Described by Top Cow as “the darkest tale of the Darkness yet”, the recently debuted miniseries The Darkness: Four Horsemen takes supernatural mob boss Jackie Estacado on a dark path where he meets up with four bikers who have an even bleaker outlook than he does. These four bikers come out of the Pacific coast desert after years MIA, and have returned with dark powers making them a modern-day reincarnation of the biblical Horsemen of Revelations. Forget the TV show Sons of Anarchy, these guys live up to that title literally.
The Darkness: Four Horsemen comes from the mind of storyteller David Hine. Hine is well-known for his penchant for horror with works on Spawn and Batman: Arkham Asylum, and his take on the Darkness and his new quartet of adversaries is quite eye-opening; each of the horsemen have a particular attribute, such as War or Pestilence, one that they bring out as soon as they put their kickstands down in a small western town. And out of nowhere just like the Demon Riders comes the series’ artist, Jeff Wamester. Wamester is a relatively new face on the comics scene, having just completed the Oni series Frenemy of the State… but his work on The Darkness: Four Horsemen, complimented by colorist Felix Serrano, shows a new face that’ll be one to reckon with in years to come.
We spoke with the team about the mini-series and the appeal of these biblically-based villains.
Newsarama: This miniseries boils down to a showdown between Jackie and four bikers – I've seen the Darkness take down whole groups of men, so what makes these bikers so fearsome, David?David Hine: These are not ordinary bikers. The Demon Riders were last seen back in the sixties when they ripped off Lucio Franchetti in a drug deal gone bad. They disappeared into the desert and weren’t seen again until they turn up almost forty years later on the road to Ginsberg, California. They’re riding the same bikes, wearing the same clothes and they haven’t aged a day. Once they start mixing with the citizens, serious weirdness starts to happen. Anyone who has the slightest physical contact with one of the Riders, is doomed to a rapid and horrifying death. A normally placid teenager goes apeshit crazy and stabs a storeowner to death. A guy eating out in his local Tex Mex takes the invitation ‘All you can eat!’ a little too seriously. Hookers instantly develop terminal symptoms of every venereal disease known to man. You get the idea.
I don’t think it’s giving too much away to tell you that it turns out these four bikers have somehow become the human hosts for Famine, Pestilence, War and Death, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
Nrama: How does Jackie get roped into going after the Demon Riders?
Hine: Jackie owes Lucio a favor. Since he inherited the power of The Darkness and took over the Franchetti clan, he has terminated a couple of the old man’s closest relatives and he doesn’t make things any easier after he wipes out a houseful of Lucio’s faithful soldiers. In order to make peace, Jackie agrees to take out the Demon Riders as a debt of honor. He figures it will be a lot less trouble than having Lucio as an enemy. A quick trip to southern California, make an example of the bad boy bikers and spend the rest of the weekend taking in the desert scenery. By the time he gets there, Ginsberg has been transformed into Hell on Earth, the town has been quarantined and half the population has been massacred. Clearly these guys are going to be tougher to take down than he imagined.
Nrama: I have to talk to you about the designs on this, Jeff. Can you tell us about your process designing these four demon riders?
Jeff Wamester: Well, I only designed two of the Horsemen ( Death and War ). The other two characters were designed by another artist who was originally tagged for this series. Now, the process? It was really predicated first by time. I like to create a few iterations but in this case there wasn't much time so I had to dig deep and be creative as I could on the first try. We had one revision and that was it. I like the result and to be honest I think I had a bunch of happy accidents too.
Nrama: Now that the Demon Riders are back in the land of the living – what do they want?
Hine: No one is too sure. They are holed up in a bar, drinking beer, and making up for nearly forty years of lost time, indulging their vices with the locals. It seems like they’re waiting for someone or something.
Nrama: The Four Horsemen are straight out of the bible – will anything else be coming, like the Antichrist or other characters from Revelations?
Hine: Jackie isn’t the only one heading for Ginsberg. There’s an angelic-looking girl who wakes up from a coma, talking about miracles and starts walking across the desert without even taking time to change out of her hospital gown. And a mysterious power broker with visions of war and disaster playing in his head, is flying in his private jet to the same destination. It certainly looks like some rough beast is slouching towards Ginsberg to be born.
Nrama: What are your thoughts on the Jackie Estacado character and the unique attributes of the Darkness powers?
Hine: Jackie is a lot of fun. As anti-heroes go, he’s about as ‘anti’ as you can get without tipping over into total “Bad Guy” territory. He has this hardheaded sense of honor and justice but when he chooses his side the gloves really do come off. He’s pretty much like Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name in the Leone westerns, only in place of a couple of sixguns he possesses this unlimited force of destruction. The Darkness itself is a power that is very malleable, very open to interpretation so it’s cool as a creator to have that flexibility. I originally planned to use the Darkness almost as an abstraction – warping into all kinds of nightmarish manifestations. Visually more like the mutations in Akira or the movie Tetsuo: The Iron Man but Jeff was a big fan of the more personalized manifestations from the early Darkness books so we compromised. There are big head-munching wyrms but also those nasty little gnomes with baseball caps and bad attitude.
Nrama: From looking at the first issue, it looks like you’re having a lot of fun drawing this. Are you?
Wamester: A blast... really its a blast. Especially now that I am getting the hang of drawing Jackie and the darklings. It took me a bit of time simply because I was drawing a bit out of my comfort zone. i.e. demons and gore. I am on the third one right now and I finally feel like its really coming together.
Hine: The Darkness gets even more fucked up when it comes into contact with the Horsemen and becomes infected with Death, Famine, War and Pestilence. This is just the kind of book I would have loved to draw myself – you can really let your imagination run riot with this stuff.
Nrama: How did you get signed up to do this project?
Hine: It’s had a long period of gestation. I think it was at least three years ago, when I was writing Spawn that my editor, Brian Haberlin asked me to come up with some ideas for a Spawn / Darkness crossover. We had used the Four Horsemen in Spawn during the Armageddon storyline. Phil Tan drew them as massive, totally inhuman creatures, nothing like the traditional Horsemen. That was a truly apocalyptic vision and worked very well for the epic scope of the Spawn story. But I’ve been playing with the idea of ordinary human beings possessing these doomsday powers, like the golden touch of King Midas in reverse. They’re like a cancer in the heartland of America. Anything they touch is doomed.
In the Spawn monthly book, Armageddon happens, the world is destroyed and rebuilt by Spawn, but we never did answer the question of what happened to the Four Horsemen. My idea was that these four bikers become the unwilling hosts for the essence of the horsemen and one day the full force will be unleashed again. Spawn and Jackie would have formed an uneasy alliance to put the genies back in the bottles.
That project never progressed beyond the original pitch, but I still had the story in mind when I met Rob Levin at Comic-Con a couple of years ago. Rob was an editor at Top Cow and he wanted me to pitch something so I mentioned the Four Horsemen and we both felt it would work equally well as a solo Darkness book. By the time the project was greenlit, Rob had moved on – he’s now my editor on a couple of books at Radical – and our original artist had been snapped up by Marvel so there was a delay until we could find another artist who would fit the bill.
Nrama: And fit the bill he has. Jeff Wamester seemingly burst out of nowhere into comic shelves. What's your appraisal of his work so far?
Hine: Jeff is perfect for this series. We looked at a lot of samples from different artists and a lot of them were very good but just not right for this project. When I saw Jeff’s online portfolio I knew we had finally found what we were looking for. He has a European feel to his art and that’s what we were looking for.
Nrama: What say you about the style you’re doing in The Darkness: Four Horsemen?
Wamester: Ya, I think that ‘European’ is a good description. To be honest it is an amalgamation of almost everything I have seen ( that I have liked that is ). Ranging from fine art to comics and animation. I originally got into art because of comics and animation... then I got as much education as I could... which meant a lot of exposure to fine arts. And hence my work...
Hine: The art is more stylized than most mainstream American comic art, a dynamic that comes from animation art. The line work is very clean, very precise and there’s a fantastic attention to detail without resorting to over-rendering. Jeff really makes every line count, and it’s very mature work for a relative newcomer. The style is perfect for the kind of dark humor I wanted to inject into this story. Some of the horror is really so utterly disgusting it would make you want to throw up if it was drawn straight. Uneasy laughter in the dark is what I was after.What other ultimate bads should Darkness take on?