Until this weekend I'd never once read a page of Top Cow Comics "The Darkness" series. I've still never read a word of "Witchblade." I suppose it's a little unusual that I never looked at either book, only because Marc Silvestri was always my favorite of the Image founders so you'd think I might have looked at his studio's most popular books at one point or another.
Maybe it was the books' reputations for emphasizing titillation over story (which may or may not be justified, again, I've never read any of it) or maybe it was just that the art, while always dynamic always seemed somewhat impenetrable to me. It was almost too much of a good thing -- too detailed, too sexy, too posed. Too much style that I didn't expect there to be much substance.
There were also content issues: "Witchblade" is about a cop and cop stories don't really interest me; "The Darkness" was about a mobster and mob stories interest me even less. There were supernatural elements to both but not enough to really draw me in. Until recently I pretty much expected to go through my life never reading Top Cow books.
Well, a year or so ago my friend Jeremy Haun signed an exclusive deal with Top Cow and was announced as the artist for "The Darkness" as part of a wide-line reboot. Jeremy and I love the same horror movies (namely the bad ones) and he's an awesome artist so I try to pick up as much of his stuff at possible. But I still didn't initially bite on "The Darkness."
A month or so ago the first five issues of Jeremy's run were collected in a TPB -- a ten dollar trade, I might add. That's cheap. Thumbing through the book the art was AMAZING -- and I'm not saying that because I'm friends with the artist, this is top drawer stuff even if I'd never met the guy before.
So last week I went into my local comic shop and didn't find a lot that caught my eye, but I saw that "Darkness" trade and the next issue so I could get the whole story. And this time I picked it up.
And I gotta tell you -- it's STELLAR. I mean, this is the best stuff I've read off the new racks in a couple years.
I don't think I've read anything David Hine has written previously. If I have I don't remember it but he's writing a very fast, but very heavy story here. The basic gist is he manages to separate the protagonist Jackie Estacado from 'the darkness,' the evil force that's a part of him and gives him powers from the dark side. Oh, but Estacado also got all his dreams to come true, namely for the love of his life (who was apparently dead) to be back to life, and for them to be married and have a family.
Meanwhile, there's a new foreign crime lord in town and a mob turf war is breaking out. Estacado can stay home and run his business during the day and, at night, unleash his doppleganger, The Darkness, his dark side, to get his hands dirty. And, believe me, The Darkness gets his hands seriously dirty. This is a HORROR comic, at its heart.
But what makes the book stick out, to me, are the subplots. They're perfect subplots because they pick at the main story, compromising the main character's actions and intentions. All the good cliffhangers are coming from underneath the main story, namely how The Doppleganger is affecting Estacado's life from the outside, instead of from the inside, which I gather was how it worked before this story arc, before they were split into two beings.
Comics live on great cliffhangers and I can tell you -- and I don't want to spoil anything -- but several issues already have had some of the most F**D up cliffhangers I've read in a long time. And I mean that in a great way -- like the creators are saying 'how can we mess with our protagonist's head in the most disturbing ways imaginable.' In a story that seems to be built on giving him everything he wanted the 'be careful what you wish for' adage is being blown back in his face.
Oh, but the book is NOT for the faint of heart. It's definitely R-rated, with violence, sex and other things some people might object to. But it all feeds the story, instead of being for shock value. Well, not for gratuitous shock value anyway.
And the art is off the chains. Haun can draw some crazy monsters from his main character's imagination that are flecked with everything from Lovecract to Clive Barker but he can also draw a sweet little kid having a bedtime story read to her by her dad. And those are sometimes on the same pages. He can also draw some beautiful women and tough-as-nails mobsters, but they're still CHARACTERS. Their expressions matter, they're nuanced and relevant.
I haven't recommended a comic in a long time, most of what I read is fine but doesn't make me jump up and down and scream 'READ THIS.' "The Darkness" makes me jump up and down and scream "READ THIS."
So, read it already.