(W) Caitlin Kittredge (A) Roberta Ingranata (C) Bryan Valenza
Despite a run of critical hits like Think Tank and Sunstone, Image Comics’ Top Cow imprint has felt amiss in recent years, largely due to the absence of its flagship title, Witchblade. For 20 years and 185 issues (plus tie-ins) the series carried Marc Silvestri’s imprint while launching an entire universe and mythology. As time passed, the series developed into one with rich storytelling and stellar artwork, but it could not overcome its early reputation of 1990s cliches, eventually ending in 2015. Witchblade #1 marks the exciting return of one of Image Comics’ signature titles. Whether or not that return is ultimately successful comes down to the storytelling of creators Caitlin Kittredge and Roberta Ingranata.
As discussed in a recent interview from Image+, Kittredge and Ingranata’s series is a complete reboot, pulling elements and concepts from the past but ignoring pretty much everything else. And while it may not be fair to draw comparisons to what came before, it is inevitable. Witchblade #1 does share with its predecessor a strong protagonist. Alex Underwood is a former field reporter who now works for the New York district attorney’s office. Specifically, she works in the Witness Aid Services Unit. But where the past series’ protagonist, NYPD’s Sara Pezzini, was bound by the fictionalized ideal of law and order, Alex’s occupation exposes her to some of the worst cases of injustice in the city without the constraints of due process. As a result, there is potential for a different type of “superhero” story which is glimpsed at briefly here.
The story picks up with Alex already as the bearer of the Witchblade. The artifact takes a familiar form as a bracelet affixed to her wrist. The Witchblade is also sentient, which is wonderfully showcased by Ingranata’s art. The struggle that Alex faces to remain in control of her own body is clearly presented, and it is horrifying. While we do not see the moment the Witchblade bonded with Alex, it is frequently revisited through flashbacks and dream sequences, which have taken on new meaning under the #MeToo movement. We see that Alex has been a victim in the past, and she must now [literally] carry a reminder of that around with her. How she manages to move forward is a strong narrative hook.
This issue does have one major flaw, and that is trying squeeze too much into this one issue. While Kittredge and Ingranata’s effort to make this a meaty first issue, it suffers from pacing problems. This is largely due to the introduction of a mysterious man who acts as the Witchblade’s instruction manual. His words and motive are very cryptic, and does very little other than disrupt the flow of the narrative. The structure of the issue itself is also very disjointed, playing with non-linearity, dream sequences, and flashbacks that can make it difficult to discern what is real, and what isn’t. While this may pay off in future issues, and it may play a larger role in the series overall, it can also be off-putting to those readers going in completely blind to the property’s history.
While the story is flawed, yet overall solid, the strength of Witchblade #1 lies in the artwork of Roberta Ingranata and colorist Bryan Valenza, continuing the title’s proud tradition. While there are some inconsistencies – especially when it comes to characters’ faces – the artwork is very good overall. Ingranata stuffs each page with enough details to provide the reader with a sense of space and physicality without overloading their senses. The action is very fluid, from the dynamic action sequences to something as simple as when Alex brushes her hair aside with her hand. But perhaps the strongest attribute is the expressiveness behind the characters’ eyes. Ingranata’s adheres to the expression “eyes are the window to the soul.” Because of this, Ingranata is able to effectively establish tone throughout the book.
Witchblade #1 kicks off a new era for Top Cow’s flagship title. With a new creative team and a brand new vision, the series looks to shed any lasting remnants of its 1990s reputation and become a bastion for strong, empowered female creators and characters. The artwork is fully engaging and lively without succumbing to the expected, exploitative depictions of women. This debut issue provides a strong foundation that Kittredge, Ingranata, and Valenza can hopefully build upon for a long, long time.