Artifacts #1

Seven words in and this comic establishes the tone: mature readers only, please. Sara Pezzini has her gun drawn and cuts an intimidating first image in this series. From there, there's action, violence, and suspense, including an issue-ending scene that is simply heartbreaking.

Top Cow magnificently identifies the major players in this story with two pages of quick bios describing the seven critical characters of this issue, but in the story, itself, the characters are smoothly identified by those they run into and the circumstances surrounding them. Sara Pezzini introduces herself as she comes to the rescue of a priest being attacked by a demon. Later in the issue, Tom Judge is pegged by the enigmatic Curator, who is set up to be a pivot point for the action and drama of this series.

There's plenty of action and drama in this single issue. The Curator clues Judge (and the reader by proxy) in to what this series is going to be all about. "There are forces in motion," he tells Judge. Those forces seek to draw together thirteen ancient artifacts -- including the Witchblade, the Darkness, and Judge's Rapture cross -- which would result in the destruction of the universe.

The storytelling is cinematic and effective. Tom Judge snuffs out a cigarette on a human skull and the image serves as a transition to Sara Pezzini's daughter's day out with her aunt. The foreshadowing displayed by the snuffing is chilling, made even more so on a second read. While this may be the same Ron Marz who wrote the adventures of Kyle Rayner, this Ron Marz has grown as a storyteller. This could be the direct result of a more liberated universe Marz is working within at Top Cow, sure, or it could be that Marz himself is liberated by the fact that he has more room to write the story his way.

The art by Michael Broussard is stunning and immensely detailed. The aforementioned scene plays out like stills from a movie. Broussard brings rawness to his art not unlike Leinil Francis Yu, but he tempers that rawness with detail and various shading effects, such as cross-hatching and stippling. The end result is a collection of panels and pages that are simply breathtaking. Broussard's art covers the range of the story masterfully -- from Hope clamoring for a balloon to the attack on the priest that launches this story -- and has me eagerly anticipating the next issue.

Gho's coloring is full, ranging from dusky and grim to bright and flamboyant on a flick. Gho's work on "Power Girl" tends to run to the bright end of the spectrum, but here, the full palette is at play, and Gho plays well with others. This book would hold up well in black and white (and gray), straight from Broussard's pencils, but Gho fills out the imagery quite nicely.

As a large chunk of the action of this issue features Witchblade, the history of the artifact is on display in a spread drawn by Witchblade creator Marc Silvestri. This is a nice touch, and a welcome addition.

The Top Cow corner of the comic book universe has never really appealed to me. The characters seemed gimmicky, cheesy, or thin. This comic is the exact opposite of all of that. While it may seem like a cheesy gimmick at first blush, in reality it is a comic with some meat on its bones, a story that promises to be self-contained, but rife with repercussions, and, most importantly, interesting. Marz and company are world-building here, and the world is an entertaining divergence.

I'm not going to say this story is "epic," or a "must-read," but I am certainly thankful I did read it. It's loud, widescreen comic book mayhem that sticks to the roof of your brain after the final page is turned.

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