With the 10-year anniversary of Top Cow's iconic "The Darkness" series upon us, fans of Jackie Estacado have had mini-series like the "Levels," crossovers like "The Darkness/Wolverine," video games like and perhaps even feature films to enjoy or look forward to. Many readers were excited to learn earlier this year that Top Cow would be debuting a brand new "The Darkness" series, and more readers were intrigued to discover that writing that monthly book would be none other than Phil Hester. CBR News spoke with Hester and Top Cow editor Rob Levin about this new chapter in the Darkness' saga.
"Jackie's back," declared Rob Levin, in conversation with CBR News. "We've been itching to relaunch 'The Darkness' since volume two ended, but we wanted to hopefully draw in some new fans who had only played the video game, please old fans, and make the book required reading for comic buyers in general."
Indeed, there was once a time when "The Darkness" was one of the most talked-about and successful titles around; near if not at the top of many genre fans' reading lists. To reclaim that place in fans' hearts, Top Cow is relaunching the title with a new #1 and a new series writer who's over the last several years become one of comics' most impressive underground talents. Known by many superhero fans as the dynamic artist of DC Comics' "Green Arrow" series, Phil Hester is also known by indie readers and critics as the author of books like "The Coffin" and "Firebreather," both favorites of everyone who's had the pleasure to read them.
"Phil is a guy whose writing has always been incredibly strong," said Levin. "But he wasn't doing superhero books and he wasn't doing long runs. People knew him as an artist, but everything he wrote made you want more. We were looking for someone who could reinvent and reinvigorate the title, and a conversation with 'Witchblade' and 'First Born' scribe Ron Marz led to Phil's name being brought up. Phil immediately set to work on a pitch and when it came in, we new exactly what was in store for the book."
A high "WTF factor" is what Phil Hester has in store, the writer told CBR News. Though the new series will be familiar to hardcore "The Darkness" fans, Hester's run will balance the old with a good deal of new. "We drop the readers and Jackie into a completely changed world. There is a sinigifcant time lapse between the end of 'First Born' and the beginning of this series and Jackie has been a busy boy during that time. The Jackie Estacado we see at the beginning of #1 has learned a lot about his curse and himself and he's exploiting that. He's fulfilling his potential, I'd say."
Hester was careful not to give away too many plot details, but revealed that the first arc will feature a "ton" of new characters, many of whom have a "high mortality rate," and that some familiar characters will pop up as well. Additionally, Hester indicated that his approach to "The Darkness" is inspired largely by the work of Alan Moore. "I'm so inspired by [Moore's] approach to comics – his ability to see familiar concepts with fresh eyes. That's what I'm trying to do here. I'm trying to give The Darkness its 'anatomy lesson.'" Part of that lesson includes Darkness-wielder Jackie Estacado being no longer satisfied with being a mob solider – or even a mob boss. "He has higher -- if still sinister – aspirations now," Hester teased, adding that he's committed to telling stories that will reestablish a horror sensibility for the character. "It's hard when your protagonist is the scariest guy in the story, but I think we're introducing some stuff that would frighten even a badass like Jackie. Also, I'm addicted to good cliffhangers, so look for that status quo to get turned upside down on this book regularly."
Although Hester has had no previous involvement with the various "The Darkness" series of the past, fans will be glad to know that he's not taking his new job with wholly n00bious eyes. "For me 'The Darkness' was always one of those books, like most books, actually, that I picked up when the creative team particularly appealed to me," the writer explained. "I had a working knowledge of the character, but not a detailed awareness of his continuity. Maybe that's why I could present Top Cow with some ideas that were outside of what they usually see presented for Jackie.
"That said, some brilliant creators have been at the helm of 'The Darkness' for a long time, and there's a wealth of material to draw from. He always looked cool, there's no way to say it, and that's something that will never change."
As Hester says, the visual side of "The Darkness" – indeed, of all Top Cow productions – has been key to the character's appeal and decade-long success. An Eisner Award-nominated artist, Phil Hester's cultivated a large fanbase for his high-contrast, black & white style that some would even call noir. As to whether his visual sensibilities would find their way into the traditionally flashy world of "The Darkness," Hester remarked, "It's not a knock on the book to say it needs flashy art. Heavy metal bands need good guitar solos. 'The Darkness' needs good guitar solos, and I'm just hoping to add some depth to the sound and give those solos some resonance."
Hester continued, "I write Kurtzman style, meaning I do little thumbnails of the pages. While artists are certainly free to disregard or change my layouts, some of my storytelling sensibilities may leak through."
As for who will actually be drawing Hester's scripts, editor Rob Levin tells CBR News to stay tuned for that announcement during the summer convention season. "We've got it all sorted out, but we're not ready to show all of our cards just yet."
Ten years out, "The Darkness" has had its highs and lows, admits Levin, explaining that the challenge now is to make the title shine once more with vision and passion for the project. "Phil's got that vision," Levin proclaimed. "He really gets Jackie. Instead of using him a cipher to tell stories about a guy wields the Darkness, we're really going to understand who Jackie is and why he does the things he does."
Of the new direction, Levin teased, "Hang tight. We're going places no one will expect, and it's going to be one hell of a ride."