Once upon a time in "Witchblade" lore, Detective Sara Pezzini encountered a green-haired cybernetic assassin that had only one purpose in life - beating the ever-living snot out of Sara.
Now, after a 15 issue absence, the android femme fatale Aphrodite IV is back in the pages of Ron Marz and Stjepan Sejic's "Witchblade," and although her purpose doesn't involve Sara at all this time around, fans can bet that the Witchblade bearer will have a bone or two to pick with the returning assassin. CBR News spoke with Marz about Aphrodite's return to the Top Cow Universe, the differences between her and her future counterpart, and why readers seemingly can't get enough of this deadly character.
Although the character first appeared in David Finch and David Wohl's "Aphrodite IX," the protagonist of that miniseries was actually a future version of the one that Marz ultimately brought into the Top Cow herd. "The 'Aphrodite IX' miniseries from a few years ago, story-wise, it didn't make a whole lot of sense to me," the writer told CBR. "I wasn't really sure what was what and where it was all going. So I initially brought an earlier version, Aphrodite IV, into the last couple of pages of my last 'Cyberforce' issue, and when I had a chance, I brought that same model into the pages of 'Witchblade.' I had a good time doing it and the readers really responded - we sold out of that issue real fast - so there's obviously an interest in the character."
When Aphrodite emerged in "Witchblade" #119, she was hell-bent on destroying Sara Pezzini simply because it was her programmed mission. In "Pantheon," the current three-issue arc of "Witchblade," Aphrodite's intentions have nothing to do with Sara. "What she's actually looking to recover is herself - she's looking to recover the technology that allowed her to be built, which has been procured by someone at the end of 'Witchblade' #133," said Marz. "In some ways, it's a genie out of the bottle scenario. If the technology that allowed her to be built falls into the wrong hands, what happens?"
But even though Aphrodite's goals are more self-oriented this time around, her path is still destined to collide with that of the bearer of the Witchblade. "[Aphrodite is] definitely still a pawn at this point - she's carrying out the mission that she's given - and because she's an artificial life form, she's not about to let anybody or anything stand in her way, including Sara," said Marz. "In #119, Aphrodite's mission was to kick the shit out of Sara - that was her whole purpose. In this arc, that's no longer her mission, so she's not terribly concerned with Sara unless Sara gets in her way, which Sara does. Obviously, Sara is concerned from both a police standpoint of having an apparent killer android wandering around. But from a personal standpoint, she got her ass kicked by Aphrodite and she's not so happy about it. With all of that swirling around, I thought we'd throw them both into a situation where neither one has control over what's going on. "
While Aphrodite is clearly the shiny toy in the arc, Marz said that Sara's role wouldn't diminish based upon the green-haired assassin's involvement. "These upcoming issues will give a much better sense of where Aphrodite comes from, who created the Aphrodite model and what her purpose is. By the end of it, we'll have a better sense of where it's all going, but it's still very much a 'Witchblade' story," he said. "I didn't want it to turn into Aphrodite IV plus Sara Pezzini on a few pages, so it's very much putting those two characters together. Sara isn't a bystander through this whole thing. There is some fairly important character stuff going on with her in these issues as well."
Still, one of Marz's plans for "Pantheon" is to strengthen Aphrodite IV's status within the Top Cow Universe. "In 'Witchblade,' I can really evolve the characters and give Sara a baby, keep her in the series and not shove her off after so many issues. In this case, obviously the 'Aphrodite IX' miniseries took place in the future, but this takes place here and now and gives some context to all of that stuff," said the writer. "I have ideas of where I would like to take Aphrodite after this, but it's just a matter of if I'm on the same page as Top Cow and if there's time to actually start doing it. In my own head, I know what I want to do with the character and how I want to start building threads that would connect Aphrodite IV to Aphrodite IX."
As far as Marz is concerned, there is a lot to explore between the current Aphrodite model and the futuristic version. "I think Aphrodite IV is still a work in progress," he said. "In the 'Aphrodite IX' miniseries, there were issues of her maybe not understanding where she came from and all of that stuff. To my mind, the real story here is the evolution of the character from IV to IX and how you start putting the pieces in place to show that. For one, the Aphrodite IV model is not as advanced as IX. She's still learning about herself. We didn't want to do the Pinocchio cliché of an artificial life form that wants to be human. If that's the story you want, you can rewatch reruns of 'Star Trek: The Next Generation,' because that's not where this is headed. Despite that, we have a lot of character building we could do with her."
Which is not to say that Marz wants to explain Aphrodite to the point of risking losing the character's mystique. "To me, part of the appeal is the fact that the character is mysterious and you don't know a lot about her," he said. "In some ways, it's part of what made Wolverine so appealing for so many years; there was that mystery of where that guy came from, and now we know that he was a little kid named James and he wore a puffy pirate suit. But prior to that, I think a large part of the appeal was that he was a badass, but also the fact that there were questions of where he came from. Sometimes, readers fill in those answers, and I almost think it's better to leave some space in a character's origin so that the audience can participate in some ways. When you answer every question and you make everything concrete, you're almost pushing the audience away and saying, 'We'll take care of this. You guys just watch.'"
While Marz's future exploration of Aphrodite IV is purely speculative at this point, the writer is certainly getting his fill of the character in the current "Witchblade" arc. In fact, one of the reasons that Marz remains so enthusiastic about Top Cow's flagship series has less to do with him being able to write an Aphrodite IV story than it does with his ability to explore so many different genres within a single title. "The concept of 'Witchblade' is so malleable and the kinds of stories we can tell with Sara and the Witchblade are almost infinite," said Marz. "We went from a fantasy-oriented story with a literal troll under the bridge to sexy killer robots in the space of a couple of story arcs. The fact that we can do that and it's not jarring at all, to me, is a real strength of the concept and the character. For me, I get to go to the buffet and pick something different every time. It's not a constant diet of burger and fries."
Aphrodite IV is currently appearing in "Pantheon," a brand new "Witchblade" story-arc written by Ron Marz and illustrated by Stjepan Sejic. The next issue, "Witchblade" #135, hits shelves on March 17th, 2010.