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Top Cow’s Free “Artifacts”

by  in Comic News Comment
Top Cow’s Free “Artifacts”
“Artifacts” #0 available for free this weekend

There are thirteen Artifacts of indescribable power within the Top Cow Universe. When brought together, these Artifacts will destroy the world. Naturally, that’s exactly what writer Ron Marz plans to do in the pages of “Artifacts,” a thirteen-issue series set to launch from Top Cow this July. Marz and Top Cow Publisher Filip Sablik describe “Artifacts” as both a payoff for longtime Top Cow readers and a ground floor for new fans, with the story following Witchblade-bearer Sara Pezzini and Darkness host Jackie Estacado as they search for Hope, their missing daughter.

While the seeds for “Artifacts” have been planted in several other titles including “Angelus” and “Broken Trinity: Pandora’s Box,” Top Cow’s first official installment in the event hits stands on Free Comic Book Day with “Artifacts” #0, a prologue chapter designed to familiarize readers with the core premise of the thirteen Artifacts. The story unfolds as Aphrodite IV, a green-haired cybernetic assassin, meets an unseen narrator with intimate knowledge of the Top Cow Universe’s thirteen Artifacts – a collection of deadly items that this antagonist wants to bring together for currently unknown reasons.

CBR News caught up with Marz and Sablik to discuss their goals in designing “Artifacts” #0 for Free Comic Book Day, the specific plot threads of the issue, and the event’s core focus on two parents desperate to find their child.

CBR: While Top Cow has been building up to “Artifacts” for quite a while, this Free Comic Book Day issue is the first official entry into the proper “Artifacts” story. Given that, what were some of your goals going into “Artifacts” #0?

RON MARZ: If it’s a zero issue, to me, it should be an absolute ground floor here’s-everything-you-need-to-know issue. I know that sometimes zero issues come out and they aren’t quite that, but for my purposes, I wanted this to appeal to our current readers in that we’re continuing the story of Aphrodite IV in “Artifacts” #0, so we see what’s happened to her after her current appearance in “Witchblade.”

Pages from “Artifacts” #0

But more than that, the concern was to really explain what the whole Artifacts concept is to everybody else that might not be reading “Witchblade,” “Darkness” or “Magdalena.” I tried to come up with a story that integrated that information, hopefully somewhat gracefully, into a story rather than just presenting this stuff as encyclopedia entries.

FILIP SABLIK: Definitely, the problem we gave ourselves was, how do we create a book that’s more than a preview and a recap of stuff that people already read? Obviously, we wanted [the issue] to appeal to both current Top Cow fans who are already gearing up and getting pumped for “Artifacts,” but at the same time, the goal with Free Comic Book Day on a whole level is to attract new readers and new comic book fans. With “Artifacts,” I think we have a real opportunity to do that because we’re offering up something that is different than what the Big Two are doing in their events. We’re offering something that melds supernatural and horror and epic fantasy in the sense of these larger-than-life mythical stories.

All that is to say that I think Ron did a fantastic job of solving that problem. He gave people a lot of information and a lot of ground level stuff, but also provided them with an entertaining story that serves as a precursor to “Artifacts.”

RM: In all seriousness, that should be the job that everyone in comics does - to make sure that your current readers are engaged and interested, but that there aren’t barriers to new readers. It’s a tough line to walk sometimes, because a lot of the big-event-type stories that have dominated comics for the past four or five years are really geared for the every Wednesday warriors who are there to pick up the product every week. We really wanted to make sure that this story was accessible to more than just the readers we already have. I’ve said this before - the easiest thing to do in comics is to just preach to the converted. Ultimately, that doesn’t really serve a purpose.

This issue picks up after Aphrodite’s appearance in “Witchblade.” What’s going on with her as this issue opens?

RM: Really, what’s going on is Aphrodite is waking up and asking, “What’s going on?” She’s not where she thinks she should be. She’s not where she remembers being. She literally wakes up in a big tank filled with what’s essentially the bacta fluid from “Star Wars.”

Pages from “Artifacts” #0

FS:It’s important to mention, with new readers in mind, who Aphrodite IV is. She’s a cyborg created by a consortium of scientists and has been programmed to become an assassin. She’s the modern precursor to Aphrodite IX, which is a later model. But at this point, in a way, Ron sets her up in these first couple of pages to be in the same position as the reader. She doesn’t really know anything about the Artifacts in the grander scheme of the universe, so she serves as a pretty darn good guide since she’s finding all of this out at the same time as the reader.

RM: Yeah, she very much serves as the proxy for the reader in this. She’s been thrown into a situation where she doesn’t understand what’s going on. A lot of the readers are going to be in this position as well. Hopefully by the end of it, everyone comes away kind of understanding what was going on.

If Aphrodite represents the reader, does this villainous narrator represent you guys with all of your secret “Artifacts” knowledge?

FS: To spoil all of “Artifacts” for you, the true villain of this series is Ron Marz. [laughs] That’s it – you don’t have to read it now!

RM: This unseen narrator, this unseen voice, is unseen for a reason. He will remain unseen for a while. One of the great tools we have as storytellers is that sense of mystery that can pull you through issues and story-arcs to help you figure out who this guy is. This is kind of where the trail of breadcrumbs starts for figuring out who the actual villain is in “Artifacts.”

FS: And I think that even using the term “villain” is a little bit misleading. He or she is obviously orchestrating some larger events and knows more about the universe than Aphrodite and a lot of the other characters. That will play out throughout the story. But the ultimate motivations of this person are still kind of unrevealed at this point.

RM: Yeah, I almost think that “antagonist” is a better word than “villain.”

Filip, in your afterword at the end of the issue, you talk about how one of the main components at the core of “Artifacts” is this story of a mother and a father with their daughter in danger. Can you talk about balancing this big, sprawling Top Cow epic while keeping it grounded with Sara Pezzini and Jackie Estacado’s shared plight?

Pages from “Artifacts” #0

FS: In my mind, when we started putting this together, we kind of looked at two things. Obviously, in a lot of ways, “Artifacts” is the reward for our longtime readers. It answers questions for people who’ve been reading Ron’s work on “Witchblade,” have been reading “The Darkness” and have invested in the Top Cow universe over the years. We definitely want to pay that off.

But I think the best events are stories that work regardless of what universe or setting you put them in. The example I’ve used a couple of times at conventions is, for me, the reason “Civil War” was so effective for Marvel is because the core of that story could be told in the Marvel Universe or the DC Universe or the Top Cow Universe – this idea of something horrible happening and the heroes splitting on either side as far as what the appropriate response and solution to that problem should be. In a similar way, I think the heart of “Artifacts,” which is Jackie and Sara’s story in trying to save and get their daughter back, is hopefully something that anybody can relate to.

Do you guys have anything else to add on “Artifacts” #0?

RM: This is very much the prologue chapter. I think it kind of speaks for itself. You’ll definitely see Aphrodite making a big splash again in “Artifacts” #1, but to say anything more would be saying too much.

FS: I think this is going to be one of those cool issues where not only is it a great prologue, but when people end up going back and reading it in the context of later issues, they’ll glean additional information out of this one. There’s a nice bit of subtext in here. Way to go, Ron. [Laughs]

RM: And let’s not forget to mention that it’s free! [laughs] I’ll be in Boston at New England Comics to sign it tomorrow.

“Artifacts” #0, written by Ron Marz and illustrated by Stjepan Sejic, is Top Cow’s offering for Free Comic Book Day and the prologue chapter for the 13-issue “Artifacts” series set to premiere in July. Stay tuned to CBR News in the coming weeks for much more on “Artifacts.”

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