CCI: Around The Top Cow Universe With Marz

With a career spanning over 20 years, Ron Marz may not have done it all, but he's certainly accomplished a lot. He's written beloved characters like Silver Surfer, created new versions of classic characters with the addition of Kyle Rayner to the Green Lantern mythos, he was one of the top-tier talents at CrossGen and he currently steers the course of the Top Cow Universe with comics like "Witchblade," "Artifacts" and "Magdalena" all operating under his watchful eye.

Last month, Marz announced he would be leaving "Witchblade" with issue #150 due to an increased workload that includes his creator-owned Image Comics book "Shinku" and the continuation of his much-delayed run on "Magdalena." Then, during the Top Cow panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego it was announced that his revised workload would also include an "Artifacts" ongoing series. With so many plates spinning at the moment, CBR News spoke with the writer about finishing "Witchblade" and the "Artifacts" miniseries in the same month, getting "Magdalena" back on track and the upcoming "Artifacts" ongoing.

CBR News: Once you decided to leave "Witchblade" was it important to you to make it to #150 for your last issue?

Ron Marz: I think once we got to the point where it became obvious that we were going to be winding down, that was a natural spot for us to finish up and also gave us -- us being Stjepan Sejic and I -- a good point to put the period on the end of our run. We both felt like we wanted to give our closing statement on Sara, and that seemed like a good spot to do it.

When you look back at your run, did you get to do everything you wanted or are there still "Witchblade" stories rattling around your head?

There were definitely more stories to tell, and I think that's probably a good thing. I think you want to leave a book when you still feel like you have something to say on it. I've been on both sides of that fence. I've left books when I felt like, "I'm not quite ready to go, but this is the right timing" and I've left books where, in retrospect, you look back and go, "Well, apparently for the last year or six months or however long it was, I didn't really have a whole lot to say." If you're going to do one, I think it's better to leave while you've still got something to say, while you still have stories to tell rather than really get right to the bottom of the well.

Will you be dropping any bombs in "Withblade" #150 for upcoming writer Tim Seeley to clean up?

Well, if I tell you, it won't be a bomb to Tim Seeley. [Laughs] As much fun as that is -- kill everybody, burn everything to the ground and then hand it to the next guy and go, "Here, it's yours now"-- it's really not the kindest way to depart a book. I know where Tim's headed and he knows where we were pointed to finish up. Some of this is going to be tied up in "Artifacts" #13, which conveniently enough comes out the same month as "Witchblade" #150. There are different threads that will be tied up to some extent when we get to the ends of those things. I'm trying to leave the book with a bang, too. You don't want the last issue of your run to be just another issue. You want to have something that has some sort of lasting impression.

Can you tell us anything that goes on in that final issue?

Oh, damn near anything might take place in that last issue. I really don't want to give away too much of anything, but there will be some -- how do I want to put this? There will be some serious changes in Sara's life with the advent of issue #150. She will certainly be in a different place when we step aside than she was when I took it over at #80. And hopefully, that's a good thing. That was one of the goals, to move the book forward and keep it evolving.

Did you have more creative freedom with character movement and development at Top Cow than you've had at Marvel or DC in the past?

Oh, sure. The playground is different and the toys are different. You also know that going in, or at least you should. Iif not, you're kind of a dope. Ultimately, when you're dealing with one of the real franchise superhero characters, things are more about the illusion of change than actual change. With something like "Witchblade," we've always stayed pretty close to the core of the character and what makes the concept work, but I think we've moved the character forward hopefully. To a certain extent, I think we fleshed out the concept a little bit more. Obviously, I'm hugely thankful for the kind of freedom that everybody at Top Cow gave me to pursue on this book, everybody from Marc Silvestri and Matt Hawkins down to various editors I've worked with, and especially Filip Sablik, now who's wearing both the editor and publisher hat. Those guys put a huge amount of trust in me and still do, thankfully.

As you mentioned, "Artifacts" is wrapping up the same month as your "Witchblade" run. In the press release announcing Dale Keown as the artist on "Artifacts" #13, you mentioned that the hardest part of writing an event is coming up with an ending that's worthy of the whole thing, do you think you've done that?

Certainly. By and large, most events start out gangbusters and then kind of end up with a wet fizzle and that is, again, because you can't really change much of anything. You can say "Nothing is going to be the same," but when you get right down to it, pretty much everything is going to be the same. Whether it's immediate or not, the clock always resets. Steve Rogers is always Captain America in the long run, and Bruce Wayne is always Batman. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that. I think that there's a huge plus in the consistency of those characters and those stories. It is like comfort food, and when you want comfort food, it should be comfort food. Really, the path of "Artifacts" is to move the whole Top Cow Universe forward in a way that makes sense and in a way that's not just a gimmick. So, you know, no pressure.

Can you talk about any of the effects the end of "Artifacts" will have on the Top Cow Universe?

We've announced that Dale Keown will be the artist on "Artifacts" #13, which is pretty damn cool. I'm really excited about working with Dale. Having him on board brings an extra level of epic to the whole thing. I guess what I'm saying is that, per usual, I'm going to ride on the coattails of my artist.

Do you change your scripting up depending on the artist?

Sure -- you want to be able to play to your artist's strengths and, if at all possible, stay away from the stuff that's not their favorite thing to do. Any writer worth his salt has to give the artist something they're excited about drawing every day because otherwise, this whole thing becomes too much like work. If you're just giving your artist a bunch of guys sitting around a conference table talking, by and large, most artists get pretty goddamned bored of that. I try to adjust what I'm doing as much as the story will allow, to play to the strengths of the guys I'm working with. I feel like it's my job to make sure they're excited when they sit down at the board every day, rather than feeling like they're chained to an oar in the galley somewhere.

What were Dale's specific strengths you were writing towards when scripting "Artifacts" #13?

Dale's stuff tends to be bigger, more detailed. There's a lovely sheen to everything he does. I think, in general, Dale's storytelling is a little more wide open than the storytelling of, say, Jeremy Haun, or even Whilce Portacio. I think Dale's stuff is grander and more epic, so you have to reflect that. Nobody's stuff is that grand and epic if you're shoving eight panels on every page.

In your CBR column, Shelf Life, you hinted at a top secret project with Stjepan Sejic -- what is that project?

Stjepan and I will be doing a monthly "Artifacts" book after we move off of "Witchblade."

Can you talk about which characters will be in that book specifically?

I've got to play it a little fast and loose, because we don't want to give away too much of who might live and who might die, and there will be some deaths -- or some more deaths -- by the end of "Artifacts." The intention is to build the book around Tom Judge, who is the bearer of The Rapture and is a really intriguing character to write, I've found, since bringing him in in "Artifacts" #1. The book will be built around Tom Judge and his sidekick Tilly Grimes, who has been his sidekick in the past. I don't want to say [there will be] a rotating cast of characters because it makes it sound too much like "Secret Defenders," which I already wrote about. It's less a rotating cast than it is an evolving cast. Tom and Tilly will be your permanent characters, and then we'll be bringing other characters in and out as the storylines dictate. Some of them will be known characters in the Top Cow Universe and some will fall more into the category of secondary characters who haven't come to the front yet.

Will you and Stjepan be handling the "Artifacts" ongoing differently than you did "Witchblade?"

One of the things that Stjepan and I did on "Witchblade" [was approach it as] a noire police procedural with supernatural elements. In a lot of spots, it wasn't exactly epic storytelling. We were doing more personal crime story kind of stuff. With us moving over to "Artifacts," we're going to keep the supernatural aspect of what we've been doing, but a big part of it is going to be giving a chance to Stjepan to do much bigger stuff, a much more epic kind of canvas for him to work on.

Does the "Artifacts" ongoing have a kind of mission statement or purpose you can talk about?

My mission statement is to give Stjepan some really cool shit to draw. Beyond that, it's going to deal with the fallout from the "Artifacts" series, how the world has changed and whether this new world, this new Top Cow Universe, is the way it should be. Is what comes out the other side of "Artifacts" the way the world is supposed to be? While saying that, we're building it to be pretty standalone. You won't have to have read the 13 issue "Artifacts" maxiseries to be able to plug into this new series. One of my pet peeves is accessibility. This will say "Artifacts" on the cover, but I'm going to make sure it's completely accessible for somebody who's literally just picking up their first Top Cow book.

It sounds like the "Artifacts" maxiseries will be changing the make-up of the Top Cow Universe to some extent. Is it a reboot, a reset or something altogether different?

That's going to cost you four bucks to find out.

Moving on to another project, you've been saying for years that Magdalena is a character you want to tackle. What is it about her that draws you in?

It just hits a lot of my sweet spots as both a writer and reader. It plays into a lot of the stuff that I dig, frankly. It's got a big history aspect to it, and I like the historical context. I like the pomp and circumstance that goes along with the Church, even though I'm not terribly religious myself. I think the setting and the hierarchy are really cool, and it's got monsters and a beautiful lady with a sharp spear.

What do you have planned for that book moving forward?

First and foremost, we need to get the book back on schedule so it can come out regularly. We were not blessed with that for the first year or so of the book, through no one's fault and everyone's fault. The schedule slid from [Nelson] Blake [II] having some pretty severe health concerns in his family that obviously took precedence over the work. It was one of those things where we were faced with the decision of whether we wanted to ram some crappy issues out, or do we want to do the best we can with what we've got, and that was the decision. Nobody's happy about getting a book off schedule, but sometimes it's a boulder that starts rolling downhill and it's tough to get back in front of it. But now we've made every attempt to get back in front of it, and I think we're doing that. Issue #7 is out on stands now, and Nelson's actually working on issue #10. The idea is to get ahead and stay ahead. We've got Dave Marquez on the art duties as well, and Dave does a nice job in terms of matching the established style of the book. Between Nelson and Dave and the schedule we've put in place to get ahead, we'll hopefully stay there.

Marz's "Witchblade" #150 and "Artifacts" #13 hit stores in August while the "Artifacts" onging will launch later this year

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