MCC Request Line #4: “Witchblade”

Witchblade vs. MenagerieWelcome back to MCCRL, in which I take on reading, viewing, or reviewing suggestions from MCC readers just to see what happens, whether the results are good, bad, or mixed-bag. Today’s suggestion came to me from The Smile Scavenger, optimistic pursuer of that eternal expression that some find elusive and others elude to their own detriment.

Today’s subject: Witchblade, the longest running series from Top Cow Productions, one of the flagship divisions of Image Comics. The most recent issue, #161, was released on Halloween.

What I knew beforehand: I think I’ve encountered Witchblade in guest appearances or crossovers somewhere in my life, or maybe I’ve just read about her on comics news sites. Regardless, I was aware of her basic story: Sara Pezzini is a policewoman who also wields an ancient weapon called the Witchblade that wraps itself around her hand, bedecks her in eldritch armor that covers either most or almost none of her skin, depending on the artist’s hormone level. The character has been around since the mid-1990s and was even adapted into a TNT series starring Yancy Butler, which I didn’t watch because most original basic-cable TV shows back then were usually cheap and lacking.

The series’ current writer, Tim Seeley, has written a couple of things I’ve liked — a thoughtful Ant-Man and the Wasp miniseries for Marvel, as well as his unsettling Image project Revival. He’s mostly known for his creator-owned series Hack/Slash, whose Maxim-level covers are of the sort that I usually leave behind at the comic shop.

Why I hadn’t tried it before: Though some strong creative talent has been linked to the series in the past, the bottom line is that most Top Cow comics tend to feature heroines posed and dressed in such ways that would require me to smuggle the comics into my house and hide them from my family, lest I have lots of explaining to do. Comic book “cheesecake” is not my thing. I’m a minuscule minority among comics readers in that respect. Thankfully the cover to #161 was a little less scandalous than I had feared.

[NOTE: Spoilers ahead! Turn back now if this is on your reading pile.]

How it all went down: First of all, 1000 bonus points are awarded for Witchblade‘s inclusion of a “Previously in Witchblade” one-page recap. Recap pages are a great tool to welcome new readers, in observance of the old adage that “Every comic book is someone’s first.” They’re also quite the boon to guys like me who read way too many comics every month and appreciate helpful reminders that allow them to pick up where they left off last month (or however many months have passed since the previous issue, depending on the creators’ delinquency).

Witchblade #161Sara has left her police career to become a PI in Chicago, where underground magick trafficking provides a world of evil to investigate in between more mundane cases. Dissatisfied with the resolution of last issue’s case involving a belligerent ex-wife ghost, Sara tries to drown her sorrows in spicy Thai takeout and copious thought captions until she’s hired as a tag-along by a doctor who thinks she’s being followed by something unknown and unseen. Sara trails her through one typical day-in-the-life and declares that her problem is post-divorce paranoiac blues. Case closed!

While they’re wrapping up their post-case evaluation, the doctor’s drunken ex stumbles out from behind a tree and asks if she’s signed the divorce papers yet. The doctor avoids the question; he says stupid things; Sara twists his arm and makes him cry; the doctor invites him inside for some paper-signing and sobering. Sara is left behind out in the cold, but at least the doctor offers to send her payment even while she’s shooing her away. Case closed!

Before Sara can mope too much about what just happened, surprise super-villain attack! She’s accosted by two superhumans: Menagerie, a shape-shifter who seems to specialize in SyFy Original Movie hybrids; and Apparition, whose power is mind-controlling tattoos. Sara activates the Witchblade and knocks Menagerie around for a few mandatory panels of punching, then is robbed of consciousness by a cleavage tattoo.

When Our Heroine awakens, Apparition spends three pages explaining that she’s the doctor’s twin sister, thought to be a casualty in Iraq but secretly spirited away and powered up by mystery benefactors for nefarious purposes. She’s been checking on her sister in between acts of evil without being seen or tripping over the drunken ex-husband. Apparition wants her sister taken care of in a nice way, and has also been sent by her employers to stymie Sara’s recent meddling in their affairs. Before Sara can finish reactivating the Witchblade to ring the bell for Round 2, Apparition effortlessly knocks her out once more and wipes her memory of the entire day using an elephant tattoo on her wrist. Sara awakens later with the impression that she spent the entire issue staring at walls and eating Thai food, as if she were the star of an American Splendor reboot.

There’s also a one-page epilogue about three black-market magic scammers targeting some guy named Cain for a shakedown. Two of them were also pictured in the recap page, but they otherwise don’t mean much to me. Continuation of a running subplot for regular readers, I imagine.

Judge’s summation: Except for a few token action pages, the bulk of this issue was Sara’s lengthy internal monologue in which she ponders if what she does is worth doing and means anything, given what a disaster last issue’s case was. Alongside that inaction, add in the part where Apparition makes her look silly with minimal effort, and I feel as though I should be annoyed with the reading experience.

To be honest, though, Sara’s inner conflict was much more interesting to me than the brief slugfest, even funny in spots. I might have sympathized with her turmoil a little more if I’d had a clearer understanding of last issue’s events, but it wasn’t hard to recognize that this issue’s true antagonist was recovery from failure, or at least from personal letdown. The art by Diego Bernard and two inkers ably supports all the subdued moments as much as the fights, all without being boring, cutting corners, or adding gratuitous action where none is warranted.

I’m happy to find this issue of Witchblade a pleasant surprise. If future issues revert to ogling the lifestyles of the superhuman scantily clad, I’m not sure how attached I could remain, but Sara Pezzini shined through here as a well-rounded, well-meaning hero with rotten luck, irksome adversaries, and the proper weapons and demeanor to cope with both in the end. She also now has me craving Thai food.

[The MCC Request Line is open! If you know of something worth viewing or reading — whether large or small, independent or mega-corporate, famous or new start-up — or if there’s a sad travesty out there that demands closer examination, feel free to let me know, either in the Comments or by email at Nexus15566 (at) !]

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