The Darkness: From page to polygon

James Haresign February 3, 2012 - 2:00 pm

Feature: With THE DARKNESS II about to hit our streets, we look at its origins from the comic book world, how it differs and what might be further down the road for its videogame equivalent.

The Darkness II is just around the corner. It’s the sequel to a game that arrived very early on in the current generation of consoles – a game that faired well, but that was in the days before Call of Duty became a juggernaut powering through the competition. What makes a demonic entity and its host, Jackie Estacado, stand out?

A lot of the gaming world seems to forget that The Darkness started life in comics, one half of an ancient war between dark and light. Unlike the brooding Dark Knight or your Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man, the public at large didn’t realise that Jackie’s story started in the four-colour world before he got to join a 3D computer-generated one.

Not that it should surprise anyone – everybody and their cousin from a distant world is looking to comics for their next big hit. Half of Hollywood’s output these days seems to have its origin in the funny books. The videogame industry has had less success moving franchises across, but The Darkness is one of the few that has worked, and it worked well.

Like all the best adaptions, it doesn’t just convert what is there already, but distills it to the core concepts and runs. Jackie getting messed over by the mob and Jenny being killed for his misdeeds took 40 issues; the first game doesn’t really kick off until that moment. Likewise, the Brotherhood who seem to be the root of Jackie’s problems in the sequel were one of the early entries to the comics’ world.

Remember this?

Part of the success is likely down to Paul Jenkins. Jenkins had a short run on the comic, but it was a run that redefined the world of Jackie Estacado. It was he that killed Jenny, threw a lot harsher light on the mob, had Estacado blow himself and half the mob up, hade the Darkness not allow Jackie to check out so early and eventually put him under the manic reins of the new Don, Cousin Paulie.

If that all seems a little familiar to those that have played the original Darkness, it should come as no surprise that Jenkins co-wrote the first game, and is the writer on the sequel too.

While the first game concentrated on the mob, the sequel starts with a look into the more supernatural side of the equation. We may have seen Hell already, but that’s just touching the surface of what the Darkness offers. This isn’t really a surprise, as The Darkness puts him far and above the worries of your typical gangster – a very good reason why Jackie rose to the top in both the comic and game worlds.

COMIC SANS

CG Jackie’s Darkness isn’t quite as capable as the paper variant. In the comics, it can pretty much create what it wants. Here are some things we’ve seen:

Armour | Infinite ammo light machine guns | Grenades | Wings | Hundreds of Darklings | Duplicates of Jackie | Women | A new drug | A huge underground fortress

But the games have done a good job so far of keeping his powers from going too far over-the-top. Computer Darkness is a wimp compared to the one on paper. The two-year jump while Jackie’s been burying the Darkness has allowed Digital Extremes to forgo the scenes in the comic in which, whenever he enters a crowded warehouse, everybody else dies.

Not that it’s all one way, either. Originally the Darkness was only vulnerable to natural and holy light. The game made light bulbs just as dangerous, though potentially temporary, in the name of balancing. The comics soon followed in an attempt at making it a little harder for Jackie to steam roller his enemies.

But what of the Brotherhood?

If the first game dealt with the Jackie, the mob and Jenny, what’s left? The themes from the first game are actually from a lot later in the comic. The Brotherhood, on the other hand, appear from the very first one. Never an altruistic force for good, The Brotherhood of the Darkness have always sought to control the Darkness, rather than adopting the noble purpose of eliminating it before being corrupted over time like the game counterpart.

The Brotherhood itself was never that huge a force, all pointy hoods and pentagrams. They never seemed to have the firepower that the game’s iteration specialises in. The majority of its membership just stood about in the background and acted all culty. Only two members ever got significant panel time, and one of those was a comedy fall guy who had his genitals destroyed and continued to have punishments heaped on him forever more. The other was the focus for the comic’s Brotherhood, its head honcho, Sonatine.

Sonatine was the person who explained to Jackie just what his 21st birthday present was, and what is was capable of. Jackie was interested, though, and for years Sonatine was the Lex Luther to the Darkness’ Superman. Behind every other villain out to get the Darkness was Sonatine manipulating events to suit his desire, even going as far as trying to manipulate the flip side of the coin, the Angelus.

Here’s one bad guy I’m surprised we haven’t seen, and yet totally understand why at the same time. It’s Light vs Dark, Heaven vs Hell, and just to really drive the point home, Woman vs Man. The Angelus is the antithesis of The Darkness. A woman who can create angelic like beings to help her in combat and doesn’t suffer from the rather unfortunate drawback of only operating half the time. However, the Angelus is a bit old school testament, cares not for any collateral damage she causes as she fights her arch-enemy. In one possible future she even goes as far as destroying the planet just to beat The Darkness. It didn’t work either.

The likelihood of the games ever seeing Angelus is small. It’s too far removed from the grimy streets mobsters inhabit the series has embraced. At most, it could be a balls-out end-of-game affair, like Half-Life’s Xen. Sonatine, on the other hand, could be a major player in a further sequel.

Firstly Starbreeze, and now Digital Extremes, have done a fantastic job of taking a character that features some bizarre concepts and bringing it all down to a level that works for our pixellated medium. There are some things that are best left between the comic’s covers, but there is plenty that the comics still have to offer us.

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