David Hine: A Glimpse into The DarknessA comics interview article by: David Fairbanks
David Hine is one half of the dynamic duo responsible for the full-frontal assault on comics that is The Bulletproof Coffin. He's had a pretty prolific career in comics spanning multiple decades and written damn near every character under the sun at some point. With The Bulletproof Coffin: Disinterred #1 dropping this Wednesday, we thought we'd catch up with him and see what kind of madness he's got in store for us in 2012.
David Fairbanks: So, you've done your fair share of writing for both Marvel and DC, from their more obscure characters all the way up to some of the most popular superheroes people know. What's it like for you, writing The Bulletproof Coffin versus, say, your run on Detective Comics? Does one come easier than the other?
David Hine: Every book, every script has its own challenges. I'm not sure if "easier" is the word I'd use. The Bulletproof Coffin certainly comes more fluidly, and I have a different mindset when I sit down to write it. There are many constraints that come with writing one of the best-know fictional characters on Earth. There's a weight of existing comic books -- thousands of them -- that have a collective mythology that needs to be respected. There's the fact that Batman is a valuable franchise, so you have to be careful what you do with him. There's a sense of a lot of people are looking over your shoulder when you're writing, not least of which are the fans out there who are ready to tear you apart if you don't fulfill their expectations
Detective Comics was particularly intimidating because I was following an amazing run by Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III. I was happy with the Arkham stories I did, even though the flow was broken by having to wait for the revelations about Black Mask to come out in the Batman title. Having to weave your stories in and out of the continuity of several monthly series written by other people is another hazard of writing a popular character, of course. The "Batman: Imposters" storyline didn't go down too well with a lot of readers, but I think once you appreciate that it was based on a tongue-in-cheek computer shoot-em-up game, it works pretty well. So it was a mix of fun and frustration.
When I'm writing The Bulletproof Coffin I only have to please myself and Shaky Kane. And if Shaky doesn't like what I'm writing, I set Destroyovski on him.
Fairbanks: You may only have to please the two of you, but you certainly seem to have caught the attention of quite a few critics as well.
Hine: Yes, the critical response has been fantastic, and the response of individual readers has been incredibly enthusiastic. I don't want to give the impression we don't care about the readers. Our readers have chosen to spend their money on our book and we want every one of them to be entertained. But it's a big mistake to try to second-guess what our audience wants, or even who makes up our audience. The only way to create is to pursue what you want to do, to please yourself and pursue your own goals and hope there are enough people out there who have the same bizarre interests as we do.
Fairbanks: Volume one dabbled in meta-fiction, walked the line between parody and tribute and somehow managed to have bits of all sorts of comic genres sprinkled throughout. Was there always a plan for a second volume, and can we expect the same level of diversity and strangeness as before?
Hine: We went into this with the assumption that we will carry on doing The Bulletproof Coffin forever. That doesn't necessarily mean an ongoing. It's very time-consuming, particularly for Shaky, and we couldn't possibly do a monthly comic. I like the idea of "seasons," rather like TV shows. That gives Shaky the chance to do some other things in between. He has already drawn an issue of Elephantmen and will be doing another once Disinterred is finished.
I don't think we'll ever run out of ideas for The Coffin; it's such a broad concept. This new series will certainly be as diverse as the first, perhaps more so. We don't want to be constrained by the idea of a comic book publisher called Golden Nugget who put out all these weird superhero, mystery and science fiction comics. Certainly that's still the core of the series, but some of the issues go wildly off that track. We want to surprise our existing readers, whatever their expectations may be. I did plan to do something totally different for the first issue. It was written and drawn, then I guess I panicked a little. When we put out the first series, we didn't even know if we had an audience, so we followed our noses. This time around, I know we have a fan base out there, so I figured we should maybe play it a bit safer and start out with the story that most closely followed the concept from the original series. So our story of the psychotic clown and the overweight housebreaker who is searching for her missing daughter has now been put all the way back to issue six. I think it's the strongest story of the series, so I know we'll be going out on a high note.
Issue one now features the origin of the Shield of Justice, a character from the first series. Issue two is "Tales from the Haunted Jazz Club," where a beatnik version of Red Wraith hosts a night of storytelling. The theme for the stories is love and mutilation. A couple of these are adapted from horror stories I've had bubbling under for a while. One of them is adapted from a true case as told by Dr Frederick Treves, the man who discovered the Elephant Man. Issue three is based on a crazy plot of Shaky's, where the Red Menace, first seen in issue one, steals the USA's most treasured monuments and transforms them into a giant robot, which will lead an attack on the country by the Kommie Kill Kadre. That issue is very much in the vein of the old Simon and Kirby stories but with a meta-fictional element thrown in, of course. These are all standalone stories but there are aspects of each story that seem to cross over, and, once the series is finished, you'll see there was a lot more going on than is apparent on first reading.
Fairbanks: It sounds like we're in for a pretty exciting ride, and I'm glad to hear that you two are in it for the long haul. Now, I have a confession that I never thought I'd be making: I'm interested in reading The Darkness now, and it's all your fault.
Is there anything a new reader is going to need to know for when you take over the character, or will it mostly be a new, clean slate?
Hine: There have been some seismic changes happening in the Top Cow Universe, hence the "Rebirth" tag on the new books. The epic story in Ron Marz's Artifacts series came to a stunning conclusion in issue 13 that really did change everything across the Top Cow Universe. It was a rollercoaster ride and a great read for the existing fans, and everything coming out from Top Cow over the past couple of years is worth picking up to follow that story. However, for new readers, the new start is a perfect place to jump on, whether you want to read The Darkness, Witchblade, Artifacts or Magdalena. Tim Seeley and Diego Bernard are the new team on Witchblade and Jeremy Haun is partnering me on The Darkness. We're all on board for the long haul, and the guys at Top Cow have given us a lot of leeway to put our own stamp on these books.
We're making sure that the new books are open to new readers and issue 101 will have background material to fill newbies in on the basics of The Darkness.
Basically, all you need to know is that Jackie Estacado was a mafia hitman who, on his 21st birthday, inherited the power of The Darkness, a primal force of Chaos and Creation that has been around since the universe was first formed and manifests in pretty much whatever form Jackie wants -- including deadly morphing tentacles and evil man-eating goblins known as Darklings. Jackie was always a bastard, but when he lost his one true love, a girl called Jenny Romano, he went over the edge and became one of the very darkest of anti-heroes. The Artifacts storyline told how the universe that we know is not the first version. Whenever the 13 Artifacts come together, the Universe is destroyed and re-made. Jackie was able to manipulate that event, through the child Hope, the offspring of himself and Sarah Pezzini, who is the wielder of the Witchblade. He reconstructed the universe, changing the course of events to halt that devastating union of the Artifacts. What only Jackie knows is that he gave in to the temptation to change one other event in the past -- Jenny Romano never died. They had a child together and that child is Hope.
Now, Jackie is trying to balance family life and his role as leader of the Franchetti mob. Jenny wants him to swear off violence and cut himself off from The Darkness, but with a major mob war about to break out in New York, Jackie knows that if he walks away there will be a blood bath. I don't want to give away too much of the plot because, in the course of the first arc, there are several major twists that I'm confident will knock readers back on their collective ass. Suffice it to say, that messing with the structure of the universe will have its consequences. With issue 101, we'll see the cracks starting to show in Jackie's perfect world.
As far as the style of the book goes, we'll see less of the armor/costume and more horror, both psychological and physical. Jeremy Haun is the perfect artist to depict the supernatural elements, and he's also brilliant at the character moments. I've always believed that to draw comics well, you have to be an actor, and Jeremy can do that -- get inside the heads of the characters to experience what they are feeling and then project that onto the page. He'll also get plenty of opportunity to draw serious violence, of course. When the Darkness is unleashed, it will be as brutal as ever, but I'm betting that the scenes that really keep people awake at night will be the subtler horrors, the terrible things that happen to Jackie's family.
Fairbanks: So Jackie is one of -- or perhaps the only person -- who knows that he fixed the universe? That alone seems rife with possibilities for internal conflicts, but when you juxtapose it with the world around him falling apart due to his decisions and throwing Haun on art with a horror atmosphere, this feels like the recipe for a pretty solid book.
Hine: Jackie has always had this excuse for being a shit. He has had The Darkness in his DNA since the moment of his conception, even though it didn't manifest until he was 21. I'm interested in stripping away all surface detail to examine the real Estacado, to see how he shapes up when he has a family to care for, when he has to face up to the consequences of his actions. And the truth is that I actually don't know what I'm going to find. I have no preconceptions. The journey into Jackie's soul is going to be as fascinating for me as I hope it will be for the readers.
Fairbanks: Should we expect the Darkness to simply be a tool that Jackie can control, or is there something more sinister there? Are you building a new rogues' gallery for him or can we expect to see familiar faces? And I assume a crossover/appearance by Sarah Pezzini is only a matter of time?
Hine: The answer to the first question comes in that first issue (#101), and I can't answer it now in too much detail except to say that the new role of the Darkness is indeed very sinister. There is a new rogues' gallery. Lots of new characters, including his right-hand men and women -- a kind of mob executive council made up of Athena, Paris, Wilson and Dean, who have a real mix of abilities and personalities ranging from martial arts assassin to a guy who could talk Santa into slaughtering Rudolph for Christmas dinner. We also have Carlos Toledo, the ultimate bent cop, and a whole slew of Eastern European gangsters.
The first major villain is going to creep up on you. He's a slow burner. The real threats, the real evil, will come from unexpected places. I like the challenge of introducing real twists that you won't see coming but that, when they happen, appear absolutely logical and inevitable. So, there will be lots of new characters, one or two familiar ones and, yes, somewhere down the line Sarah Pezzini will make an appearance, though we are going to avoid any actual crossovers until we are all settled into our respective books and comfortable with the storylines we're establishing. When the stories do come together, it will be smooth and natural. We have regular conference calls between editorial and writers so we're all tight on what our plans are for the books. The Top Cow Universe is small enough to be able to do that.
Fairbanks: Aside from an almost three year run on Spawn and your upcoming run on The Darkness, most of your work with licensed characters has been short, either a handful of issues or a one-shot. Do you generally prefer to work on that smaller scale, and are there any characters you'd like to be able to dive into for a longer run?
Hine: I do like to do short runs, like the Daredevil miniseries (Daredevil: Redemption), the four issues of The Brave and the Bold I did with Dougie Braithwaite and the Arkham stories. I would have liked to continue with District X. That was a book where I had a lot of freedom. Apart from Bishop, all the characters were my own creations, and we resisted guest appearances and crossovers, except for the final five-issue "Mutopia X," which crossed with the House of M event. At that point, our sales were dropping below 20,000 and we were faced with cancellation, so that crossover allowed me to have those extra five issues to wind up the major storylines. All told, we had a 19-issue run with District X, which wasn't bad for a left field book.
There have been a few books where my run was simply cut short because of the sales. That's what happened on both Azrael and The Spirit.
I was disappointed that we couldn't continue with The Spirit because Moritat and I were really getting into those stories, and the reader response was fantastic. Unfortunately, in comics, when a book has a downward sales momentum, it can be incredibly difficult to turn that around. Having said that, I think we added some good stories to the tradition of The Spirit and it was a genuine honor to have worked on my all-time favorite comic book character. To get back to your question, I do like to jump in and do a short run on cool characters at times, but it's challenging and rewarding to be entrusted with a book for a long run where I can really develop complex storylines and get into a character, knowing that what I'm doing won't be messed with and retconned within a few months. The Darkness is a book I'll be on for the long haul, so I feel like I can really get in there and do something substantial with the characters.
Fairbanks: I know the whole New 52 has shaken things up a bit at DC, and I don't believe they've established anything regarding Azrael yet. Is that a character you had more planned for and would want to revisit? Also, I was surprised by some of the more controversial bits during your time on Azrael. Did you catch much flak for the tone of the book?
Hine: I did have some long term plans for Azrael, but it was clear that the DC readership as a whole was never going to clasp the Michael Lane version to its bosom. Again, this was a series I took over when sales were sliding already. The first arc with Guillem March on art is one that I was very pleased with, and, again, readers responded really well, but the sales continued on the downward path. I'm not sure that anything could have saved the book except maybe throwing A-list creators at it.
We did get away with some controversial material there. I was a little surprised that our depiction of the Pope as a demon was approved, but there wasn't a huge backlash. I think there was one Catholic web site that expressed some dismay, but no death threats. I do have strong feelings about organized religion and -- contrary to what some right-wing web sites have implied -- that goes for the whole spectrum of religion, including Islam. I am an atheist by instinct and by reason, and I believe wholeheartedly that the Abrahamic religions are a hugely negative force in human society right now, particularly the more fundamentalist elements. Azrael was a book where I was able to express a little of that. Interestingly, I got a lot of good feedback from Christians who took the whole thing in a very good-natured fashion. I don't think we'll be seeing much of Michael Lane in the future, not because of the religious elements, but because he simply isn't that popular as a character.
Fairbanks: Is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers?
Hine: There are lots of other projects I have coming up. One is a graphic novel with Mark Stafford, which will be announced very shortly. That will be out in early 2013. I've been working on another project for Image for the last six months which I hope to be talking about soon as well as a couple of horror books for another publisher. I've had a six-month dry spell as far as books on shelves, but I have been very busy in that time and there are lots of new things coming this year. For now though, I hope everyone will rush out and buy The Bulletproof Coffin: Disinterred on Wednesday. Then in March, The Darkness #101, and also Elephantmen #41 from Image, which I have written and drawn.
Also, if readers want to catch up on what I'm up to as well as see a lot of cool stuff about comics in general, I have a daily blog at http://www.waitingfortrade.com/.