Caitlin Kittredge returns to comics with the soft-reboot, sort-of-sequel to the long running series, “Witchblade.” This feels like right in her wheel house and, having read “Coffin Hill,” I was hopeful for her take on this series. I just wish she had learned a bit more from her previous foray into comics before structuring this comic the way she did.
Written by Caitlin Kittredge
Illustrated by Roberta Ingranata
Colored by Bryan Valenza
Lettered by Troy Peteri
“LIFE AFTER,” Part One
Gunned down and left for dead on a New York rooftop, Alex Underwood’s life should have ended there—but instead, at the moment of death, she became host to the Witchblade, a mystical artifact that grants the woman wielding it extraordinary powers. But the power comes with a heavy cost, and Alex finds herself thrust into the center of an unseen battle raging on the snowy streets of NYC. Demons are real and walking among humans, and every one of them is intent on taking out the Witchblade’s newest host before she becomes too strong to kill. But the artifact chose Alex for a reason, and she’s not going down without a fight.
Although I was vaguely aware of “Witchblade” prior to its return this week, I hadn’t read any of it. I preface my review with this because, throughout this issue, I was thoroughly confused and I have the feeling that this is in no small part due to my lack of familiarity with the series. This isn’t the only reason why I was confused but I cannot rule it out and so, for those who are familiar with the series, you may feel very different to me.
Okay, with that out of the way, let’s talk “Witchblade.” The comic opens on our, as yet internally nameless, main character, Alex, lying dead on the ground, the snow around her colored red with blood, feathers mixed into the falling snow, before a shadowy figure appears over her, and then, she breathes again, reborn into the world. As far as first pages go, this has a strong hook. It’s a page that works on its own and as foreshadowing for the narrative itself.
The actual layout of the page, too, is fantastic. Ingranata sets the page as an hourglass, going from a close-up of Alex’s eyes, to a mid-shot, showing her head and upper torso, to a shot of the sky, as if she were leaving her body, off towards heaven, but then, with the appearance of the shadowy figure, she begins to return, going from the sky to the mid-shot and finally, back to her eyes, which now glow blue.
This page serves as a hook, drawing the reader in and getting them intrigued for what is to come and also presenting the central mystery, what happened to Alex and why was she lying here, dead, with a spirit talking to her about death and rebirth. But, this isn’t the central mystery. By the end of the issue, we know exactly who killed her, why, and then how she came back from the dead (presumably the witchblade).
Compare this with “Revival” or “Rachel Rising,” both supernatural horror series with themes in rebirth, and this might be a disappointment. Part of the fun of those series is wondering what happened to the revived character, why they were brought back and why/how they were killed. Sure, we don’t know the exact reason Alex was brought back from the dead yet, but the rest of the information is given to us and its treated as set dressing for some larger narrative that we haven’t been exposed to yet.
This is one of those places that I mentioned earlier, one where my lack of knowledge of this series might be causing problems for my understanding of the events of the issue. I don’t know the rules of the witchblade or what the witchblade is/the history of it, which may fill in most of the holes and provide all the motivation the comic needs to continue the story, instead of it being like “Revival” or “Rachel Rising” in its structure.
However, that doesn’t make this comic any less confusing and I know that it cannot be only due to a lack of prior knowledge because this issue has a very similar pacing to “Coffin Hill,” Kittredge’s previous series for Vertigo, that is, a novelistic presentation of information. This is the first chapter of a novel, one with many threads and questions and a lack of concrete details. In a novel, leaving us confused for the first chapter or so is fine, because we know that as soon as the chapter ends, we can turn the page and continue to gain our bearings.Continued below
But in a serialized medium like comics, we don’t have that luxury. Leaving the events of the issue vague and non-linear, especially when layering in visions and dream-states that mess with time, without giving the audience a strong enough reason to want clarification, can get people to not want to pick up the next issue. A whirlwind of information also only works when it has some center, some focus for the audience to grasp onto, and I cannot find that here. Moreover, contrary to the amount of information we are presented with in this issue, we actually know very little about Alex or her world. We are just thrown into the middle of her story and filled in on her background in broad, vague strokes.
In an intriguing and well laid out montage, we see flashes of Alex’s life through a page of photographs that recount her life up until her journalistic days and then a page of her getting captured, fired from her job, and then presumably being put on trial as well as showing the opening panel, of her dead in the snow, and then a future? panel showing her dead, again, along with her client and a menacing man, whose face is covered in shadows.
The actual, technical merit of these pages isn’t the problem but the storytelling itself is, leaving me lost and confused. I don’t know what the present action is, what is the past, what is the future and what is just dream visions. Kittredge provides us with tags such as “now” but that “now” scene contains a panel that hasn’t happened, with a character I don’t recognize (unless it’s supposed to be Alex with black hair) and shows conflicting versions of Alex’s death, which happened 24 hours after she woke up from a dream where she dreamt her death and went to work.
And I haven’t even touched on the magical side of this comic, which is by far the most engaging part of the comic and what seems to be its driving force but I don’t know why it’s important yet. Again, we know nothing concrete about Alex: her personality, why she’s working with witnesses, what is up with her seemingly troubled past, which is fine so long as we’re given enough of a grasp of who Alex is to start. We don’t have that here. Right now, she is a plot device, with events happening to her that expand the world but without the context necessary for us to understand it.
It is very apparent that this creative team knows what they’re planning on doing and that this is an established world with established rules. Alex’s past is there and it asks the reader to piece it together, something that I appreciate in comics, but the ways in which they are attempting to convey that information to us falls flat. It leaves me questioning more things than I should and instead of peaking my interest in these questions, as “Rachel Rising’s” first issue, which was mostly wordless, did, it leaves me frustrated at my lack of knowledge of this world and its characters. I left this issue feeling disoriented and angry instead of feeling confused but excited. I suspect the next issue will be better but considering my experiences with this one, I don’t know if I’m going to pick it up.
Final Verdict: 5.7. – A fantastic and intriguing first page attempts to hide the piecemeal, confusing first chapter of this new “Witchblade” series that really could have used a more coherent core and a second chapter directly afterwards.