From the core concept of would ultimately become The Mask to The Atomic Legion, Dark Horse Comics founder Mike Richardson has tackled and put his own spin on superheroes a number of times. Now he’s done it again with Cloaked, a new four-issue series that debuted its first installment last week. Illustrated by Jordi Armengol and lettered by Nate Piekos, the series follows a private investigator hired to uncover the identity of a brutal masked vigilante who disappeared twenty-five years prior. The series twists the familiar trappings of a certain dark knight and blends them with a heavy dose of classic noir storytelling.
The Beat chatted with Richardson about the development of Cloaked, what Armengol’s dark artwork brings to the series, and more.
Grunenwald: How long have you been developing Cloaked?
Richardson: It started out as “The Icon” way back in the early ‘90s. I’ve always written outlines and treatments for stories I’d like to tell. I put them in a file and go back and work on them off and on until I finish. In the earliest days of Dark Horse, Randy Stradley and I plotted and/or wrote many of our books and creating new stories was something we did on a regular basis. I’m just getting to some of those.
Grunenwald: What made it a story you wanted to tell?
Richardson: I liked the idea of a story dealing with the manipulation of the public, whether agenda driven or not, in the creation of those who become icons. Of learning who’s behind the curtain. I’m guessing that in most cases, we never hear the real story behind these larger-than-life figures.
Grunenwald: You’re playing with tried and true superhero tropes, albeit with a twist, and you’ve written superhero-adjacent stories before as well, most notably in developing The Mask. What do you enjoy most about interpreting that genre?
Richardson: I grew up reading every comic I could get my hands on. I was there for the relaunch of the DC Silver Age characters and for the birth of Marvel. For those of us that were lucky enough to be there and experience it, that moment in time was very special. Dark Horse was a result of my love of comics and, of course, being the publisher gave me the opportunity to try my own hand at creating my own characters. In this case, it is really as simple as wanting to throw a traditional “super hero” into a pulpy noir mash up. You know from the beginning that our main character is going to dig up answers that uncover a far more than he expects.
Grunenwald: This story also has some strong noir vibes. What are some of your favorite noir stories, and how did they influence your work on Cloaked?
Richardson: I suppose it’s the love I have of that genre. The classic Bogart films, The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon, and others such as Kiss of Death and D.O.A. The work of writers such as Hammett, Chandler, and Elroy.
Grunenwald: Tell me about Roger “Jake” Stevens, the PI protagonist of the series. What’s his ultimate goal in this series? And, out of sheer curiosity, why does he go by ‘Jake’?
Richardson: Well, as with any good noir P.I., Jake doesn’t have much personal interest in the job he’s offered. He changes his mind when he receives a financial offer he can’t refuse. Of course, once on the case, he finds that there’s much more to it than just finding a missing person.
The name “Jake” was just another nod to the genre, with the term being slang for cop or detective. This “Jake” picked up the nick-name as a loner cop who was good at solving crimes, but he refused to do things “by the book.” Eventually, he was booted from the force for his unconventional methods and went private.
Grunenwald: You’re working with relative newcomer Jordi Armengol on this series. What made him the perfect choice to help bring this story to life?
Richardson: Jordi is an amazing artist. I saw his work for the first time a year or so ago and we immediately talked about doing an “X” series. At the time I was looking for an artist for Academy Award winner John Bruno’s science fiction story, Navigator. Jordi worked up a couple of pages as a tryout and really blew us away. He’s just finishing that book now. We’ll still do the “X” story, but first he’s scheduled to illustrate a western I’m doing called Gunslinger (I think).
Grunenwald: Is Cloaked potentially the beginning of a larger superhero universe for Dark Horse? Do you have other stories in mind that take place in this world?
Richardson: As you may know, Dark Horse has an existing super hero “universe,” one we are preparing to return to. The characters in Cloaked belong in a different world, where masked heroes don’t exist, so it’s unlikely we will grow that world as a super-hero universe. But a new related story? Maybe.
Grunenwald: What are you excited for people to see when they pick up Cloaked?
Richardson: A fun, fast moving mash-up of two genres complete with a surprise or two along the way.
Published by Dark Horse Comics, Cloaked #1 (of 4) is available in stores and digitally now.