Artist Stjepan Šejić reinvents Witchblade as a modern teen superhero.
42 pgs. (#1) & 22 pgs. (#2), $3.99
(W / A: Stjepan Šejić)
Though it didn’t appear until several years into the company’s run and didn’t feature the artwork of the studio’s founder Marc Silvestri, Witchblade quickly became the defining title in the Top Cow stable when it launched in 1995. Starring Sara Pezzini, a tough cop who becomes the latest bearer of the titular ancient weapon that is passed down through the generations, the title started out as the ‘90s’ ultimate bad girl book, with artist Michael Turner capturing every curve as the Witchblade strategically ripped Sara’s clothes off as it powered her up. But while the book started out as cheesy T&A, an epic-yet-easy-to-understand mythology blossomed over the years within the pages of Witchblade and its sister books, The Darkness and Artifacts. A huge collection of ancient weapons designed to combat each other, a variety of modern day bearers with their own unique personalities and motivations, stir them up, and watch the sparks fly…what’s not to love? And yet unfortunately, after writer Ron Marz spent the better part of a decade trying to clean up her image, Witchblade’s reputation as a T&A book remained. But fortunately, with Sara’s 20-year adventure as Witchblade bearer wrapping up this past fall, Top Cow realized it was the perfect time…(sorry for the pun)…to make a switch.
Switch switches the focus from an already tough as nails cop to an awkward teenager. Mary is a high school-aged introvert, a pale, alien-obsessed geek with her jet black hair perpetually in her eyes. (An aged-up Violet from The Incredibles seems like the most obvious character design inspiration.) One of Mary’s classmates is Tony Estacado, who in five years is due to inherit the Darkness, an evil force that the Witchblade is present on this earth to destroy. Tony’s watchers (the grim immortal Sonatine and his sarcastic sidekick Kenneth Irons) seek to capture the Witchblade before it finds a bearer, so they send a giant winged monster to do the job. Mary’s little brother ends up in danger, Mary saves him, and—Holy Wrong Place Wrong Time, Batman!—Mary ends up wielding the Witchblade to defeat the beast. But now Sonatine, Irons, and the yin to the Darkness’ yang, the too-righteous Angelus, are on the hunt for Mary. Hope she’s a quick learner!
Handing the mantle of a longstanding character into the hands of an inexperienced teenager is a tried and true trope, and it’s easy to draw the line of tribute from the mantle-passing of DC characters like Robin, the Flash, and Green Lantern through Brian Michael Bendis’ introduction of Ultimate Spider-Man (both the Peter Parker one and the Miles Morales one) and on to Ms. Marvel’s Kamala Khan. It’s hard to complain, though, because it’s a formula that works when your new teen hero has personality, and Mary so far has plenty. In tone, Stjepan Šejić’s writing hits right between Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man and Tom DeFalco’s Spider-Girl: the dialogue is bouncy and modern but the storytelling is dense, with pages regularly going eight panels or more and narration constantly keeping you in Mary’s head. The most important trait of a teen hero book is a flawed lead with a distinct personality that you feel you can root for despite their flaws, and while we don’t know Mary that well at the end of these first 64 pages, she certainly seems on the right track.
Personality being the order of the day, Šejić’s art is the perfect fit for the book. Though he is capable of striking realism (check out the dragons in his fantasy series Ravine), his characters’ faces have an expressive cartooniness that makes them excellent actors, all the more perfect for the back-and-forth banter Mary experiences with her family and friends and the fear and confusion that came along with the Witchblade. The Croatian artist does all his work digitally, and while he’s capable of a very tight ink line (just see his covers), he keeps his base work very loose on Switch and lets his digitally painted colors do the heavy lifting in of applying shading and depth. Because his colors round things out so wonderfully and because he concentrates the bulk of his detail on faces, it’s easy to ignore the rough-around-the-edges quality of Šejić’s art, especially considering Switch started as a lark of a webcomic on the artist’s DeviantArt page. Still, I’d be lying if a part of me didn’t wish he would go the Chris Bachalo route and have someone else lay a slick ink line on top of his digital roughs before the coloring step. Then again, being a one man show and working fast and loose is what allows Šejić to draw approximately 1,000 pages a month (in 2015, he was ongoing artist on Top Cow’s IX Generation, filled in for a several issue run on Rat Queens, drew multiple one-shots and covers, and did story and art on almost three full volumes of his BDSM romance series Sunstone, in addition to these two issues of Switch), so it’s probably safe to assume he knows what he’s doing.
If there’s any larger complaint to be lodged at Switch, it’s that the first issue might lay it on a bit too thick with that aforementioned mythology. With a double-sized issue to play with, Šejić dives deep into the Artifact mythology behind the Witchblade, the Darkness, and the Angelus, and while he does a solid job of integrating those intricacies in an interesting way, that still means that the ostensible heroine of the series disappears for an 18-page stretch in the middle of her debut, which is a bit much. The second issue sets the focus back onto Mary, and leaves her in a place where you’re eager to see what happens next. In an interesting twist, Šejić plays a nice trick on the audience: despite the many references to the existing Witchblade mythos and cameos from its characters, it’s not entirely clear at this stage whether Switch is a retelling of the Witchblade story or a direct sequel.
Switch’s first two issues launched at the end of last year, but for whatever reason, there has been a somewhat lengthy delay. Luckily, the third issue is due to arrive in April, so if you’re a fan of teen heroes like Marvel’s recent Ms. Marvel relaunch, now is the perfect time to catch up. | Jason Green
Click here for a preview of Switch #1, courtesy of Comic Book Resources!