Image has diversified itself greatly over its now 21 year existence, distancing itself from the early over-bulked, shining eyeballed super “heroes” with guns and becoming the creator-owned showcase publisher it has always intended to be. Still, a few of those early Image flagships are still in publication (or have returned to publication), like Spawn, The Savage Dragon and, of course, Witchblade.
It’s been a long time since I’ve picked up a copy of Witchblade (published since 1995 by Marc Silvestri’s Top Cow Productions imprint at Image), but that proves to be no problem whatsoever for new or returning readers, as each issue begins with a full page “Previously in Witchblade recap and ends with two character histories in the classic “Marvel Universe” style and format. This made it quite easy to catch up for Witchblade #167‘s “Absolute Corruption Part One” (a good jumping on point for new and returning readers). Writer Tim Seeley made #167 a great showcase for what Witchblade is, and should be, as a series, balancing the many pages of nothing but dialogue between main character (and Witchblade wielder) Sara Pezzini in bed with her new beau Cain with intense (and even realistic) action and fight scenes and some decidedly weird Guillermo del Toro-esque fantasy and monster elements. Add the quality pencils of Diego Bernard (inked by Fred Benes & Allisson Rodrigues) and you’ve got one hell of a merging of amazing fantastic horror and real world Chicago.
The selfsame creative team up the ante and extends the promise of the previous issue in Witchblade #168‘s “Absolute Corruption Part Two”. Sara is now teamed up with Katarina Godliffe (a former, now rejected, Witchblade gauntlet bearer) as well as Cain Jorgenson and Katarina’s action-figure sized fairy companion Gulwick against the evil seer, criminal and businessman Esquivel Mohamed. This second part of the new story arc kicks the story into high gear with impressive art, but mostly with Seeley’s impressive knack for dialogue and exposition that doesn’t slow the comic down. Bernard’s pencils capture the monstrosity of the Eidolon, but Seeley’s words as the Eidolon relates his own backstory to Mohamed are fascinating.
“Absolute Corruption” proves in its second part that it is far from a new and gimmicky storyline, but is rooted deeply in the Witchblade mythos, stretching all the way back to the saga’s main villain Kenneth Irons and his 19th century machinations. What’s more, the conflict between team Pezzini and Mohamed’s gang is far from the only story thread here. Villains like Rook and Toio Mulranny are loose in Chicago, the mob of followers of Alisa Spencer (yet another magic villain) are still plaguing Sara and the Eidolon proves to have an agenda of his own.
Witchblade has evolved over its near two-decades and the comicbook landscape has changed considerably since its debut. While impossible physical human proportions and ultraviolence were popular in the mid 1990s, the Witchblade of today is dialogue driven and intelligent, but continues to be action packed. This action can take surprising yet sensible forms as a double cross becomes a supernatural ambush, adding another twist and turn to the proceedings. Sara’s recognizably near-naked armored form is unseen in any page thus far of “Absolute Corruption”, with the one time the title gauntlet extends to full armor, it remains full armor, not just covering her arms and bathing suit areas. Otherwise, Sara dresses, well, much like Yancy Butler did in the 2001-2002 television series based on this comic.
That said, Top Cow’s most enduring title doesn’t shy away from its roots either with impossibly weird (and violent) monsters and, of course, both the beautiful and busty Katarina and the sexy, face-painted villain Apparition wearing approximately a quarter pound of fabric each to cover a whole lot of woman.
This all substantiates the point that Witchblade remains weird as hell. Apparition herself has magical tattoos, while cohorts of hers have ineffectual chimera bodies (like the guy with the shark’s head growing out of his chest). That’s not even to mention the bizarre monstrosities that fill half of Witchblade‘s pages. However, the “weird” works so well here because of the aforementioned balance between realistic Chicago and Sara’s real-world private investigation job with this surreal underbelly. We aren’t dealing with Sandman‘s dreamland or even Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s Sunnyvale, but Chicago, where monsters are hardly any kind of common sight, even in an election year.
Witchblade is still around after 168 issues because of its rich and evolving storyline over the years and the very balance between the surreal and the believable. Yes, this title is “Classic Image” (or, at least, “Classic Top Cow”), and the key word has proven to be “Classic”. Witchblade has been well-honed and is sharper than ever. Best of all, as exemplified in “Absolute Corruption Part Two”, Witchblade is still one hell of a lot of fun to read.