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JLA/WITCHBLADE

Top Cow's leading lady bumps heads with DC's legendary super-team.

By James Busbee     October 04, 2000

Crossovers always seem like such a great idea. Pair up the top heroes from two different companies, toss 'em in a brawl with a couple of big-time villains, and sit back and count the sales. But while the concept seems great, too often they come across as comics' version of a TV movie-of-the-week--mildly entertaining, but mostly fluff and hot air.

The key to great intercompany crossovers lies in preserving what makes each character great while introducing them to a whole new world. It's a tricky balancing act, and one that few crossovers have pulled off well. But the upcoming 48-page JLA/Witchblade one-shot from DC Comics, done in conjunction with Top Cow Productions, just might raise the bar for future intercompany throwdowns.

Opposites Attract

Matching the DC pantheon with Top Cow's leading lady in a story worthy of both books' stature was no easy task. Even the book's creators, writer Len Kaminski and penciler Mark Pajarillo, acknowledge the difficulty of placing a lovely cop who wields a mystical living weapon of armor in a believable context against DC's comic book icons. So what were the main concerns in pulling it off?

'Roughly like differences between a nitro-burning funny car and Greek mythology!' says Kaminski. 'Aside from the [screen time] balancing act, I'd have to say [the trickiest aspect was] making their meeting plausible despite the major differences in the types of worlds the two live in--and by 'worlds' I don't mean 'Top Cow Earth' or 'DC Earth.''

Top Cow's Editor-in-Chief David Wohl, co-creator of Witchblade, concurs. 'The Justice League is from a world that's completely familiar with costumed heroes and villains all around them,' explains Wohl. 'Sara Pezzini's world is much closer to ours, so glorious superheroes like the Justice League are even more fantastic to her, who has only seen people like them in comic books!'

But Sara's about to get an up-close introduction to DC's icons. The story begins, as many crossovers do, with villains--though they'd never think of themselves that way--from the respective books joining forces. In this case, the plot hinges on the newest form of post-millennium villainy: outsourcing. Billionaire Kenneth Irons, Witchblade's longtime foe, hires Superman's archenemy, Lex Luthor, as a consultant to determine how best to get the Witchblade back from Sara Pezzini. This meeting of the minds leads to Sara ending up in the medlab on the JLA Watchtower--and from there, things get hairy.

Witchblade fans know of the Witchblade's ongoing desire to jump to a superior host, and the JLA is basically a 'superior host' buffet for the eldritch armor. The Witchblade takes over a JLA member, and although Kaminski's not revealing exactly who the new host is, you might be able to hazard some guesses: 'It's a character the Witchblade is able to corrupt almost completely,' says Kaminski. 'Which means the JLA have to go up against one of their own, armed and possessed by the Witchblade. And that character--or, more precisely, the Witchblade--is mighty cheesed at Lex Luthor.'

It's also important to note that the comic postulates a 'shared universe'--continuity hounds be damned--where both Witchblade and the JLA exist. That makes for a key plot point involving Aquaman. 'Having read legends of the Witchblade in the ancient texts of Atlantis, he ends up advocating stopping it at all costs,' says Kaminski, 'up to and including the life of the JLA member it's possessed.'

Creative Challenges

Of course, the fact that the JLA is powerful both in personality and appearance presents a special challenge for an artist and writer trying to combine them with a single character into a convincing storyline. 'The JLA undoubtedly have more dialogue collectively than Sara, but the story is set up so that Sara is absolutely essential to its resolution,' says Kaminski. 'But she wouldn't be able to pull off what she does without the JLA, so everybody needs one another.'

Kaminski also looked to the characters' fundamental attributes for direction. 'I tried to play up the contrast between the JLA's team spirit and Sara's 'lone wolf' tendencies,' says Kaminski. 'Batman thinks she's a dangerous loose cannon, while Sara warns the JLA up front she doesn't play well with others.'

Preserving the individual heroes' characterization in such a confined space proved tricky business, as well. 'With an ensemble cast, you have to put yourself in a frame of mind where each of the characters is unique and special in their own way if you want to do them justice,' says Kaminski. 'So whichever character's dialogue I'm writing at a particular time, that's my favorite. That said, I'll confess that any day I can write Plastic Man is a good day. And I had great fun with the conversations between Irons and Luthor.'

Mark Pajarillo, for his part, enjoyed the task of making two such disparate worlds merge believably on the page. 'It was interesting trying to draw in both the superhero and the magical styles,' says Pajarillo, a frequent fill-in contributor to both the regular JLA series and several Top Cow titles. 'The challenge was creating a reality where both made sense. And drawing the Witchblade--that's just crazy to work with.'

While merging the two worlds once was challenging enough, Wohl says Top Cow would love to do its own take on a Witchblade/JLA crossover. But even this one represents a dream come true. 'I gotta admit that when we came up with the Witchblade concept and released the comic, I never envisioned that she would ever be on the same pages as the Justice League!' crows Wohl. 'I mean, I grew up with those guys! Too bad we didn't come up with a story that had Amazo in it, because he was my favorite JLA villain growing up!'

Lasting Ramifications

The effects of most intercompany crossovers last exactly as long as it takes to read the issue. But then, Top Cow isn't most companies. A meeting with Batman fundamentally altered the perspective of The Darkness' Jamie Estacado in the wake of the Batman/Darkness crossover. Could similar character waves ripple outward from JLA/Witchblade?

'I hope so, because Sara Pezzini's view of heroes and villains, and their place in the world, is so different than the Justice League's,' says Wohl. 'And on top of that,' he adds cryptically, 'contact with the Witchblade has a way of changing the wielder's state of mind, too.' Sequel, anyone?

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