feature by Brittany Matter, originally published in IMAGE+
Two years after WITCHBLADE wrapped up its 20-year run, it makes its triumphant return with flying colors, a familiar setting, a kick-ass lead, and a whole new creative team taking up the gauntlet!
But don’t worry, die-hards. Caitlin Kittredge & Roberta Ingranata are going to take care of this beloved series. For those new to the WITCHBLADE universe, it’s a character-driven story set in an urban fantasy that blurs the lines between mysticism and reality.
BRITTANY MATTER: After two years without WITCHBLADE in circulation, and a 20-year history to live up to, how are you two pushing the legacy forward? What was it about this story that made both of you want to work on it?
CAITLIN KITTREDGE: I feel like we have a unique opportunity to offer a modern feminist take on the book, both by respecting the soul of the source material and by introducing a new set of characters and a new updated story that will appeal to Image's current audience. I'd read WITCHBLADE on and off as a teenager, but I haven't kept up with the book as an adult, so I'm coming to it with totally fresh eyes.
It's pretty much everything I like in a comic—a flawed protagonist, mystical backdrop for the story, kick-ass worldbuilding, and a ton of directions to go as the project evolves. I've never worked on an established property before, just my creator-owned projects, and so it's a new frontier for me personally, and I'm looking forward to learning as I go.
ROBERTA INGRANATA: I’m a very big fan of WITCHBLADE, so when I was called to draw it, I was shocked and completely overwhelmed. It’s such an honor for me work on this series for so many reasons. I read all of Caitlin’s WITCHBLADE pitches last year, and I’ve been falling in love with it since then. Caitlin is an amazing writer. I love her cinematic style and her great ability to convey characters’ feelings. Her sensitivity made me say, “Yes! We're going to be a great team.”
BRITTANY: What can die-hard fans and newcomers look forward to? Will it pick up right after issue number 185?
CAITLIN: This WITCHBLADE is a total reboot, with a new heroine, new continuity, and new backstory for the Witchblade itself. Basically, the previous volume is Patrick Stewart Star Trek and our book is J.J. Abrams Star Trek. Same source material, totally new take on the interpretation. I had a really great experience reworking the existing world to fit in with our new cast and the story we're telling.
ROBERTA: I don’t wanna do any spoiling—we hate spoilers, right?—but I think that fans will be greatly surprised. It's all different, and it's all great.
BRITTANY: Since there are 185 issues of WITCHBLADE (and multiple spinoff series), I imagine y’all were not short of reference material. Was there a lot of research that went into writing and drawing this new iteration? What other influences might we see crop up in the story and art?
CAITLIN: I read up on what happened with the previous iteration, mostly so I could figure out how we could make our version of WITCHBLADE stand alone, and I did gather a lot of photo references for Roberta when we were discussing the new design for the Witchblade and our main cast. But visually, this comic is all Roberta, and she does an incredible job, so I just try to stay out of her way.
ROBERTA: As I said, it's all different. We’ll be able to see a newer contemporary Witchblade. Caitlin gave me all the references I needed for developing new characters and environments. The story is still set in New York, so it wasn’t difficult to find photos, and for actors’ pictures for characters.
BRITTANY: The history of the WITCHBLADE has mostly been defined by men. How do you think your perspectives will help flesh out Sara Pezzini’s universe?
ROBERTA: Fewer boobs [laughs]! I think the new WITCHBLADE will have a different reading key. We have a simpler protagonist, a common woman you could meet in the street. A woman who has to fight with personal demons as much as real ones.
The female point of view, in this kind of story, helps to depict a much stronger introspective and emotional side of the character.
CAITLIN: Female creative teams are unfortunately in the minority right now in comics, and I'm really thrilled to be half of one on this book. I'm even more pleased to be a woman writing a female-lead comic drawn by a female artist. WITCHBLADE has always been a comic, in my opinion, that has tried to present a strong heroine but didn't have much actual input from a woman. I am definitely interested in continuing to portray a heroine who is strong but human, and a fully fleshed person with both good and bad sides because I feel that's the greatest service I can do as a writer—delve beneath "strong female character" into the actual person at the core of the new WITCHBLADE.
BRITTANY: There’s a moment in the first issue that conveys the Witchblade lineage. How does the new bearer’s place in the legacy compare to Sara’s?
CAITLIN: The WITCHBLADE has been around forever, at least as far as anyone in our book can tell, and we'll definitely get glimpses of past hosts and the tortuous path the Witchblade took to end up where it is at the start of the story. Sara had this wonderfully fleshed-out background of past bearers, and I'd really like to build mythology the same way in our version of the Witchblade legend.
BRITTANY: Where does this book sit in the Top Cow universe? Does it stand alone, or will we get a glimpse of more?
CAITLIN: Right now it stands alone, but I've definitely had discussions with folks over there about pulling in new versions of some familiar characters from the original comic. Stay tuned. I have big plans.
BRITTANY: The original Witchblade gauntlet and accompanying outfit is unequivocally famous. It was a sort of parasite armor that wrapped around the host’s body, creating a highly sexualized look, emblematic of the ‘90s of course, but also acted as a character in itself. How did y’all work together to update WITCHBLADE? What did you know you wanted to keep, and what were you most excited about adding?
CAITLIN: The concept of living armor, and the symbiotic relationship the Witchblade has with its host, were really fascinating to me as this sort of catch-22—the host needs the Witchblade to fulfill her purpose and fight against the forces of evil out there, but the Witchblade also needs a host because without her, it's really just this cosmic force trapped in a tiny piece of jewelry. Roberta and I talked a lot about how to honor the concept of the living armor and, at the same time, update the design to divorce it from the heavy male-gaze element of the original. We wanted to convey strength and feminine power and the aspect of a warrior, and we actually ended up covering the host entirely. Trust me, when you finally get to see it, it's pretty spectacular.
ROBERTA: We've tried various designs, and we're still working on it. I can only say that it's going to be something that will reflect my own personality and taste, with a look to more modern designs, that's for sure. But, don’t worry, you won’t be disappointed.
BRITTANY: As for the new bearer, Alex Underwood, how did you two go about designing her character? What can you tell us about her?
CAITLIN: With the freedom to entirely reboot the origin story of the Witchblade's host, Top Cow put a lot of trust in me, and I spent a lot of time thinking about whose story exactly I wanted to tell. Alex is very different from Sara—Sara was this great tough, gritty, quintessential New Yorker. She was a blue-collar cop, scrappy and combative—very brash when the original book started. Alex has followed a very different life path—she's Sara's opposite in a lot of ways. She's a WASP from Philadelphia, a New York transplant who doesn't really feel at home in the city.
Compared to Sara, Alex should have had a perfect life, but things rarely work out that way. They do share the same need to help the helpless and defend the weak. Alex just did it with a camera rather than a gun. She's a former TV investigative reporter, but due to an assignment that went horribly wrong and left her traumatized, she dropped her entire career and became a victim's advocate for the NYC district attorney's office. She spends all day working with victims of violent crime, doing her best to make sure their voices are heard. When the story opens, she's just trying to survive and work through the darkness that has descended over her formerly blessed existence, and that struggle becomes literal when the Witchblade chooses her as a host.
ROBERTA: Alex is a very tall girl, very towering. She’s simple with a minimal look, but she’s very strong, and she looks like somebody who can kick your ass anytime. I’ve used some reference of Katheryn Winnick. She’s a beautiful woman and she’s perfect for Alex.
She is a rock solid character like Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones is, but without the dragons. She discovers a great and ancient power inside her, and she starts using it!
BRITTANY: The story is still set in New York City, which holds true to the urban fantasy that WITCHBLADE embodies. What is it about the city that makes it a fertile setting? What is it about the Witchblade and New York in particular that works for you?
CAITLIN: You kind of have to have New York City if you have the WITCHBLADE. It's such a versatile and moody backdrop for a story with thick overtones of the supernatural like this one. The first story takes place in the dead of winter, so Roberta had a chance to draw these amazing, David Fincher-esque cityscapes with snow and shadows that embody the gothic feel of the setting perfectly.
ROBERTA: New York is an amazing city. Everyone has seen it in photos, in movies, on television shows. Everybody knows New York, even those who don’t live there (Italians like me!). I visited it two years ago for New York Comic Con. When I walked for the first time in New York City, it was like seeing an old friend. I felt at home, like Hiro from Heroes, and his famous “YATTA!” in Times Square!
I believe that anyone can see themselves in this city, and that makes everything more realistic.
BRITTANY: Roberta, are you doing a down-to-earth, realistic take on the lore or something more fantastic? How are you approaching the setting and defining WITCHBLADE for a new era?
ROBERTA: I think that this WITCHBLADE is more realistic, with fantastic events inside it, but mostly realistic. The real-life city, apartments, offices, and all the environments are analyzed to be reproduced in the best possible way. If I need to draw a new place (a shop, a nightclub, a restaurant), I look on Google Maps to identify where it is and how to get there, locate the nearest subway, and design it exactly according to that path. Fans can follow Alex's itinerary in every issue if they want to!
BRITTANY: Top Cow has a reputation for stellar art dating back to the early Marc Silvestri days. What kinds of flourishes or storytelling techniques are y’all incorporating?
CAITLIN: I love writing comics because I can use shifting timelines, much like you would in an episodic TV show, to fill in and flesh out the main story. I deliberately tried to evoke a dreamlike, slightly unreal feeling in the first scripts to echo what Alex is going through, suddenly finding herself host to this mystical entity. There are a lot of visions, dreams, hallucinations, and flashes to the past. Everything blends together perfectly in the first two issues—I can't sing Roberta's praises enough.
ROBERTA: I can say that working on a Silvestri creation is a great honor and a great responsibility for me. We’ll do our best to make it right!
WITCHBLADE #1 debuts 12/6 and is available for preorder now.
Brittany Matter is a firecracker empath with a deep love for storytelling, ramen, and pour-over coffee, ideally all at the same time. You are most likely to find her immersed in a graphic novel, writing over cocktails, or looking after the people she loves. IMAGE+ is an award-winning monthly comics magazine that's packed with interviews, essays, and features about all your favorite Image comics and your first look at upcoming releases.