Despite featuring a female protagonist, and having a pretty cool, pro-woman premise, I decided early on that Top Cow’s original Witchblade comic was clearly not meant for me. After all, in the first ever issue, back in 1995, the reader was introduced to heroine Sara Pezzini with a shot of her pulling the tiniest PVC dress over her perfect, g-string-clad ass. She proceeded to run around worrying about her make-up, wishing she could be a kept woman, and doing most of her thinking in either the shower or skimpiest of negligée.
Of course things changed over the course of twenty years of Witchblade comics. Ron Marz’s run, which kicked off in 2004, notably played down the T&A and played up the credible psychology of Sara. The popular Witchblade TV series with Yancy Butler, meanwhile, kept policewoman Sara fully clothed as she battled criminals and supernatural enemies alike. Still, the Witchblade franchise entered hibernation (if you ignore Switch) when the last comic was published in October 2015.
Two years later, though, Witchblade is back. And the reboot is more accessible, and relatable for female readers than ever. Caitlin (Coffin Hill, Throwaways) Kittredge writes and Roberta (Robyn Hood, Van Helsing) Ingranata provides art, making Witchblade 2017 the first time a female creative team is responsible for the title. The effect is noticeable. There isn’t a single armour bikini in sight – with the exception of a striking but cheesecake-y Natali Sanders variant cover.
Witchblade #1 is a gritty street-level tale, that combines supernatural action and real-world issues like domestic abuse (there’s even a Chris Brown reference). Brunette Sara Pezzini is long gone, and in her place is blonde Alex Underwood, a former TV journalist. Alex clearly has a lot of trauma in her past, but she’s committed to justice, no matter the personal cost to herself. In fact, we meet her working at the District Attorney’s office, where she helps to protect vulnerable witnesses. When her involvement in one case leaves her near death, she is chosen to become the latest host of the Witchblade – a powerful sentient artefact that has for centuries battled the forces of darkness thanks to a symbiotic relationship with its chosen female wearer.
Narratively, a large chunk of Witchblade #1 doesn’t make sense, as Alex struggles to work out the difference between reality, nightmare and premonition. The timeline jumps around and you don’t know, until right near the end of the book, what exactly is going on. Alex’s inner monologue is also jumbled as she now has the Witchblade creeping into her thoughts as part of its bonding process. Alex, unsurprisingly, thinks she’s losing her mind.
One of the most enjoyable things about Witchblade #1 is the realistic meatiness of its heroine. Alex may be a beautiful blonde but she’s far from glamorous. She’s likeably tenacious, sure. However, there’s a very real sense that she hasn’t emerged victorious from all her battles, and that’s left her with old war wounds that continue to niggle years later. In fact, it’s confirmed that her experiences have broken her mentally before. Still, she gets the job done despite the psychological scar tissue. Alex is equal parts tough and vulnerable in a way that women creators tend to be better at balancing than their male counterparts.
It’s a credible approach to character, and it’s supported by Ingranata’s “real-world” art, where everyone is normally proportioned, and the action takes place in ordinary urban settings. For the record, during these early days of Alex’s relationship with the Witchblade, the artefact’s power tends to manifest as black smoke as opposed to the creeping metal tendrils seen in the old comics. It’s not a unique approach to depicting supernatural forces but it seems a better fit in this context. Bryan Valenza’s cool but diverse colour palette further establishes the new series’ tone as sombre, but not too gloomy.
Judging by Issue #1, the new Witchblade is intended for everyone. Things may change moving forward, as Alex comes to terms with the abilities she’s been granted (at an obvious cost), but the comic comes across an empowerment fantasy for the little guy – or girl. Witchblade 2017 isn’t about grand world-saving heroics with a hefty side serving of sexiness. So far, the comic sticks to “on the ground” superheroics much like Jessica Jones and the other Defenders.
A major selling point of the new Witchblade seems to be its wish fulfilment: how it brings retribution to bullies who flaunt their physical and societal might over those smaller, weaker and more vulnerable. Given the times we live in, that’s extremely gratifying. Get ’em, Alex!
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Last Updated: December 6, 2017