WITCHBLADE #1 by Caitlin Kitteredge and Roberta Ingranata
Despite some slightly confused plotlines, WITCHBLADE #1 is a fantastic comic book. With a stellar female cast and a potent and clean art style, this book is worthy of the Top Cow stamp.
97 %
A Fitting Rebirth
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When Marc Silvestri opened Top Cow Studios, this Image comics imprint took its focus to heart. With a drive toward gritty superhero action, Top Cow has been putting out stories like none other for nearly two decades. I have found a deep respect and enjoyment in Top Cow’s work since I first got into comics. However, one of the biggest titles to ever come out of Top Cow goes by the name WITCHBLADE. Equal parts noir detective thriller and urban fantasy, WITCHBLADE followed NYPD Detective Sara Pezzini as she used an ancient artifact to battle monsters. Other characters have wielded the Witchblade artifact since, but Sara is the most well-known. Now, WITCHBLADE #1 has found its way to shelves without Pezzini at the helm. What does this rebirth hold for new fans?

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Alex Underwood died today. The problem? She didn’t stay dead. After taking on a case of spousal abuse for the District Attorney’s office, Underwood finds herself bleeding out in an alley from a gunshot. Her killer is the victim’s husband, Detective Blake Groves. However, the next morning, Alex Underwood gets out of bed with nothing worse than a headache. As ghastly visions overtake her sight, Underwood discovers an ornate jeweled bracelet around her wrist. Before she can question anything, she learns that Groves was seen in her client’s neighborhood, seeking revenge for reporting him. Without hesitation, Underwood rushes off to stop the man before he can kill his own wife.

The Bearer of the Blade

Courtesy of Image Comics

While the visual design of the original WITCHBLADE comics had its problems, Sara Pezzini’s emotional arc represents one of early comics’ best portrayals of a female lead. Her strength of will and her emotional complexity inspired many writers over the years. As such, WITCHBLADE #1 had a high hurdle to cross to get my attention. Luckily, it manages to step past that bar. While difficult to determine in one single issue, Alex Underwood feels like an emotionally interesting character. Clues throughout the story signal some sort of dark past. Meanwhile, her current circumstances are less than stellar, with terrifying visions and surreal supernatural abilities taking over her once normal life.

I don’t have anything bad to say about the characterization. Again, this is but one glimpse into what could be a long series. However, as a first glimpse, I am intrigued. While Underwood’s law partner, ADA Maddox, doesn’t have much page time, her voice does manage to still reach the reader. Not only that, but Myra Groves, the abuse victim, receives plenty of development of her own from the start. While her husband doesn’t receive the same treatment, I still found his narrative interesting. I think the reason characterization works so well in WITCHBLADE #1 is that we don’t learn everything from the start. Writer Caitlin Kitteredge focuses primarily on personality over history and motivation. These feel like real people, which instills this story with a lot of worth.

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Manifested Dreams

Witchblade #1
Courtesy of Image Comics

Many of my own writing teachers have given me the same advice: steer away from dreams and visions as much as possible in fiction. While these teachers would give a large list of reasons (all of which the writers of INCEPTION would laugh at), their biggest point involved the chaos of dreams. Dreams are governed by our subconscious mind, with little rhyme or reason behind the connections. In this way, WITCHBLADE #1 feels like a dream sequence. The story feels largely confused, with events bouncing between past and present. Given also that Alex Underwood’s visions meld future events into the present, and confusion is nearly certain.

Yet I didn’t feel confused in WITCHBLADE #1. Not really. While the potential is definitely there, and I found myself scratching my head more often than usual, I also found myself willing to just go with the flow. Some of this must stem from the brilliant set of characters and more from my past love of the Witchblade character. However, I think I feel attached to this confusing flow of events because it feels important to the narrative. Much like MEMENTO (2000), WITCHBLADE #1 uses time to its advantage. The reader is meant to be confused right along with Alex Underwood. Kitteredge uses time to play with the story’s tension, which is a masterstroke move. While I don’t particularly want this in future installments, for WITCHBLADE #1 it worked masterfully.

Painted Blood on Snow

Witchblade #1
Courtesy of Image Comics

Fleshing out this awesome female creative team is Roberta Ingranata with her beautiful stylized approach. Top Cow has had a single aesthetic for a very long time. Based in founder Marc Silvestri’s artstyle, it later found a new edge with Stjepan Seijic, Koi Pham, and Sunny Gho. While all of these artists are superb, they take major steps toward realism or grittiness. Ingranata’s style steps far outside of this generalized aesthetic to provide fantastic results.

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Ingranata manages to approach every page with a sort of calm stylization. Every line is clean, and she manages to pack every panel with subtle details. Though dealing with death, rebirth, and abuse, this story feels more magical. Perhaps it is the snowy setting, but there is something distinctly fantasy about the art. This becomes even more obvious later in WITCHBLADE #1 when Ingranata flashes through moments of Underwood’s past. Grittiness creeps into images of terroristic torture and blown out war-zones. Even between these two moments, Ingranata manages to infuse the scenes with drastically different tones.

Final Thoughts: WITCHBLADE #1

I love Top Cow. In fact, I am currently tearing through every issue of CYBER FORCE REBIRTH and ARTIFACTS to my utter delight. The deep focus on gritty, fantastical superheroics gives their stories a unique and powerful edge. WITCHBLADE #1 fits perfectly into Top Cow’s stellar lineup. While the plot does have its confusing moments, they still feel utterly essential to the plot. The fantastic art by Roberta Ingranata comes across as wholly different than anything Top Cow has done before. And the amazing cast, filled almost entirely with female leads, leaves nothing to be desired. My point: put away this review, drive to wherever you buy comics, and get this book.

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