The video game industry fairs moderately well when it comes to adapting comic book properties. From classic beat ’em ups like X-Men to Marvel’s Spider-Man, video games are the best platform for superhero outings. On the other hand, the content swings toward the big two – Marvel and DC leave little room for characters outside of their companies. Sure, I remember Alien, Dredd, and Garfield getting plenty of adaptations, but numbers don’t lie! As much as I enjoy many of them, I have to say there’s one company that needs to get back into this industry: Top Cow. More specifically, their Artifacts Universe.
Top Cow, founded by Marc Silvestri, is home to my favorite comics and characters. In their stories, characters die, and there is no promise of their return. There is a finality to their titles, and when mantles are passed on, that is set in stone. Not only that, but heroism isn’t pushed to the boy scout levels we see in mainstream stories. These characters are broken, often morally questionable, with only a few able to pronounce themselves heroes confidently. This sounds ideal! However, their presence in gaming is scarce!
Swedish game developer Starbreeze is responsible for The Darkness, a video game based on my favorite comic series and character.
Jackie Estacado is a mafia enforcer who falls under his boss’s ire and adoptive Uncle, Paulie Franchetti. On the night of his 21st birthday, Jackie dies in an assassination attempt. An ancient demonic force emerges from within him, reviving him – and Mike Patton of Faith No More voices that force. It empowers and enslaves him as he goes down a path of bloody revenge. It sounds like the run-of-the-mill mob story until the fantasy elements kick in. Even more so, the game shatters all expectations and injects heart and emotion through the relationship – and the tragic end of said relationship – with Jenny Romano.
When it comes to the narrative, Starbreeze knocks it out of the park with The Darkness when it sounds like it should fail! You’re shooting, clawing, and tearing your way through the criminal underworld and Hell itself; There are points of the story where The Darkness tucks Jackie away in Hell to restore his body. He deals with a cosmic force that gives him the tools he needs for revenge in hopes he loses himself in the bloodbath so it can consume him. Yet, there’s real drama found in Jackie’s struggle in love, loss, and redemption.
The Darkness II
The Darkness II fell into the hands of Digital Extremes, and my initial disappointment did not last long. The team went with hand-painted visuals for the game, truly bringing the comic to life.
Jenny Romano is, once again, on Jackie’s mind. His greatest enemies are in the grave, he’s the Don of the Franchetti Crime Family, and he’s managed to keep the Darkness buried deep. Of course, we don’t have a game unless something presses him to release it. This time, though, we face the threat of a group drawn from the comics – The Brotherhood of Darkness. While not under the same leadership as the comic (My only complaint), their goal is to gain control of The Darkness for their own goals.
I was excited that these two games were so well put together. There’s no reason to believe a third won’t be made with a cliffhanger ending for the second title (Jackie is trapped in Hell). In fact, Marc Silvestri had this to say one month into the game’s release:
“Pretty clever little ending, I thought,” Silvestri told IGN. “We at Top Cow are, of course, hoping to continue the video game adventures of Jackie Estacado and his, um friend. If we get that call from 2K, it’ll be a great day for us…so fingers are crossed.”
Except… The Darkness II was released in 2012, and we have yet to see another. I’m here to stand my ground and speak for many of us when I say we’ve waited long enough for more! Here’s what I want to see!
Reboot the Top Cow Universe
Unless the first two games are remastered to build hype for a continuation, the only path forward is rebooting. That’s not exactly what I want to see, but if that’s what gets us more of their games, wonderful! I don’t recommend starting with The Darkness. In fact, we can say this won’t be a reboot so much as an introduction to the Artifacts.
Within the universe that includes The Darkness and The Witchblade exists Thirteen Artifacts. Separately, they maintain the equilibrium and guide the fate of the universe. Bring them together, and they will bring an end to it. The entities are two of the thirteen, and the best way to guide us into the vastness of the Artifacts universe is with one man: Tom Judge.
Start with a Tom Judge video game
Tom Judge is a fallen priest whose origin is a downer. Telling a man, “Look into your heart, and you’ll know what to do,” led him to kill his family in a murder-suicide. Tom lives a hedonistic way of life to drown that out of his mind from that day forward.
What makes him the greatest starting point isn’t the fact that he comes into possession of an Artifact. He does gain one called The Rapture, but his significance begins with his interaction with the Devil. Under the name Nick, The Devil informs Tom Judge that there is no Heaven. The soul departs for Hell naturally, and they’re harvested and used for currency – If you just asked if I’m talking about Constantine, that’s incredibly fair. The similarities are there.
Tease the Top Cow Universe
Initially, Tom’s meeting with Nick makes him go to Hell in search of a man named Jackie Estacado. The Devil has him deliver mail to Estacado’s broken soul and Tom, using the power of the Rapture, gives him hope – Hope frees Jackie’s soul from Hell, and that’s that. Anyone who read The Darkness, at that moment, jumped for joy because we weren’t sure how he was coming back.
It’s much later when the Devil is locked in an asylum for going mad, that Tom’s importance comes into play. The Devil reveals to him Artifacts like the Rapture exist. These Artifacts are The Darkness, the Angelus, the Witchblade, the Rapture, the Blood Sword, the Glacier Stone, the Ember Stone, the Coin of Solomon, the Spear of Destiny, Pandora’s Box, the Wheel of Shadows, the Heart Stone, and “The Thirteenth.”
Tom’s game gives us a run-in with Jackie Estacado and sets up the overarching threat of the Thirteen Artifacts coming together. His own video game carries out the same execution as The Darkness and its sequel, improving the material.
Enter Sara Pezzini: The Witchblade
The Witchblade would be a great place to start, too. After all, issue #10 introduces us to Jackie Estacado, and then The Darkness comic begins. Regardless, my vision places Sara Pezzini’s story as the essential second game series that is part of the Artifacts Universe.
This Artifact is the offspring of The Darkness and The Angelus, a misguided attempt at forming a truce between the two primordial beings. It didn’t work. It bestows its power onto female wielders throughout time. Sara Pezzini, an NYPD homicide detective, winds up in possession of it once mortally wounded. It’s a violent being, just like both of its parents, so she struggles to control it and use it for good.
Sara Pezzini is the most popular Top Cow character, in my opinion. There’s an old live-action Witchblade series based on her and an animated series based on the Artifact.
Her comic introduces us to the wielders of The Darkness, the Blood Sword, and she eventually becomes an ally to the third wielder of the Spear of Destiny. She places herself in direct opposition of the Angelus more than once and goes back and forth as Jackie’s enemy. Sara Pezzini is my favorite love interest for Estacado, which makes the fate of this will-they, won’t-they sting much more. I won’t ruin the details.
Bring back The Darkness
Top Cow has two options: Reboot or continue, even with my ideas. I spoiled The Darkness II with a quick mention that he is trapped in Hell. If Tom Judge frees Jackie’s soul from Hell, they can tie the new game in with the old ones with some recapping or give us another origin tale. I prefer neither over the other, so I’ll go over both options.
Option 1: Darkness I & II become canon
Part of me wants the storyline from the first two games to continue. Plus, you don’t run through a retelling or reinvention of events. Tom Judge finds Jackie in Hell without speaking to the events that left him there, and then we start The Darkness (2025) – for example. Jackie doesn’t know how he’s back, so you don’t rely too heavily on tie-in’s. Go toward the more fantastic elements of his story and let him don the full armor The Darkness provides.
Option 2: Start over
For a more accessible entry, start over. Tease his appearance in Tom Judge and the Witchblade, and then launch his series. Bring in more of the comic book characters for a closer adaptation. Don’t skip out on Frankie “Kill-the-children-too” Franchetti, whose story was given to Paulie in the first game. Paulie’s in the comic; he’s just slimy and poses no real threat. Introduce Sonatine and The Brotherhood of Darkness, making him balance the mafioso life with the insanity his Artifact brings. The Angelus will enter the franchise and hunt him down, as well.
Family from the Estacado and Franchetti bloodlines will threaten him every step of the way. His adoptive sister, his half-sister, and his own grandmother have tried killing him in the comics. Whether that content ends up as side-missions or plays into the narrative is up to whoever picks this game up. It’s easier to say there’s no shortage of storylines to pull from.
Let each franchise evolve
Each title produces sequels, and then the publisher capitalizes by bringing out crossover video games. Some events can play out in a game, but events such as “First Born” or the “Broken Trinity” require cohesion. Label it “Tales of the Artifacts,” or something that chronicles these important game/world-changing events. After all, I recommend that all of this leads to a couple of “Artifacts” video games that bring everyone together, Avengers: Endgame style.
Obviously, creating video games is a massive undertaking. There’s a chance that creating this connectivity is too difficult because of the time and resources needed. We run the risk of getting rushed video games with little variance between artistic and stylistic choices. I want variety between these properties, which also poses another problem when the Artifacts game pulls every Artifact wielder into the narrative. We spend time playing these games, these characters, only to utilize them again in a game possibly created under vastly different systems.
That is a risk I’m willing to take to see Top Cow rise in the video game scene again!