You've all been waiting for this.

Off to a Bad Start Dept: Can't say we didn't expect it - The Intimates is canned with issue #12. Damn it.

Witchblade and Tomb Raider #1

Torn from my sleep! Crudely yanked from dreaming’s pillowy bosom! But the plainness of the situation could not be more crystallized had Truth itself manifested before me in the form of a cherubim, bearing my inadequacy upon its shoulders as a hated and flee-proof antideity! Oh, how I sat up straight as a ball peen hammer in my bed! Oh my exclamation!

I’ve not yet reviewed a Witchblade comic!” came the ejaculate of realization, “And it’s been over a year!”

I had to rectify this situation immediately, so I threw on my overcoat and ran all the way to Phillip’s All-Nite Comics Galleria. Phillip has a great selection of Top Cow products, and a friendly, knowledgeable staff, and a minimum of personal searches at the front gate, so he gets a lot of business.

"Phillip!" I exclaimed upon entering, "I need a Witchblade book right now! I haven’t reviewed one!"

Why… that’s a violation of local ordinance!” warbled Phillip in his luxurious farmland droll, “Here, take a free one. It used to be offered as an exclusive from Dynamic Forces and I’d hate to use it as roof insulation. Godspeed.”

And that’s how I came to be in possession of Witchblade and Tomb Raider, and any rumors you might have heard about me being a sick and desperate Jae Lee fan who’ll eventually get around to acquiring anything that features his mystic touch gracing the interiors are entirely false and you’ll be receiving my legal complaint in the mail shortly.

Furthermore, this special one-shot sees Lee teaming up with the ridiculously popular Mark Millar for a 14-page Witchblade short; as the book’s title may have suggested, there is also a 12-page tale set in the universe of Tomb Raider (everyone’s favorite initially cutting-edge computer game that took its massive popularity too seriously too quickly and almost immediately stagnated gameplay-wise into a community joke) from Geoff Johns and Mark Texiera. Together (and Dynamic Forces/Top Cow have pulled this miniature omnibus trick with other characters, setting Lee and favored collaborator Paul Jenkins loose on The Darkness in the similarly-titled Tomb Raider and The Darkness #1), the stories form a sweet lil’ microcosm of ‘mainstream’ trends.

The Witchblade story sees Millar at his most cynical and cruel. It’s really not much of a Witchblade story at all; I expect pretty much any superhero could be plugged into the applicable spaces and the effect would be largely the same (and let's say I wouldn't exactly fall from my chair in horror should someone suggest that the script had been born in anticipation of some other project). The story really follows the path of a villain referred to by the omniscient narrator as the Demon, a serial killer who doesn’t particularly savor the moment of the kill; no, he delights on observing the suffering he causes the deceased’s loved ones. And as nasty and punchy as it wants to be, this concept suffers from the too-familiar Millar fault of not knowing quite when to stop. Every death here leads a friend or loved one to suicide, alcoholism, or total emotional destruction; a beloved father’s murder prompts no less than a murderous rampage by the man’s son, with more subdued yet no less awful consequences for his siblings. Every human's emotional state is armored with eggshells here, every life prone to spiral into total blackness with a certain pressure applied. In other words, the case is overstated well unto beyond the point of calling bullshit.

Anyway, that’s the first eight pages. Then we learn that the Demon is hunting Sara Pezzini (holder of the titular Witchblade) because he figures that a lot of folks like her because she’s a really good cop in her civilian guise, so obviously she ought to die. But he didn’t count on the Witchblade itself, and Pezzini zaps him, but our narrator lovingly details the many scars and horrors imposed on witnesses to the clash, one bystander made so nervous he needs to use drugs FOREVER, a young angelic singing boy so frightened that he’s stricken mute FOREVER, and a lawyer who’s so distracted that he’s late to a big trial and a murdering defendant is let free to KILL AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN HAHAHAHAHAHAAAAA (because apparently in the Witchblade universe, when lawyers are late to trials, they never phone court administration to have them grant a stay or delay the start time; the sheriff’s deputy simply rips the handcuffs from the accused’s wrists and everyone waves goodbye, handkerchiefs in the air). And the Demon smiles, because he knows that in merely battling him, the Witchblade has delivered his irreversible victory! The end, kiddies!

Basically, it’s a load of horseshit, and largely because Millar is way too eager to mash those emotional buttons as far down as they’ll go. It can be amusing horseshit at times, however, if only because Millar exhibits a similar palpable distaste toward the character he’s given to work with as Alan Moore, Frank Miller, and Warren Ellis have occasionally sported in their individual Image contributions. And even deeper than that, one can see how Millar truly wants to say something about violence and the troubling nature of bloody clashes in superheroics, though his style can’t help but obscure his point. His failure is one of inappropriately tacking a more ambitious theme, his reach generously exceeding his grasp.

Lee tries his best too (with loyal colorist June Chung along as always), this time setting his typically wrinkly characters against shadow-outlined backgrounds, the pools of black providing outlines for Chung to fill with slate gray and pale blue, details added as thick dark lines and dots. Perversely, the infamously cheesecake-prone heroine is clad in a long jacket and sensible street clothes, not as much as an ankle or wrist bared. There’s an excellent panel of the Demon striking a taxi cab, his impact signified by a sharp-edged star that takes up a quarter of the panel space, a cute dab of classic comics iconography on his typically realist look. It’s a good contrast.

Speaking of contrasts, there’s that other story in the book, which embodies another superheroic style (let’s humor old Uncle Jog and dub Lara Croft a ‘superheroine’), the light and simple throwback, as opposed to Millar’s thunderingly callow dissection. It’s lethally boring stuff. One might argue that it’s just meant to be good stupid fun; unfortunately, I don’t always appreciate stupidity, and if that’s a character flaw of mine, well, so be it.

The plot involves Lara’s attempts to locate the secret vault of Al Capone; this is because, being the lead character of Tomb Raider, she loves to open doors to the unknown, a character trait that writer Johns will explicitly inform us of at least four separate times over the tale’s 12 pages. To accomplish her goal, Lara binds up a masochistic crime lord and steals the hat Mr. Capone was wearing the day he was arrested. Naturally, there’s a secret map hidden in the brim, which apparently managed to escape police notice despite doubtlessly being held in custody for decades upon decades until the aforementioned crime lord located it, made a copy of the map, then slipped the original back into place even though he owned the hat and by any measure of logic should have destroyed the original or maybe put it into a safe or something. Also, he doesn’t seem to care about locating the vault, so why make a copy in the first place? Ah, the quandaries raised by Tomb Raider!

So Lara heads down into the sewers and finds a stretch of wall marked with a smiling face (the same smiling face that appears on the map), which has somehow survived for three quarters of a century without ever being cleaned or fading away or being covered in dust after countless years of disuse or something. Lara then explodes the wall to find the secret vault, then gets located by the crime lord and his goons, so she blows them up to. Then she opens the vault door and yikes, the vault is only filled with illegal beer! Wokka wokka wokka!

Obviously, I probably shouldn’t be expecting much from Tomb Raider, but this story is vapid enough to dash even my lowest expectations. At least Texiera knows to keep his visual eye on Lara at all times, since such an approach is mandatory when dealing with as lousy a script as this. Nearly every panel is filled with leg or bust or athletic leaping or tumbling, Russ Meyer informing her figure at rest. It’s competent enough, I guess, but wholly uninspiring.

And therein lies the problem. Grotesque overreaching or drizzly boredom in your superheroes? Not a choice worthy of Solomon, I don’t think. Perhaps my answer says something about me, that I’m willing to put up with Millar’s thrashings toward bleakness in exchange for the modest insights that he manages? It’s true though. Falling short of the mark is more captivating to me than a failure to start, and I see paddling against the current as more entertaining than relaxing with the flow. Even regarding Witchblade and Tomb Raider, which isn’t much to work with in the first place.

But sometimes we have no better choice.

So… can I take this bracelet off my ankle now?