At the heart of “Witchblade: Due Process” is an interesting idea: as a rookie, Sara Pezzini witnessed fellow police officers breaking rules, possibly to convict an innocent man of murder, and, ten year later, she’s trying to make it right by getting the man released. Except, ten years in prison for murder has changed William Hicks from a nice, loving man to the sort of guy who has done awful things to survive and fallen in with a white supremacist gang to survive and have his family protected. Where it goes wrong is by adding in a demon to make the message of the book even more over-the-top.
The white supremacist element of the gang is, apparently, a cover to hide the true nature of what the members believe. Hicks has agreed to do the demon’s work of collecting souls in return for keeping his family protected and safe while he’s been in prison. However, the demon seems unnecessary. The idea of an innocent man changed by prison, forced to do things he wouldn’t have done otherwise and the consequences of that are already interesting, and show a side of Sara Pezzini that isn’t always apparent. The use of the demon seems to muddle the point somewhat with unclear rules about how it operates and the heavy-handed nature of the end as a result. It’s an unnecessary complication.
Ignoring that aspect of the book, Phil Smith writes an intriguing and compelling story. The guilt that Pezzini feels over her lack of action a decade previous and Hicks’ transformation make for some tense and complex scenes. Hicks wants to return to his family, but his wife wants nothing to do with him because of the company he kept in prison. Smith adds a surprising element to that dynamic by making Hicks’ wife black, but that isn’t fully explored or made entirely clear in the art. His struggle to put his life together is barely hinted at before it’s done away with. The makings of a much better story are here and it’s a shame that it’s so limited.
Alina Urusov’s art is in a similar realistic style as Alex Maleev. The underpinnings of the photorealism are there, but heavily stylized with scratchy line work in places and heavy-handed coloring. Some of the time it is very effective, like the opening scene, especially the contrast between Hicks’ file photo and him now. At other times, the muddy coloring gets in the way, like the reveal of Hicks’ wife being black. The lighting of the apartment where they live is heavy with browns, giving Hicks a darker skin tone than he has in other scenes, calling into question a reveal that should be crystal clear. As well, Urusov’s figure work alternates between simplistic, basic outlines and heavily-detailed and referenced faces. It’s a mixture of good and bad. The visuals for the demon are quite well done, though.
“Witchblade: Due Process” has a really great hook, but the need to bring in supernatural elements bury the point somewhat and detract from the emotional core. As well, not enough is done with Pezzini and her truly confronting her mistake. She never really gets past the ‘I’m so sorry’ stage and truly trying to make amends. If anything, “Due Process” seems like it should be a much larger story that’s constrained by genre conventions and format restrictions.