If the thirteen Artifacts are brought together, that will be the end of the Universe.Turns out, that wasn't hyperbole. The Top Cow Universe truly ended in Artifacts #13 with a new one born in its place. After four years with Phil Hester as writer, and one hundred issues hitting the rear view mirror, The Darkness is likewise getting a fresh start with a new creative team and direction.
But before David Hine and Jeremy Haun's run sees the light of day, we're taking a look back with writer Phil Hester, discussing who and what The Darkness really is, what he's learned from his run, and what he hopes others remember. Hester also brought along all the covers for his final issue, The Darkness #100 along for the ride.
Newsarama: Phil, what IS the Darkness to you, now that you've wrapped your run?Phil Hester: It's a story about dealing not only with the temptation that would accompany that level of power, but learning to finally take responsibility for how you wield it. It was a struggle to reach that point in Jackie Estacado's character development without turning him into a hero. I mean, I basically put him through that whole "with great power comes great responsibility" thing, but that journey led him to become smarter, not necessarily more virtuous.
Also, it's about a mobster with wicked cool super powers. That might sound facetious, but folks pay good money to see beautiful comics about this kind of nasty guy with neat looking armor beating even nastier people in inventive and gory ways. I tried to always deliver on that end of the bargain. It's like a metal album, you expect great guitar breaks at a minimum. My goal was to write lyrics that added new levels of depth to the rock opera, so to speak.Nrama: As you learned more about Jackie Estacado as an individual, what do you think of him? Is he a hero? An Anti-Hero? A straight up villain? Good? Evil? Hester: I'd say anti-hero. he is not a good guy, but he's not cruel or capricious with his considerable gift for violence. He's gorgeous and charming, but solely motivated by self-interest. He is an unrepentant killer, but he is loyal and brave. He's basically Conan in a four thousand dollar suit.
He's the kind of guy who would give his life to protect something he believes in, but he hasn't found anything that qualifies... until lately. That said, there's something deep inside of him that veers towards self destruction, maybe that's something in all of us, but in his case his subconscious tends to come to life and break stuff. He will always find a way to blow up a good situation because, deep down, he doesn't feel like he deserves it. He's an orphan who doesn't trust family, so he pushes it away without even knowing what he's doing... again, until recently.
Nrama: Artifacts the event ends, the Top Cow Universe gets a fresh start, Darkness hits #100, and your run ends all at the same time - was that the plan for awhile, or just kismet timing?
Hester: Yes, and the contortions required by editorial to make that happen were backbreaking. I had my ending planned before Artifacts was hatched, but pretty early on we saw they would dovetail both thematically and logistically. Filip Sablik and Bryan Rountree deserve a medal-- and a looooong nap-- for making it happen.
Nrama: How does the "new TCU Darkness" differ from the "old" one, briefly?
Hester: That's a question for David Hine, but as I leave Jackie he has a firmer grasp on his powers and his own identity. He IS The Darkness, not its slave. Also, thanks to the events of Artifacts, he has a stake in the world now. That also gives him more to lose.Nrama: Did you feel like you were truly done with Jackie and the Darkness, or do you have more sitting in your brain for some time down the road?
Hester: I was certainly done. This is the arc I planned when Rob Levin brought me aboard the book in the first place. I'm grateful to Marc Silvestri and Matt Hawkins for letting me run with it as long as they did, and to Garth Ennis for co-creating such a potent character. I do have ideas about other things I'd like to do at Top Cow, but my time with Jackie is done. He needs to see other people.
Nrama: The supporting cast evolved quite a bit throughout your run, Phil. Who surprised you? Who wound up being more or maybe less than you initially thought they'd be?
Hester: One of my goals was to establish, if not a regular supporting cast, at least a wider world of characters who could interact with Jackie without being killed at the end of the issue. Both Elle (The Darkwife) and The Foreigner wound up playing larger roles than I intended, but I have to say one of the biggest surprises for me came from writing Sonatine in the last few issues. He was this white whale of temptation that I studiously avoided, like The Joker in Batman, for fear of treading the same ground so many others had, but when I got a chance to reveal a new facet of his character I found it very satisfying.
Nrama: You also got to play with a few other TCU characters. Are any of them folks you'd like to go deeper with, and why?
Hester: I really like the team dynamic of Hunter-Killer, especially the minor league field team I created. I could write about them all day. The Top Cow universe is full of all kind of goodies, actually. There's a lot to explore.Nrama: What do you hope your lasting legacy is on Jackie and The Darkness?
Hester: That I added some depth, both internally and concerning supporting characters, to an already deep, charismatic icon. I hope I made Jackie Estacado as interesting outside of his armor as in.
Nrama: Being an accomplished artist yourself, you got to work with several strong art teams on this book. Tell us a bit about how each changed your approach when writing, and/or what you think each brought to the book.
Hester: I do thumbnails of each book to hand off to the artist as a way of more clearly indicating my panel descriptions, but I always made sure the artists understood those as suggestions rather than ironclad rules. Each guy brought something remarkable to the table, and being an artist, it only took me seeing a few pages of their work to discern what they were particularly good at. Michael Broussard's figure work was stunning, so I tried to give him as many interesting battles as possible to draw. Jorge Lucas drew the hell out of gritty, dark worlds, so I tried to give him down and dirty crime stuff. Sheldon Mitchell has a great imagination, so I tried to introduce lots of design and fantasy elements. Leandro Fernandez and Romano Molenaar had great illustrative backgrounds that lent themselves to exotic environments and barbaric action, so I tried to plunk them down in Frazetta-friendly worlds when possible.
I've been very lucky to work with so many great artists over the last four years. That said, I never had to alter any intended arcs to avoid weaknesses or play to strengths of the art teams. They all handled what I threw at them with remarkable grace.
Nrama: How has the experience of this extended run changed the way you think about storytelling? Or maybe, has it even changed the way you think about life, after spending so much time with these characters?
Hester: Well, it's made me appreciate flexibility a little more. I made a pretty rock solid outline for the 36+ issues I wrote, but as I got deep into that framework I found lots of character and plot developments cropping up that I hadn't planned for. Now I build in a little wiggle room into all my plots for improvisation. Like building a few extra hours into a scheduled road trip to see the world's largest ball of twine or whatever you might stumble across. So, what I'm saying is The Darkness has given me a deeper appreciation for huge balls of twine.
Nrama: Will you be reading David Hine's run on The Darkness? Do you typically read "next arcs" when you've finished a run?
Hester: I will, but probably only after the first arc is traded up. I've never had an ex, as I married my first date, but I assume it would be like seeing an ex with a new lover. I'll need a little time. I'm a huge fan of David's stuff, though. Bulletproof Coffin is one of the best books in recent memory. He will almost certainly make me look bad.
Nrama: What's next for you, Phil?
Hester: I wish I could say! A lot of stuff that will be announced later in the year, I hope. I'm currently writing Bionic Man at Dynamite, but have a bunch of work-for-hire and creator owned stuff coming in the new year. Believe me, those who aren't already sick of me soon will be.