Jen: The Darkness: Coming of Age was originally published in 1996 as a kind of prequel for the series The Darkness (which we haven’t read, so we’re not certain how representative this volume is). It seems to me that the intended audience for this book must be fans of The Darkness; the whole thing is very tongue-in-cheek.
Alison: See, immediately you’ve put your finger on the essence of my problem with The Darkness. Because rather than a “ho ho, how ironic” chuckle, what I really got from this was a half-hearted teenage boy’s giggle over a story that takes itself way too seriously.
Jen: See, you think it takes itself seriously. I think Ennis is knowingly deploying bad comics clichés… at least, I hope that’s what he’s doing.
Alison: Well if so he’s being pretty darn subtle… in fact, subtle enough to be completely invisible, if you get my drift. I’m still mulling over the fact that the guy who wrote Preacher also had a hand in this. That’s a story where the “average tough guy finds himself heir to awesome powers beyond our mortal ken” thing is working well. Here, Jackie can’t stop thinking about sex long enough to produce a decent plot point.
Jen: And that’s funny!
Alison: Yes, yes it is… except that I really think such conversational clunkers as “We have to stop him from having sex!” are meant just that literally. Which is scary, but not in a good way. I mean, here’s a guy who’s going to die if he impregnates a woman and thus passes on The Darkness, right? And what’s the solution? Condoms? The silver ring thing? Explorations of gay relationships? Oh no: the answer, my friends, is to create some kind of sex-toy homunculus. Of course.
Jen: Of course. For the benefit of our readers, a little more plot summary: Jackie Estacado, our (anti)hero, learns that he has inherited a power called The Darkness that allows him to make demons and metal claw thingies and the like spring out of his flesh. Apparently he can also learn to create faux-women with whom he can have sex without risking conception (because if he conceives a child that child will receive The Darkness and Jackie will die, and Jackie is the last best hope of the Brotherhood of the Darkness, who want to create a paradise for themselves on earth… they fight the Angelus, a force of “tyrannical law and order”, lead by a foxy lesbian with giant horns and a penchant for clothing that looks like it was painted on with chrome nail polish). Needless to say, the Angelus has a harem of anatomically unlikely demon babes following her around. This comic has everything a boy could want- gore, “lesbians”, fantastically-proportioned women, men with no discernable necks…
Alison: Which is all fine as far as it goes, but come on — can’t we pander to our pubescent boy audience with a little more, how do you say, panache? Is it too much to ask that you pair the gratuitous skin shots and bad-boy beefcake with writing that doesn’t make me wince at every other line? Ennis! Why?
Jen: It’s true that, while you can see traces of the ideas behind Preacher here, they seem to have been lobotomized. I still contend that a lot of the writing is meant to be funny. I mean, come on! “The Darkness is like the Force on crack.” Yet you do have a point. By the end, the writing is painfully bad. Whether intentional or not, it just gets to be too much.
Alison: And then at the end you’re denied any sense of closure — has Jackie grown or changed? Has his relationship with girl love interest Jenny matured? Do we understand better the nature of The Darkness and the forces that surround it? I would say: not so much. It may be that this wouldn’t bother me if I knew more about the rest of the series (but perhaps ignorance is bliss!). I slogged though this collection of appalling outfits, awkward language, and excessive prurience and I’m not even going to be rewarded with an interesting story? The mostly-naked hotties I can find on the top shelf of a newsstand, and for the rest I’m sticking with Preacher.