I can count the issues of Witchblade that I’ve actually read on one hand, but with the TV show from a few years ago, and the relatively new anime adaptation, plus the upcoming feature film, it’s not like I’ve been unaware of the series. I guess I had unfair expectations laid upon it, as it was one of those books that began in the mid 1990s, when the bad girl craze was sweeping the comic reading public into a hormonal frenzy. Characters like the star of this book were lumped together with Lady Death, Vampirella and many more whose sole function seemed to be to titillate prepubescent readers.
Witchblade was also a character created by four different creators, so that didn’t necessarily help find its focus. However, in the last few years, publishers Top Cow have wisely started to integrate and expand their roster of characters. This move can be seen clearly in this volume, with guest stars from other Top Cow titles and the history of the Witchblade becoming deeper. Recently this series has begun revealing numerous wielders over the years of this powerful mystical gauntlet that is the ultimate girl power accessory, which opens up even more story possibilities.
This TPB is a hefty one, as it collects the Cow x-over mini-series, First Born as well as issues #110-115 of the ongoing Witchblade series. There’s also an introduction from The Walking Dead and Invincible creator, Robert Kirkman and a dazzling cover gallery. All in all this tome contains all 226 colour pages. That’s a lot, and the best thing I can say about it is that I read it all in one sitting. Believe me, that’s high praise indeed. I barely got out of my seat as I flicked through these glorious pages. It had my attention and wouldn’t let go, and that’s something I wasn’t expecting.
Basically, the first few issues of this adventure are focused on cop, and former Witchblade wielder, Sara Pezzini, as well as mob boss Jackie Estacado, AKA The Darkness, the holy warrior Magdalena, Dani Baptiste, a dancer and current Witchie owner and baddest of the bad girls, Celestine AKA The Angelus.
This book starts off with a handy one page guide, which explains all the characters in this world in a pleasantly succinct way. The beauty of this tale is that it’s intense and epic, but not overly complicated, which is more than we can say for most of what’s on offer from The Big Two. Even if you’ve never read an issue of Witchblade before, you won’t feel scared off by this volume.
Written by one of my favourite writers, Ron Marz (Green Lantern Kyle Rayner’s creator) this book details the war fought for Sara’s upcoming baby, of whom the origins are mysterious, though the details are eventually revealed. Lots of running and hiding and fighting ensues as the pregnant Sara, her lover, fellow cop Patrick Gleason (I keep thinking of the GL Corps penciller of the same name!) and sometime ally Jackie Estacado gang up to defeat Angelus’ winged warriors. As Estacado tells Detective Gleason, “In real life, the bad guys don’t always wear black and the ones with wings aren’t always the good guys.” That sums up the supernatural/spiritual/primal themes pretty well. The three manage to fight the hordes (that look like something director Guillermo del Toro would’ve imagined) and escape, after Gleason somehow survives a brutal stabbing. Jackie takes Sara and Dani straight to a secret cavern, where Magdalena shows up. Sara gives birth and the battle begins anew as the Angelus and her followers struggle to keep the baby all to themselves for the sake of the Balance. The newborn, later dubbed Hope brings a surprising victory, which also leaves the Witchblade split in two, for Sara and Dani.
After this battle concludes, things change pace somewhat abruptly. Sara adjusts to life as a new mother, Dani finds a budding romance with a shop owner called David Worthy, yet the girls still manage to find action, or rather, it finds them as they take Hope for a stroll in the park and find that evil forces still want the baby for their own purposes. Both girls also manage to run into different muggers while shopping at different times, which makes the action in the second half seem more forced than the first. The last few issues are akin to Buffy Lite; lots of girls talking casually, new relationships forming, but with short bursts of fighting interspersed throughout. Some may find all the dialogue a bit annoying after the hectic first half, but Marz is a gifted writer and handles it naturally. With this much going on, the fact that there is no lengthy exposition or narration is pretty impressive.
This is a light read, despite its burgeoning cast of characters and lengthy history and its very easy to keep track of what’s going on at all times. I can’t go any further without mentioning the art. It’s beautiful and I don’t mean the fact that all the girls look like supermodels (and so do the guys, come to think of it) Stjepan Sejic is the primary artist. His pages are luscious. Obviously tinkered with computer to look like paintings, he has a skill that deserves more work. Look at the cover gallery included and you’ll see what I mean. There’s enough pretty pictures (even his ugly monsters look gorgeous) to fill a Metallica fans bedroom walls. In every panel, the light, textures and backgrounds are all rendered with such detail; a rarity in the posing superheroes against blank backgrounds in a lot of comics today. If I was on the Cow’s marketing team, I’d create ads from these pages in every heavy metal mag I could get a hold of. Long haired head bangers would lap this art up I’m sure.
More traditional and seasoned pencillers such as Luke Ross, Stephen Sadwoski and Rick Leonardi fill out the remainder of this volume, but the change is not jarring from one ish to the next. There is also a preview of The Darkness ongoing series, which details its supernatural origin effectively.
There is some profanity here and themes that won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I was impressed by this series and would be curious to see where it goes next. All the hard work building this universe has paid off. Jaded fanboys and newcomers alike will find something to sink their teeth into here, and probably will want seconds. Surprisingly recommended.