Witchblade Volume 1 (Graphic Novel Review)

In the last couple years Top Cow’s Witchblade IP has become one of my favourite reads in comics. Whether it is Witchblade/Sara Pezzini in the pages of Artifacts or Witchblade or in any crossovers here and there, I’ve always loved her as a character. Sara Pezzini to me is one of the best female characters in comics, by far, easily a match for the greats such as Wonder Woman or Storm or Batgirl or Black Widow. And if there is one man out there who has shaped my experience of Sara Pezzini, it is Ron Marz, who has written more Witchblade than any other writer and has had a long run on the core title as well.

Witchblade Volume 1, from my understanding of things, marks a new phase in the life of the protagonist Sara Pezzini as she continues to bear the heavy burden of being the bearer of the Witchblade, a mysterious artifact that has bonded itself to her and has allowed her to face criminals of all stripes and even the more supernatural of individuals. This was Ron’s first arc on the title, and for me it proved to be some of his best work to date, not to mention that the artwork by Mike Choi and others was great as well, capturing the feel of the city and the dark tones of the story.

Witchblade Volume 1In this story arc, titled “Witch Hunt“, Ron introduced the character of Detective Patrick Gleason. As someone who has read much more current Witchblade stories than Ron Marz’s incredible seventy-plus issue run, Patrick is a character with whom I am very familiar, for he is Sara’s current partner and also her boyfriend/husband. For me, he is one of the anchoring points of the Sara Pezzini mythology and in Witchblade: Witch Hunt, we get to see how Patrick joins up with Sara and how their relationship develops on a personal level.

With his introduction, we also see a major shake-up in Sara’s supporting cast since her previous partner Jake McCarthy gets the out and a second new character makes an entry, someone who is much more familiar with what the Witchblade is and its history. That is ultimately what really sold me on this arc. I know well about the Witchblade’s origins, and the status it holds as the balance between the powers of the Angelus and the Darkness, their child so to speak. But to see the beginnings of Sara learning all of that for the first time? Well that has an edge of its own, one I loved.

The main story is tied into why Sara fell into a coma in St. Augustine Church a while back. She saw something, experienced something, that has sent her to the hospital for three weeks, and Patrick is there to find out the what and the why. There is an immediate clash of personalities between him and Jake, and him and Sara, since he is the intruder in their lives, a third wheel so to speak. These interactions were handled well and since Ron’s script tends towards lots of dialogue, I had the chance to really understand these characters, to see what made them tick, especially Jake and Patrick.

In many ways, this is a pretty straightforward story of betrayal and conspiracies, but for me it was more than that because Ron’s writing was astounding in almost every way. He always features Sara prominently in any scene she is in and she gets the best lines, by far. The others revolve around her to a great degree and I liked that aspect since often some writers try to explore their central female characters by only looking at them through the supporting male characters. Witchblade: Witch Hunt is not like that, not at all.

In each of the characters there are quirks of personality and attitudes and egos that Ron tries to bring to the front at every opportunity and the whole mystery of Sara’s coma, not to mention the complicity of someone closest to her, is all handled well. For a supernatural horror title like Witchblade, execution matters a great deal, more so than any other genre because horror doesn’t work so well when it is too subtle or too obvious or anything. It needs to be built up properly, with the time taken to craft out the central mystery properly. And here Ron Marz has a whole six issues to do exactly that and the big mystery at the end feels rewarding, because the writer has made the experience of getting to that point worth it. The conspiracy really pays out in the end, and has a great emotional aspect to it as well, though Ron doesn’t oversell it.

As with many of the other Witchblade stories I’ve read to date, Witchblade: Witch Hunt is a great story about someone standing up to the horrors of the dark and exposing corruption at the heart of a faith. There are lots of hints in this story arc about larger things, such as the role the Witchblade plays in the larger Top Cow universe, and through Sara, Jake and Patrick explore that.

Of course, the best part about Witchblade: Witch Hunt is Sara herself. She is smart, sexy and strong. She can hold off against demons and criminals and monsters alike. She doesn’t need men to protect her and in fact she is often the one protecting the men. The relationships she finds herself in aren’t dramatic cliches either, they are more nuanced than they first appear to be and her relationship as it develops with Patrick is another thing I liked and appreciated here.

On the art side of things, we have Mike Choi on pencils and Brian Buccellato on colours with the trio of Sal Regla, Joe Weems and Matt Banning on the inks while Troy Peteri and Robin Spehar handle the letters. Let’s be straight here, I loved the artwork here. It has an “old” quality to it that was quite popular in comics about a decade or so ago right up until a few years back. But even amongst all of that, the pencils and inks and colours really shine out. The scenes where the Witchblade swarms up over Sara and covers her in armour are among my favourite scenes, and I also loved the big splash pages such as where we see many different bearers of the Witchblade at the same time, in a collage of images as a mysterious shop-keeper gives Patrick a hint as to who and what Sara is and her special responsibilities. Sometimes the facial expressions can be a bit not so distinct, but such are few and far in between.

In short, the rough-and-tumble quality to the art really worked for me. And Witchblade Volume 1 is definitely among my favourite graphic novel reads of the year.

Rating: 9/10

More Witchblade: #170, #171, #172, #173, #174, #175.

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