Phil Hester, the writer who last year re-launched Top Cow's "The Darkness" to much critical and commercial success, has teamed with superstar Michael Avon Oeming on a new Darkness one-shot called "Lodbrok's Hand." An artist himself, Hester tailors his scripts to the strengths of the illustrator he's working with, and with that in mind, "Lodbrok's Hand" does not follow the present Darkness wielder, Jackie Estacado, but rather one from a pseudo-historical Viking era. CBR News caught up with Hester to talk about the project.
"The Darkness: Lodbrok's Hand" tells the story of a sea captain who makes a deal with the Darkness bearer of the time to help him seek out freedom for his enslaved village. The Darkness wielder does in fact free Lodbrok's village, but he exacts a terrible price of Lodrbok in return. "Mike and I call this a 'Frazetta Age' story; it happens in a non-historical Viking setting, it's really cooler than any real Viking tale ever could be. But it's an out-and-out fantasy Viking story, with a ton of action and a ton of magic that Mike really just gets to cut loose on, and some actual moments of real horror and real pathos that I think we managed to squeeze out of it. I'm super proud of it, and I think he hit a home run with it."
Hester and longtime "Witchblade" writer Ron Marz ran into Oeming at last year's New York Comic-Con, and both were surprised to learn that the much sought after writer/artist of "The Mice Templar" and "Powers" had an opening in his schedule. "With someone as productive as Mike, you sort of assume that their dance card is full," Hester told CBR. "Between 'Mice Templar,' 'Powers,' all of the various other writing gigs he has, you never think, 'Well, what's Mike Oeming doing, can I get Mike Oeming?' because you don't assume he's on the market. So it was a real pleasant surprise to hear him looking for some gigs in New York."
Hester and Marz both love playing in the Top Cow universe, and tag-teamed Oeming to throw his hat into the Top Cow ring. "When Mike first expressed interest in doing something for Top Cow, The Darkness seemed like a natural fit for him," Hester explained. "We just got on the phone and I said, 'Look, what kind of stuff do you want to draw?'" At the top of the list Oeming sent back was a fantasy/Viking story. "It had never occurred to me to write a story like that before, but with the chance to get the finished results drawn by Mike Oeming, I found a way. And the story I eventually cooked up I'm really happy with, and what Mike did with it is really mind blowing."
As much as Hester is dedicated to making the "Darkness" ongoing series about Jackie Estacado, the writer certainly intends to take advantage of the lush and untold history of Darkness wielders gone by in "Lodbrok's Hand." "You can drop yourself into any point in history and assume that there's a Darkness wielder existing at that time," Hester said. Indeed, Hester knew that Oeming wanted to draw a Viking story, so they assumed there was a Darkness wielder in that era, and tried to figure out how he would fit into Viking society. "Would he be perceived as a god, would he be perceived as a devil? And we had to do it all in 22 pages. So I really kind of took the approach that I was writing a fable that Mike was going to illustrate.
"I would love to see once a year we do a one-shot like this, especially if we can get somebody of the caliber of Mike to be illustrator. I think that will be a great tradition to establish, and kind of a neat reward for people that have been following 'The Darkness' for a while."
As for the ongoing "The Darkness" series, Hester says the book will continue to focus primarily on Jackie Estacado, and that tales of his predecessors will take place in the pages of separate one-shots or miniseries -- although that doesn't rule out flashbacks. "In fact, I just finished an issue that flashed back to an ancient demon that's killed more than one Darkness wielder," Hester said. The demon in question is called the Sovereign, an adversary who will plague Jackie in upcoming issues of "The Darkness."
Jackie Estacado has a long and complicated history, but the first six issues of the current "Darkness" volume, with words by Hester and art by Michael Broussard, takes the character in a bold new direction, and is the perfect jumping on point for new readers. "I'm really proud of that first arc that we did, Michael and I, and it looks gorgeous, because Michael is a baby superstar, I mean, he's going to be huge, and it's neat to watch him sort of grow over the first six issues of that arc," Hester said.
"The Darkness: Accursed" Vol. 1 collects those first six issues, and will be available this January, value-priced at $4.99 to encourage new readers to jump on board. "I think we really took some chances with that first arc, and this bargain-priced trade paperback is the perfect chance to give it a try, and see if Michael and I don't do something you didn't expect, see if we can provide some unexpected pleasant surprises," Hester remarked.
"The Darkness" is written month in and month out by Phil Hester, with artists Michael Broussard and Jorge Lucas alternating from arc to arc. In February, Hester is joined by an all-star cast of "The Darkness" artists past and present to celebrate the 75th issue of the franchise.
"The Darkness: Lodbrok's Hand" hits stands December 31 from Top Cow Productions and Image Comics.