You should be afraid – not of what you can see in the darkness, but what you can't see in the Darkness.
For the comics character the Darkness, the same holds true. Created over ten years ago by Marc Silvestri, Garth Ennis and David Wohl, the Darkness is more than just one character – it's a cast, a mood and a mythology of the legacy of the mantle fo the Darkness through time. Rooted in horror, The Darkness title has explored many different areas but in the upcoming one-shot The Darkness; Shadows & Flames coming out in January, those horror roots come full circle – Lovecraft style.
Writer Rob Levin and artist Jorge Lucas are telling the story of a man who is a shadow of his former self. Salvador Gomes' spirit and life are broken after the tragic deaths of his wife and daughter, and he's now alone with only his thoughts and fears to keep him company. All this idle time leads Gomes to finding what he calls 'The Shadow God" and tries to bargain with him – no matter what the price.
Levin has a long history with the character of the Darkness, and Top Cow in general. For years, Levin worked as the principal editor at Top Cow for many years and now returns to the cow pasture as a writer, scripting the previous The Darkness: Butcher one-shot and now this. For more, we talked with Levin by email from his home in California.
Newsarama: So Rob, what can you tell us about The Darkness: Shadows & Flames?
Rob Levin: In the vein of Tales of The Darkness, the story takes place in New England in 1897 and revolves around a man with a past he wants to change. He's high on peyote and messed up from lack of sleep, and he's got it in his head that there's a Shadow God who can help him travel back in time and change said past.
And it's awesome. Maybe I should have started with that.
Nrama: [laughs] We'll take your word for it. Can you tell us about the man this revolves around, Salvador Gomes?
Levin: Sure. About a year before we meet him, Sal lost his wife and daughter in a fire at their home. He tried to save them but he couldn't get through the flames (notice my sneaky reference to half of the title) to reach them, and he had to watch helplessly as they died. It's torn him up inside to the point where he's a hollow shell of a man, and he doesn't do anything but take peyote and let his anguish destroy him. In his insomnia/drug-induced vision, he thinks he sees time as a tangible entity that he can not only reach, but affect. If he can find the Shadow God, rumor is that he can make things right again and save his family.
Nrama: This book seems to really focus in on the mythological elements of the Darkness and “the Shadow God” as he’s called. That's an really interesting aspect of the Darkness that not everyone knows about. Can you tell us about it?
Levin: I think that's actually one of the best parts of The Darkness. It's steeped in this rich mythology that doesn't just surround Jackie Estacado, the present-day wielder, but dozens of generations of wielders who have struggled with the same curse. Or blessing, depending on how you look at it. Phil Hester is killing it on the monthly title, so while I've got some Jackie stories to tell, there's really no point in competing. And that gets my ticker thinking about what else you can do - what era would be fun to play with, what setting?
The Shadow God really developed out of my research into the works of H.P. Lovecraft, and man's relation to gods in his work. Unlike in Greek mythology where the gods are clearly more powerful than humans, yet there's still some reverence and respect for man (just look at Zeus always chasing mortal tail), in Lovecraft's work the gods hate us. Not only that, they don't care about us at all. We're less than a thought, and when we seek them out, bad things tend to happen. I wanted to play in this same zone wrapped in the trappings of The Darkness, all the while putting a spin on some of the other horror tales the title has seen thus far.
Nrama: How'd you connect Lovecraft with The Darkness?
Levin: The blame falls squarely on Mr. Jorge Lucas, my artists partner on this. If anyone knows Jorge, they know that there are two things he loves: Jack Kirby and H.P. Lovecraft. He can't get enough of either of their works. As much as it might be to write a Kirby-esque story for The Darkness, I can't even begin to wrap my head around how I'd live up to that kind of legacy. That's not to say Lovecraft is any less daunting, but thematically I knew I could touch on the same things and make it more of a soft homage than a hackneyed version. If you want to read my hackneyed version, please find the Rob Levin of Earth-16. That guy has no scruples...
Long story short, Top Cow and I were talking about work, they said they liked The Darkness: Butcher and would be game for more in that vein. I knew Jorge was a possibility to draw it, so I tried to write something in his wheelhouse so he couldn't say no. I read some Lovecraft and sat down with a pen, the story eventually showed up on paper, or at least the bare bones did. I wrote the actual script on one of them newfangled computers with the fruit on 'em.
Nrama: This is your second time writing The Darkness, after the aforemented The Darkness: Butcher from a year or so back. What brought you back?
The Darkness is such a strong concept. I mean, what do you expect when Marc Silvestri, Garth Ennis, and David Wohl all get in a room to hatch up something special. There are any number of different stories you can tell with Jackie alone in 2009, and pretty much limitless possibilities if you open up the lineage of the power. I like things that are dark and gritty, and I like things that are character driven. The Darkness means I can set a book at night, kill things, and have it star a conflicted protagonist. I'll show up for that any day of the week. I wouldn't be surprised to see some more Butcher down the line either...
Nrama: For this one-shot you’re working with Jorge Lucas, whom you’ve worked with before when you were an editor at Top Cow. What’s it like to be paired up with him?
Levin: In a word, fantastic. He nails the sort of aesthetics The Darkness is so famous for every time out of the gate. And if you need him to go scarier or darker, that's never a problem. His ability to frighten is limitless, though I'm actually afraid of him as a person after seeing some of the stuff he's drawn the last couple years.
He's a very strong storyteller, which isn't something he gets a lot of credit for, in addition to being very versatile. I'm the guy that hired him to draw The Darkness #7, and I'd be thrilled to get a chance to work with him again. He made me write this story, drew the hell out of it, and then he drove off into the Sunset to hang out with my buddy Christos Gage. I'll be lucky if he even answers my emails anymore. He's big time.
Nrama: And since we mentioned your time editing at Top Cow, what’s it like to be moved over to the creative side and being able to flesh out the stories of the characters you shepherded for so long?
Levin: It's a lot of fun. Especially when I write for Top Cow, because I get to tell my editors over there (Filip Sablik and Phil Smith) to shove off. No one knows these characters better than me. No one!!! But seriously, I think shepherding is a great term for what an editor does. You're a caretaker of a company's properties, and you have to hand them off (preferably to the right hands) and make sure that when they get done, everything is better than it was before. And in the event that it all goes bad, you have to make sure you know how to restore them to their forgotten glory. I often referred to myself as a creative midwife as an editor.
Coming back to Top Cow is pretty great. I spent half a decade incredibly invested in all of the company's books, so to now be able to steer them in new directions gives me both a certain sense of confidence, and a bit of dread. I always knew what I was doing as an editor, and had a very clear vision that I knew was supported internally. When you hop over to the freelance side of the desk, there's this sudden concern that maybe no one shares your vision. Luckily, I reminded them that my vision reins supreme, and all others will be quashed beneath this boot. And they agreed.
Nrama: Before we let you go, can you tell us what else you have coming up?
Levin: I'm all over the place. I couldn't really leave editing behind because I like midwifery so much. I edited Days Missing and Josh Fialkov and Noel Tuazon's Tumor over at Archaia, both of which we just wrapped on the creative end and various final issues are going to press, Kindle, etc. I'm also editing Time Bomb with Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray and Ryder on the Storm with David Hine, both for Radical. Phil Hester and Andy Kuhn were nice enough to allow me to take over editing duties on one of my favorite Image books, Firebreather, so expect that book to be all up in your area again starting next year. A couple other things are also in progress, but I can't talk about them just yet...
Writing wise I've got a Ragman story with Brian Ching and Michael Atiyeh in the DC Holiday Special that's out next month, and an as-yet-unannounced series somewhere that I think we're only days away from. I'll be co-writing that with Bryan Edward Hill, who makes me a much better writer (the secret is middle names). I should be launching at least two original series next year, just locked in artists on both of those. And I twitter too much, especially when work has me frustrated, so I might let some info squeak through there if people want to pay attention and sift through the ramblings.
I'm also trying to become independently wealthy, so please, if you're reading this and can help out, holla at a playa if you see him on the street.