Pullbox Reviews: Witchblood, a long strange trip of a comic… about the family you make

A modern, Wild West road trip about a witch named Yonna cruising the Southwest as a band of bloodthirsty biker vampires, The Hounds of Love, hunt her scattered coven for the source of all magic: witch blood. From the critically acclaimed creators of The Modern Witch Tarot Deck and Long Lost comes Witchblood, a blend of action, lore, and Americana—perfect for fans of Buffy and American Gods.

Whew… I just got back from a crazy trip around the wildest westernest, most insanest off the beaten track piece of parts unknown, and I’m still a little dizzy. That’s something you’ll be able to forgive if you’re even the least bit familiar with the creative team of Matthew Erman & Lisa Sterle, together again and handing a whuppin’ to the supernatural genre. Now after reading the first eight issues of in the series (issue 9 is available now & 10 drops later this month), I would like to report that Witchblood is an entertaining, fast-paced, character driven body of work from an outstanding creative team.

It’s rumored that there are certain writer/artist pairings who bump their fists together, shout out “Awesome Comicbook powers, Activate!” and in a flash of light we all have reading material most excellent. That’s not insinuating that it’s at all easy, or that there’ve been any deals with He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named made. All I am saying is that it seems like when Sterle & Erman get together, magic happens.

Okay, that might’ve been a little on the nose. Their last collaboration, Long Lost, was another supernatural suspense story following two estranged sisters who return to their small hometown after years away. As things get rolling, the sisters discover that their family has had more than its share of secrets, hilarity and mayhem ensue. On this go around, we’re thrown into the middle of an odyssey upon which the outcome could determine whether reality as we know it holds strong and falls hard. Yonna, a witch who’s been to more than a couple rodeos, is on the trail of a vampire biker gang led by chaotic, devil-may-care cowboy by the name of Saxton. Accompanying Yonna is the most unlikely pair of allies I could even begin to imagine: Texas  Red, a supernatural bounty hunter, and Atlacoya, a hyper-religious witch-hunting fanatic. Along the way, they meet a bunch of folk, have a few laughs, and learn quite a bit about reality & the world around them.

First, I’m gonna be right up front and say that the real joy of this particular title isn’t in the reality bending stakes, or the plethora of entities/deities/demigods surrounding Yonna and company. It isn’t the mind-bending metaphysical exploration of magic, or even a Michael Bay level of action & explosions. The big hook for me was in the dialogue, the interplay between characters, and the bizarre relationships being built.

Matthew Erman hits a stride as a writer, not settling for shock and awe to propel a story. It’s been true in the past, but the front & center fact in Witchblood is that the small moments, the banter between people who should NEVER be left alone in a room together, is a huge factor in this title’s success. Another is that Erman doesn’t take the easy road, writing about a group of best friends, people perfectly suited for a task and who enjoy each other’s company. This book goes in the complete opposite direction, driving mortal enemies together and forcing them to- at first- cooperate for the greater good and-eventually- growing to respect each other. I didn’t say like each other, cuz that’s gonna be pushing it for some of these people.

Another great benchmark that Erman hits is in the introduction of his “bad guys”. At first glance, they’re not an unpleasant group of people. Sure, they’re out to alter the course of humanity by putting vampires on top of the food chain in a major way, but other than that…

As the story moves back and forth, focusing first on Yonna & her band of Scoobies, and then on Paxton and the Hounds of Love, Erman makes the transitions pretty painless. Even better, I didn’t mind spending time with the Vampire biker horde. I thought they were a hoot.

All Erman’s pretty words, alone, amount to only a portion of the comicbook equation. Another, and in this case awesome, part of the puzzle is the work of Lisa Sterle. At first glance, you might not look at Sterle’s artistic style and say, “Ooooooh, horror!” After reading Long Lost and Submerged, I’ve gotten used to the dichotomy that is artist Lisa Sterle. Her work almost looks like it’d be a little soft, maybe too light for this kind of story. And if you thought any of that, you’d be wrong, especially with Witchblood’s overall tone. With an emphasis on extended family… extremely dysfunctional extended family… the supernatural violence and horror aspects are shuffled into the background. Until they aren’t, and then Sterle’s work goes into overdrive as she captures all the intensity of the action. More important, Sterle puts all the personality you could hope for into the character designs, and the settings are- sorry- out of this world. Let’s be honest, when part of the story is set in a place called “San Sangre, city of blood, faith, and bad vibes” I think it’s important that the visuals are done right.

With all this talk about setting and tone, it’s really going to be important to mention the efforts of Gab Contreras. Where Sterle’s work has a lighter, almost cartoonish vibe to it, Contreras’s palettes are subdued where they need to be, dingy where they should be, and downright tripping balls when they have to be. The use of color in conjunction with an artist’s lines is a huge piece of the work, and can completely upend the feel an artist is working toward. Rather than knocking the story off course, Gab Contreras is on point and her work keeps everything in tune.

While there are moments that might get lost in the fast-paced dialogue and quick stepping storyline, Witchblood is a comic to be read and enjoyed. By the time you’re through the first issue, you’re onboard with the characters and their mission, enjoying the ride even if you’re not always able to follow a conversation from start to finish. It all makes sense by the end of the page and the trip is well worth the effort it might take some to follow along.

Final Score: 11/13

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