Shadowhawk reviews the first collected volume of the ongoing The Darkness series, set after the universe-changing events of the Artifacts crossover. This graphic novel collects issues #101-105.
“Wonderfully dark and brutal, this graphic novel is pure horror awesomeness.” ~The Founding Fields
Note: Review contains major spoilers for Ron Marz’s ongoing Artifacts series.
My only familiarity with Jackie Estacado and The Darkness comes from Ron Marz’s ongoing Artifacts series, which is Top Cow’s big crossover event for their various titles, akin to Marvel’s Civil War or DC’s various Crisis storylines. For me, Marz gave Jackie an excellent outing, from the 20 issues I’ve read of the series, and it got me interested in learning more about him and the artifact that he bears, The Darkness. This interest prompted me to pick up a copy of the latest The Darkness graphic novel, written by David Hine, when it became available on NetGalley.
Let me start of by saying that Jackie is no hero. And he’s no villain either. He’s much more of an anti-hero than anything else. To start off with, Jackie runs the largest mafia-esque gangs in New York, he’s at the top of the food chain, and to mess with him means that whoever ticked him off is going to be pushing daisies very soon, if there is enough of such a person left once Jackie is done with him/her/them. His dominance in the New York criminal underworld comes from his possession of The Darkness, an artifact dating from the creation of the universe, and one of the two fundamental powers therein, alongside The Angelus. The artifact grants him supernatural abilities, and allows him to call on the darklings, a species of demons from a really, really messed up dimension.
Now, when I last read of Jackie, he and his former lover Sara Pezzini (who bears the Witchblade, one of the other ancient artifacts, and the “child” of The Darkness and The Angelus) restructure all of reality following a struggle against a mad man who had their daughter, Hope, kidnapped. The reason, it turned out, was pretty simple: Hope is the key to the matrix of the current reality and she can be used as a conduit to restructure reality according to the whim of whoever “controls” Hope. Jackie and Sara turned the tables on this guy and when all was dusted and done, Jackie somehow came up on top, for the world that was created was inherently beneficial to him. His dead wife Jenny is now alive and Hope is their daughter now, with Sara no longer in the picture. And that’s where all the trouble starts.
In David Hine’s run, things are not going so well for Jackie. His relationship with Jenny is strained to the limit, to the extent that she ends up throwing him out of their bedroom when he comes back home having killed a bunch of Bulgarian mobsters who tried to ambush him in his own office. Jenny doesn’t care much for his criminal activities but she draws a line with him using The Darkness to handle his affairs. This finally pushes Jackie to search for a solution and he asks Aram the Witch King to help him exorcise himself (Aram being the only wielder of The Darkness who managed to separate himself from it). But things actually get worse: The Darkness has been a part of him for a long time and Aram’s exorcism creates a doppelganger of Jackie, a pure The Darkness-controlled and created doppelganger.
I enjoyed Hine’s Jackie much more than I did Marz’s for a simple reason: Hine is dealing with Jackie and The Darkness in a dedicated book where he really has room to explore their characters, personalities and their abilities. Hine doesn’t give Jackie a simplistic sympathetic portrayal, but he definitely gets into his mind, and explores him on a very deeply psychological level. Even with The Darkness no longer a part of him, there is still a very dark part of his soul that exists nonetheless. Hine plays The Darkness and this dark nature of Jackie’s against each other and he defines the graphic novel from that perspective. The sub-plot, involving the leader of the Bulgarian mobsters moving in on Jackie’s territory is written brilliantly, but the psychological aspect of Jackie’s various relationships is much more compelling.
The graphic novel has an extensive focus on Jackie, and while there are a host of compelling (and even sympathetic) characters here, such as Jenny and Hope and Jackie’s various associates, it really is Jackie who defines all of them. We look at all of them through his eyes. His slightest decisions have greater consequences on all of them. The fact of the matter is that with Jackie running the show, Rebirth Volume 1 is a very character-driven graphic novel with a plot that is just as engaging. Hine’s characterisation of Jackie and the others is the real gem here.
This is not a graphic novel for kids. There is some very blood-and-guts violence in here, everything from mindless butchery of human bodies (courtesy of The Darkness, thank you very much) to the age-old street-side brawl that gets out of control, and much more. There is also some sex, although I don’t consider any of it to be gratuitous. These scenes have a purpose in the big narrative, and that purpose is to show how much Jackie is losing control of his life, and how much The Darkness is taking over everything. When the new reality was created (or the current reality changed, whichever you prefer), Jackie thought he would have a perfect life. Hine shows how that was nothing more than a fantasy of Jackie’s. Rebirth Volume 1 charts how everything around Jackie is going to hell.
The corruption of The Darkness is also shown to be all pervasive. It is an insidious power with a consciousness of its own, something that is greatly magnified when Aram inadvertently creates a Jackie doppelganger. It infects Jenny, it infects Hope, and it even infects their pregnant cat, who ends up giving birth to half-demon kittens. Two words come to mind when reading the graphic novel: “horrific brilliance”. That’s really how I would describe what David Hine has done here. He plays up this angle of The Darkness really well. Some of the panels reminded me of how grossed out I was when watching the original The Exorcist. If you’ve seen that deeply disturbing movie, then you know what I’m talking about. The movie was brilliant because of how well it presented the horror of demonic possession and the exorcism. David Hine recreates that same magic, but he takes it a bit further by presenting such possession as a “split event affecting several people directly.”
To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never read a darker comic book. Or a novel for that matter. In that respect,The Darkness: Rebirth Volume 1 is unparalleled. That is also a huge reason why I loved this graphic novel so much. David Hine has made me a fan, not just of his own writing style and his work, but also of Jackie Estacado and The Darkness.
The art for this entire collection is truly stellar. Jeremy Haun has provided all the pencils, with backup by John Rauch who has handled all the colours, and Troy Peteri who did all the lettering. Haun’s pencils, combined with Rauch’s colours, are a style that I’m not quite used to. There are often several areas of “shadow” in panels, particularly in character expressions. Thinking about it though, a lot of those particular panels are the ones where it appears that Hine is covering up his characters’ motivations. Some of the twists and turns certainly bear out the observation. Regardless, the artwork is very detailed, and very pleasing to look at it, even when its just a basement full of darklings and the Jackie doppelganger, all swathed in shadows. The artwork, in its entirety, gets a big thumb-up from me. Not to mention the cover arts that break up the various installments. Fantastic works, with their own brand of whimsy to them, continuing on the theme of how Jackie’s family is breaking down around him.
I highly recommend this graphic novel. Despite all the horror and psychological aspects, that are somewhat disturbing if you think about it and (with all due respect) have frail sensibilities, this graphic novel was a reading experience that I truly enjoyed. It makes my Top Cow comics experience 5/5 (I’ve read all four of the Artifacts volumes released so far), and that’s awesome, as far as I’m concerned.
And now I will definitely be following The Darkness, and will check out how things have turned out for (the new) Sara Pezzini in Witchblade: Rebirth.