Sara Pezzini has had a tough year.

After going to war with her good friend Danielle Baptiste over ownership of the Witchblade and barely surviving with her life and sanity intact, Sara is once again suffering under the weight of tragedy following the events of "Artifacts" #1. But even with her sister Julie murdered by the malicious Aphrodite IV and her daughter Hope's subsequent kidnapping, don't expect Sara to rest on her laurels - after all, the mystically enhanced New York City police detective has a job to do.

"The emotional trauma that Sara has suffered is huge, but the other side of that coin is the fact that her daughter is missing," writer Ron Marz told CBR News in an exclusive interview about the future of "Witchblade." "She really can't allow herself to get overwhelmed by the grief of her sister's death, because if anything, there's something even more pressing that she has to deal with - her daughter is missing and fairly obviously in danger, so there's not a whole lot of time to grieve."

To that end, "Witchblade" is losing Hope, in the sense that Sara Pezzini's infant daughter will not be an active part of Top Cow's flagship series for the next several issues. Sara's efforts to avenge her sister's death and rescue her daughter will instead be chronicled in the pages of "Artifacts," Top Cow's critically acclaimed event series written by Marz and illustrated by artists including Michael Broussard and Whilce Portacio.

Hope's absence hasn't gone entirely unnoticed, of course, as the character's abduction and the death of Julie Pezzini were at the heart of "Witchblade" #139, currently on sale. "It really deals very specifically with the events of 'Artifacts' #1 and kind of pays off some of the emotional weight that would naturally go with that story, that we didn't necessarily have room for in the 'Artifacts' series," said Marz, who added that addressing Hope and Julie in the pages of "Witchblade" was necessary in order to keep non-"Artifacts" readers in the loop. "We needed what happened to Julie and Hope to make sense to people who are just 'Witchblade' readers. If somebody's reading 'Witchblade' but they're not reading 'Artifacts' - and there must be a few dozen people like that somewhere - well, suddenly Sara's daughter is gone from the storyline and her sister is gone as well. We couldn't just all of a sudden have a new status quo in the monthly 'Witchblade' book, so we had to deal with it in some way."

By way of the same philosophy, Marz didn't feel comfortable with the series focusing too heavily on Hope's abduction, given the length of time that the character is going to be off the playing field. "For a story that's going to take place over a year's time, I didn't feel like it was playing fair with the readers," he said. "'Artifacts' is essentially a yearlong story in terms of how long it'll take for us to release the issues, but it's not actually a yearlong story in terms of time in the actual story. It does not chronicle a year in the lives of the characters; it chronicles a few weeks at best. So, we really had to sit down and think about how we were going to deal with the fact that this is a yearlong story but we're still doing 'Witchblade' monthlies. I didn't want 'Witchblade' to be a sidekick to 'Artifacts' for another year, so I wanted 'Witchblade' to generally stand on its own."

As a compromise, Marz and Top Cow decided 'Witchblade' #139 would deal with Hope and Julie's absence, while subsequent stories would feature what the writer described as "more traditional 'Witchblade' stories" that don't feature Hope. "I felt that we didn't want to wallow in [the events of 'Artifacts' #1] and put the readers in a position where they have a gun to their head to buy multiple titles to understand one storyline," he said. "There will be veiled references that people who are reading everything can easily get, but for people who aren't or for people who read these stories in a trade paperback three years from now, they'll read pretty much like solid 'Witchblade' stories."

Among these stories is "Witchblade Annual 2010," written by Marz and illustrated by Tony Shasteen. "I'm a big fan of annuals in general," the writer said of the issue, which arrives in stores on December 15. "When I was a kid, they actually meant something; it wasn't just a filler story that got stuck between two covers and put out on the stands. That's when Reed and Sue got married [in 'Fantastic Four'], where Perez and Wolfman paid off a big 'Titans' storyline, so I'm always enthusiatic when we have a chance to do something like that, a chance to make a story something a little more special, and put together a package that has different aspects to it. It's not just a one-off story."

The issue, which boasts numerous extras in addition to the main storyline, focuses on a World War II era Witchblade bearer that was previously featured in a Darwyn Cooke-illustrated segment of "Witchblade" #92. "One of the things I find really attractive about the [Witchblade] concept is that it's cyclical and generational," said Marz. "If you take any era in history, there should be a Witchblade bearer to tell a story about. This has an important framing sequence with Sara, but the bulk of the main story takes place in World War II during the siege of Stalingrad."

As for the proper "Witchblade" series, the next two issues - "Witchblade" #140 and #141 - will be illustrated by regular artist Stjepan Sejic. Marz said that Sejic is back up to full speed following some health concerns that landed him in the hospital, currently working on what Marz described as a "traditional 'Witchblade' story."

"I don't want to say it's a traditional 'Witchblade' story, because that makes it sound like you can skip it if you want to - that's not the intention," he clarified. "But after a few months of doing some different kinds of stories, we wanted to get back to some of the meat and potatoes that we've been doing in the book, which is essentially 'X-Files' meets 'NYPD Blue' or 'CSI.'"

The issues - which are co-written by Saurav Mohapatra, a writer that Marz worked with during his time at Virgin Comics - focus on a pair of kids who can make their drawings come to life, and unfortunately for everybody around them, they like drawing monsters.

"The initial notion for the storyline was thrown out a couple of years ago by Stjepan, who just liked the idea of these drawings coming to life," said Marz, whose own children are contributing their artwork to the issue. "It morphed into this thing where we're using the actual kids' drawings. But my two kids actually draw really well, so I'm kind of going to have to tell them not to draw terribly well for these!"

Following the two-issue arc, the spotlight shifts towards Detective Patrick Gleason, Sara Pezzini's professional and romantic partner, for another two-issue story illustrated by Matthew Dow Smith, who just so happens to live near Marz in Albany, New York. "That's a very easy collaboration - Matt and I almost work in shorthand rather than full script to full pencils," said Marz. In addition to their collaboration in Albany, Marz and Smith decided to set the Gleason-centric story in Upstate New York as another hat tip to their home turf.

Sejic returns as the regular monthly artist in "Witchblade" #144, an oversized issue that goes back to the title's very beginning. "It's a retelling of Sara's origin," said Marz. "But we're going to tell it from a different perspective. All those years ago when the stories were told initially, it was just from Sara's perspective. We're going to tell the story this time from the perspective of her ex-partner Jake McCarthy, who's now dead. We're digging through some of his old police files to kind of reinterpret Sara's origin and how she got the Witchblade. It's not going to simply be a repeat of the first issue of 'Witchblade.' It'll contain some of the same material, obviously, but it'll be told from a different light. The idea is to bring in a different perspective as well as some different information."

The retelling of Sara's origins holds major ramifications for future "Witchblade" stories, as Marz teased: "Without giving too much away, the idea is that Jake's file has fallen into somebody's hands who shouldn't have it. So we're retelling the story, but it's really simply the first part of an ongoing storyline where someone who shouldn't know Sara's secret has all of the information."

Beyond "Witchblade" #144, Marz has plenty of plans for the iconic Top Cow heroine, with or without Hope. "I've said it before, but I feel like this is a book that's so open to really any kind of interpretation and any kind of story that you can tell, whether you're going to do a crime story, something supernatural, a character drama or a real noir kind of thing," he said. "The talent that you can work with is really almost limitless, so if I'm bored on the book, it's my own damn fault. Thankfully, I'm not bored at all. I'm very much committed to it, and so is Stjepan. We had initially said that we would go through to issue #150 together, but I think we're planning on sticking around for quite a while after that. We've got a bunch of different stories we want to tell, and just getting to issue #150 won't even scratch the surface of what we want to do."

"Witchblade" #140 arrives in stores on December 8, 2010, with "Witchblade Annual 2010" scheduled to ship the following week. The search for Hope continues in "Artifacts" #4, on sale on December 22, 2010.

Tags: image comics, top cow, ron marz, witchblade, stjepan sejic, artifacts, sara pezzini

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