Eighty years ago, demons called the Shaitan helped the Earth during World War II and humanity repaid them by sharing their homes with the beings. Problems still pop up between the two groups which is where Detective Daniel Aston comes in. He stands between the two sides when things heat up all in an effort to keep his daughter Maggie's world safe.
CBR News has the exclusive first interview with Carey and David about the six-issue series, scheduled to debut in February and featuring the artistic talents of Brendan Cahill and Livio Ramondellia. Below, the pair discuss a range of topics, from Aston's allies and enemies, to the book's big screen origins and much more.
CBR: How did the two of you meet and start laying the groundwork for Darkness Visible?
Arvind Ethan David: I was reading Mike for years before we met. Each volume of "Lucifer" invoked in me a mix of a fan’s admiration and a writer’s envy. I was living in America at the time, and bought them at a comic store in New Haven, Connecticut and had no idea they were being written by an Englishman in London.
Then, I moved back to London and one day, I was at some event, and a friend who knew I was a fan showed me a copy of Mike’s first Felix Castor novel ["The Devil You Know"], and I opened it up excitedly, and noticed it was dedicated to an agent I knew called Meg Davis who, by bizarre coincidence, was actually in the room at the time. So I walked over to her and I said, "Meg, how come this book is dedicated to you?" and she said, "Well, because I’m Mike’s agent." Obviously. Duh.
When I recovered from the shock of my own stupidity, I said, "Please, introduce us, put us in the room together." A week later Mike and I met for the first time and started talking stories and Mike mentioned he had an idea about a detective caught between the two sides in a battle between humans and supernatural species, and I said, "Yes, let’s do that."
Originally we planned it as a movie and at this point I’m reminded of the Douglas Adams adage that, "Trying to make a movie in Hollywood is like trying to grill a steak by having a succession of people coming into the room and breathing on it."
Almost a decade of raw steak later "A Darkness is finally freaking Visible." As a comic. For me its really thrilling to be writing a comic with someone whose comic writing I’ve been a fan of for years and someone who I’ve learned so much about story telling in general from.
Mike Carey: That’s a very full summary! It’s weird to look back on that very tenuous chain of coincidences that led to us meeting in the first place. I don’t know if it’s just me or if this is how life tends to work, but most of the collaborations that have shaped my career have happened sort of more by accident than by design.
The movie version of "Darkness Visible" – which had a succession of other titles back then – was a turning point for me because it was the first time I wrote a screenplay that wasn’t a comic script in disguise. I was working with professionals who know and care about story, and we made something that excited us and felt genuinely different from the supernatural narratives we were seeing in film at that time. It helped that we were all massive fans of Joss Whedon. We weren’t emulating "Buffy," but "Buffy" was in our veins.
"Darkness Visible" revolves around a world where demons cohabitate on Earth with humans and have done so for 80 years. How does this world differ from ours?
Carey: Well we’re partly telling a secret history. Every human culture has stories about demons – tales of possession and of one-sided bargains with infernal powers. The tragedy of Faust resonates through history, but it has lots of analogues in mythology and folklore. The rules vary, the demonic entities themselves are wildly different from one story to another, but there’s a core: evil beings who try to deceive or entrap you, who want your body or your soul and will stop at nothing to get it.
Our starting point is to acknowledge that all those stories are true. Human beings have made contact with the beings we call demons many times – but there’s no coherent and consistent account because all those encounters were filtered through the expectations and beliefs of the humans involved. They were conditioned to see certain things, and that’s what they saw.
In fact the demons are the last survivors of a universe that surrendered to entropy untold millions of years ago. They want to break through into our world because our world is – to them – a paradise, rich in energy and food and all the good things life can offer. The snag is that they no longer have a physical existence. They’re just matrices of energy. And they can’t come through into our universe without a little assistance. Crucially, they need a willing host on this side of the barrier. And they’ll offer anything, promise anything to get that.
In our narrative present that’s not a secret anymore. The demons – or the Shaitan, as they call themselves – have stepped out of the shadows and made a non-aggression pact with humanity. The turning point was the second World War, when elite Shaitan fighters helped the allies to defeat the Axis forces. In return they were given a homeland of their own and a presence, a voice in human affairs.
But the tensions haven’t gone away. The Shaitan are still hated and feared, and it feels as though the hatred and mistrust on both sides are coming to a head.
You've obviously talked about and developed this world in great detail, but how do you decide how much of that to tell the readers?
David: We took the decision to just enter the story mid flow with a lot of things already in play and not underestimate our readers' ability to keep up. We know that comic book readers in general, and Mike’s fan base in particular, are highly story-literate and are used at this point to the idea of alternative histories and complex mythologies. In the world of "DV," demons have been about for 80 years, and when something has been about for 80 years, people just accept it as part of the background radiation of everyday life, they aren’t forever saying to each other, "Gosh, do you remember when demons first entered our world, how strange was that."
Also, not for nothing, one of the storytelling traditions we are playing in here, is noir. And in noir, part of the game is you don’t tell your audience – or your protagonist – everything, you leave them both working through the Darkness, desperately seeking the light. You just need to keep it interesting and delicious enough along the way.
We’ve also introduced what we hope is a fun structural device: every third issue, will be a standalone "historical" story, that shows you how the Shaitan and humans have intertwined through the centuries, and those handle a bit more of the exposition, but always in the context of a compelling story.
Let's talk about Detective Daniel Aston. How did he become the guy standing between the demons and humanity?
David: I think the thing that interested us both here was to take someone who was, basically, a racist, and then put him into a situation where he was forced to confront his own prejudice in the most violent and visceral way possible. When we meet Aston, he is a leading operative of the anti-Shaitan division of the London Police. He’s for reasons we will come to, filled with loathing and hatred for the Shaitan and in the opening issue responds with extreme force to a Shaitan terror attack. Aston believes that right and wrong, good and evil are clear in this particular war. Perhaps many of our readers will think that also when the story starts. They are all in for an interesting ride.
Carey: Yeah, we really put Aston through the wringer. We think he’s a good POV character because there’s a lot about his position that is absolutely reasonable. The Shaitan are genuinely terrifying and some of what we see them do – right from the first issue – is appalling. He’s a cop, he has to keep order, and there are these very powerful, more or less immortal beings that he keeps meeting on the wrong side of that line. But there’s a larger narrative unfolding and Aston is right at the center of it. All of his beliefs get tested. And he’s forced to change in some very fundamental ways.
How does his daughter Maggie fit into all of this?
Carey: Maggie is the absolute core of Aston’s life. His wife is gone, and to some extent he’s never really gotten over that. He has two things to fall back on, his job – which he’s very good at – and his little girl. He’s extremely protective and absolutely devoted to her. And it turns out that devotion is a chink in his armor that can be exploited. In the first issue we see Maggie put in danger and Aston making a decision – acting on an impulse he doesn’t process at all – that changes everything for him. You could call it his own version of the Faustian bargain, although it’s a whole lot less thought-out than what Faust does. It still sticks, though. There are no get-out clauses when you’re dealing with demons.
I'm sure Aston's not blazing this trail completely on his own. Who else will he work with or run into as the series progresses?
Carey: It’s a fairly big cast, and it gets bigger as the story goes on. This first arc will introduce us to a lot of Aston’s police colleagues: his acerbic and driven boss, Devereaux, his partner, Michaels, and forensics officer Glory Veer, all of whom have unexpected roles to play going forward. On the demon side we’ll meet Stanca, the Shaitan ambassador to the UK, and the supreme ruler of the Shaitan, the Vivicos – who forged that historic human/Shaitan pact and is now trying desperately to stop it from falling apart.
David: One thing that has happened is that we may have the most diverse cast in comics. Ethnicity, Sexuality, Species – we are mixing it all up. In part that’s to reflect the reality of London which – even post Brexit! – is one of the most diverse and well integrated cities in the world. In part it's because Mike and I, whilst we share a huge amount of story reference, we also grew up on different parts of the globe (Liverpool for him, Kuala Lumpur for me), and now live in different cities (London for him, Los Angeles for me). Leading our cast is Aston, a Black British guy who is about to get a whole bunch more exotic. So yeah, BLACK HEROES MATTER.
What makes Brendan the right artist for this book?
David: We are actually lucky to work with two great artists on this book. Brendan Cahill does the present day story issues, and Livio does the historical issues. We were really looking for people who could help us build a cohesive and detailed world, there is a lot of stuff in our heads after years of talking about this universe and we needed folks willing to really invest time and brain power into building out the mythology in a visual way. Brendan led a really rigorous design and concept art stage to the process and has overseen all aspects of the art including coloring and even logo design with a attention to detail that is pretty rare and special.
Carey: Yeah, I totally agree. We’re asking these guys to make a whole mythos for us and they’re rolling up their sleeves and doing it. It’s a big ask because of all the tonal shifts – police procedural stuff butting up against horror and supernatural action. It’s fair to say that we’re delighted with the results, especially with their realization of the eclectic cast. They all feel real and relatable, even the monsters.
As you mentioned, "Darkness Visible" started as a screenplay. You both have worked in other storytelling mediums like that, but what keeps bringing you back to comics?
David: We come at this from different angles. Mike has been a comic god for years, who is now making big waves in prose and film. I’m a guy whose made a bunch of feature films and TV shows as well as writing theater but "Dirk Gently" was my first foray into the comic world, and now adding "Darkness Visible" to my quiver makes me feel like maybe I’m allowed to describe myself as a comic book writer.
For me its like coming home to a first love, since comics are how I learned to read and where I have always gone for narrative comfort and sustenance.
I also really like the discipline of writing to a monthly schedule and the instant collaboration with our artists. It's a special serotonin kick to check your in-box every morning and have all this beautiful art, realizing ideas that previously only existed in your head.
Writing comics is different from writing TV and film, but also I think each is good training for the other as you are forced to think visually which for someone like me, who can get a little preoccupied with dialogue, is a good thing. A lot of the writers I admire the most: Neil Gaiman, Joss Whedon, Max Landis and, yes, Mike Carey, move between the mediums with such ease that it’s inspired me to follow!
Carey: I think comics is where I learned how to tell stories. I spent a lot of my twenties writing novels that weren’t really fit for purpose – just big, shapeless bags of story. Writing for comics focuses you in on decisions about structure and pacing in a way that’s hard to ignore. You have a fixed canvas and you have to make your story work within that space, which will only happen if you consciously engage with structure and figure out how to use it to your advantage.
But that’s a rationalization, to some extent. The truth is that I learned to read from comics. They were the first stories I loved, before I discovered stories that were told entirely in prose. The great British creators of the 60s, Ken Reid and Leo Baxendale, and then their US counterparts at DC and Marvel, were my gateway to an imaginative world where I spent the bulk of my childhood.
And when I say childhood, I should add that I’m not planning to grow up any time soon.
If you're at New York Comic Con this weekend, you can get your hands on the "Darkness Visible" ashcan from IDW. If not, look for the first issue to hit in February from Mike Carey, Arvind Ethan David and Brendan Cahill.