Some pros to wielding the chaotic supernatural power known as the Darkness: ownership of insanely powerful mystical body armor; command of a man-eating and filthy-mouthed Darkling army; and mastery over several of Earth's physical properties.
Some cons: you can't get women pregnant on pain of death; people are constantly trying to use you towards their endgame; did we mention that whole pregnancy on pain of death deal?
Indeed, it's a constant cost-benefit analysis for current Darkness-bearer Jackie Estacado. As the protagonist of Top Cow Productions' "The Darkness" comic book series, Jackie certainly has cause to question whether his powers are a blessing or a curse, even if his feelings one way or the other never truly mattered - as Wolverine recently said, "You can return a gift." By that definition, the Darkness most certainly isn't a gift for Mr. Estacado, who has always believed that his power had a firm non-refund policy.
Apparently, Jackie didn't read the fine print.
In "The Darkness" #76, writer Phil Hester and artist Michael Broussard introduced both Jackie and readers to Aman, a mysterious new character more commonly referred to as the Foreigner. From facial scars that would make the Joker wince to a handcrafted
whooping walking stick, the Foreigner boasts a formidable physical presence that owes thanks to Broussard's excellent artistic rendering. But there's something else that adds to this 50-year-old South African enigma's street cred - he's is a former Darkness bearer, and he's put the thing to bed.
"I think any time you work to understand and expand on a character, the idea of that character's opposite number will pop up," Hester told CBR News. "Jackie is a compromised character - not evil, but certainly not good - so his opposite number wouldn't just be a saint. It had to be someone free of the Darkness by definition."
That, in a nutshell, is the Foreigner - a man who once held the same dark power that Jackie himself wields, but was able to remove himself from the seemingly eternal curse. As for the obvious question - how the hell can you shake the Darkness curse?! - Hester offered an explanation that's sure to vindicate the staunchest Yoga enthusiasts. "The Foreigner was able to transcend the Darkness through meditation and personal discipline," said Hester. "He just stopped using it and it went looking for another host. Now, this took years and years - it was an epic struggle. In the series, lots of people lie to Jackie [about their purposes], but in this case the Foreigner is the real deal. He is a former Darkness wielder."
The very concept of being able to overcome the Darkness is a brand new element in the long-running comic book series' mythology. Jackie has always believed that for better or worse - indeed, more often for the worse - he'll be connected to the anarchic power for his entire life. Little did he know that this wasn't quite the case, as seen by the Foreigner's successful expulsion of the Darkness. The real question, then, is if the Foreigner has worked so hard to get away from the power, what is he doing popping up in Jackie's curse-addled life?
"He shows up at a point where Jackie realizes he's being manipulated by his arch nemesis, The Sovereign," Hester described of the Foreigner's appearance in the book. "Jackie's sick of the Darkness hamster wheel and the Foreigner appears at a time when Jackie is both tempted to unleash the full power of the Darkness, or conversely jump off that treadmill."
Getting off the Darkness treadmill, while a delightful notion considering all that has come before for Jackie, might not be as easy as a hop, skip and a jump. But, according to Hester, the occasionally ruthless Estacado might be at a place where leaving the Darkness could be the perfect medicine. "He's lived the high life as much as he can with the Darkness," said Hester, who doesn't need to point out the many powerful situations Jackie has landed himself in - not the least of which was a dictatorship in the fictional country of Sierra MuÃ±oz that ended unfavorably. "Jackie has seen how transient power and riches are. The idea of a normal life must be the most appealing thing imaginable to Jackie, but he's sort of given up and no longer open to the idea of normalcy."
But with the Foreigner's arrival, that door to freedom is finally opening for Jackie - and while he certainly has exhibited a tremendous amount of strength and motivation in the past, beating the Darkness probably won't be as simple as unleashing a hungry pack of Darklings or eviscerating an opponent with his sharpened armor. Luckily for Jackie, the Foreigner is here to offer guidance drawn from personal experience. Hester says that the Foreigner's role will be less of an Obi-Wan Kenobi analogue and more like a sponsor trying to steer an alcoholic away from continual addiction.
"I think the sponsor analogy is closest. He's broken his own connection to the Darkness curse and he sees someone in Jackie capable of the same change," Hester said. "The Foreigner knows just how far down the Darkness can drag someone's soul and he wants to spare Jackie the same hell. He offers some small measure of redemption - but whether he becomes an enemy or mentor is up to Jackie. If Jackie screws up and gives into the Darkness, they'll become opponents. If Jackie opens himself up to a life beyond the Darkness, then the Foreigner will guide him to his ultimate goal."
And just like an alcoholic's sponsor, the Foreigner is intimately aware of the draw towards the Darkness. While he's since broken himself free of the curse, that's not to say that all is said and done between Aman and the Darkness. As Hester points out, there's nothing easy about shaking the curse, and the Foreigner aims to ensure that nobody will need to endure that process any longer.
"Being free of the Darkness isn't a fait accompli for the Foreigner - he actually has to work at it every second of every day," Hester revealed. "He's traded the curse of the Darkness for the burden of eternal discipline. Yes, he plans to free Jackie from the Darkness, even if it means killing him, but he sees a glimmer of hope in Jackie - the potential for someone to transcend and possibly even destroy the Darkness altogether."
Given Jackie's restless and frequently violent nature, having some skepticism towards Jackie's ability to vanquish the Darkness is hardly unreasonable. Estacado might be the Foreigner's most promising hope of defeating the curse, but if all else fails, the nomadic Aman will have time to look elsewhere - in fact, he literally has all the time in the world.
"For reasons we'll get into later, he is functionally immortal," said the writer. "He's spent a thousand years learning and perfecting every martial art in the world. The Foreigner is 'outside' of the Darkness/Angelus/Witchblade system and his eternal nature causes him to wander the Earth incessantly."
But will sheer immortality and martial arts proficiency be enough to overcome Jackie's mastery of the Darkness? We're betting that the Foreigner doesn't have too much to worry about, given Hester's own comments that he can negate the Darkness's power when he comes in contact with it, which is just another happy side effect of living without the curse.
Regardless of whether or not the Foreigner can lead Jackie toward a life without the Darkness, he'll at least be around to influence the book's events leading up to issue #100. Hester himself calls the Foreigner a "major player" in the "Darkness" arc - and given the character's prior history, listed abilities and mission statement, Aman just might be the man to finally rid Jackie Estacado of the Darkness power once and for all. Does that make the Foreigner a hero or a villain? Perhaps he's both and perhaps he's neither, but one thing is certain the Foreigner won't be a stranger for too much longer.