Bob Hall is an accomplished writer, artist, playwright, and theatrical director. He currently writes and draws one of VALIANT's "spookier" comic book series, SHADOWMAN.
Master Darque is an occult specialist and is also Shadowman's nemesis. He is seen frequently in SHADOWMAN, and makes guest appearances in VALIANT's other comic book titles.
Jack Boniface, a.k.a. Shadowman, is an established New Orleans jazz musician as well as a vigilante by night. He stars in his own monthly comic book series, SHADOWMAN, from VALIANT comics.
New Orleans. The French Quarter. 12:47 A.M. On a
drizzly Saturday night, I finally catch up with Jack Boniface. He is playing
the last few notes at one of his rare concerts in a little known bistro
called the Café Baptiste. The avant-garde squawks and groans of
his battered sax have already driven away the tourists -- this is not Dixieland
-- and the few afficionados who remain applaud with cool enthusiasm. Boniface
ignores them as he slips through the faded velours at the back of the stage.
There is no encore.
I follow him into the cobblestone courtyard that backs the run-down café and find Boniface sitting on a wrought iron bench. His face is covered with sweat as he sips a bottle of beer.
BH: Mr. Boniface...
JB: Who are you?
Boniface springs to his feet with a frightening intensity.
BH: No problem...really. Uh, I left a message at the club about an interview?
JB: Oh, yeah...
BH: Uh, your number was unlisted and I...well, here I am.
JB: Yeah...right. (pause)
BH: Uh...I enjoyed your music..back there in the...uh...
JB: A few people like it -- my real stuff that is. Not that crap that was on the radio. You with a jazz magazine, "Downbeat" or something?
BH: No. As a matter of fact, I write and draw...uh, you know.
JB: God, you're the guy who does those damned comic books! You're him!
BH: Well, yes. The stories of your adventures are rampant in the Quarter. It's been good material.
JB: You've certainly been on a role with it...not that you got anything right.
BH: Well, I'm sorry if I...see, my editor thought it was time to find out...
JB: If I really existed? Finally time to check your sources? Afraid of law suits?
BH: Well, I'm not a journalist. I'm merely setting down an oral history as passed along by...
JB: Listen, print what you like. Make some money. I'm way past thinking I own my life.
BH: What do you mean by that?
JB: The coven. The Voodoo coven that made me what I am. They think they own me, and damn them to hell, maybe they do!
At this point, Boniface seems very agitated. He picks up a canvas day pack and paces around the enclosure.
BH: Uh..er..why don't we try another question? (pause) Uh...what's in the pack?
JB: My mask.
BH: That's right, you wear a mask when you're Shadowman and yet you're not trying to hide the fact that you're also Jack Boniface. I mean what's the point of...
JB: I'm not denying anything and I'm not admitting anything. If you're trying to prove that Jack Boniface is the "vigilante" who's been driving the pushers out of the Quarter, you'll find the evidence sadly lacking.
Boniface seems to be warming up.
BH: Okay, let's stick to magic. It's often said you have special powers. Do you?
JB: I don't know.
JB: Some nights I can lift the back end of a '57 Chevy, other nights I can't.
BH: Well, I won't ask you to demonstrate, heh, heh.
Silence. I take another tack.
BH: There's a story that you once traveled through time. Did you? What was it like?
JB: (pause) It's like those dreams you begin to forget as soon as you wake up. Both the past and the future grow a little dimmer every day. It's sad really.
THE VOICE: How very poetic, Mr. Boniface.
A disembodied voice fills the courtyard and yet it speaks in the most subtle of whispers. Boniface springs to attention, pulls the mask from his bag and puts it on.
THE VOICE: Very good, Mr. Boniface. Put on the mask: your protection; your power. He needs the mask, you see. Mr. Boniface doesn't hide his identity. The mask is his identity.
A man's figure appears high above the courtyard. He's floating down toward us, the lamplight lending a blue cast to his naked, tattooed skull.
BH: You must be..
MD: Speak up please. I can't hear you, Mr. Hall.
BH: Really, I think this sort of wraps things up, and if you two have business I can just...
MD: You will stay precisely where you are.
The voice is irresistible. I feel numb. Not frozen exactly, just...well, I simply can't conceive of being anyplace but where I am, even though all my intellect is screaming for me to run like Hell.
JB: Don't hurt him Darque. He's an innocent.
MD: Don't speak, Mr. Hall. You must learn to listen.
MD: To listen.
I find I no longer have the will to speak.
JB: Why are you following me? I've gone on your damned quest. We're quits now.
MD: Following you? Nonsense. I seek Mr. Hall; does that surprise you, Boniface?
JB: Nothing about you surprises me.
MD: You are becoming wise. Yes, Mr. Hall. Write about me. Fascinate the innocent with my legend. Let them seek me out that I may satiate my appetite on the purity of their naive energy.
JB: Don't let him deceive you. He wants something from me. What is it Darque?
MD: A game. I want to relieve the tedium of my endless existence. Let's play, Jack -- you and I. I propose we allow Mr. Hall to ask us questions. If they amuse me, I will refrain from absorbing his pathetic life force. If not, then you must rescue him or I take his life, however dismal.
Darque makes the smallest of gestures and I realize I can speak again.
MD: Are we agreed? Ask us something, Mr. Hall.
BH: Wait a minute...I didn't agree to...wait...
JB: Do as he says, Mr. Hall.
I realize I've become a pawn. I'm going to die over asking the wrong question in Bob Layton's miserable interview series.
BH: The Darque Power! Tell me about the Darque Power!
There is a silence.
JB: Yes that's the question. In the long run it may be the only question.
MD: You know nothing of the Darque power. Nothing! It has been my only study for over a hundred years.
JB: You see, he thinks he owns the Darque power. He doesn't.
MD: I could destroy you with the wave of my hand.
JB: Do it then.
I speak before I can think better of it.
BH: Yes. If the Shadowman is such a nemesis to you, why don't you wipe him out?
MD: It amuses me to keep him alive. I...
JB: He can't destroy me. He's blocked from it. By Voodoo. That's right, Darque, I finally figured it out. I'd have to offer my life to you freely. You almost tricked me into doing it once. But never again. Never again, Darque!
Boniface is becoming agitated again, so is Darque. I try to keep talking.
BH: Then there are limits to your power?
MD: Not in your case, Mr. Hall. And you have ceased to amuse me.
Darque points a bony finger at me and I rise into the air until I am face to face with him. My veins begin to swell and my head feels as though it might burst any second. Boniface picks up his saxophone and begins to blow the most unholy sound I have ever heard - even more ghastly than Darque's voice. It is the agonized howl of a soul in torment. The spell is broken and I fall heavily to the cobblestone pavement.
MD: Goodnight, Mr. Boniface. Your "encore" was as distressing to my tympanic membrane as the last trumpet call itself.
I hear his voice, but Darque himself has disappeared. Boniface helps me to my feet.
JB: Are you all right, Mr. Hall?
BH: Me? Oh yeah sure. Tape recorder's still working and I'm none the worse. Say, how did you...?
JB: The interview's over Mr. Hall; I trust you got more than you came for.
I want to ask more but he strides out of the courtyard without looking back.
Note: I have reconstructed Darque's dialogue from memory. When I played this back in my hotel room all his words had been erased - although my responses and those of Boniface were completely intact.