schedule, he suggested we pitch a story to editor Joey Cavalieri for [DC Comics’] “Brave And The Bold.” The result was “Without Sin,” a four-part science-fiction story featuring Green Lantern, Green Arrow and The Phantom Stranger. We got a real kick out of working together, but we both became busy with other work and it looked like it might be a one-off.
Then, a year ago I was looking for an artist for a science-fiction noir concept I had come up with. I had already pitched the idea to [Image Publisher] Eric Stephenson, who gave me the green light for an ongoing series. To make the project viable, I needed to find an artist who had the experience and the skill to turn out a regular book with original characters and who could also do the world-building a genuine science-fiction series would require. With Doug under contract to Marvel, I hadn’t even thought of asking him
The months were going by and it was starting to look like the project would never get off the ground. Then, I was talking to Doug on the phone, planning a stopover with him and his wife, Sue, on a family holiday. Doug mentioned that his Marvel contract was coming to an end and he was thinking about taking a break from mainstream comics for a while, maybe doing something creator-owned.
That weekend, over a bottle of wine, I casually mentioned a project I was working on. A science-fiction book. It would be a creator-owned project, Image were lined up to publish it and that “Brave and Bold” book we did together had felt almost like a dry-run for it and… I’m sure at that point Doug was convinced I had been planning the whole trip to lure him into becoming my partner on “Storm Dogs.” I prefer to believe it was fate.
In promoting the series, you’ve said Doug is aiming for a European feel to the art on the book. Can you explain what you mean by that in more detail?
The art is reproduced from pencils in a unique way that, combined with Ulises Arreola on colors, is going to blow a few minds. Both Doug and I are big fans of French and Belgian comic books and we’ve been looking at people like Jean Giraud, Paul Gillon and Francois Boucq, who did the amazing “Bouncer” series. There’s a different sensibility coming from those artists, a realism you don’t get with most of the over-rendered art of American mainstream comics. That’s the kind of thing that we’ve been aiming for. I think this may be the best work Doug has done to date, and with his track record, that’s saying something.
What’s the specific hook that sets “Storm Dogs” aside from other sci-fi space tales?
The story is actually a crime-scene investigation scenario. Amaranth is a frontier planet on the fringes of the explored universe that is being exploited for its mineral wealth. The miners who are working there are the dregs of human society. The environment is harsh, and the rewards are few. The native races don’t have advanced technology, so the planet has protected status to allow them to develop their culture at their own pace. That means only fairly primitive technology can be used on the planet, so when a series of violent death occurs, a specialist crime team is sent in.
Do you remember when it first hit you to do a sci-fi noir? How long have you been developing this project?
I first started making notes on the outline about fifteen years ago and have been going back to tinker with it regularly. It was the idea of setting a crime mystery in a fully-developed science-fiction setting that fascinated me. The idea that human behavior will always embrace extremes, including murder, was at the core of the concept. Noir for me implies an examination of the darker side of the human soul and I tend to feed elements of that into most of my work.
The concept has really taken off with Doug on the book to flesh out the settings and characters. He’s brilliant at infusing every panel with a sense of conviction that makes even the most fantastic of settings believable and the characters seem utterly real. He has all the traditional skills of storytelling and character development, while his pure drawing ability is off the scale.
What can you tell us about the space cops that will be heading to Amaranth? Who will be taking lead on this case?
The team is led by Cassandra Burroughs, an experienced investigator with remarkable intuition. Siam Locke is a former military weapons expert who is the muscle of the group, while Masika Zenda is her polar opposite — an expert in alien cultures whose diplomatic skills will be necessary to keep relations cool between natives and offworlders. We have the forensic pathologist, Jered Hofman, who has a passion for experiencing life to the full to compensate for the time he spends up to his elbows in blood and guts. Then there are the local cops, Sheriff Starck and his deputy, Bronson. It’s hard to tell if they are corrupt or just pragmatic. Life is tough on Amaranth and when the prospectors let their hair down, the cops are prepared to turn a blind eye to all kinds of bad behavior.
With “Storm Dogs” being an ongoing, can you hint at some future storylines beyond Amaranth?Â
“Storm Dogs” is one big story and the murder investigation will gradually broaden out into a wider investigation of corruption and crime on Amaranth and possibly even move on to other planets eventually.
Do you have the arcs figured out as far in advance as you do with “The Darkness?”
We have a couple of years’ worth of story outlined. There is a big climax that we’re building to beyond the resolution of the murders.
The book seems to encompass a lot of genres. Did you plan the story that way to keep things interesting for yourself and Doug?
I enjoy all kinds of genres of storytelling, and keeping them compartmentalized seems like a pointless exercise. I didn’t set out to deliberately mash up western, crime and science-fiction, but that’s the way it came out. That breaking of barriers between genres is happening more and more with popular media, whether it’s books, movies, TV or comics. We’re just going with the flow.
You’re also working on “The Darkness” right now. How has that experience been so far?
I’m having a blast on “The Darkness.” Jackie Estacado has always been one of the most intriguing of anti-heroes, with this amazing power that makes him like a reverse-Green Lantern, able to summon the Blackest Night and shape it into whatever he wants. It’s a challenge to make him a sympathetic character without straying from the central conceit, that he actually is a bad guy — a ruthless gangster and murderer. His only weakness is his love for a good woman and his daughter. Or perhaps that is his greatest strength.
That book is an interesting situation because it’s a company’s property, but it also seems like you’ve been able to do what you want with it, especially thanks to Top Cow Rebirth.
With the blessing of Marc Silvestri, Jeremy Haun and myself were invited to take the book into a new direction, and everyone at Top Cow has been very supportive. We’ve shifted the book towards very dark psychological horror. After the Rebirth event, when Jackie remade the entire Top Cow Universe, we let him have everything he wanted — the woman he loved, a family, a purpose for living. Now he’s paying the price for his selfishness and his arrogance. We’re seeing the slow mental disintegration of his wife, Jenny, and the physical decay of his daughter, Hope. It’s a painful process and we aren’t done with it yet. It’s important to remember that there is a commitment to following through with the consequences of Rebirth. There will be no magic reset button to return things to the way they were. What’s done is done.
How has your working relationship with Jeremy Haun evolved since you guys first teamed up?Â
Our first team-up was on the “Arkham Reborn” series at DC. We really hit it off working on that series, so I was very pleased to hear that Top Cow were making Jeremy the regular “Darkness” artist. We meet up a couple of times a year when I travel to the states for conventions. We email regularly, but it’s when we meet face-to-face that we really get to bat ideas back and forth on the book. Jeremy has a lot of insight into the story development. We make a good team. I have a background as artist, and Jeremy is also a writer, so we feel comfortable giving one another feedback. It’s a partnership that I look forward to continuing for a long time to come.
What can you tell us about the upcoming “Breaking Dark” storyline?
We ended the first arc on a cliff-hanger. I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t read the first arc yet, but I think everyone who read it will agree there was a twist they never saw coming; one that we wouldn’t have gotten away with in most mainstream comics.
In the “Breaking Bad” arc, we’re taking Jackie Estacado all the way down to rock bottom, pushing him to the limits of what any human being can endure. We’re following through on the break-up of Jackie’s happy family, and there are some big developments with the Eastern European gang boss, Balakov, building a whole new mythology for the Top Cow Universe that predates the creation of the Artifacts. It’s a Lovecraftian idea that explores the idea of an ancient race, an evil that exists below the surface of the visible world. Essentially there are two parallel plot lines, one that follows a very personal conflict for Jackie and his family, the other that implies a threat to the entire human race.
I’ve plotted out the next year of “The Darkness,” and we’re building to a really stunning climax that will have repercussions through the whole Top Cow line.
The Darkness” #106 comes out from Top Cow on September 12 while the first issue of “Storm Dogs” hits November 7.
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