Writer: Caitlin Kittredge
Artist: Roberta Ingranata
Colorist: Bryan Valenza
Twenty-five years ago, Image Comics was kind of just another superhero company. To be sure, it was a company grounded in creator’s rights and big-name artists. Nobody really pines for the art stylings of Todd McFarlane or Jim Lee today–these guys are now producers more than they are creators. But back in the day, their artwork was peak Marvel, and the prospect of them transferring it to a new company was bold and exciting. Spawn! Witchblade! Wild C.A.T.S.! And…well, that excitement didn’t last too long.
The oddity of early Image, back before it became the garden which yielded The Walking Dead and Saga, is that it very much was a derivative superhero company whose sole draw was the artists producing them. On a superificial level, this was hard bodies and harder violence. Spawn had hefty elements of Batman, Spider-Man, Ghost Rider, the Spectre, and several other mystic and vigilante characters. Sure, it was probably doing those characters better than they were themselves in the early 1990s (looking at you, Clone Saga), but it wasn’t terribly original as a whole. It’s kind of unsurprising that most premiere Image characters fell out of the spotlight by the late 90s, and even Jim Lee couldn’t find much to do with his Wildstorm characters as he sold them to DC and they quietly disappeared.
What’s remarkable is that 25 years later, several of the original books still exist, although Savage Dragon is probably the only one that’s still recognizable as being the same book it was in the early 90s. Spawn is still going at 280 issues, and Witchblade is doing a relaunch at a new #1. As somebody who hasn’t read either of these books since the 90s, I was curious how easily I could walk into them. For all intents and purposes, I’m a new reader here, so I’m as close as we can get to a purity test.
The Caitlyn Kittredge/Roberta Ingranata Witchblade is, so far, about as accessible as it gets. A quick check on Wikipedia tells me that the previous Witchblade run came to an end some time ago with the previous host to the Witchblade weapon, Sara Pezzinni, having retired and the weapon leaving in search of a new owner. So far, so good: the new character, Alex Underwood, appears to have no ties to the previous cast, so as long as the reader can figure out “vengeful weapon which possesses women,” they’ll be good here. How and why Alex has been chosen as the next host isn’t clear, but the point is, Witchblade is getting a clean break so that there’s no requirement to read the original nearly-naked female Michael Turner version.
Now, the other side of this is that this new Witchblade run is just…okay. It’s touted as being by an all-female team, and sure, female-led books are going to get a boost in the public eye if they’re coming from an authentically female perspective. But female author-character pairings don’t mean a book is automatically good; it just means it passes a baseline credibility level. In this case, the relaunched Witchblade lacks a certain originality to it. It’s got the unconscious woman rising from the dead, finding herself haunted by forces she doesn’t understand; some powerful force is stirring inside her. I’m loathe to spoil the story beyond: it’s fairly obvious that the Witchblade has chosen Alex and we’re waiting for that moment where it comes out. It’s just that the setup and execution have been seen in titles like Terry Moore’s Rachel Rising, Peter David’s Supergirl, and the current Hulk run by Mariko Tamaki.
So, is the new Witchblade going to be any good? I have no idea. It’s not your younger teenage self’s Witchblade, and changing markets probably won’t let that kind of book exist again anytime soon. This one’s competent, but will probably need a few more issues to give a clear idea what it’s supposed to be about.
Witchblade #1 will be released December 6, 2017.
Rating: Three Blades out of five.
Co-Plot/Script: Darragh Savage
Art/Co-Plot/Covers: Jason Shawn Alexander
Script: Todd McFarlane
Lettering: Tom Orzechowski
Colors: Luis Nct & Jason Shawn Alexander
Editor: Todd McFarlane
And then there’s Spawn, which is nigh-unrecognizable from its 1990s incarnation. Todd’s name is still attached to the book, but you wouldn’t know that this and that are the same book. If, like me, you walked away from Spawn over a decade ago, walking back in isn’t something you can do as easily as you could with Batman, or at least not with this particular single issue.
Spawn #280 is very much in the thick of things, with the story mostly revolving around a young adult girl, Cyan, who’s developed her own set of supernatural powers and is running around Japan fighting the Yazuka for some reason. Presumably, Cyan is the adult version of the daughter of Spawn’s ex-wife from the early comics, which tells me I have a lot of catching up to do if I’d want to get from Spawn #1 to the present day. How the story–whether in the immediate storyline, or the last 25 years of Spawn have reached this point, isn’t clear. There’s a recap paragraph on the first page, but that only gives so much context. Spawn himself is barely in this book–a ghostly presence in some parallel scenes, but not the focal point of the story.
Jason Shawn Alexander’s art is fine in its own twisted way, fitting for a supernatural thriller title that’s evolved well past Todd’s orignal superhero roots. It’s a little too derivative of Bill Sienkiewicz’ distinct style, coming off as very dark and sketchy, but at least it’s appropriate to set the mood that there is dark and evil aplenty in this book.
Still, I had no idea how to get into this issue. It’s the flaw of the industry eliminating “one and done” as a storytelling standard: five- or six-part stories means your new readers may have to wait half a year to feel that a book is approachable. As a returning reader, I was pretty lost; a new reader would be hopeless or worse. While I’m sure the trade paperback market is the way to get a new reader started, the single issue remains the gateway drug, and this is not the best tool to get them hooked.
Rating: Two and a half capes out of five.