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Marz Rover (Part 2): Ron Marz talks “Witchblade,” Cyberforce” & More

by  in Comic News Comment
Marz Rover (Part 2): Ron Marz talks “Witchblade,” Cyberforce” & More
“Cyberforce” #2 “Cyberforce” #2 variant by Silvestri

Yesterday, CBR News spoke with writer Ron Marz about “Ion,” his new DC Comics project, and today, Marz is back. He’s been making a name for himself with his work at Top Cow comics, bringing what some fans call a “maturity” to oft dismissed characters, such as Witchblade. Continuing our spotlight on the multi-faceted scribe, CBR News spoke with Ron Marz about his beginnings at Top Cow.

“My relationship with Top Cow has been great. It really goes back to when I decided to leave CrossGen,” explained Marz. “Within a couple of days, Jim McLauchlin, who was the Cow’s Editor-in-Chief, called and offered an arc on ‘The Darkness.’ Before I was done with that, they offered me the chance to take over as the regular ‘Witchblade’ writer. One of the real pleasures is that they’ve given me a lot of leash on everything I’ve done for them. I can’t recall a situation where they’ve told me, ‘No, you can’t do that.’ That sort of freedom is an absolute gift.

“The Top Cow universe itself is intriguing because there’s a dichotomy to it. On one hand, you’ve got the more superhero-oriented stuff like ‘Cyberforce’ and ‘Hunter-Killer.’ On the other, there’s the darker, more supernatural-oriented books like ‘Witchblade’ and ‘Darkness.’ It’s also relatively new, rather than having decades of continuity in place. It’s a nice mix. There are enough different toys that you’ve got something to play with, but it’s not of a scope and complexity that you feel like you’re navigating an obstacle course all the time.”

Marz’s new position as writer on “Cyberforce” (a book created by the founder of Top Cow, Marc Silvestri) has generated a lot of buzz, even before the March 22 release of issue #1. “Once we were up and running on ‘Witchblade,’ Top Cow asked me what else I’d like to do. I told them ‘Cyberforce.’ The chief attraction was to be able do a team book, which I hadn’t had much opportunity to do in the 15 years I’ve been at this. When I was a kid, I was drawn to team books like ‘Avengers’ and ‘X-Men’ and ‘Teen Titans,’ because it felt like you were getting more bang for your buck, you were getting all these different heroes in one book. And not only were you getting the big action pieces, you were getting all the character interaction, all the soap opera.

“Cyberforce” #2, Page 1 “Cyberforce” #2, Pages 2 & 3

“To me, team books fall into two categories. You have books with all-star rosters like ‘JLA’ or ‘Avengers,’ books that pull together different heroes for the greater good. And then you have ‘family’-style books like ‘X-Men’ or ‘Titans,’ where the characters come together because they need each other and for a sense of belonging, and not just because the planet needs saving once a month. ‘Cyberforce’ is definitely more of a family book. The characters cling together because they’re mutants, for lack of a better word. They all have alien DNA spliced into their genetic code, which is what gives them their powers. ”

As Marz mentioned, the comic book market is full of superhero teams and it’s hard to sometimes differentiate one from another. Like a military general, Marz is putting his troops into the field with a specific strategy in play. “The plan, at least in my mind, is to distill what I liked about those team books I read as a kid and try to put some of it in ‘Cyberforce.’ And I’m really talking about the character dynamics, the sense of family that you got from classic X-Men or Titans, more than who was beating the hell out of who. Yes, we’ll have plenty of action, plenty of stuff blowing up, but I think what keeps readers coming back every month is the characters. So, in that sense, it’s probably not going to be vastly different from what I’ve done before. I like to build characters the readers can care about. Here I’m doing it with a half-dozen characters, as opposed to one in something like ‘Green Lantern.’

“The first six issues are an arc, putting the team back together and facing a threat heading toward earth from deep space. The second arc deals with whoever the survivors are, and them deciding whether they want to stay together. By the end of the second arc, we’ll have some new team members, characters who have never been involved in a team setting before. I’m really looking forward to the mix, because they’re not going to get along like the Brady Bunch.”

The new “Cyberforce” also seems much darker in tone, with early pages showing a grittier version than seen in the past. Still, Marz contends that his vision of “Cyberforce” isn’t as dark something like “The Authority,” with its brand of graphic violence and mayhem. “I don’t know that I’d consider it ‘darker,’ per se, but you really can’t ignore the influence ‘The Authority’ and ‘The Ultimates’ have had on the medium. There’s a certain nihilistic sensibility in ‘The Authority’ that I don’t think fits with ‘Cyberforce,’ but the widescreen quality of both those books will certainly be felt, especially as the series goes on. The first arc begins comparatively small, but the story grows to increasingly epic proportions. One difference is that ‘The Authority’ and ‘The Ultimates’ are very public teams, but at least initially, ‘Cyberforce’ is going remain more of a covert operation.

“Cyberforce” #2, Page 4 “Witchblade” #97

“Out of the gate, the main characters are Ripclaw, Cyblade, Velocity and Ballistic. Ripclaw is the one everybody dismisses as a Wolverine knockoff, but he’s actually the one I’m the most intrigued about. He’s a Native American, a shaman, really, and I’m really looking forward to digging into that background. Cyblade is the girl next door, assuming the girl next door is European nobility, an ex-super model and can generate electromagnetic ‘blades’ of energy. There really hasn’t been much done to get inside her character, so there’s plenty of room for me to work.

“Velocity is the speedster, as well as the youngest on the team. She’s more of an innocent than anyone else, particularly her sister, Ballistic, who’s the ‘shoot first, last and at any time in between’ character. We’ll pick up a few more characters during the first arc, but they’re under wraps for now.”

Some of the attention on the series has also been the result of the book’s penciller, Pat Lee, well-known for his company, Dreamwave Comics. When the company collapsed, despite Lee’s influential work on “Transformers,” his character came into question, as creators revealed that Lee hadn’t paid them for their work, making the writer/artist into a lightning rod for controversy. “Pat’s a lightning rod for controversy? Really? Gee, I hadn’t noticed. Next thing you’ll be telling me that comic fans can sometimes be opinionated,” smiles Marz.

“Obviously, Pat brings a certain amount of baggage. It would be disingenuous for me to sit here and say he doesn’t. But my relationship with him is writer-artist, and thus far it’s been a satisfying collaboration. I really think Pat’s ‘Cyberforce’ pencils are the best of his career and he’s certainly not scrimping on the detail. He’s loading as much as he can into every panel. Pat’s strength is oriented toward the tech aspects, so I’m pushing the story in that direction when it’s appropriate. We’ve got some pretty amazing hardware coming up in issue #3. ‘Cyberforce’ is a book with a hell of an artistic pedigree in Marc Silvestri and David Finch. Pat knows he’s got big shoes to fill, and he’s stepping up.”

“Witchblade” #97, Page 1 “Witchblade” #97, Page 3

To some fans, it seems as though Marz is creating his own corner of the Top Cow superhero universe, a “Marzverse,” such as Geoff Johns created in the DC Comics universe. “I think every writer tends to draw threads between their projects, whether it’s Geoff in the DCU, or Stephen King or E.L. Doctorow in their novels. My two monthlies in the Top Cow Universe, ‘Witchblade’ and ‘Cyberforce,’ are very divergent in terms of theme. There’s not a natural connectivity. But one of my goals is to eventually build some bridges between the more traditional superhero side of the Top Cow Universe and the more supernatural side. I’m not going to force something that doesn’t feel natural, but mixing those two elements should create some sparks.”

Meanwhile, Marz isn’t taking a break with “Witchblade,” where he’s going to continue shattering the status quo with each issue. “There’s a transition period coming up for the book. We just announced that Mike Choi’s last issue for the foreseeable future is going to be #100, which will be out this summer. I’ve loved working with Mike on the book. The leaps in his artistry and storytelling in less than two years are really astonishing, and I’m really going to miss collaborating with Mike when he picks up some Marvel books as part of the Top Cow/Marvel deal. Hopefully we’ll be working together again sooner rather than later. But as sad as I am to see Mike go, I’m equally as excited to have Adriana Melo taking over.

“I did a few Star Wars issues with Adriana, so this isn’t the first time working together for us. I seem to be blessed when working with Brazilian talent, like Luke Ross on ‘Samurai: Heaven and Earth,’ and Greg Tocchini on ‘Ion,’ so Adriana fits right in. The first glimpse readers will get of Adriana’s stuff is the Free Comic Book Day offering from Image, which has a Witchblade segment that doesn’t just hint at what’s coming up for ‘Witchblade,’ it gives away the whole farm.

“Our new inker is Mariah Benes, who’s the sister of upcoming ‘Justice League of America’ artist Ed Benes, Sonia Oback is staying on as colorist, and Renae Geerlings is taking the editorial reins. So, I’m the lone boy in the girls club. I just hope they’re gentle with me and don’t leave any bruises I can’t explain to my wife.

“Witchblade” #97, Page 4

“The 10th anniversary issue, which was #92, was all about the past — the Witchblade’s origin, and showing some of the previous bearers. Issue #100 is more about the future. It’s going to tie up some threads that have been simmering since literally my first issue, #80, as well as set the stage for where we’re going for next year or so. Mike Choi and Adriana Melo are splitting the art duties on #100, and we’ll have a few ‘special guests’ chipping in as well. Wait ’til you see the jaw-dropper we reveal on the last page.”

Though Marz is happy to provide those teasers, he isn’t saying much more, adding, “I can’t say much about the direction we’re taking the series without spoiling some huge surprises … though the cat’s going to be out of the bag when the Free Comic Book Day issue is released. So, how about for now I just say ‘nothing lasts forever.’ Ask again after the FCBD issue hits.”

Further expanding the Marzverse, the writer will tackle “Magdalena,” a sister series to “Witchblade.” The four-issue mini-series won’t debut until later in the year. ” Magdalena is actually the first Cow character I requested, but I was asked to have a go at Witchblade first,” revealed Marz. “In the simplest terms, Maggie is a monster hunter who works for the Catholic church, descended from Mary Magdalene in a very ‘Da Vinci Code’ way. She’s had a handful of mini-series previously, but to be frank, the stories have been pretty muddled. It’s a great concept, though, so my job in this four-issue mini is to make sense of it all. The idea is that this is the Magdalena series that a new reader can pick up and run with. I’m not going to put the lie to anything that’s gone before, but this is going to be a starting point. I’m going to make this mini as accessible as possible. The short version is that the present inheritor of the Magdalena mantle has decided to walk away from the responsibility, so someone else has taken up the role. But a threat arises that pulls in both of them.

“Keu Cha is painting all four issues. Keu and I did a Darkness one-shot called ‘Black Sails,’ which was a pirate story, a period piece. It’s one of the most gorgeous books I’ve ever been associated with, so I jumped at the chance to do another project with him. Keu’s pencils are great, but his painted work is twice as amazing.”

If you’re one of those comic book fans who’ve dismissed Top Cow as all flash and no substance, Marz takes issue with that point of view. “To a certain extent, I probably sound like a broken record about this. I think a lot of readers have a mindset about what a Top Cow book is, and a good deal of it is wrong. If you think these books are nothing more than an excuse for tits and ass, you obviously haven’t looked inside one. I’m interested in story and character, first and foremost. So is Mark Waid, who’s writing ‘Hunter-Killer.’ If you’d like to add a little something to your diet beyond what Marvel and DC are setting out on the buffet table, here’s your chance.”

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