The Darkness has become one of the key pillars in Top Cow’s line of comics, joining sister book Witchblade in it’s pantheon of titles by Marc Silvestri and company. The character comes with a good pedigree: created by Silvestri, along with Garth Ennis and David Wohl. And since it’s debut back in 1996, it has done a lot of things with a lot of creators, but in 2007 writer Phil Hester took control of the character and has charted a course visiting old friends and enemies while creating new stories and new adventures for the hitman turned turned superhuman with his own set of twisted morals.
Phil joined the title at a time were he was transitioning from primarily being a artist working with other writers to being a writer who also draw. The Iowa-based cartoonist has worked on such titles as Green Arrow with writer Kevin Smith and Ultimate Marvel Team-Up with Brian Michael Bendis, but in recent years he’s done more writing. And he’s returning to the drawing board one more time for a two issue stint on The Darkness, which he’s been writing since 2007.
Phil Hester will be drawing issues #80 and #81 of The Darkness, telling a special two-part story entitled “Bog”. In it, the current bearer of the Darkness, Jackie Estacado, is traveling to the Florida swamps to in an effort to stamp out the threat that the Darkness’s main nemesis, the Sovereign, presents. Hester is familiar with the swamp – having worked on DC’s The Swamp Thing several years ago, and through those years he’s carried an urge to return to those swamps to do it his way.
The Darkness #80 is scheduled to be released in September, and we talked with Hester for more on what he has planned.
Newsarama: Thanks for talking to us, Phil. First of all, what led you to taking up the task of drawing these two upcoming issues of The Darkness?
Phil Hester: When I initially got the gig I was asked to work up a three year plan for the book and admit to sneaking in an arc I knew I could fill-in on if needed. Michael Broussard has a very painstaking style, so we all knew the book would have to be a team effort. SInce I knew I'd be coming in for a few issues I decided to play to my strengths as an artist.
NRAMA: Has this task of not only writing, but drawing, these two issues given you any new knowledge seeing it from the drawing board perspective?
HESTER: Yeah. That costume's a pain in the ass! Actually, the only real problem I've run into is that Jackie Estacado must be horrifying and attractive at the same time. Now, when I'm asked to make something horrifying I tend to lean toward the Wolverton end of the grotesquery scale. But Jackie has to be something both hideous, yet somehow sleek and enticing. It's not easy. I tip my cap to Darkness artists of yore.
It also reinforces the sympathy I already have for my artists when I ask them to draw something boring or requiring a ton of reference. Sorry, y'all!
NRAMA: You’ve been writing The Darkness since 2007, but this is the first time you will be drawing as well as writing the book. With your ample artistic talent, what took so long?
HESTER: Well, I'm not a typical Top Cow type of artist. I aim for stark contrast and simplified compositions. Top Cow's artistic legacy is one of hyper detail and extravagant coloring. I think in black and white as an artist. For that reason we had to find a story line that lent itself to plenty of dark, murky scenes. No shortage of those in The Darkness, but I had another agenda, too. I really, really loved my time on Swamp Thing in the mid-90's, but always felt the inker and I were at odds regarding the look of the book. He's a talented inker, but I believe he was under orders from DC to take my blocky, Toth-like pencils and turn them into John Totleben style stipple work. So, since this arc features another swamp monster, you'll get to see what I intended for my Swamp Thing run with the added benefit of 15 years or so of improving my craft.
NRAMA: This storyarc is entitled “Bog”. Who or what is “Bog”?
HESTER: Bog is the nickname the locals of a tiny, isolated Florida town give to their legendary swamp monster. Unlike other cryptids, Bog turns out to be a real creature of incredible power cursed to haunt and protect the ruins of an ancient temple holding something Jackie and his crew want very desperately.
NRAMA: I live in Florida, so I know what you’re talking about. Anyway, Jackie Estacado isn’t alone in this, he’s got at his hand a new group of criminal minds to help him. How does this new team help or hinder Jackie’s quest?
HESTER: Oh, they help. Jackie is very powerful, but he's got a huge handicap in that his power is limited during the day or in brightly lit conditions. His new crew helps him to operate in the everyday world. Plus, his arch enemy- The Sovereign- has a similar network of earthly operatives, so to take it down Jackie will need an opposing force. Sort of like a supernatural gang war.
NRAMA: Before we go, you mention Jackie’s main nemesis, the Sovereign. For those that haven’t been keeping up with the book, can you describe the Sovereign for us and what the beef is between Jackie and the Sovereign?
HESTER: The Sovereign is a former monarch from prehistory who had a particularly devastating run-in with a Darkness wielder thousands of years ago. He was cursed, through his vanity, to have his awareness housed in effigies made of him during his reign. So, his soul inhabits and can animate stone and bronze versions of himself all over the world. Of course, he can't feel anything, so his only pleasure comes from tormenting the Darkness wielders who brought him low, even if they are generations removed from the act. Recently, he tricked Jackie Estacado into thinking he had custody of Jackie's soul and would release it once Jackie performed certain unsavory tasks for him. Jackie found out it was a scam and now the two of them are at war- Jackie destroying as many of The Sovereign's effigies as he can lay his hands on.