The Middle Ground #50 | The results are in!

The surprise about reading all of the comics Top Cow sent over as a result of my admission of blind prejudice wasn't that they weren't as bad as I'd lazily expected -- I was actually expecting that, to be honest -- but that I ended with realizing that I was going to have to go out and catch up on the collections of one series in particular... and it was the one I'd been expecting to like the least.

Here's what I received last week from Top Cow: the first six issues of Artifacts, the first two trades of Ron Marz' Witchblade run, the Velocity mini-series that has just finished, some issues of Magdalena and the first of Phil Hester's The Darkness collections. I read them in pretty much entirely the wrong order, I admit; I started with Artifacts, convincing myself that, if anything had a chance of hooking the cynical newbie, it'd be the crossover event book. And I was... almost right. Artifacts is the Blackest Night of the Top Cow line - an event growing out of long-running mythology, and bogged down by that same mythology; there's a basic concept that's easy to understand, but it was drowned for me by scenes of "Here is [Character X] who I will frown at because of things in the past we won't explain. Now, break for the next part of the plot!" and, with the fifth issue, the addition of Whilce Portacio as artist (Sorry, everyone; I'm just not a fan, and find his art genuinely difficult to read at times).

Much more successful for me were Velocity and The Darkness. Both had clear story arcs, smart and self-aware dialogue and were relatively self-contained (and both, also, had art that for the most part was easy on the eye without being too... overly-stylized, I guess, would be a way of putting it - Although Michael Broussard is channeling Marc Silvestri to an almost illegal degree at times in The Darkness). Magdalena, too, was similarly... fun, I guess might be the way to put it, but for some reason didn't click as readily with me as a concept.

However, Witchblade... I never, ever in a million years, would have thought that Witchblade would be the title that I fell in love with, but I really did. It wasn't a pow-zam moment, but cumulative - Something about reading Marz slowly but surely rebooting the series, changing not only the cast, the costume (which, really, barely appears - It's abandoned, thankfully, for the most part) but even the genre of the series over the first two trades was surprisingly effective, and very enjoyable. It's Marz doing for Witchblade what Alan Moore did for Swamp Thing, in a way - Less revelatory, perhaps, because we've seen such wholesale revamps before as Moore's influence has spread, but nonetheless, impressive and improving the series so, so much.

(For the curious, Marz moves the series from Bad Girl Superheroics to, essentially, supernatural crime. There's definitely a mainstream TV/movie vibe to everything, but that's not a bad thing - It's well done and far more interesting to read than even the mythology-filled Artifacts, say.)

I was genuinely surprised when, finishing the second trade, I realized that I wanted to read more. It wasn't just a sense of "Well, that didn't suck"; I was curious to see whether Marz could keep up the quality as the series continued, where he was going with the plots, and what some of the slow-burning plots were leading to (Partially, of course, I knew; Artifacts is essentially Witchblade but a few years ahead). It's honestly the best outcome from this whole "I Don't Read Top Cow Comics/Yeah Well You Suck/Okay I'll Read Them" experience, and the one I didn't expect: Not only that I'd see the error of my prejudiced ways, but that I'd like one of the things I'd read so much that I'll look forwards to reading the next installments. And it was Witchblade! Seriously, that was not something I would've predicted way back when...

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