Yo, Ho, Ho: Ron Marz Takes To The High Seas in "Darkness: Black Sails"

What happens when you blend the world's of Top Cow's The Darkness with the rising popularity of pirate tales? Well, that's an easy answer - "Darkness: Black Sails" by Ron Marz and artist Keu Cha. The one-shot special, which takes a look at a here-to-fore unexplored section of the Darkness universe, hits comic shop shelves this Wednesday afternoon. On Monday, Rich Johnston shared the first seven pages of art from the issue and today we've caught up with writer Ron Marz to see what kind of high-seas adventure he's got cooked up for readers.

"['Darkness: Black Sails' is] pretty close to a straight-on pirate yarn," Marz told CBR News Monday afternoon. "It's set in 1671, which is smack in the middle of the golden age of piracy, when privateers like Henry Morgan prowled the Caribbean and Spanish treasure ships were hauling plundered gold back from the New World. We added the supernatural element of 'The Darkness' to that setting, which turned out to be a fairly comfortable fit. So we've got 22 pages of pirates, demons, ship-to-ship battles and, of course, a fabulous treasure."

The story focuses on Miguel Estecado, a early relation of "The Darkness'" Jackie Estecado, and he's someone you really don't want to mess with. "He's a pirate captain with a ship of cutthroats, not to mention of horde of demons, at his command," said Marz about Miguel. "He's definitely not one of the good guys in the same way that his modern descendant, Jackie Estacado, is not one of the good guys. Miguel was actually mentioned in passing in one of the early Ennis-Silvestri issues of 'The Darkness.' I'm extrapolating from there. It didn't specifically indicate that Miguel was a pirate, but it didn't indicate he wasn't, either."

The one-shot got its beginnings soon after Marz left his gig with CrossGen comics. Top Cow Editor-In-Chief Jim McLauchlin phoned Marz to see about doing some work for them. "[Jim] initially asked me to pitch an arc as well as some one-shots for 'The Darkness' and 'Black Sails' was one of the one-shot pitches. Keu Cha had actually left comics and gotten a 'real' job working at a design house, but he got the itch to do some sequential material again and showed off some samples of what his painted technique looked like. Everybody went nuts over it, including me. There's a very classic feel to his painted work, hints that remind you of Pyle or Wyeth.

"So something with more of an epic, historical tone just seemed like the right fit. I actually wrote 'Black Sails' concurrently with my arc on the monthly 'Darkness' book, the issues of which all came out last year. It's just taken this long for it to be completed, because Keu was really a one-man band on the book, in addition to still working the design job. He's since left that to devote himself to comics full time again."

It's clear that interest in pirate tales is at a level not seen in years. The success of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" film has ushered in a new era for the genre, with books like the upcoming "Sea of Red" from Image generating high levels of interest. Marz says he's excited to be playing within the genre and has always been interested in exploring pirate stories further. "To me, "Pirates of the Caribbean" was the best ride in the world even before it was a movie," said Marz. "But prior to the movie being a hit, there just wasn't that much opportunity to do something in that genre because it was seen as a tough sell in the market. Now there's a little more latitude, thanks to the success of the film and the two sequels that are coming up. I would've pitched a pirate story had the movie never existed, but I think the movie made it a little easier to get it approved."

While "Darkness: Black Sails" takes places in the pre-established Darkness universe, the one-shot doesn't require you to have knowledge of the regular series in order to enjoy it. The book is definitely new-reader friendly, while having something a little extra for fans of the monthly "Darkness" comic. "There are too many comics that have become so insular it's like there's a big do not enter sign on the cover. Or at least a do note enter until trade paperback sign. 'Black Sails' is one and done -- you don't have to bring any special knowledge into it, and by the end of the issue you've gotten a complete and hopefully satisfying story. And that, truthfully, was my primary objective: tell a good story. Bringing something new to the Darkness universe is well and good, but not at the expense of telling a complete story that anybody can pick up, even somebody who has never looked at an issue of 'The Darkness.'

"That said, I think longtime readers of 'The Darkness,' and even the Top Cow Universe as a whole, will feel like they get some Easter eggs, as well as some historical context, in the issue. A number of the Top Cow concepts, like the Darkness, Witchblade and Magdalena, are generational in nature. We've got a project coming up later in the year that will touch on some of the Witchblade's historical context."

Marz says he and his artist Keu Cha had a good time working on "Darkness: Black Sails" together, finding that creatively they clicked well despite not having worked together before. Marz admits that with "Black Sails" they've opened up an entirely new portion of the Darkness universe ripe for exploring, although at the moment there's nothing specific planned in terms of a follow-up. If the interest is there, Marz said he and Cha would be more than happy to sign up for another tour of duty with Miguel Estecado's crew.

As mentioned above, this book marks the return of Keu Cha to comics. Those of you familiar with his previous work on "Witchblade" or "Rising Stars" should notice a considerable amount of growth with his new work on "Darkness: Black Sails. "When he first broke in, he naturally took on the influences around him in the Top Cow studio, and his work had a more traditional Top Cow sheen to it," Marz said of Cha's work. "But this is a completely different style of work for him. Even the pencils underneath the color have a softer, more illustrative quality to them. I hope at some point we can do something to show off the pencils for the story, maybe side by side with the finished, painted work. It's some of the most gorgeous stuff I've been involved with."

Those looking for more work from Marz and Cha won't have to wait very long as Cha sits in on "Wtichblade" #86, coming out later this year.

"Mike Choi is still very much the regular artist on 'Witchblade,' and I'm really pleased to be working with him. Mike is just finishing up our first six-part arc on the book with issue #85, so #86 is a regularly-scheduled fill-in. For that issue, Keu's going to be doing a mix of painted and pencil work, but in a way that makes sense in the context of the story. Mike will be back with #88, so drawing #87 we've got…nah, can't tell you yet. But it's someone I haven't worked with before, and someone I'm absolutely looking forward to working with."

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