COMMENTARY TRACK: Marz and Sablik on "Artifacts" Vol. 2

Thu, October 13th, 2011 at 6:58am PDT

Comic Books
TJ Dietsch, Staff Writer
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[SPOILER WARNING: The following interview contains spoilers for "Artifacts" Vol. 2 containing "Artifacts" #5-8.]

The Top Cow Universe was built on a strong but formidable foundation thanks to a pair of characters wielding mystical Artifacts by the name of Witchblade and the Darkness, as well as a team of technologically-enhanced heroes known as Cyberforce. For the most part, they've operated in their own spheres, but with the entire Top Cow U coming together in the pages of the epic, 13-issue crossover event "Artifacts," it was inevitable that these seemingly disparate creations would meet up to keep the universe safe from the forces of the mysterious Survivor.

The series, written by Ron Marz and drawn by a different artist each four-issue arc, focuses on a baker's dozen of weapons with various uses and placed their bearers on either side of the Survivor's war. To make matters worse, he also killed Witchblade wielder Sara Pezzini's sister, Julie, and kidnapped Hope, the daughter of Sara and Jackie Estacado, better known as the Darkness. For more backstory head over to the first part of the "Artifacts" Director's Commentary!

CBR News caught up with Marz and Top Cow Publisher and series editor Filip Sablik about the second arc of the series, collected in the trade paperback "Artifacts Vol. 2," available now. As the series nears its epic 13th issue conclusion before transforming into an ongoing series by Marz and former "Witchblade" artist Stjepan Sejic, we spoke with Marz and Sablik about what artist Whilce Portacio brought to "Artifacts" #5-8, some of the series' "Oh crap" moments and some basic story mechanics involved in working on a story of this scope and scale.

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CBR News: After reading the collection I was struck by how action-packed and frenetic all four issues felt together. The action takes place all in a day, so the big fight scene leads into some really good character moments, and then another crazy attack, and it was really interestingly plotted. Do you make really detailed outlines before you go into something like this?

Ron Marz: I think we had more of an outline issue-by-issue, or at least had discussed a lot of the issue-by-issue stuff, but I think for me if you outline the stuff too severely, you kind of beat the creativity out of it. I feel like you want to know -- and this goes for an entire storyline as well as a single issue -- where you're going to start and where you're going to finish up, but I think a lot of the joy of doing this is letting the story take you where it wants to go in between.

Filip Sablik: I was just going to say that Ron typically will do loose outlines and it's more about letting you know the beginning and the ending of the story and talking about what are the themes and what are the things we're trying to accomplish. With "Artifacts," we put a lot of time into planning the outset as far as what were the major beats, what were the things we were trying to accomplish with each individual character and the overall thrust of things. A lot of the details evolved month to month.

That definitely allows for -- when we brought on Whilce, who joined in with the second arc, Ron and I had breakfast with him at San Diego -- Ron's really good about asking the artist what they're interested in doing, what they want to get out of the project. And one of the things that Whilce talked about was he really wanted to play with from an art standpoint, the juxtaposition of high-tech, clean, crisp, shiny objects against the dark, more organic quality of the supernatural side of the Top Cow Universe. And we had already talked about bringing Cyberforce into the story at some point, but the details of that evolved because that was part of what Whilce was interested in exploring. I think similarly that helped Ron visualize what the Survivor's headquarters were going to look like. I know that some of the major beats with Aphrodite in art came out of discussions we had with Whilce. I guess at this point, "spoiler warning" is on. But the bits where we wanted the Survivor to create an army of Aphrodites, I think partially evolved very organically based on discussions we had and discussions we had with Whilce about what he was interested in drawing. I think one of the big challenges whenever you do a big event series like this is, how do you continue to ratchet up the threat level and make the reader feel like the stakes are getting bigger and bigger without jumping the shark.

Well there was definitely that moment when they reveal all the Aphrodites in "Artifacts" #7, and after the heroes had such a difficult time trying to defeat just one in #5 and 6, revealing all of those was a really big "Oh, shit, how are they going to get out of this?" kind of moment.

Marz: Especially in an event type of storyline, I think that's an absolute necessity, that you build the story kind of like an inverse pyramid. You want to start with the small and personal, and things get bigger every issue. You don't want to hit the climax of the story somewhere in the middle of the second arc, and it's all downhill from there, because, particularly when you're doing a book that comes out every month, over the space of more than a year, that's a long downhill slide if you're not constantly building the story to be bigger with every succeeding issue.

You mentioned earlier Whilce's involvement led to more of the technological versus supernatural. That seemed to be a real theme throughout this arc, especially bringing Cyberforce into the mix in "Artifacts" #5. Would you say that theme continues through the entire series, or was it more of a focal point for this arc?

Marz: No, I think it really continues into the third and final act of the whole thing. We really brought it to forefront in the second trade, because that seemed to be the right time to bring in the more technological side of the Top Cow Universe, both from the story standpoint and from the standpoint of Whilce just draws the shit out of that. So obviously we were going to load up on those aspects because again, it's a comic. If it's not visually exciting, what the hell are you doing a comic for? Go write a one act play, or something. So I think once we established that technology versus supernatural dichotomy, it certainly continues in the third arc. Really, the villain who we eventually reveal as the Survivor in the second act, really comes from a more technologically oriented background, from an advanced civilization that existed long before our universe. In that respect, the technology is the tool in the hands of the villain. On the other side of that, you have Sara and Jackie who are obviously more supernaturally oriented.

Sablik: On some level we also wanted to play with some of the larger concepts of fate versus science, supernatural versus technology. One of Marc Silvestri's favorite themes is the idea of all technology seeming magical if it's far enough in advance of where you are. I think an iPhone would certainly seem like magic to somebody a hundred years ago, much less 200 years ago. We're just kind of playing with those concepts and having some fun with them. One of things mentioned was the "oh shit" moment of revealing the Aphrodite army, and what we always intended was you have that moment but you also discover through the heroes that the main Aphrodite, the original, has the Coin of Solomon in her. So the implication by the time you get to the end of it is this army is a little less powerful, because it's just the technology, not the tech plus this supernatural ancient artifact. Ultimately, our good guys still get overwhelmed because of the numbers, but made it hopefully a fight that they could feasibly win.

One thing I noticed, just from an artistic perspective, and I think this adds to the action and feel of it, is when a big fight scene is about to kick off, the panels almost go at an angle instead of a usual grid. Was that something that was Whilce's style, or that you put into the scripts?

Marz: That's just what Whilce does. And, having, of course, been familiar with Whilce's stuff ever since I've been in the business -- he and I started about the same time -- I'm very familiar with what he does and what he does very well and tried to play to those strengths as much as possible. You can certainly see, there are a lot more double-page spreads in the second trade as opposed to the first trade, because the story we were telling was much more conducive to that kind of visual. Plus, Whilce is just really good at that double-page spread. He's one of those guys that makes a double-page spread a storytelling unit, rather than one big image. He takes two pages and he makes more than a double-page spread out of it, if that makes sense. Still, I tried to find places in the storyline where we could take advantage of that as much as possible. Obviously, one of the things that comics does really well, if the creators are thinking of it ahead of time, is contrast. And, the character stuff is much more of a single-page, more standard layout kind of experience, and then when the shit hits the fan, a lot of it goes to angular panels and double-page spreads. There's a contrast visually in how we're telling the story. And hopefully that's something that doesn't even register with readers [the] first time through the story in anything but a subliminal way, but yeah, we want that sense of chaos and movement in the action scenes. Whereas things are more staid and more rigid in the character stuff.

It's almost like a musical cue or theme in a movie. It's there but you don't always notice it the first time around.

Marz: Yeah, when it's all working, it's the kind of thing that shouldn't even be recognized by the reader upon first reading. You should just be drawn into the story and you just go with it when you're looking at it for the first time. But if you go back and want to examine how this was done, hopefully the light bulb goes on.

Sablik: To add on what Ron said, we brought Whilce in because we knew he could really shine on a big, epic story like this. He's a guy that we've been talking to about coming back and doing something with us, and I think the thing that really struck me after we got that first issue in, is that, going from Michael Broussard, who's an incredibly polished, technical younger guy, is you look at the Whilce pages and they feel so big. Everything just feels grand in scope and like it's shooting with this wide-eyed lens. The characters are huge, and there's a ton of kinetic energy. But, honestly, to a certain extent, I just thought, looking at the stuff that Whilce turned in for us, "Man, this guy has been under-utilized for the last few years." Generally the style of comic book storytelling has moved towards a lot of conversation and build-up, because the writer isn't interested in writing a lot of the bigger action scenes, those get down-sized a little bit. But the guys [like] Whilce and his contemporaries, the other Image founders, these guys made comics exciting and fun. It felt like a big movie or a big video game.

I think the other subtle thing that probably most readers didn't notice is we brought in Joe Weems, who's a veteran inker, to ink over Whilce, precisely because Whilce has a very kinetic line, uses the side of his pencil a lot. His pencils are very, I think, close to someone like Gene Colan or someone like that, where it has this very lush, organic feeling to it. And a lot of inkers who are less experienced don't know how to interpret that. Joe keeps a lot of the energy in the line work, so that's one of those things where, as someone behind the scenes, I can see where sometimes fans are like, "Oh wow, this penciler really stepped up his game." Or, they didn't do as good of a job here. And sometimes it's just the combination of the penciler and the inker and the colorist not being right. So that is something we thought long and hard about. And one of the ways we preserved some continuity form [Volume 1 artist] Michael [Broussard] to Whilce to now Jeremy Haun, is by maintaining the same colorist, Sunny Gho, across the entire series. So at least from a palate standpoint and a coloring technique standpoint, it all kind of mushes together.

This book has a huge cast between the 13 Artifact wielders, the Cyberforce team, the Hunter/Killers and more. On both sides of the fight it seems like every character not only gets a piece of action but also has a distinct voice, like Cyberforce ribbing Ellis about the pizza in #5, and the darkling hitting on Ballistic in #7. Is it difficult to balance the bigger moments with the smaller ones, or is it just part of the process at this point?

Marz: Yes, it's difficult, but that's part of the job. That's the balancing act of doing a big storyline, that if you just have a bunch of character moments and you don't do the big action set pieces and the big visuals, people feel like they got ripped off. And if you're just doing set pieces and big action moments, people feel like, "Why should I give a shit about this? It's just explosions and flying bodies." I think you have to walk the line between those two so that the action means something in a character context, it's not just blood and thunder. It's really more about the reader caring about those characters and having something invested in to what happens to them. Trying to balance a cast this size is certainly not the easiest thing I've ever done, and I wouldn't want to try to deal with a cast that was much bigger than this because ultimately you're dealing with the physical space limitations of each issue. You want to get enough character stuff in each issue and enough action in each issue that it feels like a full meal. You go through and make sure everybody had their bits of business to pull a little bit more character out of everybody. But you have to pick your spots. If you've got 13 characters and you give everybody a page to flesh out their character, you just chewed up more half the book really. So it's a balancing act of spacial limitations, really.

How do you physically keep track of who's doing what while you're writing the series?

Marz: I'm always cognizant of what we've done in each issue up to that point, and who needs to be fleshed out a little bit more. When we build the outline, even after I'd typed up the outline of large beats to the story, I'll go in and write notes to myself in the margins, about which character is going to get a spotlight in that issue, or a note to myself about making sure that we don't go too many issues without characters X, Y and Z getting their moment, getting their bit of dialogue. It's not quite as simple as keeping a checklist, but you do have to have some sort of device to make sure that you're not just coming back to the same. The easiest thing would be to come back to Jackie and Sara all the time, because those are the people that have the most invested in the story, emotionally. So while their relationship is definitely the spine of the story in terms of the emotional content and character content, it couldn't just be about them. Everyone else had to get their few minutes in the spotlight.

Speaking of Jackie and Sara, it was interesting that they sneak out of the action in issue #7 and miss the huge battle that continues into #8. You almost don't notice in a good way because you're so wrapped up in the big battle between the heroes and the army of Aphrodites.

Marz: Again it's that concept of trying to balance that personal stuff and the action. In particular, at the end of this arc, ultimately Sara and Jackie decide it's more important for them to go look for their child. They're essentially choosing their child over their comrades, and I think that's a choice that virtually any parent would make. That seemed to me to be the natural inclination, and it also allowed us to have the contrast of them going off to do their own thing, then all hell breaking loose for everybody else.

I thought the ending of #8 was very interesting because it was on two different notes. You've got the good guys that are still on the ship beaten pretty badly and that's a downer, but then Jackie and Sara get back together, uniting to find their daughter. It's still sad, but it's uplifting in a way.

Marz: That's just really the nature of the three act story. Everything goes to shit at the end of the second act. Since we're doing episodic fiction, you want a hook to bring the reader back for the next issue. If everything's rainbows and sunshine at the end of the issue, well why bother coming back? Everyone's happy, everything's worked out great, I'll go read something else. But if you give the reader that cliffhanger you'd better come back next month to find out who lives and who dies, to me that's a much better hook than people having a chat.

Sablik: You've got the pages right beforehand where most of our good guys or the guys we're rooting for have been defeated -- and again, you've got Tilly and Tom Judge and Dani deciding that the larger picture was more important with the 13th Artifact than staying there and winning the immediate battle. But then even the Sara and Jackie moment, it's kind of an up moment in comparison to that. I think when you actually read it, it's also a moment of desperation. They've reached the end of their rope, and they feel like they're never going to find their daughter. This is on some level very irrational, but [a] completely human reaction to that situation.

Marz: I think we've all been in that position where that's the last thing they should be thinking about. But because everything else has gone to shit, the emotional weight of what's going on is so great, that they're both driven into each other's arms.

Speaking of cliffhangers, #6 ends with the reveal that The Survivor is... a guy with black hair, but then we find out at the end of #7 he's actually longtime "Witchblade" supporting character the Curator. What was the intent behind that fake-out reveal?

Marz: It was kind of a two-step reveal. We hadn't revealed the antagonist's identity, we hadn't seen him for the most part, so there was that mystery of "Who is this?" And I think that kind of mystery is always a great tool to drag you through a story line. That's a hook that gets you to keep going through the issues because you want to find out what that answer is. So when we reveal who he was, the intention was for that to be a what-the-hell moment. Who is this guy? We've never seen him before. Which again, is another level of mystery, like I know what this guy looks like now, but who is he really?

Sablik: Very early on, we had discussed the identity of the villain. We referred to him as the antagonist, because that's the role he plays in the story and in the final arc. You finally get a sense of what his motivations are. we were very cognizant and aware of trying to create an antagonist that was not a villain. He was a villain in the context of how Jackie and Sara feel about him, but in his mind, there are very logical reasons why he's doing what he's doing. They also come from a very emotional place. One of the things we discussed was the possibility of introducing a new character that would be the villain. Ultimately we decided that was not satisfying for long-time readers. Here's somebody who's been reading "Witchblade" even for just the last five years since Ron took over, this is the big payoff. This is the biggest event we've done, do you really want to have the central character that's moving the plot forward be someone you've never heard of? We really decided that that wasn't going to be satisfying. So then the question became: what makes sense in the context of the story? For us internally, the Curator made a ton of sense, and I think for some readers they're still kind of scratching their head, trying to figure out why. We've revealed he's the Survivor, who's been posing as the Curator, who's been known to the audience as the Curator. We still haven't revealed all of his motivations and how this grand puzzle all fits together, which is something we're saving for the third act. I think hopefully once people see that, Ron and I talked about having this "Sixth Sense" moment, where you get to the end of the story and realize this puzzle really comes together.

Marz: All the pieces fall into place. Things you saw previously, all the way back to "Witchblade," you now see in a different light, because of the reveal of who he is and what he's doing. On him in general, we never did refer to him, even internally, as the villain because he's really not. At least in his own mind. I think that's what actually makes a great villain. That's why Magneto and Dr. Doom are great villains. People want to see them again and again because, in their minds, they're the heroes of their own stories. Those kind of characters are doing what they're doing because they're completely convinced of the righteousness of it. They're not robbing banks because they're greedy. They want to take over the world and reorder the world because they believe they know what's best. To me, those are the villains that always stand out.

I think it's much more satisfying if the guy who's on the other side of the equation feels like he's doing the right thing. And in certain ways you can understand the Survivor feeling that way. Once all of this is revealed in the third arc, I hope some of the readers come away having some sympathy for them. In a lot of ways he's trying to regain what's he's lost, and what's he's lost isn't at all that different from what Jackie and Sara are trying to save. The stakes are ultimately the biggest stakes imaginable. It's all of creation. It's the entire universe at risk.

But one thing I wanted to make sure we maintained all the way through the story was a personal stake and a personal attachment to what was at risk. I think for any story it's much harder for the audience to grasp, well, the universe is at risk so we should all stop that from being destroyed. Well, okay, that's a nice kind of a story, but it's very abstract. Nobody's actually been in the position of saving the universe. People, however, can put themselves in the mind of saving the person they love the most, whether it's a husband or a wife or a child. So to me all the way through these issues that's been what the story keeps coming back to for me, is that choice that Sara and Jackie are faced with, which is what would you do to save your child? Being a parent myself, I know what that answer is. I would do anything. I would sacrifice anything. I would throw you and Filip and everybody else I had ever met in my entire life under the bus if it meant saving my kids and I think people can plug into that, because that's such a primal, instinctual thing. I think that has some resonance with people here as, "Oh, we have to save the universe again" is abstract, kind of high concept. It doesn't have much of a personal stake to it.

It's funny, when I read the first issue, my wife was pregnant with our first. I got what Sara and Jackie were going through, but then when I read this trade again, I was like, "Oh my god." I would do the same. I'd be with them, heading off to save her no matter what.

Marz: It's funny, it just occurred to me, Filip, to see if you haven't sat down and read this pre-Emma [Sablik's young daughter] and post-Emma, but I wonder do you see the story differently now that you're a parent too.

Sablik: I think that there's definitely a much deeper emotional resonance when you actually have a child and you read that, and you put yourself in Sara or Jackie's shoes. I think the other thing that, again, is a strength and a hallmark of Ron's writing, is that the character's really come first and these characters are real, fleshed-out people. I think that that's what makes them compelling. That's what keeps readers coming back month after month. It's interesting, particularly in the second act, where Sara's vantage point, which is very accurate for most women and most mothers, is "I just want to get my kid back. I really don't' care about anything else. I don't care about this big world-changing battle. I don't care who else is getting hurt." Other than a brief moment where she takes a moment to mourn the loss of her sister, even that takes a back seat to "I need to get my child back." Jackie as a father, as most fathers and most men kind of relate to this, you have that urge to go, not only get your child back, but you want to destroy whatever took your child from you. He's very clear from the beginning: "I'm going to track down, find whoever did this, and I'm going to kill them." I think most of us are not the types of people to do that, we can certainly relate to that very guttural, primal instinct, to "You have taken what is mine, in the deeper sense of mine, and now I'm going to make you pay for it." I think that's -- as a father -- that's something [I can relate to] a lot more now. Is that something, Ron, that you were actively aware of, as far as how those two characters were represented?

Marz: Yeah, I think it was a subtext for me, initially. Though obviously, Jackie being Jackie, that's how he would approach things anyway, but I do feel like that's fairly universal. Just in the stupid shit that goes on with our kids, the school system doing something stupid, or whatever the thing happens to be, Kirsten [Marz's wife] is much more, "Let's just fix it and make sure the kids are okay, and don't worry about it." Whereas I want to take a chunk out of somebody's ass. "Let's fix this, and make sure our kids are fine and they're not going to be hurt in any way." But after that, when Kirsten's willing to move on, I'm still the one that wants to bite somebody's head off. Just because, "Well, stupid, you fucked with the wrong guy's kid!" That plays out, on a fairly consistent basis where it's just like mom's ready to move on, but nope, I'm not ready to go yet because I haven't ruined somebody's day yet, so we're going to stay until I do that.

It's like they say, no one's the villain of their own story.

Marz: [I don't like stories where the guys in black hats] are the bad guys, just because they're the bad guys. I guess that works for Power Rangers or whatever, but I think if you want the characters to feel a little bit more fleshed out, not everybody's evil 24/7. The real story is that Hitler painted pictures once in a while. Not that that's a compelling reason to tell stories about Hitler painting pictures, but with the exception, I guess, of Dick Cheney, there's probably not anybody that's entirely evil.

[Sablik laughs]

Sablik: While all of it may not be completely evident on the page, and some of it is left for the readers to figure out and put together, each one of the characters that is aligned with the antagonist has their own motivations and their own background, and their own reasons for doing what they're doing. Some of those we've kind of put on the page or hinted at on the page, some of it is a richer reading experience for long-time readers. People who've been reading about Ian Nottingham since "Witchblade" #1 understand that character and his tyranny and his arc and why he is the way he is a bit better than somebody who just picked up "Artifacts" #1.

Hopefully there's enough context there to where either way it's a satisfying read, but we really had a number of conversations about, "Why is Glori doing what she's doing? Why is Aphrodite doing what she's doing?" Other than the simple, mechanical laying out of the plot and going, "We've got 13 Artifacts, we need this many people on the antagonist's side and this many people on Sara's side," and so on and so forth. Hopefully that all adds some weight to the story, and one of the things that both Ron and I really love about playing in this universe is that the guys who created it intentionally made characters who were grey, and not black and white.

There are no good guys and no bad guys. In the right context, Jackie is certainly a villain, or at the very least a bad guy. I think in most people's books he's a bad guy, but in the context of the story he's someone who we want to see succeed. And certainly, one of the things we played with from the beginning with characters like Michael Finnegan and Glorianna Silver is, these are two characters who have their own motivations, and depending on who you connect with and relate with more, they're both the heroes of the story. Because when you look at it on paper, Glorianna is doing some things that maybe we disagree with, but that character is also a philanthropist who runs charity organizations and, in her mind, is trying to make the world a better place. Michael Finnegan is kind of on the right side of the story, but again on paper he's essentially a hired thug. He's a criminal.

That's another thing that we've kind of continued to play with within the context of the story, and I think it's a real balancing act that Ron's doing incredibly well -- having to do all that in a single 13-issue series, and keep the plot moving forward, and keep it compelling for everybody. Like we said, there's enough character meat on the bone here to do entire issues devoted to Glori or to Finn or to Angelus or whoever. And certainly, if we were Marvel and DC there would be 10 different spin-off series, four issues each, explaining that stuff. But we made a very conscious choice to tell the biggest story we could, in the most satisfying, straight-forward, compact way, so that at the end of the day, you leave the readers wanting more information than you're giving them, and wanting to continue reading about these characters and discovering more about them rather than, "Well, why did I buy those eight comics? I didn't get anything out of that."

Marz: I think that, especially with an event-type series, a big part of the job is to leave the audience wanting more, rather than squeezing every drop of blood, every nook, cranny, subplot, supporting character, cameo, out of the story.

I think that's one of the ways you can make a story feel even bigger than it is, you leave some stones unturned. You leave some things for the readers to figure out themselves, on their own. To add to what Filip was saying, I think any of the 13 Artifacts-bearers that are in this story, I could do stories about any one of them that cast them either as a hero or a villain, and have it be completely believable and in-character for everyone. That's a testament to the strength of these characters, that they can be on either side of the coin. I don't think that's true for every universe out there, and I'm not saying it has to be. Certainly, Marvel and DC heroes, you want them to be heroes. You want Captain America to be the upstanding paragon of virtue he's supposed to be. Same thing for Superman. But, because I think one of the reasons we do that is, if that's what flavor you want, if you want the lantern-jawed hero who does the right thing, there are a lot of places you can get that. And you and I and everyone else get that on a weekly basis, and it's great. But, one of the things that makes sense for us is to offer some counter-programming to that, where the vast majority of the characters can be a good guy, can be a bad guy, depending on the situation, depending on the context of the story we're telling.

I think that kind of embodies the 13th Artifact bearer, Ji, in this stretch of the series, because he only pops up here and there to knock out some attackers in the beginning of #6 and then he gets confronted by Tom in #8. You don't see him a lot. Was that by design, that you don't want to reveal too much of him too soon? Are you waiting for the third arc to get into him as a character?

Marz: Yeah, I think that's a function of maintaining some sort of mystery to pull the readers through the issues. And again, we played with the mystery of what the 13th Artifact was. We played with the mystery of who the bearer of that Artifact is, and that actually gets paid off or a lot of it gets fleshed out in issue #10.

Sablik: When you sit down and do the math of the universe, there's 13 Artifacts, the sides are pretty evenly matched. So the interesting thing to do is, when you introduce this 13th element, you kind of pose a question: What side is he going to come down on? From the beginning you play up, is he a good guy? Is he a bad guy? And really, I think the goal in the first half of the series -- so both the first arc and most of the second arc -- was, when we asked that question, we wanted to establish that he mattered. Whatever this artifact is, it's significantly powerful and could upset the balance one way or the other. So hopefully that's something that readers walked away with. Oh wow, this guy could really mess some stuff up.

After having this collection, I wanted to read the rest right away! You've got the mystery of who Ji is, what's going to happen to the heroes at the end of #8, are Jackie and Sara going to succeed? There's just so much pushing you forward to want to read the next issue.

Sablik: Thanks! That's very cool. We did our job.

Marz: We did our job up to this point. There's plenty of books out there that are just outstanding for 90% of it, and then the whole thing falls apart at the end because the end is tough. The end is the hardest part. Especially in comics, because the end is where things should happen. The end is where the drama should be. But when you're telling stories with recurring characters who can't really change all that much, the end is very often just resetting the status quo. So, I think our job for the end of this thing is to make the last issue worthy of the first 12. And since the last issue has been written a while and is being drawn, I'm pretty happy with what we did. I think we nailed the landing.

Were there any Easter Eggs thrown in that fans noticed or didn't?

Marz: Nothing specific's jumping out at me. I'm sure we've got some stuff in there that makes us look really clever, but I can't think of them right now!

Sablik: Well, I know in the first issue with Whilce [#5], we see Hope playing with some building blocks in the background, and she's in one of the panels putting together the one and the three. In the church sequence where everybody's talking [#6], they're in front of a stained glass window which is stained glass of Abraham getting ready to sacrifice his son, which we thought was appropriate.

Marz: Some people actually picked up on, in some of the online feedback, exactly what that window was. Which is always kind of cool. You end up putting that kind of stuff into the issues, knowing full well that probably a big chunk of the audience isn't going to notice it because either they don't have that for the context, or they're going to be caught up in the story and not paying attention to the details. But it's really satisfying when you get even a small percentage that picks up on those more subtle kind of queues. You know that not everything you do is going to register with people, but hopefully enough get it that it's not wasted effort.

Hopefully, these are the kind of things that -- if someone wants to go back and re-reads this, or someone who reads the issues as singles and then picks up the trade -- when you're not caught up in the story as much because you've read it once already, hopefully it's sort of added value, when you go back in and realize some of the details that maybe seemed extraneous initially, but ultimately aren't.

And I think that's ultimately the hallmark of a good comic, one where you go back and read it again, and not only do you enjoy it again, but you're picking up on things that you missed. It's a good experience in a whole different way again.

Marz: That's the goal. You try to pull it off as much as possible. I think especially with an event series, I'm always mindful that we have to make these stories accessible and understandable to an audience that has read "Witchblade" and "Darkness" from issue #1, but we also have to make it accessible and understandable to an audience that's never read any of this stuff. And that's sometimes a difficult tightrope to walk. But both audiences should be able to get something out of the story. You want to be able to reward the long-term readers, and make it accessible for the first-timers. That's obviously something that DC's striving for right now. But having a ton of issues that say #1 on them, they'd better be accessible to the newbies and not so dumbed down that the regular audience has no interest in them.

"Artifacts" Volume 2 TPB and "Artifacts" #9 and #10 are on sale now.

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TAGS:  top cow, artifacts, ron marz, filip sablik, whilce portacio, witchblade, the darkness, joe weems, sunny gho, michael broussard, jeremy haun

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