This month Top Cow released The Darkness: Accursed Vol. 1 trade paperback, the initial collection of the series' third volume by writer Phil Hester and artist Michael Broussard. The 144-page TPB is being offered at a suggested retail price of just $4.99, which means Top Cow really, really wants new readers to give the series a try.
Of course, what's even better than $4.99 is free and here is a look at dozens of pages (almost half) from the collection along with writer Phil Hester's "Director's Commentary" on the selected pages.
Please click on the images to open larger versions...
Pages 7-10: I never intended to write this prologue, but the powers that be at Top Cow felt we needed some kind of reintroduction of the Darkness ground rules for new readers. In retrospect, I'm glad I was forced to do it. You always run the risk of descending into cliché when you begin a story with Genesis, but I think I punctured that in panel four of page one. Doing this prologue also gave Michael an early chance to break loose and really show off his amazing skills in the double page spread visual history of The Darkness. As always, less of me and more of Michael is a good thing.
Page 11: Something I struggled with early on was just how poetic a voice someone like Jackie could have as a narrator. After consulting with editor Rob Levin, we decided that throughout The Darkness Jackie has always been depicted as someone a little deeper than your average hitman, so exposing a lyrical inner monologue would actually be building upon depths of character hinted at in past volumes of the book.
Page 14: This was intended as page four of my original script and the opening splash. It dawned on me here that we were going to need extra space to get to the cliffhanger ending I desired and Top Cow was cool about letting us expand #1 to do so. Note: Michael is a very, very good comic book artist. Ryan Winn does a remarkable job of translating the subtleties of Michael's pencil line into ink. I'm spoiled!
Page 20: Enter Kirchner! The real bad guy. Part of the problem with The Darkness is that Jackie is a bad guy, so to make him relatively heroic you have to surround him with even worse people. Kirchner was meant to be the cold, calculating side of the equation, while Jackie is the burning, passionate side. The fact that Jackie doesn't do his own cold calculating is one of his big character flaws. It always bites him in the ass.
Pages 24-26: Let the exposition begin! Since we had Jackie take over a country essentially off panel, I felt like we really needed to back off and give the reader some raw information so they could get their footing in Sierra Munoz.
By the way, Sierra Munoz is named for the great Argentine cartoonist, and it's capital city Breccia is named for Alberto Breccia, the godfather of South American cartoonists. Do yourself a favor and seek out their work. You'll see Munoz in Miller, McKean, and Giffen (and me a little). You'll see Breccia in Sienkiewicz and McKeever.
Page 30: Forgive the pun.
Page 33: I love cliffhangers. You'll see that as we go along. Originally I wanted Elle to be more monstrous to reflect more of her Darkness origin, but Michael was smart to make her so beautiful here so her deterioration in later issues would be more marked.
Page 36: Hey, a sex scene! I remember handing in my first script and Rob being a little shocked at the use of adult language throughout. I guess I was thinking- Hey, let's stop kidding around, People were swearing like sailors throughout the video game, no one's going to be shocked by a few f-bombs in the comic. That said, I had to push a little to make this sex scene as explicit as it was. Not that it's anything hardcore, but when Michael drew it, it somehow gained prurience.
I should point out that I do small thumbnails of each page in lieu of detailed panel descriptions and hand them off to the artist to use as a guide in penciling the book. Michael can take or leave whatever he wants from them. This time he took what I gave him and turned it up to eleven. Won't be the last time, either.
Page 39: A complicated moment for Jackie. He's sort of falling in love with his Real Doll and that sparks not only a vague, masturbatory guilt in him (raised Catholic), but a sense that maybe he's wronging Elle by using her, even as her creator.
Page 42: Jackie keeps falling for the wrong girls. In Marisol Yanez he sees the fiery will and bravery missing from the supposed "perfect" woman he's created for himself in Elle. If Jackie were honest with himself he would have either created a more independent being, or better yet, not created a playmate at all.
Page 43-45: You see, I told you Kirchner was bad. We also see that Elle has real emotions for Jackie.
Page 47: Enough of the little wisecracking gremlin Darklings. I wanted the Darklings to be more menacing to reflect Jackie's maturation and new sense of direction.
Page 54: Like I said, I love cliffhangers. The idea that Jackie is going to have to take on the US military next issue speaks to the 12 year old in me. That 12 year old gets loose next issue.
Page 57: Okay, this is one of the first images that came to me when I was asked to write the book. I felt like we had never seen Jackie's crazy, supernatural powers contrasted with real world might, so throwing him up against a bunch of Apache attack helicopters seemed like a match made in Heaven. Comic book Heaven! I remember scribbling this image down in my notes for the series. To see it brought to life by both Dale Keown and Michael Broussard is one of those rare, invigorating moments for a writer.
Note also the title of the story. Hour of the Witch is traditionally midnight. We called #1 Nightfall, which was the name of Jackie's manufactured narcotic, and #2 Eve, which I assume most readers assumed referred to Elle. Actually, I based all the titles for Empire on the times of night from dusk to dawn.
Page 58: Surprise! Dale Keown is here. I feel kind of bad that I made him work in a bunch of Watchmen nine panel grids, but I wanted these flashbacks to not only serve as a necessary telling of Kirchner's origin and his subsequent partnership with Jackie, but a stylistic change of pace from the wide screen action of Michael's scenes.
Pages 64-65: The first time I felt we got across just how awe inspiring and frightening Jackie's powers can be when he really cuts loose.
Page 67-68: Even more boundary stretching with Jackie's powers. We're getting into Dragonball-Z territory here, but I think it's something Darkness readers have been longing to see. Jackie is much more than a tough hitman who can summon gremlins to help him, he's a force of nature... well, super-nature.
Page 72: I'm kind of proud of this scene. We cover the entire overthrow of a country in nine panels with no action. We use information the reader already knows about the nature of Jackie's Nightfall drug and let them fill in the blanks.
Page 76: Another cliffhanger. Come on, we've all been dying to see Jackie's Darklings turn on him!
Page 79: The title theme continues. The Hour of the Wolf is traditionally 3 A.M.
Pages 80-81: We get a more explicit illustration of just how much the Darklings have changed, reflecting Jackie's deepening, but conflicted relationship with The Darkness itself.
Page 82: Jackie's trusted manservant turns on him, foreshadowing the revolt of Sierra Munoz's people to come.
Page 84: Another stinger. We see Jackie stripped of his power and completely vulnerable. What makes matters worse, Jackie, now free of The Darkness to some extent, realizes he deserves exactly what the rebels are giving him.
Page 86: Again, now free of The Darkness that once clouded his thoughts, Jackie is almost childlike in his unabashed admiration for Marisol. He's so broken down he can't contain his emotions.
Pages 87-89: Jackie trips on his own drug. Here's a place where Michael really expanded on what I originally intended and made it so much richer. I had envisioned the Darkness avatars as being flat, iconic images, but Michael really fleshed them out and gave them character. It lent more weight to their dialogue in the end.
Page 91: More or less Jackie's mission statement.
Page 98: Zing! Now Jackie knows what Kirchner's been up to.
Page 101: The Blue Hour refers to that pre-dawn time when the sky lightens, but no trace of the sun is yet visible. I'm hinting at the end of Jackie's long, dark night with The Darkness.
Page 102: Elle is no longer an empty headed vessel for other people's ambitions. No longer Jackie's toy, or merely Kirchner's weapon, she lashes out at the rebels out of her genuine love for Jackie.
Pages 110-112: Jackie, free of The Darkness for the most part, and sensing a bad outcome to this misadventure confesses to Marisol not only his love for her but his consuming regret for the way he's lived his life. He's genuinely confused as to how much of his evil nature is his alone, or the influence of The Darkness. The small, rapid fire panels in these pages build tension for what's to come.
Page 114: Yes, I just killed two main characters off panel. Explosions look lame in a comic anyway. I always intended to kill Marisol and White. Their deaths are the lynchpin to Jackie's moment of courage in taking back The Darkness, but it was tough to go through with it after writing them both for four issues. Plus, it's a great visual. There's your protagonist blown in half.
Page 115: Gross. Who writes this?
Page 116: Even grosser.
Page 118: Turning point of the whole arc. Jackie takes responsibility for not only his past actions, but for the impact an unchecked Darkness may have on the world. It's a sacrifice of sorts. A defeat and a victory at once.
Page 120: Anyone have a cigar?
Page 124: Okay, you get the title now. It's Daybreak. Not in the story, per se, but in Jackie's battle with The Darkness. I also wanted to establish that even though Jackie is bent on revenge for Marisol, he's not reformed. He isn't going to let any rebels pick him off at this point. He's still cold blooded. I guess the point I've been trying to make with Jackie all along is that he IS bad, but he's not a coward. He has some core sense of loyalty and propriety that he will adhere to, but it's very self-centered.
Page 125: The Darklings get theirs. Traitorous little jerks. We won't see them again for a long time.
Page 127: It's still a horror book deep down. Yes, I just killed off a third main character off panel. I'm sneaky like that.
Pages 128-137: I get out of Michael's way and let him rock the fight scene.
Page 139: The Darkness gives Jackie the lecture I've been dying to give him for six issues.
Page 140: Punch line!
Page 142: Jackie's torment continues. His relationship to The Darkness irreparably
damaged and he's at the mercy of the people he once subjugated. #7 won't be a direct follow-up. I'll jolt the readers again and ask them to join me for a new kind of Darkness adventure in a new place. Hope you're there, too.