What do you do when you control almost an entire universe? Tell great, world-building stories it seems, if writer Ron Marz serves as any example.
For the past few years, Ron Marz established himself as the go to guy when it came to shaping the state of the Top Cow Universe, especially in regards to the publishing company's flagship characters Sara Pezzini and Jackie Estacado, known to comics fans respectively as the bearers of the Witchblade and the Darkness. As writer of the ongoing "Witchblade" title, Marz began planting seeds and laying down pieces of a puzzle that would eventually change the shape and scope of the Image Comics imprint's world. Since his arrival in the Top Cow Universe, Marz has introduced a new Witchblade bearer, chronicled the birth of a child between the Witchblade and the Darkness in the event miniseries "First Born" and even created brand new bearers and artifacts in the "Broken Trinity" crossover.
Everything Marz planted and plotted over the past seven years is currently culminating in the 13-issue miniseries "Artifacts," which brings together characters and themes from all across the Top Cow U for a game-changing story of massive proportions. The recently completed first act of the yearlong title saw the return of past characters -- such as Tom Judge and Tilly Grimes -- saw battlelines drawn and sides chosen between the various artifact bearers, and even brought in Cyberforce into the fray.
CBR News spoke with Marz about his various Top Cow projects. In Part 1 of our special two-part interview, we discuss the events of "Artifacts," Sara's solo adventures in "Witchblade" and bringing together the TCU's supernatural and scientific sides.
CBR News: Ron, you're writing not only the event book of the Top Cow Universe, but also a lot of the other books that star characters from "Artifacts." Does this make it easier to keep everything organized and make sure you don't step on anyone else's toes with the "Artifacts" story?
Ron Marz: It's easier in terms of the coordination because, obviously, I don't have to check with the "Witchblade" writer to make sure that I'm not screwing up his continuity. Or the "Magdalena" writer. So, in that respect, there are a lot less logistics to it, which is good, I think. But beyond that, the way these stories are being told, they all pretty much stand alone. "Artifacts" is the big crossover, but you don't have to read "Magdalena," you don't have to read "Witchblade," you don't have to read "Velocity." While it does make the coordination easier, all the stories pretty much stand alone and are their own stories.
Looking at the bigger picture, which is "Artifacts," that book really is a Top Cow Universe story. With the most recent issue, even Cyberforce joined the fray. It seems you really are bringing all these elements from throughout the TCU together for one big tale.
I felt like if we were going to do an "event series," it should be worthy of the name. I wanted to bring in all the characters possible, but all the characters who made sense. They are a couple here and there that probably aren't going to make the pages, but I think all the characters that anybody might think of when you say "Top Cow" are definitely going to be in there. Everybody from Cyberforce to Hunter-Killer to the more supernatural side with Witchblade and the Darkness and Magdalena.
When you were developing this story, did you always know exactly who you wanted to bring in when it came to Artifact bearers?
Well, the whole story kind of grew organically. The fact that I'm writing "Witchblade," and the fact that I'm friends with Phil Hester and we talk fairly often, kind of made the whole process come together a lot more easily. Also, the fact is, some of the building blocks for "Artifacts" are things we've been building for the last few years. It helped that I wrote some of those stories and created some of those characters, like Glorianna Silver and Michael Finnegan, who have the Ember Stone and the Glacier Stone. Having created those two characters a few years ago in the "Broken Trinity" series, I knew where we were going to go with them since that time. So, it made it easier to put all the pieces in place. One of the benefits is that it's a small universe. It's a finite number of characters that we're dealing with. Hell, it seems like "Artifacts" has a pretty big cast, but I'll bet you dollars to donuts that you've got less characters than all the X-Men books put together. Part of the job is to obviously keep everybody straight and make sure everybody gets their screen time, but we're not dealing with an infinite number of characters.
Even though people often think of Sara and Jackie as the be-all end-all of the Top Cow Universe, they're not the sole focus of this story. Everybody is getting their moment and time in the story. How important was it to you to make sure Witchblade and the Darkness didn't run the show?
I think Sara and Jackie are obviously the heart of the story. That's who I keep coming back to in every issue to push the story forward and to give it some sort of emotional context, but yeah, everybody else is in orbit around them and I wanted to make sure everybody got their fair share of screen time and something to do. Otherwise, there's no purpose to have them in there. I don't want to have characters appear just because they're useful as wallpaper and you can fill up the background with them. If that became the purpose of their role, you might as well not bother. It's a balancing act. You have to make sure there's a through line to the story that keeps pushing readers forward, but you also have to make sure everybody gets their moment. Obviously, every character is somebody's favorite. I want to make sure that if Magdalena or Tom Judge or Tilly Grimes happens to be your favorite character, you feel like you get your money's worth out of the story. They're still integral to what's going on.
Looking at the cast, it's hard to think of Top Cow characters you haven't written at this point. However, there are one or two. Is there anyone that you're finally glad you get to take a crack at?
Probably Tom Judge. He's somebody that I haven't written before, mostly because he was dead and in Hell, literally. He wasn't someone that I picked up in any way, shape or form, so the fact that he's a new toy for me is kind of cool. The 13th Bearer, who we've seen relatively little of so far in the story but his role will grow as we go along, I also enjoy quite a bit. I think he's got a cool scene in issue #6 that will shine a little more light on his character.
Looking forward, issue #6 is coming up and Act 2 is about to get underway. The battlelines have been drawn, sides have been chosen. What can you saw about what we'll be seeing in Act 2?
Act 2 is really about faith versus science. The Top Cow Universe has always had two fairly distinct sides. It's had this supernatural side that's really represented by Witchblade and Darkness and Magdalena, and it's had this high tech side that's represented by Cyberforce and Hunter-Killer and Aphrodite. I think one of the cool things about it is that those sides don't brush up against each other all that often. Most of the time, magic or the supernatural in the other comic book universes are pretty much part and parcel of the superhero stuff. Doctor Strange and Ghost Rider and all those characters are very much part of the superhero experience. But in Top Cow, those guys really remain pretty separate, which I'm thankful for because now when they are coming together in a real serious way in this second act or "Artifacts" it's kind of a big deal. A lot of these characters have either never met or only crossed paths once or twice. So, there's hopefully a shock of new a little bit in terms of characters meeting one another, and also a very simple difference between them in that one is very much driven by technology and the other is very much driven by faith. And that's going to be reflected in how they deal with one another. Without giving away too much about where we're going, in issue #6, there's a lot of ass-kicking going on. That's the issue where starts stuff to boil over and a lot of stuff blows up.
Shifting to one of your other titles, "Witchblade," as you alluded to earlier, the stories going on there are mainly standalone. They're not cemented to "Artifacts." Can we expect that to continue as "Artifacts" goes on?
"Artifacts" takes place in a fairly finite amount of time. It's going to be more than a year between the first issue and the last issue. We're doing a 13 issue series, so the actual shipping time will sprawl for more than a year, but it's not a year in actual elapsed story time. So, we were faced with a problem: how do we deal with this? Do we want a year's worth of "Witchblade" issues or "Darkness" issues that are tie-ins or do we want to keep them separate? The decision that was ultimately made -- and I think absolutely the right one -- is that we're keeping things fairly separate so readers don't have a gun to their heads forcing them to buy books to get other aspects of the story. That's not the way I wanted to do "Artifacts." I wanted it to stand alone as much as possible. "Witchblade" #139 reflected the big event of "Artifacts" #1 because it was necessary to address that big change in Sara Pezzini's life. Beyond that, we're pretty much just going to tell "Witchblade" stories and not be overly concerned with what Sara is doing in "Artifacts" that same month.
That big change -- you're referring to the death of her sister at the conclusion to "Artifacts" #1. Between that and her daughter being kidnapped, where is Sara mentally right now? I feel like emotionally she might not be in the best state.
I think that's a pretty good description. Her sister got shot in the face. It's not something you just compartmentalize and put away or compartmentalize and put away for good. My take on what Sara is going through right now is that she lost her sister, but even more of an immediate concern is finding her daughter, find her baby, who was kidnapped when her sister was killed. Yeah, she's going to have to deal with the loss of her sister more than she has up to this point, but right now, she doesn't have time to deal with it. She has to concentrate on finding her daughter. Having her sister murdered is a tragedy. Having the same fate befall her daughter would be even more of a tragedy, so she's trying to prevent that.
What can you hint at about the stories you'll be telling in the pages of "Witchblade" moving forward?
Well, right now, the next issue that's coming out is issue #143, which is the second part of the Patrick Gleason solo story with slight appearances by Sara here and there. Issue #144 is actually an anniversary issue that will retell Sara's origin for, I believe, the first time. It's not Sara's origin or the Witchblade's origin, but the origin of the two of them coming together. So, issue #144 is an oversized issue that will recount Sara getting the Witchblade, but it will do so from a different perspective. We're not going to just retell the story. We're going to retell the story from the point of view of Sara's former and now deceased partner, Jake McCarthy.
Did you make any changes to the story itself or does it follow the events that were established?
No, we didn't change anything. I felt like it was only a few years ago. It's really not appropriate to put the lie to something that's really so recent in the past. It's understandable when Batman or Superman or Spider-Man have their origins tweaked because those characters have been around for decades. With Sara, I just felt like we're going to stick with what's there and we're not going to put the lie to anything. We've going to show it from a different angle and a different perspective.
The last thing I wanted to ask relates directly to Sara and to "Artifacts." There is a line of dialogue in issue #5, "There is no hope." Now, when you have a character named Hope who is an intricate part of the story, I feel that comment will make people raise an eyebrow.
I hope so. I'm certainly not telling you what it means, but I hope people take note of it. We're not doing this shit by accident.
Check back with CBR soon for Part Two of our extensive Top Cow Universe interview with Ron Marz!