My first foray into Witchblade

I admit I've never really read much in terms of graphic novels and comics from publishers other than the big 3 of DC, Marvel and Dark Horse. I'd heard about Image Comics partner Top Cow and I knew that their most popular titles were The Darkness and Witchblade, but I'd never really bothered to seek out these comics or their collected trade paperbacks. Why veer away from tried, tested and enjoyed comic reading habits?

However, a few weeks back, while scrounging on my bookshelves for something to read I discovered that I did actually own Witchblade: Origins (consisting of issues #1-8) and Witchblade: Revelations (consisting of issues #9-17). Given that I've never read many superhero comics with a female lead (Catwoman being the only exception), and given how popular I knew Witchblade to be - having spawned a Yancy Butler TV show, and a movie adaptation supposedly on the horizon - I decided to give the series a try.


Let's just say that I now know why I've never bothered with Top Cow comics.

In all honesty, Witchblade has a fantastic premise. For centuries a mysterious sentient artifact, a glove known as the Witchblade, has found its way into the possession of various strong willed women, including the likes of Joan of Arc and pirate Anne Bonny. Once on the hand of its female bearer, the Witchblade forms a symbiotic, psychic relationship with her, granting her amazingly destructive and paladin-esque abilities as she wages war against evil and injustice, and seeks to protect those she loves. And in Witchblade #1, the Witchblade chooses sexy New York homicide detective Sara Pezzini as its new champion.

At this point it's worth mentioning another major positive of the Witchblade series, and that's its impressive pencilling by series co-creator Michael Turner. Although Turner's characters can start looking very similar, the man (who died of bone cancer, aged 37) certainly knew how to draw gasp-inducing, physically impressive specimens of masculinity and femininity. The intriguing character of assassin Ian Nottingham is just one such example. Witchblade has the consistently best-looking cast of any comic I've ever read.


Of course, this is where Witchblade's problems start. Although it remains PG-13 at all times, the series is sexually gratuitous in the extreme. Every time the Witchblade seeks to protect Sara by spreading armour over her it has to rip off almost all her clothing first. There's a whole story arc centred on modelling, bondage and S&M that only begins to make thematic sense in around issue #14 (in Witchblade: Revelations). Until then it exists purely to show off long-legged, busty babes in corsets and latex at regular intervals. And in fact, it's worth noting that the first proper shots of Sara Pezzini in issue #1 are of her pouting Yasmine Bleeth lips, perfect arse and her size-D breasts (barely clothed of course).

This said, I'm not being prudish - I don't have a problem with comic series creators adopting a "Sex sells!" approach. What I do have a problem with is when "Sex sells" is prioritised above anything else, including character credibility, decent dialogue and general plot coherency.

Witchblade falls down in each of those departments. Despite being co-scripted by a woman, the curiously named Christina Z, Sara Pezzini is a remarkably stupid character. She starts off suitably ballsy, but once she is chosen by the Witchblade, she falls to pieces. Instead of embracing her new powers, she cries and whimpers and just wants to be normal. Despite being a top police officer she becomes hopelessly naive and develops no suspicions about billionaire businessman Kenneth Irons, who is a Witchblade expert and starts pursing her romantically right after she is chosen by the weapon-glove. In short, Sara starts flip-flopping between determined, likeable heroine and dumb wimp who folds at the first sign of conflict. When the latter occurs it's up to her male partners to fling themselves literally into the firing line, yelling "Leave her alone. Kill me instead."


And if that dialogue sounds cheesy, here are some other choice examples for you: "The pistol is like part of my hand. With it, I'm a superhero... blasting the bad guys with my fireballs of justice." And "Can't let 'em get to me. Can't let anyone get to me." Things improve somewhat in the second series collection, Witchblade: Revelations, but that's largely because the plot becomes more interesting - involving a mysterious serial killer in the first half of the collection, and, later, a turf war between the Mafia and Yakuza. Of course though, Sara is so caught up in her own pity party that she has little to do with either events.

I don't say this often about trade paperbacks, but Witchblade really isn't very good at all. Although Revelations ends on a cliffhanger I certainly won't be seeking out the following, third collection.

Comments

I'm with you: I don't mind the "sex sells" angle, but when it starts to replace the development of the character/story/plot/everything, then it's too much.

It's one of the issues I've always had with Heroes.

Plus, I hate when good female characters suddenly go from being badass to being a 50s B-movie female character, the kind who wear high-heels and fall down a lot. It happened in that Sword of Truth series, and I haven't been able to read anything past the first book. Ugh.

If you're going to make a strong female character, keep her strong. She can show weaknesses from time to time, that's cool (example, Buffy), but don't make her suddenly whiny and weak-willed and woe-is-me all the time.
Hi Noelle,

You may find Ron Marz's run on Witchblade more to your liking. Ron has really evolved the series and I'd argue Sara has become one of the more fully realized, strong female leads in comics.
Right now you can get the two trades which collect Ron's first two story arcs (he began with issue 80) for FREE at Instock Trades (www.instocktrades.com). All you have to do is purchase something else (doesn't have to be a Top Cow product) and pay for shipping.

You can also read his first issue for free here - http://www.wowio.com/users/product.asp?BookId=6016

Take care,

Filip Sablik
Publisher, Top Cow Productions
Get a FREE Witchblade trade from www.instocktrades.com !
Pfangirl said…
MJenks, I think your example of Buffy as a strong female character is an excellent one. She was tough but still could accommodate a vulnerable side. Starbuck in the new Battlestar Galactica - well, actually ALL the female characters in that show - are treated in much the same way and they're awesome heroines, made all the more "real" and identifiable for it.


Filip, thanks for commenting. It's very admirable and impressive that you guys are keeping an eye on your brand, and monitoring its reception in the online realm.

I had a skim over the online Witchblade #80 and it definitely fitted my expectations of the series a lot more, without disregarding the tone etc., of the first few issues. Things did seem much more fully realised, using the Witchblade - which has always been a great concept - to a greater amount of its potential.

Thank you also for pointing out that Instock Trades special offer. I may just take advantage of it.

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