Writer: Caitlin Kittredge
Artist/Cover artist: Roberta Ingranata
Colors: Bryan Valenza
Letters: Troy Peteri
Editor: Eric Stephenson
Publisher: Image Comics/Top Cow Productions
Price: $3.99 US
While not the first comic to come from Image founder Marc Silvestri’s Top Cow Productions, Witchblade was its most successful property. It spawned its own little corner of the Image universe and even had its own short-lived, live-action television series. I was never a fan, though, as Witchblade seemed emblematic of the “Kewl” 1990s super-hero comic: superficially edgy fare the real purpose of which always seemed to be the prominent presentation of tits and asses. Objectification was job No. 1 with Witchblade comics in the past, so when a relaunch debuted this year, I was curious to see if Top Cow would stick with that sexist cachet or try to evolve. The good news is that the latter proved to be the case, but unfortunately, the plotting is rather clichéd, offering some loose-cannon-cop tropes dressed up with super-hero and supernatural elements.
Alex Underwood, former military turned investigator for the D.A.’s office in New York after tragedy befell her years ago in Afghanistan, discovers Asher, the man helping her in her new mission against demonkind as the Witchblade, has been abducted, and she sets out to find him and the malevolent entity that snatched him to get at her. In the process, she learns Asher isn’t what he seemed.
Italian artist Roberta Ingranata boasts an airy, attractive style that also incorporates some looser linework, instilling a gritty look at the same time that suits the story. Her art here reminded me of the styles of such comic artists as Francis (Justice League: No Justice) Manapul and Phil (Infinite Horizon, Black Widow) Noto. What’s most appealing about her work here is the fact that she doesn’t treat the title heroine as a sexual object. Instead, she’s bundled up in bulky clothing. When she does transform into the Witchblade, her more shapely form is revealed, but it’s not sexualized either. Instead, it looks like a kaleidoscope canvas, and the sharp razor- and tooth-like design of the previous incarnation of the character is gone. No literal blade appears, and it seems that the manifestation of her powers are more like supernatural tendrils.
I must also note that I was struck by the strength of the colors and lettering. Bryan Valenza achieves a nice balance between softer tones and muted ones that convey the supernatural and critical elements here. Troy Peteri’s dialogue balloons feature crisp letterforms, both capital and lowercase. The thinner letters employed for the narrative captions are a bit more difficult to read, but they do convey the intensity and drive of the protagonist.
Top Cow seems like it clearly wanted to rehabilitate its reputation, moving away from a misogynist image for something in keeping with the more progressive movements in 21st century pop culture. Part of that effort obviously involved tapping a talented woman to handle the visuals. I was also pleased to find a woman being responsible for writing the exploits of this new Witchblade. Caitlin Kittredge offers up a heroine who’s emotionally scarred but obviously strong and resourceful, and her blunt yet earnest attitude with those around her is appealing.
That being said, the plot and character interactions feel terribly formulaic. From the heroine being haunted by the death of her friend in a warzone to her confrontation with a good cop to get her to own up to the fact that her partner is dirty, the script feels like it’s full of clichés. The kidnapping of her partner, the element of betrayal — it’s all too familiar. Furthermore, I didn’t get any sense at all of how the Witchblade’s powers worked, and her dispatching of her demonic enemy appears to happen solely in the narration. I have no idea what she did or why she claimed victory. While I acknowledge I’m coming into this story at the end of an arc, Kittredge could have provided some more exposition to allow new readers to appreciate what’s going on, both in terms of the plot and the mechanics of the title character’s abilities. 6/10