Phil Hester on Darkness: Lodbrok's Hand
We spoke with Hester about the one shot and where he sees it in relation to the rest of the Darkness story he’s telling.
Newsarama: First off Phil – what got Lodbrok’s Hand rolling? You’re writing Darkness, of course, but it’s been a while since we’ve seen a special set in the past…
Phil Hester: It actually came from a chance meeting at last year's NY Comic Con. I ran into Mike who let me know he had a little window of availability in his schedule. Top Cow okayed us for a one-shot the very same day, so I asked Mike exactly what kind of stuff he wanted to draw and I made the story fit his savage proclivities.
NRAMA: So the setting was Mike’s idea? A setting, as the solicitation calls it, from a time that’s “lost in history…”
PH: Right - it's what Mike wanted to draw. We call it "The Frazetta Age". It's not exactly a historically accurate portrait of ancient Viking culture as you'd find in Northlanders, but the kind of "airbrushed on the side of a van" Conan take on Vikings. We wanted to tell a timeless, mythic story that could echo far into the future, even into our current story line, much like a fable. Bottom line - we wanted to give Mike a showcase to really cut loose.
NRAMA: As the story opens, (from the preview we ran) it appears as if the title is quite literal – that is, Lodbrok is missing a hand. And then things move to flashback to explain how he lost it – can you explain to us the set up a little?
PH: At the beginning of the tale Lodbrok is a grizzled, austere Viking longship captain. We let his first mate narrate the tale of exactly how Lodbrok lost his hand, and learn that when he was just a boy he was caught up in an epic struggle with an immensely powerful warlord. To defeat that mad king he struck a deal with the Darkness wielder of the day known as The Black Captain.
NRAMA: And the Dark Captain comes when called. Let’s talk about his form in this story…it’s not as if the possessor is the central character…
PH: Yeah, we wanted to paint this past Darkness wielder as a demigod of sorts, and setting up a legend where The Black Captain will do your bidding for a price to be named later makes him come off as a mythical figure. I also wanted to play with the idea of a Darkness wielder who has been so for a long time, as opposed to Jackie Estacado, and who may actually be so bored with being The Darkness that he will grant boons just for the adventure to come. Of course, by the end of the story we find he exacts a price more terrible than those who called him would have bargained for.
NRAMA: Artistically, your style seems to be very similar to Mike’s, or at least you take the same approaches on many things. Did that make things easier in a sense, that you weren’t writing for an artist who had a completely different sensibility than you, art-wise?
PH: Definitely. Mike and I have actually worked together as artists before, so I know we have similar aesthetics and similar influences. Everything I got back from Mike was just as I had pictured it, and in most cases better. I think it's some of the best stuff of Mike's career, proving that if you let an artist just cut loose and be himself you'll get back great results.
NRAMA: In your view, what does this story do for the larger Darkness mythology, or is that much of a concern, as opposed to just telling a good story with some familiar elements?
PH: I'm intrigued by the notion that there's a lost pantheon of past Darkness wielders and there are stories to tell about them that stretch from now back to pre-history. In this case I really wanted to tell a story that gave us a glimpse into one of those past wielders who had given in completely to the Darkness. The Black Captain is not conflicted like Jackie Estacado. His humanity has been completely submerged by The Darkness.
It relates to our current story-line as a cautionary tale. Jackie struggles with The Darkness, still grasps at what remains of his humanity, while The Black Captain does not. The Black Captain is an incredibly powerful, a god-like being, but unlike Jackie, completely damned. The Black Captain is a crystal clear picture of The Darkness as a curse and something Jackie is still fighting to avoid.
NRAMA: Finally, while this is a one-off, as mentioned earlier, it’s been a while since we’ve seen a semi-regular look back at the Darkness’ history. Are you seeing this as a possible start to filling in or expanding upon the Darkness throughout history?
PH: Oh, yeah, I'd love to do more stories like this. Like I said, there's a huge, untold story before Jackie's time, and I can't wait to explore it. In fact, we'll see some of that hidden history injecting itself
into Jackie's story very soon in the regular title.
Darkness: Lodbrok’s Hand is due in stores this Wednesday, December 10th.