REFLECTIONS #232: Ron Marz, Part I

Tue, February 12th, 2008 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Robert Taylor, Staff Writer

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"First Born" trade paperback on sale in March

Since coming on as the scribe of "Witchblade" almost four years ago, Ron Marz hasn't exactly been satisfied with maintaining the status quo of bearer Sara Pezzini's life. In fact, it's safe to say the writer has been doing everything but. In recent storylines, he's killed off Sara's longtime love interest, told the origin of the Witchblade (which had not been revealed for ten years), changed Sara's job, introduced a new love interest, introduce a second Witchblade bearer, and, oh yeah, Marz had Sara and The Darkness conceive a child together.

That last little plot twist came to fruition… er …delivery in Top Cow Productions' crossover event "First Born," which would ultimately become the publisher's bestselling book for 2007. A veteran of Marvel and DC superhero comics, "First Born" obviously isn't the first major crossover event Marz has worked on, and in this week's edition of REFLECTIONS, the writer compares and contrasts writing crossovers for the Big Two verses writing crossovers for Top Cow.

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Robert Taylor: Let's start first with "First Born," no pun intended. Okay, maybe a little. Now that it's all wrapped up, are you satisfied with the crossover?

RM: I'm very pleased with the way the whole thing came out as a package. The scans of the trade paperback hit my inbox today, so we could go through it all and nip and tuck any details we wanted to fix.

"First Born: Aftermath" one-shot on sale in March
RT: Because you only had three issues to work with, how difficult was it to give readers a crash course in the Top Cow universe considering the constraints of telling a story that had its beginnings in "Witchblade"?

RM: It was an exercise in clarity, certainly. I thought the story worked pretty well as an introduction to the Top Cow characters and that universe in general. But it also paid off a lot of plot threads that we had in motion in the regular "Witchblade" series, so the people who were reading that series got their money's worth.

There weren't any wasted pages from one end to the other, as far as I was concerned. It was good going into it knowing there wasn't any room for the self-indulgent decompression that you get in a lot of books. Everything had to matter, every page had to mean something.

Thankfully we got a few extra pages in every issue, so it was 24 or 26 instead of the regular 22. We got a little more meat on the bones where we could.

RT: Did you plan on realizing this plot as a "Witchblade" storyline?

 
RM: Initially, a lot of the things happened in "First Born" were threads that I had thought we were going to pay off in "Witchblade." It grew into a crossover project naturally. To me, that's the best way a crossover project to come about. The story grew naturally out of events in the books. It wasn't editorially mandated, it wasn't a situation where we were doing a crossover because we had to. This is the reverse, where we had the story and it naturally turned into a crossover.

RT: Was it difficult for you to incorporate other major players from the Top Cow universe like Hunter/Killer and Cyberforce, who didn't have a major role in the mythology, without making it seem like obvious cameos without real purpose?

RM: Given the constraints, I knew that a fair number of the characters would be closer to cameos than anything, but I did want to make sure that stuff like Hunter/Killer and Cyberforce at least had a viable reason to be there. I think we did okay in making all of it make sense.

RT: Obviously you've been involved in a lot of major crossovers other than "First Born." Compare and contrast your experiences with this project to those of Marvel and DC crossovers.

RM: They're really two different animals, and you know that going in. With something like "First Born," I knew I was the lead dog on the team, and they were comfortable having me take the ball and run with it-to mix football and dog sledding metaphors. [laughs]

Top Cow was comfortable with me doing my thing and letting me tell my story. It was a very free process, where I was left to my own devices to put this story togther.

When you're dealing with a much larger scale crossover, like something at DC or Marvel, you aren't in the position of being the lead dog. The lead dog is Editorial, and they have a much bigger input into how everything is put together.

At DC or Marvel, when you do a large-scale project, it's a top-down thing. There are a lot more characters involved, a lot more titles. In "First Born," we were only coordinating issues of "First Born" with issues of "Witchblade," and I was writing everything. So if something was screwed up, it was my fault. It wouldn't be because information fell through the cracks, or the right approvals didn't come down, it would be because I was just stupid. [laughs]

With a much larger-scale crossover, someone has to be the controlling influence. When I worked on "Marvel vs. DC," damn near every editorial office in both companies had some sort of input. That went surprisingly smoothly, but you knew you'd be getting feedback from a host of different offices. "First Born" was me, the editor and the publisher talking about what we wanted to do and then me sitting down and doing it.

RT: Do I smell any other crossovers from Top Cow in the future with you at the helm?

 
RM: They actually talked me into another one already. It's something we're doing for this summer, so in some ways it's a sequel to "First Born."

RT: "Second Born?"

RM: Nice try. This one is called "Broken Trinity." If anybody has seen the Free Comic Book Day solicitation, our FCBD issue is basically a prelude to "Broken Trinity."

RT: Is it going to be Witchblade and Darkness-focused, as "First Born" was?

RM: It's going to have all of that, but by the end of it Top Cow will have some new toys to play with.

RT: What else can you tease us with?

RM: It's going to be three issues, just like "First Born," and it will have a few tie-in issues as well. Frankly, "First Born" turned out to be a really good model, both creatively and sales-wise, so we're doing it again. It'll be a story that has a major effect on the Top Cow Universe, but we're going to keep it lean and mean.

RT: You mentioned that "First Born" was a good model sales-wise. How did the book do?

RM: Top Cow seemed very pleased. I was told it was their best-selling project last year. They're at least confident enough for us to do a bit of a sequel, so that's an indication that we were doing something right.

 
RT: How was feedback from the comics community?

RM: I guess you'd have to ask the comics community. [laughs]

I see things online now and again, but I don't obsessively hunt down that stuff. It's all just one guy's opinion. As a writer, my rule of thumb is to not put too much stock into any one opinion, positive or negative. Everybody's got an opinion, and the feedback you see on message boards tends to come from the more dedicated, There-Every-Wednesday-Like-Religion crowd, which isn't representative of the entire audience.

RT: You can use the word "fanatic."

RM: Yeah, well, let's say that sometimes the Net gives you a skewed sense of the overall impression a book is making in the market. You do get the fringe or fanatic views, because those are the people who feel strongly enough one way or the other to post about it. You see it all the time, where books that are critical darlings online don't sell for crap, but top-selling books are routinely excoriated.

It's obvious there a lot of people reading books, but most of them don't feel the need to post about it online. Don't get me wrong, the majority of online fandom is great, and I've had a lot of nice interactions with fans. But I do think there's a segment of fans -- and they tend to be the most vocal-- who like nothing better than feeling indignant about the books they read, like there's some prize for feeling holier-than-thou. Read it and enjoy it, or if you're not enjoying it, drop it. I don't get all the wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Take any story you want, whether it's "One More Day" or Mark Waid coming back to "The Flash," or any other story you want to name; some people are going to like it, some people are going to hate it, but generally the ones who hate it are the loudest about it. There's always somebody trying to be the cool kid by looking down his nose at everything. They feel like they're owed an apology or a refund because they weren't given something suited to their individual needs.

But that's not how it works. What you get for three dollars is the book and the fifteen-minute ride it takes you on. If you didn't like the ride, we're sorry, but we can't design the ride for each specific reader. These aren't "Choose Your Own Adventure" books.

To me, if you like a book, buy it and read it. If you don't like it, stop buying it. Stop reading it. I don't have enough hours in my life to read the books I like. Who has the time, energy or desire to read books they don't like? I don't go into a Martin Scorsese film thinking that it's his job to make the movie that I wanted to see. It's his job to make the movie he wants to make, and I can take it or leave it.

RT: Surely, there is enough diversity in the market that if a reader doesn't like an X-Men book or a Superman book, he can get his fix elsewhere?

RM: It's a smorgasbord, and you should find something that you like. If you can't, maybe comics aren't for you.

Now, I'm the first one to say that the current smorgasbord has way too much pizza on it. It's 90% superhero titles. I think the industry needs a lot more than superhero titles to be viable and appeal to a wide audience.

RT: Back to "Witchblade." Is Sara's life going to slow down any time soon, or can we expect more huge status quo changes in the near future?

RM: Bringing in another Witchblade bearer, Dani Baptiste, was a major upset to the status quo, and helped me to stay energized on the book. One of the terrific things about working on a book like this is that Top Cow has been great about just letting me run with ideas. This isn't like doing a Superman or Batman book, or really any franchise character you want to name, because ultimately those books are not going to change.

For something like "Witchblade," the parameters are much bigger than on a typical superhero book. I can do a lot more, and stretch the limits a lot more, because it's not a brand name. I don't have to worry about somebody getting tweaked because what's going on in "Witchblade" the comic isn't the same as in the Happy Meal or on the bed sheets.

That's not to say that writing superheroes isn't fun or rewarding in its own way. But I feel like I can do more "writing" in "Witchblade," where all bets are off and I can run with stuff.

Stjepan Sejic is coming onto the book as regular artist with issue #116, and we're both committed up to at least issue #150. I realized that's in 2010, which made me a little weak in the knees. We've figured out what we want to do specifically up through issue #135, and then a general direction after that. We might even go past #150, because a book like this is wide open in terms of what we can do with it. We can do a police procedural, or a noir mystery, or a supernatural or horror story, or even just human interaction. It's a wide-open canvas, and that's why I've stayed with it so long. I can do so many different types of stories, and it keeps me from getting bored with it.

RT: What have you written so far that has surprised you in its development? Did you think, for example, that Sara's relationship with Patrick Gleason would blossom like it has?

RM: When I introduced the Gleason character, I didn't know he would end up as the fulltime boyfriend. I knew there was going to be flirting, but eventually I decided that I liked them together. But even with all the craziness that goes on in the book, there's room to explore and deepen the relationship. A viable part of a lot of comics has always been the love interest, the soap opera aspect. That's part of the reason the audience keeps coming back every month.

RT: What would you identify as high points in the run so far?

RM: If I had to pick one issue, I'd probably say issue #92, where we finally established, after ten years, what the Witchblade actually is and what the origin is. Readers deserved an answer after a decade Plus, I got to work with such an all-star roster of art talent on that issue. Marc Silverstri, George Perez, Darwyn Cooke, plus buddies like Luke Ross, Brandon Peterson and Bart Sears. Everyone who worked on that book is someone I greatly admire and respect.

RT: Anything you would go back and change?

RM: I'm sure there is, but off the top of my head I don't know what it is. You certainly don't want to look back and think everything was perfect. But to me, it isn't about what you've already written and put in the long boxes. The important books are the one you haven't written yet. There's no sense in looking back, because then you're resting on your laurels. Your best issue should always be your next issue. You should always be striving to do the best work you can.

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