Glove, Bracelet, Bikini, Halberd: Exit the Witchblade, For Good?
Witchblade is ending! Come October, and issue one hundred and eighty-five, Sara Pezzini is taking off the glove, and walking away from her solo title after twenty long years. If you put your ear to the ground it sounds like a new bearer might surface, in a rebooted series of her own, but nothing solid is on the public table yet (and after all, Sara’s given up the Witchblade to a new contender before, but not with any finality).
Looking at this ending-on-twenty as a solid break, the end of Sara Pezzini’s story, I gathered up some of the women who’ve read her book, as well as those with a more satellite awareness of the Witchblade’s place in pop history, for a roundtable. Come back at the end of September for a send-off spectacular…
When did you first discover Witchblade? How? And what did you think of it?
Lindsey David: I couldn’t tell you when I first heard of Witchblade the comic, but my first dive was with the anime. And I LOVED IT. I know it goes over the top and it’s hypersexual, but she just seemed so badass. She was sexy, but deadly. And I loved the animalistic, almost brutal, manner about her. It really piqued my interest. After I found out my favourite artist, Stjepan Sejic, also worked on the comic, I became really interested in starting the comic.
Al Rosenberg: I watched the anime before I ever started reading the comic. I think I prefer the anime.
Claire Napier: In 2002 I took my first step into a comic shop, and understood nothing. I wanted some X-Men but could not understand which X-Men I wanted, or why there were so many different titles. So I picked up EVO: Endgame, because it had a girl on, her body mostly all pointed in the same direction, and it said 1. I didn’t notice that it also said #3 of 3, so later that afternoon I had to go back and pick out the rest of the backissues in the arc; Witchblade #58-#60 and Tomb Raider #25. Sara Pezinni was a cop, Lara Croft does cool mystery archaeology, boom, sold. I didn’t have to worry about not understanding any more, because I had titles that I had “a grounding in” now. Weight off my mind, although…it balanced out. The TV show turned up rerunning at some point, and it gave everything the comic offered minus the boob fetishism.
Emma Houxbois: My mother always had this habit of buying my sister and I magazines as part of little gift baskets for every Hallmark holiday, and bless her heart she got me the February 1998 issue of Wizard Magazine because it had Spider-Man on the cover. For a hormonal fourteen year old trans girl with all kinds of mixed up ideas about sex and gender, that magazine was a powder keg and my gateway into Top Cow. I dove straight into Witchblade because Sara Pezzini was exactly the kind of badass heroine I wanted to read about, but the whole losing her clothes all the time thing was a massive guilty pleasure too. One thing I never felt conflicted about was the design of the gauntlet itself. I dooded that dang thing all through middle school.
Tini Howard: I’d been sort of vaguely aware of Witchblade my whole life, being a girl who read comics in the 90s (and at the time, who stayed away from superhero comics). So I’d read enough to know the general gist—tough cop lady, ancient relic, knows some guy in a ninja mask…
Whitney Grace: I first saw Witchblade on TNT when it hosted the live-action TV series. I was amazed that there was a show with a female character, who wielded a sword and was able to take down male bad guys. It was like anime, the only place I could find sword-wielding girls, except it was in English and was set in a more familiar locale. Seeing the Witchblade appear on Sara Pezzini’s arm was awesome! When I was reading the show’s credits, I saw it was based on a comic book and I knew I had to check out the series. I love the series, I love the proactive heroine, and the weapon, but my only quibble was that the costume left nothing to the imagination. Nothing wrong with the human body, it’s just not a practical crime fighting outfit. When the anime came onto Netflix, I was so excited to see a new take on the series from a Japanese perspective. Japanese writers view the superhero genre differently, so I enjoyed how they reimagined an American superhero concept, while keeping to the original theme. I was still confused by their costume designs, though.
Wendy Browne: I followed many of the Marvel artists over to Image Comics. Witchblade became part of my pull list the moment it was announced. I was not familiar with the creative team, but was instantly drawn to them. I loved Michael Turner’s art and was especially thrilled to see a woman in the writing credits. Up to that point, I’d only ever really known of one woman in the industry, Ann Nocenti, so seeing Christina Z.’s name was pretty big for me as a young woman wanting to break into comic book writing. The book itself didn’t disappoint. Sarah Pezzini was a powerful character and I loved the way she dealt with everything with both ferocity and vulnerability. I also really liked the Tales of the Witchblade.
Are you a regular reader? Have you ever been? Or, what stopped you from becoming one?
Lindsey: I have not read any of it yet, actually. Honestly, the sheer volume of issues was daunting and I didn’t know where to start!
Al: I’m still pretty behind. It’ll be a while before I catch up. I probably would have been a regular reader if I was exposed to it earlier.
Claire: I read a few more issues back from #58, and kept reading regularly until the mid eighties. The book had a real continuity problem; stand-alone cases are fine, that’s almost a necessary part of a series with longer running themes and B-plots. But nothing felt like it stuck, the art was unreliable (one minute glorious, no-nipples Francis Manapul, the next…the opposite…of that), and there was nobody for Sara to rely on once her professional partner started banging her wayward sister. I love a hardboiled lady cop, supernatural or no, but any character needs friends (it was great when Lara or the Magdalena dropped by! But that was rare) and an internal life. I just wasn’t getting that. I probably wouldn’t have read as long as I did if Renae Geerlings, the editor at the time, hadn’t been all over the end matter of the book, a genuine real-life female presence.
Emma: If I recall correctly, my first issue was #25, Michael Turner’s last and I kept reading from there until somewhere in the forties while also backreading the first few. My interest petered out as my engagement with comics got more sophisticated and the whole clothes ripping off started losing it’s appeal. I kept an ear open to what was going on and popped in every once in a while when big things like Kenneth Irons (finally) dying happened. When Tim Seeley’s run went on sale on Comixology a little while ago I snapped it all up because I’m a long time Hack/Slash fan. (Sensing a pattern yet?)
Tini: I’m a current reader—I pick up most of Top Cow’s books, nowadays—but I read most voraciously during the Tim Seeley run, Rebirth and all that. There’s a big part of me that still very much identifies with that Sara, and I loved that way that run explored what she felt was ‘wrong’ with her. She drinks a little too much, she likes baseball more than dating, and she probably needs to wash that damn Ramones t-shirt. Love that girl.
Whitney: I read the comics whenever and wherever I could. The trade paperback editions were my favorite, because I was able to read entire story arcs in one sitting. I started reading single issues around the time Danielle Baptiste came the Witchblade wielder, but my comic shop stopped carrying Top Cow’s line and I moved onto other series. Whenever I come across a trade paperback, I devour it. My reading is better described as dedicated sporadic.
Wendy: I was definitely a regular reader. My crush on Ian Nottingham led me to a fansite called Disciples of the Blade which also had a mailing list that some of the creators would visit from time to time. I loved that list and the book that inspired it and made—and lost—some wonderful friends. One issue includes a tribute on the inside cover to Debra Anitra Fields, a Disciple of the Blade who lost her battle with a chronic illness. And of course, the death of Michael Turner…I’d only met him once, but that was a pretty big loss, too. I stopped collecting comics for a while, but the recent announcement of its end has finally made me return to Witchblade.
Now that it’s ending, are you inclined towards catching up with a complete series?
Lindsey: Now that it’s done, I feel more comfortable about starting a new series, knowing where the end of the tunnel lies.
Al: Definitely planning on finishing it now.
Claire: I’ve just read the last ten current issues and I’m impressed. A trusted, woman sidekick for Sara (a mentor position for Sara!), who has a personality, background and look of her own—I’m more than happy with that. Lara Braga and Betsy Gonia are an unbeatable art team, which I’ll go into in a post of its own (they deserve it). I don’t know if I’d chance a long read, but hearing that Ron Marz (who took over just as I stopped reading and has been on the title since) has a hundred issues under his belt and finished up as well as he did does make me feel much more like reading back than I have…ever. I also think that ending Witchblade was the best thing to be done; the concept is so of its time (magic glove takes ownership of strong woman, glove’s spidery-sense rips apart her clothes to form sexy bikini thorn armor so she can fight gross monsters and evil businessmen, also her boobs are big and she is hot). I don’t think it’s necessarily irredeemable, but I do think that an actual break with its roots is a necessity.
Emma: I don’t know if I’m going to go back and read everything, because a lot of the issues I haven’t read seem completely out there, but I definitely want to finish the series now that I’ve been through Seeley’s run. I also really ought to at least give Danielle Baptiste’s time as the bearer a look, because a queer lead is something I always wanted while I was reading regularly.
Tini: I’ve read everything since Rebirth, so maybe I’ll go back and check out some of the stuff before that? Or maybe I’ll go and read some more Darkness, figure out what Sara always saw in Jackie. I was always more of a Patrick fan, myself. 😉
Whitney: It makes me want to reread the entire series from beginning to end, is binge reading a thing these days? I HATE having to wait for a series’ next installment, because of the anticipation and waiting. Since I don’t have to wait anymore, I might invest in a nice, complete Witchblade set. The only problem is finding the room on my bookshelves.
Wendy: I’ve been staring at the trades at the comic store for a while, uncertain of where to begin. If I had the money, I’d buy them all, but apparently, I have to be a responsible adult and feed and clothe my kids first. I wanted to pick up something that included art by Stjepan Sejic, but finally settled on Witchblade: Rebirth. If I’m going to start again, this seems like the smart place to do it.
If you were in charge of a Witchblade reboot, what would you do with it?
Lindsey: Honestly? No idea at this point! I’m intrigued by Sejic’s new take coming out, though, and will probably start that before the original series.
Al: Hmm, not having read the whole thing yet, I’m not sure. I think the art and characterization is already so cool.
Claire: To be frank: no clothes-ripping. You can wear armour (and even gloves and bracelets) over clothes. Woah. I know. Sexy armour over clothes? Non-sexy armour over sexy clothes? Any kind of armour over no clothes, even, occasionally! Endless possibilities. Just for a change.
Emma: For largely selfish reasons I’d really like to have a trans woman as the bearer. There’s not much in terms of occult and supernatural fiction that affirms gender on terms other than biology so the idea of the Witchblade recognizing and binding to a trans woman would be a huge thing. I think some kind of transgressive sexuality that includes far more female agency than whoops my clothes ripped off should definitely in there. Witchblade ought to be a sexy title all about dealing with dark urges, but the big thing is whose idea of sexy is being given primacy? My only other big ask from a reboot would be to keep the series self contained for at least the first two years. One of the things I had the most trouble with in the series was how convoluted things got when Top Cow tried to put together that whole “Artifacts” thing connecting all the major titles.
Tini: I’ll confess—I’ve been asked about five times since the announcement if I want to be the next one to pick it up if there’s a reboot and the answer is always ‘yes, yes for sure, just give me the word, guys.’ I’ll say this: To me, Sara is representative of a certain era of female sexuality, where the girl who washed her car in a bikini or the supermodel in the music video was weirdly deified. Look at George Michael’s “Freedom 90” or Phoebe Cates in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Highly sexualized women, sure, but with a certain kind of power. I grew up in that era. I think the Witchblade is an artifact that makes for an amazing story. But maybe, rather than exploring one kind of feminine power in a hundred eras, I’d like to explore feminine power of all kinds in those eras. But I wouldn’t shy away from who Sara is. She’s ripped up rock t-shirts and she swears too much. She makes bad decisions and frustrates those close to her. She’s not afraid of anything she can punch. She’s pure 90s rock and roll, and that’s a beautiful thing.
Whitney: SO MUCH! The Top Cow crew has always done a magnificent job, but if they gave me carte blanche I’d reimagine the whole series and pay tribute to the original. I would set the series during modern day and create a new wielder, probably a woman with a profession you wouldn’t expect to be associated with the blade. I’ve always been intrigued with the Witchblade’s history, so one primary focus on my series would concentrate on exploring its past users and their individual stories. The new wielder would slowly learn about the blade’s history, while being pursued by one or two villains/organizations trying to harness the weapon’s power for evil.
Wendy: Tales of the Witchblade opened up so many options. It showed that the Blade chose its wielders for many different reasons and therefore, a reboot could give us all sorts of variations. I’d love to see a reboot that explored many different women in many different walks of life, past, present, and future.
This panel has featured: Lindsey, Al, Claire and Wendy of WWAC, as well as:
Tini Howard is a writer for Top Cow comics, with her work including Poseidon IX (September 2015) and Magdalena: Seventh Sacrament—which featured Sara Pezzini. She also has a piece in the upcoming Oath Anthology, and is a contributor to the upcoming Secret Loves of Geek Girls anthology on Kickstarter. Her work has been published in works by McFarland Press and on Gawker.com.
Whitney Grace is a self-proclaimed comic book and animation geek. When she’s not reading comics, she’s writing, and when she’s not writing she’s watching cartoons. She’s currently writing a book about Lotte Reiniger for McFarland, reviews comics and interviews their creators for FanboyNation.com, formerly she did it for the Comic Buyer’s Guide. Whitney also hosts the Toon-In Talk Podcast, www.toonintalk.com, interviewing anyone with an interesting story about the animation industry. She holds an MS in Information Science and a BA in Hispanic Studies and Language.
Emma Houxbois is a fiercely queer trans woman from the wilds of Canada, most recently spotted in the Pacific Northwest. She is a two time IWC Women’s World Champion and has written about comics for the web since 2005. She is currently the Comics Editor for The Rainbow Hub.