Disciple of the Witchblade

Witchblade #175 cover, Laura Braga & Betsy Gonia, Top Cow, 2015

When Jim Lee and Marc Silvestri and all those X-Men artists I loved packed up and started Image Comics and its various subsidiaries, I followed, mesmerized by the shiny covers and promises of badass babes. This was the age of the Bad Girl: empowered women in spine-violating, perky-nippled poses. Somewhere deep inside me, my inner feminist screamed in confusion. The rest of me just enjoyed the grittier, shinier, boobier versions of the X-Men that Image Comics called WildC.A.T.S. and Cyberforce. Soon enough I was adding other titles like Gen13 and Wetworks and Codename: Strykeforce to my pull list.

Then came Top Cow Comics’ Witchblade.

witchblade #1 Top Cow Comics 1995 | Written by David Wohl Christina Z. Pencils Michael Turner Inks D-Tron Colored by Nathan Cabrera JD Smith

“New York City Police Detective Sara Pezzini is the latest in a long line of bearers of the Witchblade, a mysterious artifact that takes the form of a deadly and powerful mystical gauntlet. Bound by destiny, the Witchblade chooses one woman in a generation, who must stand between the forces of Light and Dark and preserve The Balance. Now Sara must try to control the Witchblade and uncover its secrets, even as she investigates the city’s strangest, most supernatural crimes.” Top Cow Comics: Witchblade

Branching off into Image Comics and its subsidiaries made me realize that there were more publishers in the industry than just Marvel and DC. And a lot of them were producing these bad girl comics. Avengeline, Shi, Lady Death, Dawn. I had no real interest in these others, but Witchblade managed to stand out from the rest. The fact that she was created by a company to which I was already sworn helped, but more importantly, one of the names on the cover belonged to a woman: Christina Z. As a female collector and a student who harboured dreams of writing comics myself, this was incredible. Though the documentary, She Makes Comics, has shown me that women have been a big part of the comic industry far longer than I realized, up until then, the only names I recognized were Ann Nocenti and Louise Simonson. Even then, those two women rarely graced the credits of the books I regularly read. They certainly weren’t right there on the cover of just about every issue. Meanwhile, Christina Z. soon became the first female to make Wizard Magazine‘s top 10 writers/creators list.

I was so awed by Christina Z. writing Witchblade that I leapt on the opportunity to interview her for my college newspaper. With my idealism and burgeoning feminism firmly in place, I sent her questions that were all basically variations on “OMG HOW YOU WOMAN IN INDUSTRY FULL OF MAN???” Reading over my questions now, I cringe at the singular focus, but I appreciate her patient responses nonetheless:

“I get no pressure [to compromise the characters to appeal mainly to male fans by sacrificing substance for sex appeal.] In fact, I’ve received some to tone it down a bit. I hope it’s not a strange thing for women to enjoy sex appeal as well? Because I do and I think I do it in a way that’s SEXY and alluring–not TRASHY. And THAT is art in itself.” — Christina Z.

I collected Witchblade from the very first issue. Aside from my idolization of Christina Z., it was the first time I’d seen Michael Turner‘s art and, being a fan of Jim Lee at the time, I loved it. It was just the right amount of uniquely Turner, while still being comfortably similar to Lee.

Witchblade sketch by Michael Turner
Witchblade sketch by Michael Turner, inks by D-Tron

And I stayed with the comic for many issues after that, adding Tales of the Witchblade to my collection, which featured other wielders of the Witchblade in times before and after Sara Pezzini. I also got into Sara’s crossovers with The Darkness and Tomb Raider.

Sara “Pez” Pezzini was an intriguing character. I was used to superheroes working within a team. Sara had been a cop who could handle herself well before she was chosen by an ancient power to wield a magical artifact. I loved the way she could be sexy and feminine and tough and confident all at the same time. She gave no quarter in anything she did, but she wasn’t just a trope of either the kickass female or the arrogant, too-good-for-the-force cop.

Cover art to Witchblade #20 by Michael Turner | Inks D-Tron Sean Parsons Joe Weems
Ian Nottingham and Sara Pezzini on the cover of Witchblade #20 – art by Michael Turner
Witchblade #29 pg17 - art by Randy Green | top Cow Comics
Witchblade #29 – art by Randy Green

Ah, and then there was Ian Nottingham, the deadly mystical assassin. By that time, I was a big anime and manga fan, with particular attention paid to the dangerous men of CLAMP stories that haunted my desires with their long black hair. The crackling romantic tension between Sara and Ian kept me going, and a search for Ian images led me to my first fandom group, Disciples of the Blade. The Witchblade fansite and mailing list was home to many people whose ties still bind. Our fandom chatter translated into gatherings at SDCC and when Top Cow expanded its website to include forums, many of us became moderators for the various boards. Top Cow staff even dropped by both the list and the forums from time to time to chat and even request our input. Randy Green lamented his lack of fashion sense when he took over the art on Witchblade. He ended up using some of the outfits I designed for him, including the one on the right. When one of the Disciples passed away, the inside cover of an issue was dedicated to our memories of her. The thought of her loss still brings tears to my eyes, as does the death of Michael Turner, who was always so sweet and funny. I got to meet him and other Witchblade and Top Cow staff a few times at conventions, as well as on a visit to Top Cow Studios itself, where I got to meet another woman in comics, editor Renae Geerlings.

So yeah, you might say that Witchblade means a lot to me.

Witchblade: Rebirth (2012) | Top Cow Comics | Written by Tim Seeley Pencils Diego Bernard Inks Fred Benes Alisson Rodrigues
Witchblade: Rebirth vol.1

I recently picked up Witchblade: Rebirth. I’d been meaning to get back into the series but wasn’t sure where to start, despite the obvious suggestion in that title. The entire Rebirth series is intended to be a jumping on point for new or returning readers, following an upheaval of the Top Cow continuum. Learning about the series coming to an end finally prompted me to jump back in to see what Sara and the Blade have been up to.

Turns out, Sara has moved to Chicago to start over. She’s no longer a cop–just a private investigator hounded by a beat cop who likes to refer to her as a “skinny bitch.” A case leads Sara to a goth bar where she once again has the opportunity to dress up in tiny clothes for the Witchblade to tear into the tiny pieces. I see some things have not changed, and Sara herself comments on the Blade’s penchant for aerating her attire, but I’ve always loved that Sara is equally comfortable in jeans and a t-shirt, or a teeny patent leather dress, as duty requires.

Many other things have changed, though; namely Sara’s understanding of the Witchblade itself, which turns out to be one of 13 artifacts meant to destroy the universe if they all come together. Each arcane item is wielded by major Top Cow players, including Sara’s sort of lover/rival Ian Nottingham. Many, such as The Darkness, Magdalena, and Aphrodite IV have or have had their own series within the universe, and they all come together in the crossover event turned continuing series, Artifacts.  The universe wasn’t destroyed, but Top Cow did get itself a convenient reboot.

The 13 Artifacts of Top Cow Comics (as they appear in Witchblade: Rebirth Vol1 by by Tim Seeley (Author), Tim Various Artists (Author), Diego Bernard (Illustrator)
The bearers of the 13 Artifacts of Top Cow Comics (Witchblade: Rebirth vol.1)

Sara now knows that, as wielder of the Witchblade, she serves as the balance between the powers of dark and light and the wielders of those powers–one of whom, Jackie Estacado, is still keeping an eye on Sara from afar. Her new P.I. role has her tailing an alderman with questionable connections for his wife, who believes he’s a cheating scumbag. Oh he’s a scumbag all right, but there’s a lot more to the story, especially when Sara finds him dead. The mystery leads her to a strange alien symbiote that mimics some of the artifacts in meaty ways–and a group of witches who want that power.

Do the current stories and art still hold up to my nostalgia? Not quite. Sara’s inner monologue was tedious, the slut-shaming was frustrating, and the new arcane big bad was lame. But I sure did enjoy me some good old-fashioned moments of Sara getting her Blade on.

Once a Disciple of the Blade, always a Disciple of the Blade.

Wendy Browne

Wendy Browne

Publisher, mother, geek, executive assistant sith, gamer, writer, lazy succubus, blogger, bibliophile. Not necessarily in that order.