Image Comics | Top Cow Productions
(w) Geoff Johns (a) Kris Grimminger, Scott Benefiel (i) Jasen Rodriguez, Gary Martin, Jason Martin, Mark Prudeaux (c) Brian Buccellato
I have a well-documented affection for the original Witchblade, especially the Ron Marz and Tim Seeley runs. However, the series from the end of the Michael Turner era and up to Issue #80 was rather hit-or-miss, with a rotating cast of writers of artists. In some instances, you’d see a veteran writer like Paul Jenkins, other times a fresh-faced artist still refining their craft like Francis Manapul. However, a lot of these issues were duds, with uninspired writing or bland artwork. Witchblade #67 features the best and worst of this period, with artwork that isn’t quite up to the book’s normally high standards, but a phenomenal and twisted script by up-and-coming writer Geoff Johns.
On its surface, Witchblade #67 follows the police procedural format (with a supernatural twist) that served this series well for 20 years. Sara Pezzini’s profession as a police detective is a great choice for serialized storytelling as it gives her a natural “in” to all sorts of trouble and misadventures. Often, the threats she faces have an inhuman quality and – in a bit of troublesome realism – falsifies the police reports to conceal the spooky truth. Other times, she must deal with a regular, human foe. These are the ones when Witchblade makes the transition from a supernatural book to a horror one. And although he is known for almost exclusively writing broad, bombastic superhero fare, Geoff Johns proves here that he could have been a great horror writer.
The core antagonist of this issue is a cannibalistic cult operating within New York City’s Meatpacking District. The motivation of this cult’s leader – Mother Mary – is simple. She wishes to possess the Witchblade and taste the flesh of its current bearer. But beyond that, she and her lackeys are quietly butchering people to satiate their own hunger. How Sara catches wind of their operation isn’t quite clear, and may have been explored further if this wasn’t a done-in-one issue. What is clear is that readers catch up with Sara in an on-foot pursuit of a cultist brandishing a meat cleaver – nothing suspicious there. What follows is pages of blood and gore befitting an Argento film.
Unfortunately, the cavalcade of artists don’t allow visuals to reach their fullest potential. Because there are multiple artists and inkers, it is difficult to assign blame. However, readers can point to multiple instances throughout the issue and see where a more capable artist would flourish instead of falter. One of the issue’s big reveals is a crime scene full of dismembered body parts strewn throughout an apartment. While gruesome, the artwork borders on cartoonish, with the severed limbs looking like something straight out of Looney Tunes. Another issue is the use of the same texture gradient for all instances of blood which makes it seem artificial. While it can be argued that this is an exercise in restraint – allowing readers to explore the “theater of the mind” – the truth is this is just average execution that doesn’t rise to the level of quality found in Johns’ script.
Speaking of which, Johns goes to great lengths to keep the narrative focused solely from Sara Pezzini’s perspective. The issue is well paced, allowing the horrors to be unveiled effectively throughout the issue. It builds up to what amounts to a relatively standard fight between Pezzini and Mother Mary. However, it is the events preceding and following the fight that make this issue truly effective. Johns melds together several staples from various genres into an effective and enticing package. A detective’s hunch, creepy buildings, imposing lackeys, and an ominous ending overall make Witchblade #67 an effective issue to get you in the mood for Halloween. It also makes you wonder what may have become of Geoff Johns if he hadn’t made a career of exclusively superhero comics.