Some people might have a preconceived notion of what Top Cow’s The Darkness is about, but with last year’s Rebirth of the Top Cow line writer David Hine and artist Jeremy Haun have taken Jackie Estacado down a new path – with new hurdles in his way.This week’s The Darkness #110 promises the conclusion of the “Breaking Dark” story-arc, where Jackie attempts to come to terms with the mental state of his resurrected lover Jenny and his powder keg of a daughter, Hope. If you remember, Hope was revealed in Artifacts to be the Codex for the entire Universe which Jackie activated to remake it in his own vision, but now his big choices are showing themselves to have some big consequences – as a father, as a husband, and as someone just trying to live his life. All these things piling onto Jackie come at a time when he’s broken ties with the Darkness itself, having that mystical Artifact and its powers ripped from him down to the molecular level. But as we’ve learned in comics, it’s harder for something to stay dead – especially as powerful as the Darkness, and it has crept back to life in a body made up of all of Jackie’s dark side and calling itself the Doppelganger.
With just days before the next issue, Newsarama talked with both The Darkness’ Hine and Haun to get caught up on the series and caught up on this world of hurt bearing down on Jackie.
Newsarama: David, Jeremy, last time we spoke to the two of you, you were just taking on The Darkness. Now we come back and a lot has changed – beginning with who holds the Darkness. Can you tell us what’s going on now with Jackie and the Doppelganger?
David Hine: This goes back to the whole concept of the new Top Cow Universe of Rebirth. After the big events of the Artifacts series, the world was destroyed and then rebuilt by Jackie using Hope, who turned out to be the Codex of the Universe and was the key to reconstructing the world. She was the daughter of Jackie and Sara Pezzini. Sara is the holder of the Witchblade, which is in turn the offspring of the Darkness and The Angelus, so Hope really did represent the balance between the Light and Dark forces in the Universe. But Jackie manipulated events so that the reconstructed universe has been tweaked to fulfill his personal desires. He brought back Jenny Romano, the girl he loved all his life, who died a violent death in the old world. He brought her back and he made Hope their daughter. It turned out that once Jenny was back, she wasn’t so easy to manipulate. She was aware that in his role as gang leader, he was using the power of the Darkness to eliminate his opposition with extreme violence. She finally gave him an ultimatum, to give up the Darkness or she would walk out on him and take Hope with her. In desperation, Jackie turned to the Witch-king Aram, who was the only Darkness bearer who ever rejected it and lived. He used his power to totally separate Jackie from the Darkness.
Nrama: Backing up a bit, can you break down what the Doppelganger is exactly? From the way the series says it, it’s the part of Jackie that stayed with the Darkness when it left Jackie’s body?
Hine: When Aram performed his magic, he found that Jackie’s own body was totally infected with the Darkness. Every molecule of his body had a negative version, so when Aram turned his full power on Jackie and forced the last of the Darkness out of him, he inadvertently created a mirror image, who identified himself as the Doppelganger. As time has passed, the Doppelganger has demonstrated that it is he and not Jackie, who has ultimate control over the Darkness. He has also developed the ability to appear in daylight and has effectively replaced Jackie, gradually earning the love and loyalty of Jenny and Hope. The Doppelganger started off as the Portrait of Dorian Gray so to speak – the ugly, twisted copy of the real Jackie, who was consigned to the bunker beneath Jackie’s estate during daylight hours, but he has gradually usurped more and more of Jackie’s role, while Jackie himself is becoming weaker and more ineffectual with each passing month.
Nrama: Jeremy, what’s it like designing and drawing an evil version of the Darkness, who’s already pretty evil looking itself?
Jeremy Haun: A lot of what we wanted to do with the Doppelganger was play things subtly. He has to look and seem like Jackie for the most part, but still stand on his own. The first thing we did was put him back in the white suit. There's just something about a bad dude in a nice white suit. As the story has gone along, Jackie has looked worse for wear-- he's always got half a beard going and is obviously worn down. The Doppelganger always looks like Jackie at the top of his game. He's clean shaven and sleek. We haven't seen the truly monstrous side of the Doppelganger much, but the real terrifying thing that I play up is his smile. It's just horrible. I don't think there's anything much more frightening than someone smiling like that. It's just wrong.
Nrama: In the recent #106, we found out there were things that existed before the Darkness and that one of these things is part of the mob rival of Jackie’s, Balakov. Just what kind of creature is Balakov?
Hine: Balakov, in human form, was no more than a second-rate gangster, but he was familiar with legends of ancient powers and he tracked down a talisman that allowed him to gain access to the Ancient Ones. Using the power that this creature gave him, he rose to the top in the Bulgarian mafia and has now come to America to challenge Jackie’s power as gang leader in Manhattan. In recent issues, we’ve learned that he has another agenda entirely. The human side of Balakov has been relegated to nothing more than a memory, huddling in a dark corner of his mind. The Ancient One has completely taken possession of Balakov’s body and appears to have powers that rival the Darkness itself. And it seems that he is the least of the Ancient Ones. Thousands more exist on the other side of the portals that are opening up in Jackie’s Universe, and each one that comes through promises to be more impressive than the last.
Nrama: What does Balakov want out of Jackie and the Darkness?Hine: It’s starting to look as if every danger that has threatened Jackie, the Witchblade and the Artifacts in the Top Cow Universe since Rebirth began, is some kind of manifestation of these ancient gods who once walked the earth. They predate the Darkness, and they want to come back. It’s Jackie’s manipulation of the new universe that has caused the flaws and ruptures to open up and allow them back and their ultimate intention is to turn the world into their playground, and humanity into their slaves.
Nrama: After the events of Top Cow’s “Rebirth,” Jackie found himself happily married to his previously dead high school sweetheart Jenny, and living a life with her and their daughter Hope. But it seems like issues at home aren’t all cozy for Jackie – what’s up with Jenny and Hope?
Hine: Those two changes that Jackie made – bringing Jenny back from the dead, and making Hope their daughter, are proving to be catastrophic. Hope is starting to manifest powers that seem like some corrupt form of the Darkness, while Jenny is gradually losing her mind, in the most literal sense. Her memory began to fail and she has reached the point where she is actually starting to lose her language. It reflects the tragedy of dementia, where sufferers slowly lose everything that makes up their personality. Jackie hasn’t yet fully accepted what is happening to her but he does realize that he is losing Jenny and Hope to the Doppelganger. I see this as the ultimate horror story, to lose everything to a dark mirror image of yourself. Jackie knows that the Doppelganger is evil, but he has the charisma and the power to gradually seduce everyone. And I do mean everyone as you’ll know if you read the end of “The Crack In Everything” story-arc.
Haun: Jenny is a tricky character. She's everything that Jackie has ever wanted-- the love of his life. After the events of Artifacts he has her back. Everything should be perfect. ...but it's not. We've worked really hard to find a balance with Jenny. There were a lot of discussions about making sure that we get to see the wonderful side of Jenny before she loses herself too much. We needed to show why she and Jackie are so perfect together. It's a real balancing act seeing as things pretty much start to fall apart for her from the moment we see her again.
So much of Jenny is playing up her loss of self. Like Hope I try and push the subtlety of this as much as possible. There is a lot of confusion and heartbreak that I'm trying to show through when I'm drawing her.
Nrama: This book is mixing equal parts family drama with supernatural mob components and some bloody action. How do you work to make these all work on their own, but also together with Jackie’s family life mixing with supernatural horror?
Haun: All of those elements work really well together in The Darkness. I think the key is that it's a family drama with these rich characters first. The crazy horror and crime stuff work because we love Jackie and his family. For me The Darkness is just as much about the little moments and the big over the top horror scenes.
Hope, Jackie's daughter, has become my favorite character to draw. She's all about these micro expressions-- slight smiles and subtle looks. I love working on the character stuff like that.
Of course I'd be lying if I said I didn't love drawing the horrific stuff, too. It's wonderful to have a book that is so balanced, that way. I've always been a huge fan of Lovecraftian horror. At it's heart, that's exactly the kind of story David and I are telling.
Nrama: Since you two took over this book earlier this year, you’ve covered a lot of ground and given Jackie a whole new bed of uneasiness for him to try to keep on top of things. What do you think you’ve learned about the character since you began?
Hine: Jackie was always a seriously bad boy, but at various times in his career he has shown himself to be a man of courage and a man of honor. His love of Jenny was the focal point of the decent side in Jackie and there was always the suggestion that he would have been a better person if he had never been corrupted when the power of the Darkness was forced on him. What we have done is to separate him completely from the Darkness to find our what kind of person he is when he doesn’t have the Darkness as an excuse for his bad behavior. Will he turn out to be a good man or is he the selfish cold-blooded killer that we’ve often seen since the earliest issues of The Darkness? So far we’ve seen him react with excessive anger and violence when things go wrong and he’s becoming increasingly frustrated at not having the power of the Darkness at his fingertips. We’re going to keep pushing Jackie into a corner for a while. It’s cruel but in the end we will see what happens when he really does reach rock bottom. When everything he has achieved is stripped away, we will really see what makes him tick. I can promise it’s not going to be pretty.
Nrama: Jeremy, on the artistic side, how do you feel about going through Jackie’s journey with him on the drawing board?
Haun: We've certainly backed Jackie into a corner, haven't we? Jackie Estacado has always been a flawed character. He's the bad guy we love. In this chapter of his life he's breaking down just like everything around him.
One of the challenges I had right away was the addition of the Doppelganger. I've got a second Jackie walking around. We had to be able to tell the two apart. The immediate way to handle that was to put the Doppelganger in the white suit. I really wanted to go beyond that though-- take it a bit further. I kept thinking about the relationship between Jackie and the Darkness. Since inheriting this power/curse, he's been more than human. He hasn't really been sick. Now, without the Darkness, Jackie isn't looking so good. When we see the Doppelganger it's an idealized version of Jackie-- sleek and powerful. Jackie, on the other hand, isn't looking so good. He's always got a couple days growth of beard. As the story has progressed he's losing some weight and is starting to look a bit rough around the eyes. For maybe the first time since inheriting the Darkness, Jackie is getting sick.
In comics, characters don't get to change much. It's nice to have the chance to really put Jackie through something in The Darkness. In the end, he'll be stronger for it.