Long-time readers of Top Cow's "Witchblade" franchise are used to tales of the magical artifact's expansive and often surprising history. In times past, historical women including Joan of Arc, Cleopatra and Marie Curie have wielded the Witchblade. This February, the ever expansive saga of Sara Pezzini and the Witchblade takes a turn down a mysterious road with the introduction of a "new" yet already classic character: Dorian Gray, from Oscar Wilde's "The Picture Of Dorian Gray," first published in 1890.
"Witchblade: Shades of Gray" is a four issue miniseries set back in 1997, when Sara Pezzini had just began to understand her role as the bearer of the Witchblade. During the course of a murder investigation, Pezzini crossed paths with a suspect calling himself Dorian Gray. Dynamite Entertainment publishes the series in collaboration with Top Cow Productions and features art by Stephen Segovia. The story is by Leah Moore & John Reppion, who previously scripted Alan Moore's "Albion."
Many comics readers of course know the story of "Witchblade". A "tough-as-nails" policewoman, Sara Pezzini wears a bracelet that turns into the Witchblade, a sentient weapon that tears off her clothes and gives her the ability to fire bolts of energy. Moore remarked, "She's a really good person, trying to cope with the Witchblade, her job, and the weird stuff that happens to her, and she still looks fresh and perky every day." Pezzini is also but one of seemingly dozens of wielders of the Witchblade throughout history.
For readers who may not be familiar with Oscar Wilde's novel, Moore & Reppion prepared a quick primer on Dorian Gray. "Dorian was born in 1870 and became immortal in around 1890 when he had his portrait painted," Moore explained. "The painting was so beautiful he made some kind of pact (possibly unwittingly) that it would age while he would stay forever young. He has been alive ever since and in the hundred years of his life he has had a chance to change his mind about some things, he's not the same person he was all those years ago.
"The strong silent type I guess you could say. He and Sara don't immediately hit it off as they are both used to keeping their secrets to themselves.
"There is another character in the story but we can't say too much about him at the moment. Suffice it to say he has a bone to pick with both Sara and Dorian."
The inspiration for this unusual crossover series came from Dynamite themselves, who approached the team of Moore & Reppion with their idea. "We were given quite a lot of freedom with the actual story its self; we just had to stay within a basic framework. Dynamite already knew how they wanted their version of Dorian to work but it's been left to us to bring the character to life and flesh the whole thing out."
As Leah Moore is the daughter of Alan Moore and John Reppion is her husband, the involvement by these two particular writers in a Dorian Gray comic draws a number of tangential yet inescapable connections to Alan Moore's sometimes controversial work involving other writers' characters; to "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen;" and perhaps more specifically to the dubious filmed version which features Gray prominently.
Leah Moore agreed, remarking, "It does weirdly, the film didn't bear any relation to the graphic novel but now anyone who saw it or even heard about it thinks Dorian Gray was in the book too."
Moore expanded on the popular use of characters of myth and in classic literature, explaining, "What dad did when he used the characters he loved from literature was to open people's eyes to that possibility. He and Neil Gaiman and numerous others had been using characters from myths and legends and fairytales for years without any problem, and League was just an extension of that I think. Using characters from other people's books was kind of taboo because everyone gets very excited about copywrite issues, but he realized that unless you say "This is James Bond the character owned by such and such" the whole thing is so nebulous and vague it would be hard to find legal fault with it.
"The stories of the past are all great fodder for authors to rework and re-jig, and its something novelists have always done without any problem at all. You could have Mickey Mouse doing the tango with Adolf Hitler in a novel and no one would be remotely interested. Its only when images, likenesses come into it that there's ever any problem."
Returning to Dorian Gray and the Moore literary empire specifically, Leah Moore said, "[Gray] and Tom Sawyer were added [to the 'League' film] as young male leads I assume because the cast was mainly old men, monsters and crazy people. It's more glam to have Dorian and Sawyer in it I guess. I don't think anyone is in any doubt that the film sucked but it did throw out the idea of Dorian Gray in a comic book world, which is where we come in."
One of the key ideas of the "Witchblade: Shades of Gray" miniseries is, as John Reppion explained, the fact that the Witchblade has a history that stretches back eons and that Gray, as an immortal, has been around for at least a hundred years of that time.
"You get this picture of unnaturally long time lines stretching back throughout history and the longer those lines are, the more chance there is of them getting tangled up somewhere. It's like, if you do your family tree and you discover all this stuff about your relatives, people you never met who were dead before you where born but, who walked the same streets as you and lived in the same neighborhoods. The human life span seems somehow to fall just short of all these things, these people and places are just out of reach but, if you had lived only a little longer, a hundred years or so, think of the things you would have seen, the people and the places."
Due only to the fact that I searched relentlessly for ways to artificially insert Alan Moore's "League" into the discussion, Leah Moore confessed graciously, "I don't know if Dorian will ever crop up in the League. I believe he was referred to briefly at some point in the first book, but I don't think that was setting up anything major." However, the writer added, "You don't really have to reconcile the different versions [of Dorian Gray]. Our comic version does not alter the original [Oscar Wilde] text in any way, in the same way that the film of League didn't harm the graphic novel in any way. Each version can obviously be compared with the others, but it's only really useful as a point of interest, not as a critical tool.
"Dorian's appeal is that we are all fascinated by the idea of having something as a visual tally of our sins. Imagine if every unkind thought or spiteful word was writ large on a huge painting for all to see. I think the moral message of Dorian Gray is not to do anything you wouldn't like to be confronted with later on in life. Don't do bad because you will have a very ugly self-image if you do. It's not about what the rest of the world thinks of you but how you balance your own spiritual books at the end of the day. That and he's famously quite a hunk and nothing is cooler than a handsome man who's a bit tormented, am I right?"
To many, co-writing a script while being married to your collaborator would seem to present a number of interesting or even amusing challenges for both parties involved. Or maybe it's not all that remarkable?
"When it's going well it's the easiest thing in the world, but when we get stuck its bloody awful," Moore confessed. The married team begins their process by talking out all the ideas for plots, which are then coalesced into a proposal. When the green light is given, the pair breaks the story into whatever multi-issue structure the project requires. "All issues begin and end with a single (orphan) page so that provides us with a start and an end point, and then we sort out the middle. We agree on rough scene sizes, two pages four pages or whatever and then just jump in on the first panel. We draw each page out roughly to show panel size, layout of the panel and any dialogue ideas and notes for later. We go though as many pages as we can (not usually more than eight at a time) and then one of us will put the kettle on and the other one will start typing.
"We have sufficiently smoothed off any of our own weird writing foibles so we can both do a script and it's not too obvious where one begins and the other ends. We take it in turns typing until we run out of roughed pages, and then we draw out some more and keep going," adding, finally, "If we can't think of a panel, or if we are just in a foul mood it can take a whole day to rough two pages and then the next day we start them again. It's just the way it goes, we always try our hardest to get it done fast and make sure it doesn't suck, which is all any editor can hope for I guess."
By all indications, that editor – Dynamite Entertainment-is very pleased with the suck-to-non-suck ratio of Moore and Reppion's output, signing the team to a twelve month contract. "We are having a great time working for the company, and they are keeping us very busy," Reppion said. "We are currently scripting the second issue of our second mini series for them, issue one of which should be out in March 2007 I believe. We're also working on other projects for Dynamite outside of our initial contract so, hopefully, we'll be doing stuff together for a good while yet."