Last year I started a seasonal “Best of…” list that focused on some of the best covers I saw that year, whether for novels or comics. And now, it being the same time of the year in the new year, it is an opportunity to bring the list back, more so since it was really popular when I started it.
The first of these “Best of…” book covers is actually a tie between William King’s Terrarch Chronicles #2: The Serpent Tower and Django Wexler’s Shadow Campaigns #1: The Thousand Names. None of these two are 2014 publications, which is usually how I do these lists, but I wasn’t particularly taken with the covers of the two 2014 books I did read, so here we are (Though, it should be mentioned that the mass paperback of The Thousand Names came out in July’14). I’ve long been a fan of William’s work for Black Library, and Terrarch Chronicles was his first self-published work, the first novel in the series being one of my favourites last year. And with Django’s debut from last year, I’ve become a big fan of his work too and will be reading the sequel in a few days, hopefully. Looking forward to that!
The first of these “Best of…” comics covers is another tie, owing more to how many more comics I began to read this year compared to previous years, each week. And the picks are the covers for Witchblade #172 by Stjepan Sejic and for Black Widow #2 by Phil Noto. The Witchblade is a character I’ve long been a fan, specifically its bearer Sara Pezzini and with Ron Marz coming back on the title last year, it proved to be a new fun era for the title in all respects. And on Black Widow, I’ve seen some of the best content from Marvel all-year, with the new title being matched in consistency only by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona’s Ms. Marvel.
So without further ado, hit the break to see both the covers in all their glory! The full list of all these covers is available here.
No “Magic 40″ this week since I wasn’t able to get around to a lot of the comics I wanted to get through this week, largely because I am traveling and in India for a cousin’s marriage. These things always take up a lot of time. I haven’t even had a chance to work on my NaNo novel these past two days!
Anyway, My top picks for the surprise hits of the week would be Batman ’66: The Lost Episode #1 and He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Volume 2 from DC Comics. The most disappointing comics of this week were Amazing Spider-Man #10 and Spider-Woman #1 from Marvel Comics. Other than that, the regularly great titles like Black Widow, Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 10 , Future’s End, Predator: Fire and Stone and Witchblade all proved to be immensely fun.
The graphic novels for this week were Aphrodite IX v2 Volume 2 by Matt Hawkins, Stjepan Sejic and Troy Peteri, and He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Volume 2 by Dan Abnett, Rafael Kayanan, Kathryn Layno, Deron Bennett, Yildiray Cinar, Randy Mayor, Michael S. O’Hare, Frazer Irving, Pop Mhan, Tom Derenick, Tony Avina, Ken Lashley and Ryan Sook.
Ron Marz and Laura Braga’s soft reboot of Witchblade last year made it one of my absolute must-read titles each month and the two creators continued along that path with their following issues, each of which did something different and ended up being really good for the most part. In recent weeks however, we have seen the beginning of something different as matters seem to ramp up for the protagonist Sara Pezzini, who is working hard at being the kind of Sheriff that the people of Saratoga County need her to be with all the strange goings-on.
At the end of the last issue, we saw that there was some new unforeseen complication for Sara in the form of a couple new characters. In this past week’s Witchblade #179, we see a glimpse of what these plans entail, given that Sara and Kate’s new case has them investigating some horrific cattle mutilations in the backwaters of Saratoga. This is mostly an action issue with little in the way of character development, but that’s fine since this is just the opening spell of a brand-new arc and Ron does take a while to get going. The art is good too, as I expected it to be since I’m not pretty used to Laura Braga’s unique style and the monster introduced is pretty cool as well.
Thanks largely in part to Ron Marz and Laura Braga’s recent work on Witchblade, I’ve gotten into the groove of catching up on the back-issue trades of the series, from when Ron Marz started his run, and it has been a pretty damn good experience as well. But then, I expected that already since I’ve loved Ron’s recent work on Witchblade. Sara Pezzini is easily one of the best and most awesome female characters in comics, and while Laura’s art has been somewhat problematic, it has also been quite good, enough so that I keep coming back to the series for that.
After the end of the first arc, Ron Marz launched a brief interlude intended to catch up Rooney with Sara’s background, and also to tell some short stories such as the ones in Witchblade #175 which bring back characters like Patrick Gleason and also introduce new bearers of the Witchblade from years past. In Witchblade #176 Ron tells a straight-up horror story involving kidnapped children, and in Witchblade #177 he launches a new arc that sees Sara try to get some answers as to how Jackie Estacado’s wife came to be the current bearer of the Angelus. In both Witchblade #177 and #178, we see some of Ron’s best writing with his second run on the title, and also some great art by Laura Braga.
Witchblade is one of Top Cow’s biggest IPs, by far. Unless I am mistaken, it is one of the publisher’s only two titles to have made it past the landmark 100th issue, and the only one to have made it past the landmark 175th issue as well. And one writer who has shaped this incredible run, more than others I’d reckon, is Ron Marz, who enjoyed a seventy-plus issue tenure before he got back on the title with issue #170 last year. Of all the Witchblade stories I’ve read to date, Ron Marz’s scripts have been the most consistent and engaging and my current read-through of his run has been a very rewarding experience.
Witchblade Volume 2 continues everything that Ron Marz setup in Witchblade Volume 1, taking the Witchblade’s bearer Sara Pezzini into new environs and with new supporting cast members. Unlike the previous volume, this one contains many one-shots that slowly build-up a larger story continuing the plot threads that Ron introduced at the start of his run. If anything, I enjoyed this volume even more than the first, though it should be said that sometimes the stories can be a bit too much by-the-numbers. Like Phil Hester says in the introduction to this volume, Ron defies expectations and notions of genre limitations.
In the last couple years Top Cow’s Witchblade IP has become one of my favourite reads in comics. Whether it is Witchblade/Sara Pezzini in the pages of Artifacts or Witchblade or in any crossovers here and there, I’ve always loved her as a character. Sara Pezzini to me is one of the best female characters in comics, by far, easily a match for the greats such as Wonder Woman or Storm or Batgirl or Black Widow. And if there is one man out there who has shaped my experience of Sara Pezzini, it is Ron Marz, who has written more Witchblade than any other writer and has had a long run on the core title as well.
Witchblade Volume 1, from my understanding of things, marks a new phase in the life of the protagonist Sara Pezzini as she continues to bear the heavy burden of being the bearer of the Witchblade, a mysterious artifact that has bonded itself to her and has allowed her to face criminals of all stripes and even the more supernatural of individuals. This was Ron’s first arc on the title, and for me it proved to be some of his best work to date, not to mention that the artwork by Mike Choi and others was great as well, capturing the feel of the city and the dark tones of the story.
With everything going on right now, I had doubts whether I’d be able to get through many comics this week but it seems that this was indeed the week where I surprised myself in a big way. Not only did I catch up on quite a few new titles, but I also managed to read two graphic novels this week, one of them at almost 300 pages no less!
The surprise hits of this week were Doctor Who: Eleventh Doctor #2 from Titan Comics, Judge Dredd: Anderson, Psi-Division #2 from IDW Publishing and Inhuman #5 from Marvel Comics. This week’s surprise flops were Caliban #6 from Avatar Press, Grim Tales of Terror #3 from Zenescope, and Superman Unchained #8 from DC Comics. Of the others, they were mostly great, and I loved that both G.I. Joe Volume 1 and Witchblade Volume 3 are among my absolute favourite graphic novel reads of the year!
It certainly is no secret that making it past double digits is an immense challenge for comics these days, what with all the relaunches and reboots that seem to happen every now and then. But when a title has been going on for almost two decades, almost without interruption, that’s when you know that things are going good. Last year Ron Marz and Laura Braga created a new jump-on point for new readers of Witchblade with #170 and they did it with little fanfare but lots of awesome. And they’ve been going at it ever since, turning out one good story after another.
Witchblade celebrated its 175th issue last week and again, this was all without fanfare. I actually didn’t know that issue #175 was going to be a special anniversary issue with more than twice the content until I picked up the issue and started reading. Ron and Laura wrapped up their first arc on the series last month and now they delve into new territory as they explore some of the more ephemeral and psychological aspects of the Witchblade, and the bonus content rocked from start to finish as well, including a short story from a completely different creative team.
New creative teams on long-running titles can often have an uphill task. This has happened time and time again in the industry and will likely happen countless times again in the future. But for the moment, I must say that the creative team of Ron Marz, Laura Braga, Betsy Gonia and Troy Peteri have been doing wonders with Top Cow’s premier title, Witchblade. I’ve read some comics from the previous creative team and while they were decent enough, they weren’t as good as what the new creative team has turned out in the last six months. The Borne Again arc has been a ton of fun, and no mistake.
Witchblade #174 brings this new arc with the new creative team to a close. Having rid herself of the Witchblade, all Sara Pezzini wanted was to live a normal life as a Sheriff in some out-of-the-way county, but then her past caught up to her and she was right back where she left things off. In the new arc she’s gone up against a madman and a zealot both, and now she ends that threat pretty decisively. Ron Marz’s writing is as good as ever and while there a few more problems this week with the art, Braga and Gonia still deliver a beautiful looking issue nonetheless.
It isn’t for no reason that Ron Marz is one of my favourite writers working in the comics industry right now. His work is always rather… fluid in terms of the story and the concepts are always interesting to say the least. I’ve read a fair amount of his work till now, though I still have a mountain of it to go through, but none of his work has stayed with me as much as his current run on Witchblade, which is his second run on the title. The Borne Again arc has really been putting Sara through the paces and it explores a world where the balance between the Light and the Dark is no more.
Investigating a series of grisly ritualistic murders, Sara has come under fire herself and become part of a greater conspiracy that seeks to use the imbalance between the Light and the Dark to make everything even worse. Too much of anything is a bad thing, that’s one of the central concepts of this arc that Ron is telling, and in this issue we begin to see the genesis of how that imbalance is getting skewed even further. And in the middle of it, Laura Braga and Betsy Gonia’s art continues to be good, which is what I wanted!
If you’ve been following Top Cow news in the last couple of months or so, then you know that writer Ron Marz is back in the saddle for Witchblade, this time with artists Laura Braga and Betsy Gonia. Working in a world set after the events of Tim Seeley’s run with the Rebirth mega-arc, the new run is a great place for new readers to get into the series, especially for someone like me who kind of just tapered off with the title and has only read a few issues here and there. The new creative team has started off fairly strong and the Borne Again arc looks set to be a really good one.
The previous two issues were slow-burners, but not this one, for this one has much more action this time and it is paced well along with the backstory reveals, not to mention a guest appearance by someone unexpected! What I liked about this issue was that it really opened up the world of Witchblade lore for readers, whether new or old, and Laura’s art continues to be good, despite a few problematic areas here and there.