Uncovering Top Cow's ARTIFACTS With Writer Ron Marz

After years of mystery, intrigue and subterfuge, the truth behind the pillars of power in the Top Cow universe is being revealed.

In the upcoming miniseries Artifacts, Top Cow’s principal writer Ron Marz (Witchblade, Angelus, Magdalena) is taking on the central mythology of the Top Cow universe that goes back years. Simply stated, the mythology of the Artifacts is that there exists thirteen unique items with supernatural powers and legendary origins. The best known of these items is that of the Witchblade and the Darkness, whose bearers make up the publisher’s key ongoing series. But joining them are things like the Spear of Destiny, held by the Magdalena (who recently began her own series), and the crown of Angelus and nine other artifacts. Some of these others have been covered in recent Top Cow books, but several remain shrouded – for now.

Top Cow recently released the cover art for Artifacts #1, showcasing a “jam” piece created by Top Cow’s main artists Marc Silvestri, Michael Broussard, Stjepan Sejic, Kenneth Rocafort, Nelson Blake and Sheldon Mitchell. And earlier this month on Free Comic Book Day, they served up a prelude to the series with a special #0 issue laying the groundwork for the summer event series. The series, which is to be spread out over the course of thirteen issues, will have three artists doing four issues apiece before a special fourth artist will draw the final issue. The artist of the first four issues of Artifacts will be Michael Broussard, who just came off an extended run drawing The Darkness and was the winner of Top Cow’s 2006 Talent Search contest.

With Artifacts #1 scheduled for a release in late June and Top Cow providing Newsarama an exclusive prologue for the series, we talked with Ron Marz for more.

Newsarama: Can you explain from your viewpoint the concept of the Artifacts in the Top Cow universe?

Ron Marz: Up to this point, the artifacts have been a background concept in the Top Cow universe. The most obvious ones have certainly been the Witchblade, the Darkness and the Spear of Destiny which the Magdalena holds. We’ve been stringing together this mythology very slowly, with the intent that we’ll eventually tell the story – and now we are.

Basically, there are 13 artifacts that have supernatural powers in the Top Cow universe. The theory is that if you bring all thirteen together at the same place and same time, rumor has it that really bad things will happen. After squarely establishing the key three artifacts in last year’s Broken Trinity miniseries, we’ve been establishing the others.

Nrama: This upcoming series seems to be about many things, from Sara & Jackie trying to find Hope, to Finn and Gloriana and the collection of the 13 artifacts; then you also got Aphrodite IV in the mix. Can you tell us what’s going on here?

Marz: The short version of the story is really about the relationship between Sara Pezzini  -- the current Witchblade – and Jackie Estacado – the Darkness – and the child they’ve had together. Their child Hope is in many ways the center point of the story of Artifacts. At its heart it’s about two parents searching for their child, who has been abducted by someone --  or someones -- unknown. The larger context of it all will bring everyone together, revealing the thirteen artifacts and the attempt to bring them all together. Eventually we’ll reveal the specifics of all thirteen and where they came from. And obviously we’ll deal with the purported Armageddon that getting all the artifacts together in one place.

In my mind, I want Artifacts to work on two levels – I want it to be emotional and character-driven for Sara and Jackie, as well as the others, but they’re the twin pillars of this epic world-wide. I think you have both aspects if you want to do a crossover or any sort of event like this correctly. I think it has to have both emotional resonance and spectacle.

Nrama: One of the most striking images that have come out in promotion for this upcoming Artifacts series is one which showed Hope sitting amongst the collection of Artifacts. Can you tell us about that story, and that image specifically?

Marz: Looking at that piece right now, yes it does. From left to right you see a Darkling, the Witchblade, the Darkness facemask, the Spear of Destiny that the Magdalena has, the Rapture which is in the possession of Tom Judge – who’s currently in hell. Also there is the Blood Sword which Finn has at present, and the sun dial looking thing is the Wheel of Shadows, which we made pretty obvious that it’s going into the possession of the Angelus’ warrior rival, Sabine.You can also see the Crown which Angelus has above her head, as well as the Ember Stone – which was featured prominently in Broken Trinity and Broken Trinity: Pandora’s Box. Those are the ones that have been seen in the comics so far, but there’s still a couple mystery ones to be revealed in Artifacts.

Nrama: You mentioned Tom Judge. Who’s been sorely missed in comics – who can’t love a priest who lost his faith and goes to hell? You just brought him back in Angelus #3, so what role will he play in Artifacts?

Marz: Tom’s going to serve a pretty distinctive role, beginning right in the first issue of Artifacts. He’s one of the characters we’ve been reintroducing, and we’ve been careful in doing it in such a way that you don’t need to know about him beforehand. For longtime readers they’ll get a special thrill, but for those readers for whom “Tom Judge” means nothing to them, we’ll be introducing him and show people why he’s such a cool character worth bringing back. But I don’t expect readers to come into Artifacts having any fore-knowledge of previous books. They don’t need it to enjoy Artifacts.

Nrama: Spreading out and talking about other characters in Artifacts, we have Finn. Although not as well known as say the Darkness or Witchblade, the character of Finn is in a unique spot holding two of the artifacts – the Glacier Stone and the Blood Sword. Can you tell us about that and Finn’s place in the series?

Marz: We first introduced Finnigan – or “Finn” – back in the Broken Trinity event a couple yeares ago. The idea was that we’d have two new artifact bears who were equal and opposite, with neither of them being a clearly defined “good guy” or “bad guy”. Finn and Gloriana – or “Glory” – were those two, who weren’t clearly good or evil but rather shades of grey. Ideally, you’d have half the readers feel Finn is the hero, and half siding with Glory. In that book, Finn ended up with the Glacier Stone and the Blood Sword, and we’ve since learned that maybe one person having two artifacts isn’t just a great idea; Finn and Glory’s story has been developing in Broken Trinity: Pandora’s Box series. But the resolution to that will play out in Artifacts proper.

I don’t want to give too much away, but I can say that the fact that Finn has the Blood Sword now is not an indication that he’ll always have it. It might fall into the hands of someone else –

Nrama: -- he said portentously. [laughs]

Marz: So beyond that, we set up Finn and Glory as polar opposites; Glory is compelled by the nature of her artifact to gather all the artifacts in one place; that makes her an obvious player in this whole drama that is Artifacts. And Finn, compelled by his artifact, is out to stop that from happening. We’re going to be dealing with that, and also how the artifacts are controlling them. Do they have to follow the destinies that their artifacts are writing for them, or they can walk away from it? Some of that is playing out in the current Broken Trinity: Pandora’s Box miniseries and I’m going to pick that up in Artifacts.

Nrama: You’ve already started picking up the pieces for Artifacts, as those of us who made it into comic book stores earlier this month got a copy of the special Free Comic Book Day issue, Artifacts. In the special Artifacts #0 issue, we saw a nameless narrator talking to Aphrodite IV who seems to know more than anybody about this. Some readers have quickly judged him as a villain --- but what is he?

Marz: One of the things I’ve tried to instill in my writing at Top Cow is there aren’t many absolute black & white characters. In some ways, Jackie Estacado as the Darkness is a villain – he’s a murderer, a hitman, mafia boss and drug kingpin BUT depending on the context of the story he’s actually the hero – and the audience roots for him. So the unnamed person in Artifacts #0, who could be a man or woman, could be interpreted to be a villain by the shadowy nature of their identity or just a good person who has their reasons for remaining unknown.

I tend to subscribe to the school of thought that villains are the heroes of their own stories. Guys like Magneto, Dr. Doom and Lex Luthor don’t think of themselves as bad guys; they’re firmly convinced that what they’re doing is right, and the ones opposing them are in the wrong. That, to me, it a lot more interesting than clearly defined good guys and bad guys.

ARITFACTS Prologue 1: The Trinity
ARITFACTS Prologue 1: The Trinity
Nrama: In that special zero issue of Artifacts that came out on Free Comic Book Day, you have another recently returned character: Aphrodite -- although an earlier version, IV not IX. Can you tell us about getting her back into the mix and her potential at Top Cow?

Marz: I was always really intrigued by the Aphrodite IX character, going all the way back to the first iteration which was introduced a couple years ago. Visually, the character is really interesting – and the concept really grabs you. That initial miniseries didn’t really cohere with the rest of the Top Cow universe, but since it was set in the future we were able to introduce an earlier version of Aphrodite – Aphrodite IV – into the current storylines. She popped up in the last Cyberforce mini and later on in Witchblade and The Darkness a couple times.

It was a very concerted effort to seed her here and there, and bring her along and make her a more viable character for the future. In Artifacts #0, she serves as a proxy for the reader since she’s new to the mix at Top Cow. Aphrodite IV is pulled into a situation where she knows nothing. She has encountered Sara and Jackie before, but the concept of the Artifacts as a whole is something she’s had no real familiarity with. She’s pulled into the storyline, and in the zero issue she gets this “download” of information from that unseen antagonist. Aphrodite will go on to play a major role in Artifacts -- particularly issue 1.

And hey – having a girl with green hair can never be a bad thing, right?

Nrama: We’ve talked about the fact that there’s thirteen artifacts in the Top Cow universe – most have been revealed, but there’s a few unknowns still out there. Will those secrets be discovered by the end of the series?

Marz: Each artifact will get its moment to shine in Artifacts. The ones that haven’t been revealed will be revealed in full. We’ve hinted at twelve of the thirteen artifacts, but we’re going to be fully exposing them by the series’ end. The thirteenth is the real drawing card for this. The questions of where it is, what it is, and why it hasn’t been seen before. There are reasons for all of that.

Nrama: As the Artifacts series is bringing in virtually all the characters from the Top Cow universe, will Cyberforce be making a presence in the series?

Marz: Not really, no. The Artifacts storyline is really more oriented to the supernatural side of the Top Cow universe, but I will be making sure everybody gets in there in some shape or form. For example, although Aphrodite IV is much more a part of the tech side of the Top Cow rather than the supernatural side, she plays a big role in Artifacts. So characters like Cyberforce & Hunter-Killer will be seen in the miniseries.

Nrama: Getting back to the key titles in Top Cow’s supernatural ouvre, how will the Artifacts miniseries impact the ongoing series of Witchblade, The Darkness and The Magdalena?

Marz: You will see reflections of what’s going on in Artifacts in  both The Darkness and Witchblade series; there’s really not a way to avoid that, but for the most part they’ll stand on their own. As we get deeper into Artifacts and more, shall we say, server things will naturally be reflected in the books. This will, however, not be a situation where there’s a ton of tie-in issues and the storylines in the monthly series stop as this whole thing evolves; we want to continue to have Witchblade and The Darkness stand on their own for readers who’re just reading those individual series. We’re pretty confident we can pull it off, and there will be reflections in some of the monthly books but we want to stay away from forcing readers to buy the entire storyline. When we say it’s a thirteen issue miniseries, that’s what it is; people can read it just as that, or follow the characters to their own series.

Nrama: As writer of Witchblade, the Magdalena, and the summer event miniseries for the past couple years, you have the unique position to chart Top Cow’s universe. After working at other companies, what’s it like to be in this position here at Top Cow?

Marz: Obviously I’m having a good time doing it because I’m still at it. The real attraction is that the number of titles – and the number of characters – is finite; Top Cow isn’t doing a line of forty or sixty or eighty books a month, so it’s a lot easier to maintain the consistency of the books and maintain coordination between them. I think Filip [Sablik, Top Cow’s Publisher] can take a lot of the credit, especially when we were starting out with the previous summer event series First Born and Broken Trinity. All of the questions posed within those series were given answers. In First Born we set out to introduce Sara’s baby to the universe and pull of the surprise that Jackie was the father; in Broken Trinity, we set out to coordinate the trinity of Witchblade, the Darkness and Angelus and also introduce new characters.

For me, I think one of the real attractions to my work here at Top Cow is the freedom I have to take the ball and run with it. I’m forever thankful to Marc Silvestri, Matt Hawkins and Filip Sablik for trusting me enough to give me their toys and let me do some things with them. With this, I’m given the unique opportunity to play with Top Cow’s toys and not put them back on the shelf in the same condition. We can evolve these characters – and I think we have; we’ve transformed Danielle into becoming Angelus, we’ve had Sara pregnant and now a mother – and dealt with those consequences of having a child without miraculously aging her into a teenager like some other books.

We’ve tried to play things our fairly realistically, and being able to do that is pretty rare. When Marvel or DC does a crossover, it’s a huge line-wide event that calls for a massive amount of coordination – sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. I think that for our purposes, Top Cow’s events have been lean and mean and so much easier for us and the readers.

Nrama: While the Artifacts series is the first time you’ve opened up the concept of all 13 artifacts, it is like you said earlier a concept that’s been in the background of the Top Cow universe for years – even predating your tenure at Top Cow. Is this miniseries something you’ve been building to for years, or just something you decided on recently to tell?

Marz: It was actually pretty organic. There was a natural progress; when I came in and took on writing the monthly Witchblade series, I started to connect some of the pieces there. Then we made the trinity of Witchblade, Angelus and the Darkness all related. Beyond that, we’ve been dealing with some of the artifacts that have been seen – or just mentioned – and it eventually grew into an underpinning for a lot of the stories in the Top Cow universe.

It wasn’t like I came into Top Cow and I was handed a secret dossier outlining the whole Artifacts concept. The stories grew organically, and those are often the ones that work out the best. When you allow stories to grow organically rather than having it pre-set and cast in stone, you have more opportunities to do what’s best for the story and it becomes more creatively satisfying.

As anyone who follows my work or my interview will know, I’m not a huge continuity nut. I don’t appreciate it when stories are predicated on readers knowing what happened in a book five, ten or twenty years ago. With Artifacts, that’s definitely not the case – we have built things organically, so the readers can come in without knowing a lot about what came before. The story itself in Artifacts will give them the information they need – that’s one of the main reasons we did the special zero issue of Artifacts on Free Comic Book Day. In that we laid out some information that builds up a background of what the series is built upon, all the while in the context of the story.

Nrama: For this book, they’ve split up the art chores with a single artist doing four issues and then another coming on for four, then another – and then a special artist doing the final thirteenth issue. For this first part, you’re reteaming with Michael Broussard – who you worked on with Unholy Union.

Marz: That’s one of the things that made me excited, to work with Michael again. Back when we were doing Unholy Union, that was his first professional solo story – and I was amazed when those pages started coming in. It’s very rare when an artist comes onto the scene fully formed, and Michael’s stuff was of a superior quality with that first issue and it just got better.

Besides being friends with Michael and admiring his work, it was really interesting to hook back up with him a few years later and see how he’s become a seasoned talent even more than he was initially. The first issue of Artifacts is looking tremendous.

Nrama: Before we go, one more question --  I’ve read that you’re having a special series of back-up stories in the thirteen issues of Artifacts. What can you tell us about that?

Marz: Well, we’re doing a series of two page origin sequences for the Top Cow characters; especially the artifact bearers, one per issue. It’s something that I’ve been trying to get going fro awhile. These kinds of things are always useful for giving background to new readers, and it’s a nice bonus to the miniseries. It’s obviously much like the 2 page origins that DC did in 52 and in some other instances, and I think it’s really attractive to both new readers as well as established ones. The idea behind them is to lay out everything you need to know about each character, and do it with the best art talent available; Marc Silvestri is doing Witchblade for Artifacts #1, and Dale Keown is doing The Darkness for #2. 


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