In 1995, Top Cow launched Witchblade and it quickly became its flagship title – but it's about to be over.
On November 25, fans will say goodbye to Sara Pezzini and the series with the finale, Witchblade #185. One of the few new characters to surpass 100 issues (and get an animated film and a live-action series to boot), Witchblade celebrated her finale with long-time writer Ron Marz and some of Top Cow’s biggest alumni artists returning such as Stjepan Sejic, Nelson Blake I and Randy Green.
For this special occasion, Newsarma reached out to the creators of the Witchblade series past and present, bringing in co-creators Marc Silvestri and Brian Haberlin along with others to talk about Pezzini and the Witchblade.
“Witchblade came out of the hubris that we could simply do better,” said Haberlin about the character’s creation. “At the time Shi and Lady Death were selling like hotcakes and we decided we'd do our ‘bad girl’. Not that she's bad, but that was the unfortunate term used at the time. I came from TV, so David Wohl and I initially broke down the character in that way. What's her job, who are her friends. Not just all about the power/powers, but what would happen in 10 issues, 20 issues, and so on.”
Top Cow founder Marc Silvestri admits of the “bad girl” trend was part of Sara Pezzini’s origin, but also something older – mythical, even.
“We wanted to do an update on Arthurian legend and looking at Excalibur,” said Silvestri. “We had a guy who everybody would soon find to be incredibly talented, and that was Mike Turner, and we were looking for a project for him and at the same time that we could do in a female-lead category.”
Female heroes had existed in superhero comic books going back to its earliest days, but with Witchblade Silvestri saw a chance to do something Marvel and DC had never achieved at that point.
“There is no point in creating another Spider-Man,” Silvestri said, “so we were always looking for something different. The market was in flux and everybody was looking at the next big thing. So we took this idea and updating that legend and giving this female this gauntlet that initially we weren’t sure what it could do, but wanted it to be cool. I remember sitting around and throwing names around for it and Witchblade was just a name that was tossed around and when we tried something else, it didn’t work.”
But Witchblade did work, becoming the highest selling book of the year, and one of the most prominent new characters created in American comic books in the past 25 years. Although Top Cow had been running for years with Cyber Force, Silvestri said Witchblade was a “fresh start” that the company needed.
“For us it really kind of set the die. We have this supernatural fantasy world and not really super guys from another planet. That’s not what we do,” said the Image Comics co-founder. “I wanted to build our universe based on the things I grew up on which were sci-fi, horror and fantasy. So taking the Arthurian legend concept, we now had this Witchblade, this artifact that could be traced back to the beginning of time.”
Taking that multi-layered origin and the potential it offered, Silvestri explained how Witchblade became the foundation of Top Cow’s future in a way Cyber Force never did.
“It’s important because it established our world. With Cyberforce, we tapped into the sci-fi side of things, but still had an X-Men influence. So Witchblade was a fresh start, and of course we were able to launch The Darkness out of there,” said Silvestri. “Which also supernatural at its core, a timeless power which became a natural antagonist for the Witchblade. That character really set the tone for where we were going and really put us on the map.”
Long-time Marvel & DC writer joined Witchblade in 2004, and said that it and The Darkness gave Top Cow a unique identity outside of the Big Two.
“In a larger sense, I think the Witchblade and Darkness concepts gave the company an identity that set it apart from a lot of publishers. Everybody else was doing some kind of superhero riff, and Top Cow went this in a supernatural/crime direction,” said Marz. “It was definitely something different when it was introduced. It's also worth noting that Witchblade has been a book with a female protagonist for 20 years. That's certainly more common now, but for a long time Witchblade was one of the few female-led titles being published on a monthly basis.”
Although the “bad girl” craze came and went, Sara Pezzini and the Witchblade survived and thrived – despite negative connotations some saw in the character.
“On the surface you see a skimpy metal bikini, that can be an issue for some,” Haberlin said.
“Well it’s weird where I think people only saw the cheesecake aspect of that,” Silvestri added. “I look back on that stuff and yeah, maybe could have been a little less obvious. We needed a hit and it was receptive to what she was at the time.”
“At the core though, the series was about Sara Pezzini who was an incredibly strong female protagonist. We put her as a human being through the ringer, but she came out a super hero.”
Marz looks back on that era and how he wanted to evolve the story from Sara having her clothes ripped apart to something more substantial.
“Certainly there was a period in the title's history where getting Sara into the metal Witchblade bikini seemed like a paramount objective,” he said. “There was a big eye-candy aspect to the title, especially early on. Once that reputation gets established in the audience's mind, it's hard to change it, even if the current reality is quite different. If you google Witchblade images, you're apt to get stuff from two decades ago that might not be germane anymore, but they're still out there, that's still an impression people have.”
As a writer joining Witchblade, he had a clear objective for the series and how the character was depicted.
“That was one of my goals when I initially took on the title. I wanted the audience to care about Sara as a character, and to be fully invested in her life,” said Marz. “I mean, when I took over the series, I told Top Cow I didn't have any interest in writing stories that were excuses for Sara's clothes to fall off. They told me then, and have told me ever since, to tell the kinds of stories I want to tell.”
“Honestly, people who haven't read the book in a decade certainly have a wholly different idea of what the book is than people who have been reading it,” Marz added. “I learned that you can't get too caught up in what people think, even if you know their impression is completely wrong. You just have to tell the stories the best that you can.”
20 years and over 200 issues later when you count spin-offs and one-shots, Haberlin said that Witchblade is a character that will continue to last – even if her series is over.
“I think the essence of what we were trying to set up at the beginning, a character thrown into the deep end and having a power that is sometimes good, sometimes not so good is unique,” Haberlin explains. “Many shades of grey with Witchblade. You can go anywhere with her...past bearers of the Witchblade, future, there are tons of stories that can be told. The idea from the beginning had a bit of Doctor Who in it in that we can have and have had multiple characters having to deal with the blessing and the curse of the Witchblade.”
Marz stated that he wouldn't have stayed on the book as long as he did if he didn't feel like the character and concept weren't “good fits” for him.
“I think I've written more stories about Sara than any other character, with the possible exception of Kyle Rayner if you figure in mini-series and annuals and the like,” said the former Green Lantern writer. “'m proud of what my artists and I were able to accomplish in our time on Witchblade. I'd like to think we left both Sara and the Witchblade in better condition than when they were handed to us. Our goal was always to make Sara as interesting and real as possible, whether she had the Witchblade or not.”