Publisher: Image Comics/Top Cow Productions
Writer: Caitlin Kittredge
Artist: Roberta Ingranata
Cover: Roberta Ingranata & Bryan Valenza
Colors: Bryan Valenza
Letters: Troy Peteri
Reviewer: Steve Sellers
Ever since Top Cow relaunched the most recent version of Witchblade, I’ve been following it with some interest. It’s traditionally always been one of their most interesting concepts, as it’s functionally a blend of mystery, horror, and dark fantasy. The presence of Caitlin Kittredge, who has made her career as a novelist with those genres, only made this series more intriguing.
The only remaining question is whether this initial arc would live up to the legacy of Sara Pezzini. This title took a significant risk in starting over with a new bearer of the Witchblade, though an understandable one after Sara’s story had already been thoroughly told. To date, that has not been a concern, though it depends ultimately on how this first arc concludes.
Thus far, the risk has paid off for this Witchblade series, which continues to tell a strong, consistent story.
The cover is done by the regular art team of Roberta Ingranata and Bryan Valenza, who produce some solid work. The Witchblade covers for this series have generally been up to standard, and that’s no exception here. One of the interesting points in this cover is that they highlight the character of Alex Underwood, using the low-tilted head, closed eyes, and the facial expression to hint at the content. The view of the city skyline helps to establish location and genre without being too blunt in the delivery. However, it should be said that most of the convincing work is done through the colors, as they set the tone of the cover and add important details. There’s a somewhat noirish look to the skyline, which is done through muddier colors, such as shades of brown. However, it’s the addition of the blood coloration on Alex’s face and hair that gets the sense of horror on this cover. While it’s not a cover that teases at anything specific, it’s an eye-catching illustration that gives a sense of what the book is, and it works on that level.
The interior work by Ingranata is likewise quite good, striking the right point between action and moody atmosphere. The layouts are clean and effective, making use of wide-panel shots to establish location and set up the action. There’s a good progression to the quieter moments between panels as well, and Ingranata does solid work in visual characterization through expression and positioning. The line work in the action scenes comes across rather nicely as well, though I question the decision to bring back the “camera” too far during the training sequence. Characters are well rendered as always, and this is a setting that looks inhabited by believable-looking people. Likewise, the setting of New York City comes alive as a character, not just through the city skyline, but in the depiction of the buildings and the mood of the places we’re shown. So far, I’ve been pleased with the artwork these past few issues, and I hope Ingranata remains on this title for a while longer.
When depicting horror and dark fantasy, a good colorist is absolutely an essential piece of the puzzle. Top Cow seems to understand this, as the coloring of Bryan Valenza succeeds in creating the mood and atmosphere of this series. This is a series that thrives on the use of colder tones, particularly deep shades of blue and black, to create that sense of eerie desperation of the setting. The lighting flows through at the right moments, though often it’s done just to highlight the darkness in the rest of the scene. The coloring also succeeds at making the supernatural elements look more bizarre and surreal, whether it’s the ethereal nature of the ghost or the deep purple of the magic effects. When Alex uses the power of the Witchblade, it strikes with visual impact, using the lighting and color to contrast with the cold blue tones. Valenza seems to understand just what the book needs to achieve visually, and the book is all the better for that sensibility.
Troy Peteri handles the lettering for this issue, and he puts in a solid effort. One of the strongest points to the letter work is the sense of economy that Peteri brings to it. Dialogue balloons and captions are kept to a minimum of space while giving the text room to work. This allows the artwork more room to operate and tell the story on a visual level. However, the lettering also does a good job of distinguishing the different character voices through font and balloon colors. Alex’s narrative captions give the sense that she’s writing a diary or a report, while recap captions have a more layered texture to them. The issue brings a light touch to sound effects, but those few we do get are used appropriately and at the right moments. The lettering adds texture and emphasis without drawing too much attention to itself.
Though I’ve not read much of Caitlin Kittredge’s work prior to this series, she’s proven to be a natural choice for this title. It’s been a pleasure to watch Alex Underwood grow as a character in these past few issues. That growth takes an interesting turn with this issue, where she finally takes the step from a reluctant young woman into a heroine who is willing to trust in the Witchblade. Even though part of her remains skeptical about the world of ghosts, demons, and magic, she’s embraced her role more fully. The process of that growth feels natural and organic, which is due to Kittredge’s skill at character and pacing. Alex is a good, sympathetic “reader identification” character, and her narration helps get the reader up to speed about what she’s facing and why the Witchblade is needed.
Additionally, the plot is appropriately paced in its structure, even if it does occasionally feel a little bit slow at times. We’re given the right answers from the right people at the right times, such as the background detail given on the Witchblade and its legacy. At the same time, the writing also doesn’t lose sight of forward progression, as Alex is drawn to the next major plot point without missing a beat. Complications build, affecting Alex not just as the bearer of the Witchblade, but also in her normal mundane life. The two worlds start to bleed and affect each other as well, complicating things in a way that’s satisfying. I still don’t feel like we have all the answers yet, but there are enough to keep me interested to find out what the resolution turns out to be.
If you’ve been on the fence on Witchblade, I’d recommend picking this title up. It’s a book that understands and honors the legacy of the previous series, but Alex Underwood is a worthy successor that has so far been enjoyable to read about. There’s a good balance of gritty street drama along with Lovecraftian horror that the title should have. It’s a book that’s shown consistency, and because of that, Witchblade earns a ghost-busting 9.0/10. While it’s not quite at the top of my reading list, it’s a good, reliable title that delivers a worthwhile experience.
Written By Steve Sellers
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