When a wrongly convicted man sells his soul to a demon for the safety of his family while in prison, a young rookie cop who helped put him away comes back to make amends and try to put things right. Lucky for this rookie cop, she's the bearer of the Witchblade.
On August 18, Top Cow publishes this story in a one-shot entitled Witchblade: Due Process. This story, written by Phil Smith and illustrated by Alina Urusov, shows an experienced Sara Pezzini pulls open a closed case from early on in her career, before she held the Witchblade, where she unknowingly assisted in putting away an innocent man. As it turns out, prison life was hard the innocent prisoner, leading him to make a deal with a very real demon for the protection of his family. Now with his release coming due, that demon is coming to collect what’s his: his human soul. To make things right, Witchblade must catch up with this innocent man and stand between him and this sinister demon.
This one-shot is by two relative newcomers to comics. Artist Alina Urusov just came off work with Marvel on X-23 and some Young Avengers issues, while writer Phil Smith spends his days as an editor at Top Cow. Smith wrote last year’s Trinity: Blood on the Sands one-shot, and the recently released Top Cow Bible Addendum featured three new concepts by the writer. For more on this one-shot and his career, we talked with Smith by email from his home in California.
Newsarama: Witchblade: Due Process follows Sara Pezzini as she goes into her past to make amends for putting an innocent man in prison. Phil, what can you tell us about this situation?
Phil Smith: 10 years ago when Sara was a Rookie officer she was sent to arrest a man accused in the murder of three police officers. Given the nature of the crime she was sent along with several other officers and informed the man was armed and dangerous. During the arrest Sara realizes something is up and that they must have the wrong guy. The events of that night haunt Sara for years and during that time she matures, becomes the bearer of the Witchblade and eventually uncovers a police conspiracy to imprison this man. Sara being a hero can’t let that stand so she spends years building her case to free this man. Unfortunately after having been locked away the man’s life has been destroyed and he has made hard choices while in prison to survive.Nrama: Can you tell us about this convict, William Hicks?
Smith: William Hicks was a family man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. In the story the police officers are able to fabricate enough evidence to frame him to cover up their own wrongdoings and the murder of their own brethren. Hicks is married to an African American woman with whom he has a daughter.
Nrama: What is William trying to protect his family from that he has to make a deal with demons to protect them?
Smith: As a parent I am always concerned when I am away for too long and some may say I am a bit overprotective. William knows he is innocent and has his world ripped apart by the very people who are supposed to ensure people’s safety, the Police. William has no idea why this is happening to him but considers that if this is happening to him what else can happen. He feels powerless which is when the Demon makes his move. Agares is a variation on the Judeo Christianic Demon of the same name. In this story Agares using lies and deceit and the promise of safety for William’s family as an incentive in order to draw William into his service. As with any deal with “The Devil” or demonic forces there is always a catch which William does not realize till it is too late.
Nrama: It seems William has changed much since he was wrongly convicted, but what about Sara?
Smith: Over the years Sara has matured and grown into her role in the Top Cow Universe as a hero and Artifact bearer. It’s important to show heroes at their best but also show that they are human and have their own faults. Sara in her early career was not the experienced and weathered hero we know her as now. This moment of hesitation in her past haunts her and now as a fully realized hero she takes the steps to make it right. The fact that she made a mistake, or hesitated to do the right thing, does not make her bad. The fact that she owns up to it and won’t stop till she does everything she can to make it right is what makes her a hero.
Nrama: You talked earlier about the adversary introduced in this book, the demon Agares. Can you tell us more about him?Smith: The Demon in this story is loosely based on the Judeo Christianic Demon Agares. In myth Agares has a certain pedigree but in this story he is a provocateur or instigator. Here his powers are limited in so far as he can only grant certain supernatural abilities to people who swear loyalty but those powers can only be benevolent in nature. In William’s case any pain he inflicts becomes healed and is transient. Additionally Agares can only manifest on our plane of existence as a ghostlike figure and communicate with his voice. This may not seem like proper tools for a soul crushing demon but in the hands of a malevolent sociopath they are enough to crush wills and destroy lives. This ties in to a larger subtext relating to Agares and his motives for collecting pure souls that are not necessary to explain in this story but would be fun to explore in the grander scheme of the Top Cow Universe (but that is a whole other thing). [laughs]
Nrama: How did the ideas for this one-shot come together for you?
Smith: Since becoming a Dad the question of what would you do for your child comes up over and over. I asked myself what someone do if they were taken from their family? In William’s case he is lead to believe that by devoting his soul to this demon he can barter supernatural protection for them. This choice comes at the price of being branded a member of violent organization with a reputation for racial bigotry. This is at odds with William’s true nature and beliefs but, like Sara as a rookie, feels caught up in the motion of events around him.
Nrama: So you’re saying there’s a little bit of you in the character of William Hicks?
Smith:I think its important to have an understanding of characters and their point of view. I would not want to write a character that has such a skewed point of view that it was impossible to see how they got there, even villains. In fact it is just as important to see things from the villain’s point of view, as a writer, otherwise you run the risk of the antagonist reading very flat and cookie cutter. I purposely wanted to create a situation where you have a character who only has difficult options and no clear “right choice.” Hicks is someone who has everything taken away from him by the very people charged with keeping him and his family safe. I like exploring these dilemmas. I was in the Navy, driven escorts, bartended and through the course of interacting with people from all walks of life I’ve seen people just beaten into the ground. There are some people who believe there is always a “right choice,” in my experience there are some situations where you have to do something contrary to your beliefs in order to achieve the better end. William had to do that, from his point of view.
Nrama: What's it like working with artist Alina Urosov? I heard she was very inquisitive about the characters of the book.
Working with Alina was great. If you have an idea she latches on to it right away and often comes back with multiple solutions and some ideas along the way that add layers to the story. She was very interested in making sure characters were true to the script and their individual motivations. I had a loose visual concept for Agares that she took to another level. She even explored a grittier style to reflect the tone of the story, which totally surprised myself and the editorial crew. She really did everything she could to bring this story to life and I really owe her a lot for her incredible efforts.Nrama: We’ve seen your name in the editorial credits for a while now with Top Cow, so what’s it like to be able to jump to the other side of the desk and be a creator?
Smith: It feels great and I feel very lucky to be able to do this type of thing. I have been wanting to write ever since I was an intern at Top Cow (2001/2002 ish) but understood that paying your dues had to come first. Last year prior to San Diego Comic-Con we had some very tight deadlines and my wife was getting ready to deliver our first baby. I had a laptop in the delivery room and two external drives set up and was editing the Art of Top Cow for San Diego as her labor progressed. At one point the nurse tapped me on the shoulder and said “I need you to hold one of her legs the baby is coming.” I hit “save as” and my baby was delivered moments later. After that I was less shy about pitching stories I wanted to write. [laughs]
Nrama Last year you did a one-shot for Top Cow called Trinity: Blood on the Sands with a 14th Century Witchblade, Angelus and the Darkness bearers. Was that your first comics work? How did you break in comics?
Smith: Trinity: Blood on the Sands sold out I believe and I would love to pick up the thread on those characters again. I got my internship at Top Cow by meeting writer Fiona Avery who introduced me to Renae Geerlings who then gave me an internship based on having self published a three issue sci-fi comic with artist JK Woodward. James went on to IDW and I interned at Top Cow for 3 years while working on my Bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design and illustration.
I have a lot more stories I would like to tell. I have three original ideas featured in the Top Cow Bible Addendum that was unveiled at Comic-Con 2010. The stories are titled Visiting Hours with concept art by JK Woodward and Youth with concept art by Alina Urusov along with the third idea called Pistol Whipped. I have many more concepts that were not included in the Bible that I am working on developing and re-submitting or possibly seeing what I can get done on my own but I am certainly keeping busy. I would very much like to branch out and do more writing it has been a great experience and I plan to do more!Devlish Deeds.