It's never easy when an ongoing series loses its beloved main character - and after the events of the most recent issue, "Witchblade" fans could lose two beloved main characters.
The conflict between Sara Pezzini and Danielle Baptiste came to a massive head in "Witchblade" #127, the third chapter of the long-awaited "War of the Witchblades" story arc from writer Ron Marz and artist Stjepan Sejic. In the issue, Sara and Dani - both wielders of the Witchblade, with Sara bearing the Darkness portion while Dani holds the Angelus-infused half - finally came to blows over which of them should solely possess the Balance. When the dust settled on their confrontation, Dani had taken an ugly fall from a rooftop, while Sara seemingly died at the hands of Sabine, an Angelus warrior.
Needless to say, the stakes have never been higher and pulses are pounding in anticipation of "Witchblade" #128, hitting stores this week. In preparation for the newest issue, CBR News sat down with Ron Marz to discuss all that has transpired in "War of the Witchblades" thus far, and what fans can expect from "Witchblade" going forward, with or without Sara and Dani.
CBR: "War of the Witchblades" is an arc that a lot of readers have anticipated since the Balance was split between Sara and Dani. How long had you been planning this encounter?
Ron Marz: This has been planned ever since Dani first appeared in the book, which was issue #100. So we're talking almost three years ago.
Have you noticed a strong divide between "Witchblade" fans who support Sara and those that support Dani? If you were just a bystander, would you have a favorite that you'd root for?
Well, I've had in mind how this was all going to play out for a few years now, so it's kind of hard for me to put myself in a bystander's position. But trying to look at it objectively, Sara has certainly become more of the bad guy here, as she's influenced by the dark half of the Witchblade. Hopefully that makes the readers somewhat conflicted, in that the "star" of the book for the last dozen years is cast in the villain or at least the anti-hero role.
The feedback you get is always anecdotal, whether it's in person at signings or conventions, or via e-mail and message boards, but first and foremost, people seem to be enjoying the ride, which is what you want.
When you were originally plotting the arc, did you know that the third issue would end with Sara's "death?" How did you expect fans to react to that?
Actually, I didn't know this was going to happen at the end of issue #3. But that's the nature of the job. Sometimes the stories write themselves and go in a direction that you didn't expect. When that happens, I've found the best thing you can do is hang on and see where it goes.
As far as the reaction, anybody who is reading comics knows dead doesn't always mean dead. I mean, Bucky's back. Barry Allen's back. But I will say this: when I kill somebody in one of my books, they stay killed if I have anything to say about it. Death shouldn't be a revolving door, because it saps the drama out of a story. Sara's first partner, Jake, took a dirt nap, and it's gonna stay that way. If somebody is really dead, they're dead.
For an arc titled "War of the Witchblades," it's pretty unexpected for Sara to die right here and now. Is it safe to say that even if she is dead, Sara would continue to have a presence in the rest of the arc?
Well, if we just did the expected stuff, there wouldn't be much of a reason to read the book, right? Beyond that, I'm not going to spoil anything.
Let's assume that Sara is dead. For a character that's been the face of "Witchblade" pretty much since its inception, what kind of message does it send when she gets this less-than-heroic send-off? Given her recent actions, do you think her fate is something that she deserves?
"Deserve's got nothin' to do with it." That's what Clint Eastwood's Will Munny said in "Unforgiven," just before he sent Gene Hackman's sheriff to his maker. Characters getting what they deserve doesn't automatically translate to a good story. In the past I've seen fans moaning about characters not getting the "respect" they deserve, which is entirely missing the point of telling a story. Sometimes bad things have to happen to good people. That's the nature of drama.
In your mind, what does a "Witchblade" title without Sara look like? What happens to her supporting characters - her sister, her boyfriend, her daughter, even Jackie - does her absence make them stronger, richer characters to work with, or would they drop by the wayside?
It's not an inconceivable notion. Lots of characters had the Witchblade before Sara. Someone will have it after her. The title of the book is "Witchblade," not "Sara Pezzini." But again, this won't all shake out until issue #130, so I'm not saying anything, other than Dani is a character I like writing quite a bit.
Not long ago, Jackie told Sara, "If you need me, I'll make sure I'm here." This would certainly appear to be one of those times. Will we be seeing Jackie or some incarnation of the Darkness in the coming issues?
Nope, no plans for Jackie to show up. Apparently you can't believe everything a murderous ex-mob boss, banana republic dictator and drug pusher has to say. But we're likely to see at least some aspects of the Darkness in issue #129.
We've had a healthy dose of Angelus warriors in this arc so far, as Sabine hopes to become the Angelus host. How close to a resolution are we there? Is it possible that in "killing" Sara, Sabine has actually freed Sara to become the Angelus host?
Sure, that's possible. There are a lot of different plot threads going on in this arc - Sara, Dani, Sara's sister Julie, Dani's friend Finch, the Angelus. And while they might seem like disparate threads now, they'll all tie together.
The Angelus has been flirting with Finch as well. How important will she be in the coming issues?
We're planning on having Finch be around for a while. Read into that whatever you want.
There's also a strange, ominous character named Tau'ma in play. Can you talk about how this character was developed between you and Stjepan Sejuc, in terms of design and personality? Has this been a character you've had in mind for a while?
Tau'ma actually came to be in a design that Stjepan came up with, no particular character attached to him initially. But we kicked around some concepts, and he grew into a much more central role. There were actually some other story elements and characters we had intended to include in this arc, but as Tau'ma grew, we felt like we just didn't have room for them anymore, so we tucked them away for later.
He clearly has a vested interest in Sara in some capacity. With her dead, or at least quite wounded, how will his end game be affected?
Sara's a large part of Tau'ma's plan. With her falling under the influence of the dark half of the Witchblade, she's more susceptible to being swayed into becoming an unwitting pawn for him.
Moving onto one of our other heroes, Dani. She took a pretty hard fall at the end of the last issue. How worried about her should we be, or is a little fall the least of her troubles?
Well, falling off a building is bad. Falling off a building while wearing the Witchblade isn't quite as bad - but obviously neither Sara nor Dani will be running a marathon anytime soon.
When Dani finds out what happened to Sara, how would you expect her to react? Is she automatically empathetic as is typical for her, or is there a bit of relief now - that maybe she can wield the full Balance, Sara's life be damned?
Dani's empathy is in some respects related to her wielding the light half of the Witchblade. But that's tempered by the natural antipathy the dark and the light have for each other. Dani doesn't want to hurt Sara, but she really doesn't have a choice anymore.
What would a "Witchblade" title starring Dani look like? How different would it be than the "Witchblade" issues she's already appeared in, and the issues that came before her introduction?
To me, a huge part of the title to this point has been Sara's role as a NYPD detective. That's really one of the engines that drives the plot forward, and puts Sara in a position of being pro-active, rather than passive. Were Dani to take over the lead full time, this would be a very different book. Much of the supporting cast would change, the location might even change. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. I'm a big proponent of books evolving, rather than repeating themselves.
Conversely, and assuming Sara's return, what would the series look like without Dani going forward?
The book has very much been a two-character drama since we introduced Dani. We might not have had both characters in every issue, but both characters were definitely a presence in the book. At the end of this storyline, we'll be back to focusing on one character and that character's life.
It's never easy to introduce a new character into a book that's already well claimed by someone like Sara. In your experience, are the fans enjoying Dani? How do you think they'd respond to her as the title's lead, with Sara out of the picture?
I would hope that readers will give the book a chance no matter who ends up with the Witchblade. That said, I can certainly understand fans feeling proprietary about Sara. When we introduced Dani and she got the Witchblade, we had a few longtime readers really get bent out of shape, and swear off ever reading the book again. Of course, a number of them are back on board already.
Look, comics are comfort food to a lot of fans. If you change the recipe, even a little, some of them are going to get pissed off. I think that's why the vast majority of Big Two superhero comics are unchanging - the audience wants to be spoon-fed the same thing over and over. But doing a book like Witchblade affords me a lot more latitude to do something unexpected.
Halfway into the series, how happy are you and Stjepan Sejic with your work so far? Has the fan reaction invigorated or terrified you?
The fan reaction is great, because you know you're getting a response from the audience, some kind of emotional reaction. That said, as a creator, you can't let yourself be overly swayed by the fan reaction, for good or ill. You have to tell what you think is the best story, not just provide fan service. If you're going to ignore the guy who tells you that you suck, you also have to ignore the guy who tells you that what you're doing is great.
For you personally, has there been a particular moment that Stjepan has illustrated that took you off guard?
You know, I've been working with Stjepan long enough that he doesn't catch me off guard too often. I kind of expect him to kick ass. Though there's a widescreen kind of shot in issue #128 that's a real stunner. He's so good at the epic stuff, so I try to give him scenes with scope whenever I can. I try to balance that with the character stuff, and the denser storytelling that's a better fit with the crime elements of the book.
Likewise, have you written anything recently that Stjepan has had a reaction to?
I just got an instant message from him the other day with his reaction to the script for #130. It was something like "epic stuff, man!" which means he's excited, and [when] he's excited, we're going to deliver some wicked visuals. A genius artist is always a writer's best friend.
Finally, what else can you tease about the forthcoming events in "War of the Witchblades?"
Somebody ends up with the Witchblade, somebody ends up as the Angelus. But I'm not telling who. That's why we did three different versions of the cover to #130. Obviously we're only going to press with one of them - but the question is, which one?
"War of the Witchblades" continues in "Witchblade" #128, on sale this week from Top Cow Productions and Image Comics.