These days, comic titles rarely make it past issue 100. It’s even rarer when a series not by Marvel or DC reach that kind of milestone. So what about a franchise that started with issue 1, by a relatively new company, Top Cow Productions? At the time they recently split from Image Comics. This series not only has 185 issues, but it spawned a 2-season live action TV show starring Yancy Butler, a 24 episode anime series and an entire franchise of books with ancient artifacts of power. One of those artifacts, The Darkness, even turned into a couple of decently successful videogames that I would recommend for those looking for something different. In case you somehow ignored this blog post’s title and haven’t figured out what I’m talking about, this is Witchblade.
(A promotional shot for the live action Witchblade series that lasted 2 seasons)
The main Witchblade series ends this month with issue 185, after sticking around since 1995. That’s not counting the number of crossovers, one-shots and minis about previous Witchblade wielders and other specials over the years. This series has even had crossovers with several non-Top Cow properties, including a couple of crossovers with Wolverine. Chris Claremont even wrote one: Witchblade/Wolverine Bloody Wedding. The two characters from different companies’ universes marrying each other is the least crazy thing about that issue. Enough about cross-company crossovers though.
(One of the several crossovers between Witchblade and Wolverine)
Originally created by editors Marc Silvestri and David Wohl, writers Brian Haberlin and Christina Z, and artist Michael Turner, the main Witchblade series stars Sara Pezzini, a NYPD detective. She first appears in Cyblade/Shi 1: The Battle for Independents, but her story truly begins in Witchblade 1. She’s working an undercover operation when she and her partner are mortally wounded in a shootout. That’s when the Witchblade artifact chooses her, and her life is never the same. Only through her strength of character does she even survive emotionally. She’s a great character, who is determined to work her job no matter how difficult things get. She became a cop even after her father was killed on the job when she was young. She’s a smart investigator, who’s able to figure out a conspiracy within the force when her boss actively holds her back … because he may or may not have been involved with her father’s death.
For the first chunk of the series, Pezzini struggles to figure out what’s going on, while corrupt business man, Kenneth Irons, tries to take the Witchblade for himself. It feels like a realistic portrayal of a character suffering survivor’s guilt, not to mention being overwhelmed by everything that’s going on. There’s also a master assassin, Ian Nottingham, who manages to take part of the Witchblade for a while, before eventually gaining an artifact of power of his own.
Around issue 40, the series changes direction a bit. Until then it’s just about Pezzini’s struggle with Irons while also working as a cop. With 40 the series digs deeper into its fantasy roots and starts exploring what the artifact is and where it came from. Witchblade is at its best when it gets delightfully weird, making this the first of two directional changes that only improved this series as a result. By this point she’s also getting more used to wielding the Witchblade and is starting to discover some of its special abilities.
(Art from one of Mike Choi’s issues)
But it’s issue 80, when Ron Marz took over as the main writer for the first time, when the series truly gets good. The weirdness takes a few steps forward and we start to see demons, ghosts, cultists and pretty much any fantasy monster you can think of. Pezzini switches over to a Special Cases unit within the NYPD and deals with all sorts of bizarre cases that hardly anyone could solve. The art by Mike Choi is always fantastic, and there are many other artists who have since grown into superstars in the industry who draw at least a couple of issues here. Issue 90 finally reveals the true origin of the Witchblade artifact. This isn’t a huge spoiler since it’s mentioned a lot since, so here it goes.
(Witchblade and the Darkness)
The Witchblade represents the balance between light and dark, and is one of the oldest objects of power in the entire world. It was … born when the Angelus (representing light) and the Darkness (darkness) conceived a new artifact through their hatred for each other. The Witchblade’s chosen a number of wielders over the course of history, almost always a woman, and there’s usually a power struggle between who’s truly in control. Sara for the most part finds a good balance between control, and after learning the artifact’s true history, she accepts her important role in the Universe for a time.
(Pezzini and Baptiste working together)
In issue 100, after Pezzini becomes pregnant, she temporarily gives the Witchblade to another wielder, Danielle Baptiste. The young dancer is reluctant at first but soon grows into the role, and it helps her figure out a direction in life. This eventually leads to what is probably the best story arc in the entire series, War of the Witchblades. Without further spoilers, let’s just say that for a time, both of them wield a part of the blade – one with the light side of the artifact, and one with the dark side. Needless to say, the dark side wielder starts to go a little crazy.
(Sarah Pezzini during the War of the Witchblades story arc)
After a decently long redemption arc, Ron Marz leaves the series and is replaced by Tim Seeley, creator of the Hack/Slash series. He wrote issues 151-169. This is the point where I originally discovered the series. His run is comparable to Ron Marz’s in terms of overall fun, and he builds a fun story set in Chicago with an alternate dimension, curses and bizarre experiments running in the criminal underworld. It even features a former wielder of the Witchblade. While the last few issues of his run feel a bit rushed at times, it’s well worth reading overall. Ron Marz then returned with issue 170, and while his second run isn’t as good as the first, it’s still worth reading for long-time fans of the franchise.
Some have criticized this series for showing a lot of skin and only being good for that. Sure, the Witchblade artifact does tend to hate Sara’s clothing and there are plenty of times you see her half-naked, but that’s not what the series is about. Furthermore, she tends to reveal less and less skin as the series goes on, with the occasional exception after a particularly violent confrontation. The real reason to read this comic isn’t to do with seeing skin, but to read about a rich world filled with all kinds of mythology, through the eyes of a woman who used to be normal but grows into a worthy protector of the world.
Even though Witchblade is ending, at least for now, this delightfully weird franchise isn’t completely disappearing. Stjepan Sejic, who drew part of Ron Marz’s Witchblade run, is now writing and drawing Switch. Switch is an alternate-reality version of the Witchblade series where a teenaged girl is chosen by the artifact instead of Pezzini (who’s already appeared in the series). As of this writing only the first issue of Switch has released, but it’s off to a great start.
There are a number of ways you can read the Witchblade series. The first 35 issues are collected in a 3-part Origins paperback series, and Ron Marz’s entire run can be found in trade also. Top Cow recently released the Redemption arc (Post war of the Witchblade) in a collection of 4 trades for only $20, an amazing deal by any standards. The entire series is also available digitally through comixology. Personally I own a physical copy of every single issue in the main series, whether in trade or individual issues, except for issue 60. I’m so close to completing the collection. In any case, this delightfully weird series is an easy recommendation to anyone who’s interested in a fantasy comic.