Robot 6

The Middle Ground #50 | The results are in!

The surprise about reading all of the comics Top Cow sent over as a result of my admission of blind prejudice wasn’t that they weren’t as bad as I’d lazily expected — I was actually expecting that, to be honest — but that I ended with realizing that I was going to have to go out and catch up on the collections of one series in particular… and it was the one I’d been expecting to like the least.

Here’s what I received last week from Top Cow: the first six issues of Artifacts, the first two trades of Ron Marz’ Witchblade run, the Velocity mini-series that has just finished, some issues of Magdalena and the first of Phil Hester’s The Darkness collections. I read them in pretty much entirely the wrong order, I admit; I started with Artifacts, convincing myself that, if anything had a chance of hooking the cynical newbie, it’d be the crossover event book. And I was… almost right. Artifacts is the Blackest Night of the Top Cow line – an event growing out of long-running mythology, and bogged down by that same mythology; there’s a basic concept that’s easy to understand, but it was drowned for me by scenes of “Here is [Character X] who I will frown at because of things in the past we won’t explain. Now, break for the next part of the plot!” and, with the fifth issue, the addition of Whilce Portacio as artist (Sorry, everyone; I’m just not a fan, and find his art genuinely difficult to read at times).

Much more successful for me were Velocity and The Darkness. Both had clear story arcs, smart and self-aware dialogue and were relatively self-contained (and both, also, had art that for the most part was easy on the eye without being too… overly-stylized, I guess, would be a way of putting it – Although Michael Broussard is channeling Marc Silvestri to an almost illegal degree at times in The Darkness). Magdalena, too, was similarly… fun, I guess might be the way to put it, but for some reason didn’t click as readily with me as a concept.

However, Witchblade… I never, ever in a million years, would have thought that Witchblade would be the title that I fell in love with, but I really did. It wasn’t a pow-zam moment, but cumulative – Something about reading Marz slowly but surely rebooting the series, changing not only the cast, the costume (which, really, barely appears – It’s abandoned, thankfully, for the most part) but even the genre of the series over the first two trades was surprisingly effective, and very enjoyable. It’s Marz doing for Witchblade what Alan Moore did for Swamp Thing, in a way – Less revelatory, perhaps, because we’ve seen such wholesale revamps before as Moore’s influence has spread, but nonetheless, impressive and improving the series so, so much.

(For the curious, Marz moves the series from Bad Girl Superheroics to, essentially, supernatural crime. There’s definitely a mainstream TV/movie vibe to everything, but that’s not a bad thing – It’s well done and far more interesting to read than even the mythology-filled Artifacts, say.)

I was genuinely surprised when, finishing the second trade, I realized that I wanted to read more. It wasn’t just a sense of “Well, that didn’t suck”; I was curious to see whether Marz could keep up the quality as the series continued, where he was going with the plots, and what some of the slow-burning plots were leading to (Partially, of course, I knew; Artifacts is essentially Witchblade but a few years ahead). It’s honestly the best outcome from this whole “I Don’t Read Top Cow Comics/Yeah Well You Suck/Okay I’ll Read Them” experience, and the one I didn’t expect: Not only that I’d see the error of my prejudiced ways, but that I’d like one of the things I’d read so much that I’ll look forwards to reading the next installments. And it was Witchblade! Seriously, that was not something I would’ve predicted way back when…

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31 Comments

So what have we REALLY learned today? That informed opinions are a very good thing.

Thank you for making the world a better place, if only by a very small fraction. Sincerely.

Now I need two more people to do this tomorrow.

Jim McLauchlin

It takes a big person to take their preconceptions head on and an even bigger person to admit their previous conclusions weren’t entirely accurate in a public way. Thanks so much for taking our Top Cow reading challenge and being so open with your experience, Graeme.
I’m sure Ron will be thrilled that he changed your mind about Witchblade, it’s a book that’s incredibly near and dear to him. I’ll be curious to hear what you think about Artifacts after you’ve delved deeper into Witchblade. We made a real effort to make it a ground level read and have found we’ve snagged quite a few new readers from that series, but I can see how it might be a bit much for a completely new reader.

Hopefully, everyone who was quick to challenge you in the initial post, will come back and offer up a similar encouragement for you taking the time to craft an informed opinion now. I mean, it IS the internet. It’s nothing if not fair, balanced, and civil;)

Take care,

Filip Sablik
Publisher Guy, Top Cow

This was well handled all-around. Kudos to Top Cow for sending the books and Kudos to Graeme for reading them. I’ve fallen off my Top Cow reading and this reminds me that I need to get back on the train with them again. When I worked at a comic shop, the quality and price of that first Marz Witchblade trade made it an easy “Try it and if you don’t like it we’ll give you your money back” kind of deal, and it often worked wonders.

Nicely done on both sides. I haven’t read the other books you mention, but Witchblade is one of the few books I always pick up. Fair warning, the costume makes a bit of a (badass IMO) comeback, and the series gains a bit of an urban fantasy hero ‘Dresden Files in the Wildstorm Universe’ vibe.

It also gets way better, especially when Stjepan Sejic comes on board. If you keep reading I’m sure we’d love to hear your thoughts.

You gotta give props to Top Cow for not only surviving as long as they have, but pushing ahead into other mediums! They’re really an amazing company. I support Top Cow 100%!

I have to admit that Witchblade is a title that surprised me as well.
I picked up the first Marz trade about a year or two back (I don’t recall why specifically — I think likely because I had read some of his comments about the series and became curious) and was really surprised how enjoyable it was. So I’ve been following it in trade form ever since.

One thing I would suggest to the gentlemen at Top Cow. Image has recently rolled out a $1 introductory issue program (which is a good thing). I’ve picked up several issues of series I don’t normally read to check them out and see if anything strikes my interest.
I also grabbed the first issue of Witchblade that was part of this program.
If you really want to pick up new readers for Witchblade, you should be using one of Marz’s early issue as the $1 introductory issue because you’re not going to pick up anyone with the actual original first issue. That things was —- awful to say the least. If that had actually been my first introduction to Witchblade, I would never have come back and I would definitely then have developed a notion about the series that would have kept me from ever considering it would be something I would have an interest in reading at any point in the future.

I’m glad Top Cow could help you realize what a douche you are with free stuff. Now if you could go back and read more of your other columns with a similar perspective…

Witchblade: redemption vol 1 is only $5, a really good jumping on point for new readers. Also look out for #144 a retelling of how Sara got the blade. Now only if they’ll bring back the Cyberforce and I’ll be very happy.

Hey Filip,

How about bringing back Weapon Zero while you’re at it?

Recently got back into Top Cow myself. I find so much stuff coming out at the moment on an artistic level is so bland and uninteresting, I found myself hankering a little for Witchblade and The Darkness which had always looked nice and been a decent read in the mid-90s.

So far I’ve really enjoyed Artifacts and The Darkness – just looking for a decent jumping on point for Witchblade without having to plough through 60+ back issues first. The recent Annual was great though.

One nitpick – your intro makes no sense whatsoever. “I expected them not to be as bad as I expected”. Huh? Contradiction. If you expected them to be bad that’s impossible!

Oh – and good shout to the other posters about bring back Cyberforce and Weapon Zero. LOVED Cyberforce and would definitely support it (assuming a decent creative team, natch). Never got around to checking out Weapon Zero but it’s very much on my back issue wants list due to Walt Simonson’s presence as writer.

I love hearing stuff like this.

There’s plenty of stuff that I don’t currently read but am open to reading if it’s free, too…

I’ve been reading Witchblade since issue number one and it has long been one of my favorite books. I have been there for the ups and downs but have really been enjoying Ron’s run. He’s helped flesh out Sara, her supporting cast, and introduced some cool concepts and storylines. It’s easily one of the books I look forward to most, when I get my stash. I’m also currently reading Magdalena and Artifacts (and holding out hope for an Angelus ongoing!). Glad to see Top Cow win you over. Hopefully, more people will give the books a shot and move away from the outdated “bad irl” stereotypes.

I have been reading Top Cow books since the first Cyberforce (really need to return, NO REALLY) book hit the shelves. I have been reading Darkness since issue 1. I love Artifacts and love how all the properties have been brought together. Marz is doing an excellent job.

Also you guys at Top Cow need to finish Inferno Hellbound.

I read this because I was of the exact same mind as Graeme before he started reading these. I read Top Cow when it first came out, and it lost my attention very quickly (felt like all form and no substance – that includes picking up the first two or three issues of Witchblade). I was ALMOST pulled back in by Artifacts, based on a false idea that it was a new series (ie. brand new cast – when I actually took a look at it, it looked like a giant crossover for titles I wasn’t interested in, so I didn’t look further.)

Based on what Graeme said – and ESPECIALLY That Dude’s comments (I LOVE Dresden Files!) – I’m going to give the Witchblade TPBs a try (if I can find them), and I’ll try Artifacts after I catch up (I’m waiting on Artifacts based on what Filip Sablik said). That’s also assuming I like the Witchblade stuff, but I’ve been given every indication that I will by the comments here…

In any case, thanks for the article!

Never read Top Cow until Ron Marz started his run on Witchblade. I loved Hunter Killer by Mark Waid. I also pick up anything with Velocity in it for my 16 yr old daughter.

I can’t think of anything Ron has ever written where I can say “that sucks”. He has always been a great writer and a true gentleman. Like Graeme I haven’t read Witchblade because, well, because it’s Witchblade! Reading his comments above I will get Ron’s first one and go from there. Thanks.

Like.

I got in to Top Cow thanks to the Darkness video game, and been loving it ever since.

They’ve been producing good stuff for a long time.

Cool.

Will Weinand

May 2, 2011 at 7:45 am

Velocity was the most fun I’ve had reading a “Speedster” book in years. I’d love to have that series on my pull list as a monthly.

I’d have to point out that Top Cow built its own reputation as a supplier of empty, art-driven, poster-shot comic books with lots of flashy colouring and absolutely no sense of storytelling. The Garth Ennis run on “Darkness” was marred by incoherent panel layouts. “Witchblade” was a mess of overlong, dropped plotlines and not helped at all by the artwork consisting of full-page splashes instead of letting the action be broken up across multiple panels (probably so the artist could spend less time drawing). “Tomb Raider” was contemptible. If Top Cow had a bad reputation, it’s one they spent a lot of time, money and resources building up, before realizing they’d dug themselves into a very deep hole.

I can only rationalize my purchases by saying I was 14 and stupid, and therefore, I bought stupid comics. Even Paul Jenkins’ brief run on “Witchblade” struggled to make sense of the contradictory characters.

However, Ron Marz came in and finally unleashed all of the potential in the “Witchblade” concept, and Paul Jenkins did for “The Darkness” what he couldn’t do for “Witchblade” (he wrote real stories with an interesting character). I think the point when I realized Top Cow was finally in the business of telling stories was when Patrick Gleason asked Sara to use the Witchblade to get a stuck can of soda out of a vending machine.

Loved Top Cow since Tomb Raider and Fathom. Aphrodite didn’t last, but its been a while so I’ll pick up Velocity.

Thanks everyone for the great feedback!
For anyone interested in checking out Ron Marz’s run on Witchblade, the trade you’ll want to start with is Witchblade Volume 1, which is available in comic shops for $4.99 for 6 full color issues.
We also have Artifacts Volume 1 available for an introductory price of $9.99.

Take care,

Filip Sablik
Publisher Guy, Top Cow

I’ve been telling people for years that Witchblade is the most underrated book on shelves. Glad to hear I’m finally not alone in this.

Great post, and congratulations on overcoming your prejudice. I, too, had similar preconceptions about their comics, so thanks for taking the plunge and proving us wrong, especially about Witchblade. The lack of costume is probably a good thing after all (boobs!), but my inner fourteen-through-twenty-eight-year-old will miss it. There are still boobs in the comic, though, right? Good writing doesn’t have to mean no boobs.

Being a Top Cow fan, I can only confirm that both Witchblade and the Darkness are fantastic reads! If you haven’t done it yet, pick up the TPBs of the Darkness Accursed (vol.3) there’s excellent art from Michael Broussard and Sheldon Mitchell!

Can’t wait for the upcoming Tiamat story arc from Witchblade as this is gonna be epic fantasy-like battles drawn/painted by Stjepan Sejic!

Artifacts is excellent as well as it gives coherence to the entire topcow universe. I also advise to read First Born (amazing art depicting some cool scenes between the Darkness and the Angelus), Broken Trinity and the Angelus mini series!

I think good writing can highlight the intense physicality of the characters without undermining their dignity in favour of fan service. That’s why Ron Marz has done such a great job with Sara. She’s still a woman, but she’s no longer a pinup.

Of course, there must have been a regime change in Top Cow’s administration that allowed for writers like Marz, Jenkins and Waid to do their thing. I’m not clear on who is to credit with this new atmosphere of creativity over fan service, but they should be very proud of themselves for such an amazing turnaround. Top Cow went from publishing some of the dumbest comics on the stands to some of the best.

Cain Marco aka Rommel Reyes

May 4, 2011 at 3:36 am

i don’t mind the cover price as long as i like the storytelling. poor storytelling is the only reason I stopped reading western comics and switched to Japanese manga instead. oh i just remembered, i’m still into batman dark knight, by david finch, not because of the storytelling but the artwork, but i will get tired of it eventually . tsk.

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