Witchblade #54

Posted: Sunday, April 7
By: Ray Tate
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Writer: David Wohl
Artists: Francis Manapul(p),Jason Gorder(i),Steve Firchow(c)
Publisher: Image

Plot: War threatens to errupt in the territory of Sara Pezzini the weilder of the Witchblade.

Before I go into the Witchblade review, I'd like to point out that the bar to good and indeed great comic books has been lowered ever so much thanks to Marvel Max, Wonder Woman, mean-spirited "Get out of my city." Batman titles and of course the mindsucking Superman comic books. Thanks to this lowered bar, I expected it would be easy to find something nice to say about Witchblade a copy of which David Wohl sent to me. What I never expected was to find merit in the book itself even without a comparison to the truly reprehensible material available on the racks. Don't worry comparisons and contrasts will be included in the review.

My Witchblade experience is practically nil. I've seen and liked the Yancy Butler pilot. I've flipped through issues of the book when it first appeared. Aghast at the artwork, I quickly placed it gingerly back on the shelves. In fact one of the reasons why I purchased the paperback novel by John DeChancie is that the quality of artwork did not pertain to a pretty neat comic book concept. This issue certainly deserves some award for most improved art.

Francis Manapul's contriputions are not perfect. Sara Pezzini for instance can still contend against Power Girl in a watermelon contest. Each cachonga is about the same size as her head, and although I have seen real women with quite an impressive display, I've never seen such proportions as Sara Pezzini bouncing or bobbing anywhere in even my distant vicinity. There's also something screwy about the way Mr. Manapul draws necks. The problematic theme already identified in detail by Sequential Tart certainly distracts. In short even if Sara underwent surgical breast reduction her torso would still stick out. Necks do not rest behind collar bones. They flow into them. The color bone is sensed rather than seen. Here, Mr. Manapul emphasizes the collar bone and needs reference material regarding the musculature of the throat and chest.

Artistically speaking the above mentions are the only consistent gaffes. Largely, they are balanced out by a uniformly impressive rendition of practically everything else. Faces and body parts are composed with depth in mind. Noses are not of the smashed by a frying pan variety although the inker may want to forgo accenting the tips as this narrows the nose. Eyes do not bare that drug-glazed look so popular in nineties Image house art. Sara has a muscular waist which tones down the disproportion of her breasts to the rest of her body. They still need a trim, but at least, it doesn't appear her entire front load should collapse into her pelvis. She is not designed to be a Jim Balent blow-up doll. See? I told you there would be comparisons.

Apart from the cheesy cover--which may be an homage to James Bond--Sara wears clothing and most of her wardrobe is pretty tasteful and functional. Even the gym trunks and baby-doll tee-shirt she wears to bed is acceptable since it is in context.

While the ridiculous cover promises sex, sex and more sex, not one scene really is meant to titlate. Sara's not portayed as a sex object. She's busty, yes, but she doesn't move in a posed fashion. No situation arises where she needs to be sexy. Although her territory coincides with Luke Cage who never buttons his fly, there are no gratuitous sex scenes in the book. Somehow Witchblade has escaped this level of "maturity" even if your kneejerk response is to lump it into the same category.

Mr. Manapul's ability to draw does not end with Sara Pezzini. He draws men stylishly clad in tailor-cut suits, backgrounds, and every day objects with equal skill. Very rarely does a person or object look flat. Never do they appear distorted.

Manga design does not usurp the book or the theme. Inker Jason Gorder could give a little more depth to the lines. A cross hatch here or there would help create a better illusion and a classic feel, but by and large, the inks while detailed are not busy. This is important because the eyes need rest. The visual cortex can be overhwelmed. Too much, and you don't read a word. Too little, and the words can bleed together.

Something that would improve the book greatly is a fluctuation in skin tone. Everybody looks sunburnt. Granted not blindingly so, but still. The human race is shaded in nuances. There are those with the skin of cream, the flesh of pink and the hide of cinammon. There's a certain sameness to the colors of the characters, and because of this homogeny they lose a level of artistic depth.

In terms of writing, David Wohl rarely falters. The setup of the story is carefuly considered. Segues between the occult and the more mundane criminal world are gently cut and lack a jarring feel. There are no quick-blip MTV styled paneling that generally makes one ill. Instead, Mr. Wohl uses a classic method of slowly unfolding the story. He draws in the reader and makes her feel comfortable enough to continue.

Mr. Wohl stays with a scene and lets the reader listen to if not always original natural sounding dialogue. The only obvious use of exposition occurs between a scene shared by Sara and her chief, yet even off kilter, it's realyed with a strong use of language. The dialogue doesn't need to have its mouth washed out with soap. Only a single curse is uttered, and it's downplayed to create more impact.

Characterization is fairly powerful. I can't say yet that I truly like these characters, but I do not loathe them. Unlike Batman, Sara acts like a detective and a law bringer. Her part which we learn in the narration does not become an excuse for introducing angst; neither does the Witchblade. If anything Sara seems happy or at least content. The Witchblade seems happy to be with her. Mr. Wohl even has a little time for whimsy. The Witchblade according to the Yancy Butler pilot protects the wearer, and in this issue, the Witchblade protects Sara in a unique way that also curtails my standing on a soapbox to rail against a particularly unhealthy and filthy habit.

The plot which is a little quirky without being outlandish does tend to outshine the characterization. Perhaps because the plot is fathomable and interesting it attracted me more. The plot does reinforce certain animosities, but these more arise from the characters' roles rather than themselves. While the plot is mob-oriented, Wohl makes a daring contradictory move that goes against the convention that the lives of villains are more intriguing than the lives of the heroes. The camera's point of view is almost always directed from the protagonist. It's clear and concise.

In summary, Witchblade possesses a good story with good artwork and characters whom you do not hate. Apart from the cover, it eschews exploitive elements. Sara Pezzini seems intelligent and caring unlike Batman. She has a sense of humor unlike Batman or Superman and seems to be in full possession of her mental faculties unlike Jennifer Jones and Batman. Witchblade, at least this issue, is for people who are tired of gimmicks and shallow characterization as well as inane plotting. Though I'm not ready to add the book to my subscription list, I'll not so quickly dismiss future issues at the comic book shop.

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