"Witchblade?" I asked the manger. "Isn't this that cheesecake comic where the girl's clothes get ripped off every issue?"It was a light week for comics and the trade was only five bucks, so I decided to give it a shot, and, simply put, I was hooked. Are you one of the many that still views Witchblade as a cheesecake book? Want to see how far the book has come under the guiding pen of Ron Marz? Hit the jump and be amazed at how much this title has changed!
"It used to be." The manager smiled.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
These picks could be anything, like Civil War #2, where Spider-Man unmasked to the world, or the final issue of Y: The Last Man, which capped off Brian K. Vaughan's magnum opus. But this week's pick was not just a regular comic, but Witchblade Vol 1: Witch Hunt, the first trade of Ron Marz's run on Witchblade. This resulted in the following dialogue between the manager and myself:
Today's Witchblade-centric guest post comes by way of Mike Panetta, an avid comic book reader and self professed lover of comics, games and all things geek related. You can also follow him on Twitter @mikepgamer.
Witchblade: A Brief History
Witchblade, for those who aren't familiar with the title, was one of the first comics to come out from Top Cow Productions, a partner studio of Image Comics, and was created by Marc Silvestri and Michael Turner. It starred Sara Pezzini, an NYPD homicide detective who came into possession of the titular Witchblade, an ancient weapon passed down through the ages to various women, including Cleopatra and Joan of Arc.
The early issues of Witchblade were, arguably, light on plot and it was more of a showcase for Michael Turner's art and the cheesecake "costume" the Witchblade bestowed upon its users. Every time Sara used the Witchblade, it would literally rip her clothes to shreds while forming a type of green, scaly armour that barely covered her naughty bits. As one could expect, and probably still believe, the book quickly gained a reputation for its cheesecake and was actually quite popular at the time, spawning a number of crossover comics and a short lived television show on TNT.
The Ron Marz Era
This fame, or infamy, built on the rocky foundation of cheesecake didn't last long. Despite last 79 issues - a lofty feat for any new comic or property these days - the book wasn't exactly held in well renown. Thankfully, Ron Marz, best known for his work on Green Lantern, would eventually take over the book starting with issue 80. Some may have seen it as a lesser job, but Marz had a plan to turn Witchblade into something special.
Clothes Make the Woman
One of the first things Marz did to differentiate his run on Witchblade was to change Sara Pezzini's character. Gone was the young, inexperienced Sara of old and, in her place, was an older and more experienced character. And with this new maturity came one of the most fundamental changes to the comic - as Sara was now more experienced with the Witchblade, it no longer tore Sara's clothes to shreds when she used it. Instantly, the character had gone from the itty bitty floss bikini costume to a full-body armour over her clothes, eliminating what many saw as pointless titillation that had once been the only defining characteristic of the book.
Mother Knows Best
But that was only the first stage of Ron Marz's plan to overhaul the Witchblade franchise. In the landmark 100th issue of Witchblade, Sara discovered that she was pregnant, even though she has not had sex in over a year.
Pregnancy is a topic very few comics tackle with maturity. Often times it's just used as a plot device and then discarded with a convenient miscarriage, rapid aging of the baby or some other means that helps maintain the status quo prior to the pregnancy, which, in turn, robs the characters of any real development and cheats the fans out of months, or even years, of following that story.
This was not the case in Witchblade. When Sara found out that she was pregnant, she decided to give up the Witchblade so she could raise her baby without putting her in danger. Enter Dani Baptiste, a young girl unsure of her place in the world - not unlike how Sara was at the beginning of the series. A chance encounter between the two saw the Witchblade react to Dani's presence and, through a series of events, becomes the new bearer of the Witchblade at Sara's behest.
Sara's giving up of the Witchblade would lay the foundation for the First Born story (Witchblade #110-115) where the truth behind Sara's pregnancy finally came to light. Sara not only has her baby, but actually keeps it and raises it with her partner/lover, Patrick Gleason (no relation to the Green Lantern Corps artist!). Over this time, Dani comes into her own as a user of the Witchblade and, eventually, the Witchblade itself ends up being split in two with Dani and Sara each wielding half of it.
The Devil is in the Details
One of the strength's of Marz's run on Witchblade is how far ahead the plot is written in advance. The new Battlestar Galactica is one of my favourite shows, but I do admit the latter episodes did suffer from the lack of a long term plot. That's not the case in Witchblade. From the minute Sara became pregnant, she was meant to give up the Witchblade to Dani, who in turn was meant to give half of the gauntlet back to Sara during the First Born story. It's a coherent plot that does not flip-flop back and forth between plots or rely on fan reaction to determine who wields the Witchblade. It's Ron Marz's story and it shows he has a longterm plan for the series.
For example, that splitting of the Witchblade would eventually lead to friction between Sara and Dani in the what would be known as War of the Witchblades (Witchblade #125-130) wherein one of the two reclaims the full gauntlet by any means necessary. And, because of Marz's tight plotting, the characters' actions feel natural and organic. There are no leaps in logic or out of character actions to get the story to a certain place and this feels like the natural progression of the story.
And not only do the characters' actions feel natural and organic, but this also carries over in the way they deal with issues. Without going too far into spoilers, Sara's actions during the War of the Witchblades storyline strained her relationship with Patrick and the two spoke at length about it in the latest issue. It's clear that the relationship between the two is a bit rocky, but the two are willing to talk and work things out like people would do in real life.
Bu-bu-but Where's the Cheesecake?
So where does the cheesecake fit into this new Witchblade? Simply put, it doesn't. Marz does work a little bit into his stories, but only when it's appropriate to the plot and nothing remotely close to the blatant cheesecake of Witchblades past.
For example there is a tastefully done sex scene between Sara and Patrick, but it came only after about a year and a half's worth of the characters growing close and becoming a couple. Another sex scene occurs between Dani and David, someone she was dating at the time, but even that was after a few issues of the two casually dating and neither scene is overly graphic or gratuitous sex. Those looking for the cheesecake of old might want to look elsewhere to fill their needs.
So, if Ron Marz turned Witchblade into a more dramatic book and eliminated many of the things that made people dismiss it in the first place, then why, oh why, aren’t there more people picking this book up and talking about it? The sad truth is that Witchblade still has that stigma of being a cheesecake comic from its Michael Turner days and it’s still fighting to shed that image, even if it’s been over five years (!!) since Ron Marz took over the book.
Of note, there is some good news for those of you who are interested in learning more. As of this writing, InStockTrades.com has a deal where you can get one of the first two trades of Marz’s Witchblade run for free with purchase of another book. This is a good opportunity to find out that Sara Pezzini is more than just a pretty face while getting your regular trade fix of your favourite series. Please, give it a shot, I'm sure you won't regret it and I know you'll have a different opinion of the book if you only give it a chance.