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If you've seen our review of the demo of The Darkness II then you probably expected this dark humor highlight. That's right, we're reviewing Top Cow's flagship comic book franchise, The Darkness. If you've never heard of The Darkness, this is one of the most gruesome comic book series in existence, but at the same time it's a humorous comic which relies heavily on dark humor to ease the tension of the dark storyline. Featuring an antihero who can create, among other things, armies of little gremlin-like demons from the very darkness around him and works as a hitman for a crime boss called Frankie "Kill the children, too!" Franchetti, it is a fine example of how to do dark humor right in the graphic novel genre. The Darkness is our number one favorite comic book franchise for a reason.
Created by Marc Silvestri, Garth Ennis, and David Wohl, the story of The Darkness follows a young man called Jackie Estacado. Orphaned at a young age, Jackie was adopted by a mobster called Frankie Franchetti and raised to become a loyal member of the "family". At the age of twenty he was the number one hitman of the Franchetti crime family, and pretty much Frankie's right hand man. Then on the night of his twenty-first birthday his life changed when his birthright, the ancient power of the Darkness manifested in him and basically turned him into a superhero. Well, superantihero is probably more accurate here.
As for what the Darkness is, it's easiest to explain by quoting Sonatine, the leader of the Brotherhood of the Darkness who said the following: "the Darkness is the Force on Crack". That sums it up pretty well (and if you don't know what he means by the Force, you're probably too young for this website), as the Darkness is one fucked up power and it pretty much gives its wielder the ability to do whatever he wants as long as he can control the Darkness well enough. For starters it allows Jackie to cover himself in a badass looking armor that protects him from damage and grow sharp claws and tentacles, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. Jackie quite quickly learns that he can create living creatures from the Darkness in the form of little demons called Darklings that are basically an homage to the Gremlins (except it doesn't matter when you feed these little guys). Late in the series he also learns how to create a gun out of the Darkness. Essentially Jackie is only limited by his imagination and the ability of his mind to pay attention to details (at one point he tries to create a human woman from the Darkness with disastrous results).
Overall it sounds like a cool power to possess, doesn't it? Well, there are some downsides to it. From a practical point of view, the Darkness is only useful in the dark. In broad daylight it doesn't function at all. To make matters worse, several people are trying to kill the wielder of the Darkness just because he possesses this power, such as the so-called Angelus and even the aforementioned Sonatine who, in principle, should be on Jackie's side. Yet the biggest problem for Jackie Estacado is that in order for him to stay alive, he must not have sex with women because the very moment he impregnates a woman the power of the Darkness will be transferred into the fetus at the moment of conception and the original host of the Darkness will die on the spot, just like Jackie's father did when Jackie was conceived in his mother's womb. Up until his twenty-first birthday Jackie was a ladies' man, sleeping with a different girl every night. In other words, for him this particular property of the Darkness power is pretty much a catastrophe. For the reader however, it is good news because Jackie's enforced celibacy is a constant source of humor throughout the series.
Speaking of humor, the series is profoundly entertaining from the first issue. While we get plenty of hilarious scenes related to either the Darklings or Jackie's celibacy, much of the humor comes in the form of the over the top violence perpetrated by our "hero". Even the opening kill of the series - which takes place before the Darkness manifests in Jackie - is over the top and hilarious, but then at the end of the first issue he kills a guy on the toilet with tendrils of the Darkness which enter the restroom through the sewers below while Jackie is standing outside the house and not even doing anything other than controlling the tendrils with his mind. This kind of dark humor and over the top gruesome violence is the core essence of the series and certainly keeps the comic very entertaining.
That is not to say that we don't have our fair share of drama in The Darkness. Jackie's life is pretty much being torn apart by the Darkness as time passes by. In particular, his childhood friend Jenny, who has a crush on him, functions as the only bright spot in his life but she gets further and further away from him as the series progresses, and you can tell that there's not likely to be a happy ending. We will not spoil the ending of the first volume, but we will say this: it goes out with a kind of bang that you would not expect, especially not after how much the series focused on its dark humorous aspects most of the time.
While the comic is centered around Jackie we get to see a large number of colorful characters such as his foster Uncle Frankie, the sadistic crime boss who Jackie works for during much of the first volume, or the enigmatic Sonatine, the leader of the Brotherhood of the Darkness, a cult dedicated to preserving the power of the Darkness throughout the ages. Sonatine initially acts as a mentor to Jackie, but once Sonatine realizes that Jackie is not willing to follow his plans, he proceeds to try and take the Darkness away from Jackie, basically becoming one of Jackie's primary antagonists. Then there's the Angelus, an aptly named creature whose power is the very opposite of the Darkness and as such she seeks to destroy Jackie at every turn. There are other antagonists that show up from time to time, but let's talk about some other support characters, such as Wenders. He's a surprisingly memorable figure, basically the eternal loser who starts out in Sonatine's service but ends up on Jackie's side by the middle of the first volume. Then let's not forget Butcher Joyce, the man who is often tasked with getting rid of the mess Jackie leaves behind, and will dissolve the winged angel-esque warriors of the Angelus in acid for Jackie, no questions asked. So even the support cast is quite memorable in the series. We should also mention that The Darkness often does crossovers with Top Cow's other flagship series, the Witchblade, so Sara Pezzini shows up among the pages of The Darkness from time to time.
Since this is a comic book series, we should talk about the graphics. The artwork throughout the series is simply amazing. The drawings are a true pleasure to look at, and this goes especially for the covers. The cover arts more often than not depict Jackie in his Darkness armor in some kind of badass pose, often accompanied by Darklings. Truly desktop wallpaper material, every last one of them.
The series spawned a video game adaptation in 2007 which sadly never saw a PC release. However, the sequel, The Darkness II will in fact see a PC release at the same time as the console releases in mid February 2012, as mentioned in our review of the demo version. There have been talks of a movie based on The Darkness though it remains to be seen whether it will actually happen. If there will be a movie, we will want to see it for sure.
In summary, The Darkness is an outstanding comic book series with a rather original story, interesting characters, a unique antihero, excellent dark humor, gruesome over the top violence, and wonderful graphics. A must read for all comic book fans and dark humor fans out there.
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