Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Witchblade Volume 1 Trade Paperback

I don't mind Ron Marz. I read a year or so of his run following Jim Starlin on "Silver Surfer" when it was the "in" thing to do (possibly short for "Infinity, as in "ad infinitum") I also read much of his "Green Lantern" run, in part because it constantly featured guest stars and crossovers involving characters more interesting than Kyle Rayner. I would support Marz taking over a book like "Nightwing," as his middle-of-the-road style would be a relief after years of painful misfires involving a hero I love. On the other hand, I read virtually none of his work for CrossGen, as his middle-of-the-road style on its own was no draw.

Which leads me to "Witchblade," a book that blew up thanks to the short-lived "bad girl" craze and the once-intricate art of the late Michael Turner. I was a dealer when Witchblade was big, and the interesting thing about Turner was that despite the grotesque anatomy and near-nudity of his heroine, women were as enamored with the supernaturally-enhanced police officer Sara Pezzini as the fanboys. Relative to comics, Pezzini was a "strong, realistic heroine," plus the romantic intrigues and liberal use of autumn tones never hurt. The woman I ran my shop with positively drooled when a regular of ours had a Turner poster elaborately framed. Anyhow, Turner was the major draw, so when he departed the book, sales tumbled swiftly. I ended up tossing a number of the issues that transitioned from Turner to Turner clones, especially the ill-considered Jason Pearson fill-in, into our quarter boxes. However, there had to be something to her, as my orders on Turner's follow-up "Fathom" were little better than Witchblade's in his absence. I guess something must be said for Christina Z. and David Wohl's dark, sometimes kinky scripts. Clearly, Witchblade is only as strong as her creators, and not a character I'd follow without major inducement, but not without some inherent value, either.

Witchblade and Ron Marz, two mediocre tastes that taste middling together. Joined by artist Mike Choi, very much of the Silvestri/Turner school, a bold(ish,) new(er) direction was heralded. More importantly, a trade collection of their first six issues was offered in the direct market at $4.99 for 160 pages. What's that I said about a major inducement?

"Witch Hunt" begins with Pezzini in the hospital, having been beaten into a coma by parties unknown. The incident is investigated by Internal Affairs Detective Patrick Gleason, which in an hysterically Image turn is introduced as a thirty-nine year old with seventeen years on the force, but looks like a teen heartthrob. The equally hard-bodied and pretty Jake McCarthy, Pezzini's partner, takes exception to Gleason's questioning, but is happy to indulge new readers in exposition. In fact, beyond acting as a reader proxy, there doesn't seem to be much reason for Gleason to exist, since his entire role could have been filled by McCarthy. Also on hand to help deepen the mystery is I-Ching from the mod Wonder Woman comics of the '60s, or a reasonable facsimile.

Pezzini awakens from her weeks long coma, and the scratches all over her face and body vanish as soon as her breasts are restored to their proper place as best supporting character in the series. Pezzini and Gleason share more exposition, mostly involving her fracture memory regarding her injury. They also meet with Father Fiorentino, in whose church Pezzini was found, and the priest who's guided Sara throughout her life (though likely had never appeared in the previous 80 issues.)

From this point, there are spoilers aplenty, involving demons, secret cabals, betrayals, grievously injured partners, and... wait... you've totally figured out the entire plot for yourself, haven't you? It's by-the-numbers and entirely adequate for this type of thing. There's also a cover gallery, featuring some nice pieces by Greg Land and Frank Cho. I doubt the book will make anyone rethink the character, beyond the recognition that Witchblade for the most part is average super-hero fare unworthy of excessive scorn or praise. Thankfully, the $4.99 strategy seems to have worked for Top Cow, as they're now soliciting a Darkness trade at the same value featuring scripts by Phil Hester, whose work I've enjoyed lately. Here's hoping that collection is better than this one, but even if it isn't, there are worse ways to spend a five and a bit of free time.

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