REVIEW: The Darkness #1: Appreciating Jackie Estacado 25 Years Later

Jackie Estacado lounging on a thrown with scantily clad women on either side of him

Twenty-five years after his introduction in The Darkness #1, Jackie Estacado has learned a thing or two about being a good guy, but it’s taken a while to get there.

The Darkness #1 25th Anniversary Commemorative Edition

Batt (inker), Garth Ennis (writer), Steve Firchow (colourist), Dennis Heisler (letterer), Marc Silvestri (artist)
Top Cow Publishing
November 18, 2020

Disclaimer: This issue features an introduction by Claire Napier, who is a writer and former EiC at WWAC.

The Darkness #1 25th Anniversary Edition, cover by Marc Silvestri (Top Cow, November 2020)

There are many reasons why I quickly dismissed The Darkness when it was first released 25 years ago. As much as I loved Marc Silvestri’s artwork from Uncanny X-Men, following him to Cyberforce, The Darkness did not appeal to me at all. Probably because the main character, Jackie Estacado, wasn’t exactly written for me, though editor David Wohl believes otherwise. “At Top Cow, we always had a philosophy that when you create heroes, they need to be someone who our readers wished they could be, or be with,” Wohl explains in an interview included in the back of this commemorative issue.

We also learn from Wohl that the transformation of Jackie from Silvestri’s initial edgy loner concepts into a heartless playboy was writer Garth Ennis’ influence. What we end up with is a ruthless and remorseless hitman who readily takes advantage of women for the sake of satiating his sexual desires, tossing them aside, names forgotten, when he is done with them. As much as I understood that the introduction of the Darkness power would allow him to grow and learn, I was not interested in seeing how long that journey would take, despite Jackie’s connection to Witchblade, a title that I was a devoted disciple of at the time.

That doesn’t mean I wrote Jackie off completely. Years later, it was the better parts of his developing character — in particular, his connection to his friend Jenny — that easily convinced me to play the second video game after learning about a beautiful scene in the first. In the first issue of The Darkness comic, we meet Jenny as a bartender who clearly has a relationship with Jackie that is far deeper than his one night stands. Their momentarily interlude in the first issue serves to humanize Jackie just a bit when contrasted against everything else he does. In the games, their relationship is much closer: Jenny is Jackie’s girlfriend whose fridging serves as motivation for all of his subsequent actions and helps him maintain tenuous control over his abilities. There is no playboy Jackie in the game. Instead, players are actually rewarded for being a gentleman, with scenes where Jackie can cuddle on the couch with Jenny and watch the entirety of To Kill A Mockingbird, or dance with her to the couple’s favourite song. Given the character’s origins and how women are usually portrayed in both types of media, The Darkness and The Darkness 2 were pleasantly surprising gaming experiences.

Nice moments aside, the games also kept true to the intense violence of the Darkness’ power and the crassness of the accompanying Darklings, rewarding players for the depraved executions.

My experience with the games and inklings of how much the character has indeed grown and learned over the years allows me to approach The Darkness #1 25th Anniversary Commemorative issue from a different place than when I was younger.

This first issue opens with Jackie performing his professional duties with flare. Stalking a target in an underground garage, he proceeds to ram the victim, pinning him between the wall and Jackie’s expensive sports car. The act is brutal, but Jackie isn’t done. Several bullets, point blank, send the necessary message. Silvestri goes in hard on the brutality and violence throughout the issue, with amputations and blood spatter galore. Unfortunately, the earlier message sent by Jackie’s parking lot brutality sparks a full-on mafia war. That’s not unexpected, and Jackie has the street smarts to deal with attacks from every angle — except when they come from The Angelus.

The violence depicted in the comic certainly would earn it an R-rating in a movie theatre, but the sexual content carefully treads a PG-13 line. The risque scenes of make-out sessions and clothing being discarded, as well as silhouetted scenes implying more, are ultimately overshadowed by the machinations of a cult of some sort who has plans for Jackie. As does the aforementioned Angelus. This night happens to be an auspicious one, what with Jackie turning 21 and, unbeknownst to him, inheriting the power of the Darkness, as is passed down from father to son.

As the role of the Darkness and its sworn enemy, the Angelus, come into play, the panels start to get a little muddy in terms of action and placement of dialogue, especially when the Darkness itself begins to speak, depicted by letterer Dennis Heisler in an eerily supernatural blue stylized text and word balloons. The last few pages of the confrontation between the three major forces vying for Jackie’s life could have used some better editing to combat the jumble of words and seemingly incomplete or confusingly attributed sentences amidst the chaos of the imagery. The final scenes are, presumably, intentionally chaotic, visually, but the words still should serve as a helpful guide to the action, rather than a hindrance that halts it.

When Jackie finally lets the Darkness in, we get to see Jackie at his finest. Silvestri revels in these moments, making it clear that he deserves the praise we have bestowed upon him for his himbo and hunk skills. The back material includes various artist renditions of the character, and you can see why a plethora of artists have enjoyed drawing him over the years.

This first issue moves quickly, spelling out exactly what we should expect from the character and his demonic powers and making it easy for a reader to decide whether or not to accept the invitation to join him on his journey. I am still quite confident that I have no interest in his earlier days of Jackie coming into his power while still being a pretty big asshole. He remains a character that I do not want to be, much less be with, but I am more likely to give him a chance to share his side of the story now that I have gotten to know him a little better.

Wendy Browne

Wendy Browne

Publisher, mother, geek, executive assistant sith, gamer, writer, lazy succubus, blogger, bibliophile. Not necessarily in that order.