Witchblade: Witch Hunt
Collects: Witchblade #80-85
Writer: Ron Marz
Penciler: Michael Choi
Inkers: Sal Regla, Joe Weems V and Matt Banning
Colorist: Brian Buccelato
Letterers: Robin Spehar, Dennis Heisler and Troy Peteri
Cover: Stjepan Sejic
By Michael David Sims
07 February 2008 — Until recently Witchblade wasn't on my radar. To me, it was just another cheesecake book spawned in the 1990s. That it lasted this long was a surprise. Whereas most other female-led books from that era faded away after an initial burst of popularity, Witchblade currently has 115 issues in the can — and the forthcoming creative team has committed themselves to the title until #150, so obviously Top Cow is doing something right. Yet I still wrote it off, longevity be damned!
It wasn't until Top Cow sent me a review copy of Witchblade #108 that I took notice. Everything I thought I knew about the character, comic and company went straight out the window, only to be replaced by a sense of regret. How long have I been wrong about this book, I wondered. And though I can't speak of the entire series, I can say that, at least starting with issue #80, Witchblade is a damn fine read.
Writer Ron Marz has taken a character we all associate with the so-called bad girl influx of the 90s and has reinvented her. Never in this collection is she scantily clad or put in insinuating positions. Here Sara Pezzini is treated with respect, not as a toy. That Marz was able to alter my perception of the character — whether it was right or wrong before, it was still my perception of her — is amazing. When I open a comic book I expect to be entertained, what I don't expect is to have perceptions changed, but that's exactly what happened here.
The story revolves around Sara and Detective Patrick Gleason, the latter of which is investigating why Sara is in a coma. No one, not even her former partner, knows how or why Sara wound up in the hospital. All they do know is that she's "attracted to the weird stuff," and being found in the rubble of a ruined church naturally has many people curious. Upon waking up, Pezzini and Gleason find themselves unwillingly partnered as they attempt to — literally — save the world.
Through their interactions we come to better appreciate these characters. Sara doesn't understand the power the so-called Witchblade brings her, but she knows she must use it for the betterment of mankind. Patrick is a good cop, curious to the last. Yet, no matter how experienced he is in the field, he's blind to the world Sara walks in. As they collide, both characters change: Gleason's eyes open to what's hidden in the shadows, and Sara becomes a little more willing to accept this stranger into her life. Watching characters grow from first to last is part of the enjoyment that comes with entertainment — good entertainment, that is. When characters are flat, when they don't change or when that change is shoehorned in, the experience is less than thrilling. Conversely, nothing is more exciting than studying how someone grows. When done correctly, we find ourselves bonded to the characters, and that's what Marz does here. When this volume came to a close, I wanted to know where Sara and Gleason went next.
That said, Witch Hunt isn't perfect. When Gleason is first introduced, exposition flies. Instead of revealing Gleason's past throughout the story, a good portion of who he is and where he's coming from is revealed through a clunky exchange with Jake McCarthy, Sara's ex-partner. During these opening pages, not only do we get Gleason's past, but Jake and Sara's, too. Granted, when a new writer comes onboard a certain number of new readers are also expected to join, meaning certain elements have to be explained. But outlining Sara's career, as well as the careers of Gleason and McCarthy, felt unnecessary. A simple, "I hear Sara's attracted to the weird stuff" would have sufficed to start. Later, as Gleason and Pezzini warmed to each other, that's when her rocket of a career could have been examined. Cramming it all into his first issue seemed like a rookie mistake, and Ron Marz is anything but green. It's a shame, really, because even though it's over relatively quickly, it might turn away people who read / flip through the first chapter at the bookstore. If they can get past that, the story unfolds in a typical superhero / mystery kind of way, which works for the series, characters and story.
Getting back to how Sara is treated, maybe Top Cow made the decision to de-cheesecake her, maybe it was Ron Marz or maybe it was artist Mike Choi. Whoever made the call, thank you! If Sara were your average superhero, running down the streets of New York City in tights, fine — I could understand the desire to show flesh. But she's not that at all. First and foremost she's a policewoman, so it's about time Top Cow respected that and kept her tits under wraps. It's not that I'm opposed to seeing bared skin in comic books; I just think the character has to be taken into consideration. For instance, it makes sense for the Scarlet Witch to show her midriff because she has that gypsy / belly dancer thing going on. Then there's Rogue: her flesh could render you dead if touched, hence the reason she should always be covered from head to toe. Where does Sara Pezzini fall into this? Somewhere in the middle; she's an attractive woman who isn't afraid to reveal a little skin, but she's also a cop who has to keep up appearances. To constantly illustrate her as nothing but a nearly nude vixen in a crusty metal semi-skin does her no damn good. Doing so belittles her position and tells us that we shouldn't take her seriously as an officer of the law. In Witch Hunt we see her as a cop bestowed with great power, never as a Russ Meyer reject. So when she dispatches the villains at the conclusion, it means something. It wasn't Chesty LaRue who saved reality from being destroyed, it was Detective Sara Pezzini. Well played, Top Cow!
No matter who made the call, I think a lot of credit has to be laid at the feet of Choi. At any point he could have torn Sara's shirt clean off, exposed her ass or generally sexed it up — but he resisted that pothole, and his art is better served for it. When the fights hit, instead of gawking at Pezzini's cleavage we're drawn to Choi's monsters and action. It also brings a touch of class to the genuinely softer moments.
At times Choi's pencils give the characters a clean, smooth look that's all his own. Other times they're rough, heavily inked and very Marc Silvestri-ish. Though I prefer the smoother look, I understand the company's desire to add a Silvestri flavor to things. I simply wish they would have gone with one or the other. Having three inkers on the book, each with their own style, made it feel like several artists were used. It's also shocking to see Choi's name attached to these pages. I'm so used to his digital / animated style (e.g. recent Witchblade covers, Uncanny X-Men #495, X-23: Target X) that I find it hard to believe it's the same man. By no means is that a slight against the book or this style, it's simply shocking to see how much his style evolved in so few years. In fact, if you go back and look at his various covers throughout the years, you can see his style take shape. It's reminiscent of how Travis Charest went from being a Jim Lee clone to his own man, except in this instance it's Choi and Silvestri.
Even though I feel the first few pages are expositional, Ron Marz does an otherwise splendid job introducing these characters to new readers. New layers are gradually exposed as their lives irrevocably intertwine, making Witchblade: Witch Hunt one of those books that you should give a shot — especially if you still hold the belief that Witchblade is nothing but Playboy in disguise.
Note: Just in case you're still on the fence about Witch Hunt, the trade paperback only costs $4.99 when purchased at comic book shops (it's $9.99 and bookstores). Give it a try. If you don't like it, you only lost a few bucks.