(w) Marguerite Bennett (a) Ariela Kristantina (c) Bryan Valenza
Over the years, Witchblade has two long-standing reputations. The first is that it’s the prime example of 1990s “bad girl” comics, starring a tough-as-nails lead heroine with supermodel looks. The other is that it was the proving ground for many of the industry’s top creators, including Michael Turner, Francis Manapul, Tim Seeley, Geoff Johns, and Stjepan Sejic. Unfortunately, neither of those legacies reflects what characterized the title from at the very least issue #80 through its finale in #185: great storytelling. It is this in particular what writer Marguerite Bennett and artist Ariela Kristantina hope to capture with their relaunch of the series. If their debut in this ½ issue is anything to go by, they have a strong chance of succeeding.
Top Cow has been adamant that they do not do reboots. When 2010’s Artifacts destroyed the universe only for it to be reborn, it was still a continuation of the stories that came before. The publisher played coy with the 2017 Witchblade series and 2018 Cyber Force, but there is no question that this new Witchblade begins anew. Bennett and Kristantina spend the issue level-setting both what the Witchblade is, and who Sara Pezzini is. The duo showcase the Witchblade’s origin and role in human history, offering a fresh perspective and leaving plenty of room for future exploration.
The biggest and most noticeable change is the attention paid to Sara Pezzini’s life before joining the NYPD. While only providing brief glimpses, this is far more about her history than has been seen in the entirety of the original series. The creative team shows us a young Sara, who is driven by her father’s death to investigate the cause. The seeds of her detective prowess are planted early, while her physicality is honed during a military stint. While it does border on “Batmanifying” her character, longtime readers know that unlike DC’s flagship hero, Pezzini is a very flawed, fallible, and relatable character, and these backstory details do little to change that. The narration brings readers in on the insecurities and uncertainties she carries, making her read like a fully-fleshed out character.
While there is a lot to like here, the issue ultimately suffers from the nature of being little more than a preview of what’s to come. There’s a lot of backstory to both the Witchblade and Sara, but very little story. It is understandable that the creative team and Top Cow would like to withhold any story beats for when the series properly launches (maybe later this year or in 2022?), but giving readers some sort of proper narrative – even a pre-Witchblade Pezzini working a case – would have gone a long way in strengthening this issue.
Witchblade #½ is a visual treat. Characters themselves are rendered in a manner that may not appeal to everyone, as Ariela Kristantina’s style is a far cry from the likes of Michael Turner. But while her art does not have the same sex appeal that readers may expect from Witchblade’s reputation, it trades that for a lived-in, tactile world that is accentuated by Bryan Valenza’s colors, which are appropriately warm or cool hues. Furthermore, Kristantina plays around with layouts and paneling in a way that is unique and engaging without becoming overly complicated or difficult to follow.
After a 6 year hiatus, Sara Pezzini is back. She may not be exactly the same as how we last saw her, but it’s great to see an old friend return. With a very promising preview issue from a creative team oozing with potential, it’s very exciting to see what’s in store for Witchblade and, fingers crossed, the rest of the Top Cow Universe.