by Ron Marz (writer), Stjepan Sejic (art) and Troy Peteri (letters)

The Story: And now for something completely different. Rather than following up on the (rather shocking) events of the previous issue, Witchblade #138 tells us a short, simple Faerie Tale about a brave knight named Sara and an evil sorcerer named Irons. Other familiar faces, Gleason and Nottingham among them, also appear in the epic fantasy tale.

What’s Good: Uh. Wow. I may not have the most longevity when it comes to reading comics, but even so it’s been quite rare for me to be completely caught off guard by a book’s presentation. This issue of Witchblade absolutely shocked and floored me though, and I mean that in the best possible way. With the huge Artifacts event both changing up the Top Cow universe and offering a great jumping on point, it naturally behooves the Top Cow creators to offer a short primer for new readers. Since Witchblade is one of their flagship titles, it makes complete sense that a quick catch-you-up issue for new readers that introduces the major characters, relationships and conflicts of the series would be in order.

This is such an issue, but the magic here isn’t in the exposition, it’s in the presentation. Rather than bring drawn as a regular, panel-based book, this issue has only one piece of art per page (in the case of a couple splashes, one piece of art per two pages), with a beautifully lettered text box along the bottom narrating the story. No dialog, no word balloons, just page after page after page of cover worthy art and lovely (if simplistic) storytelling. I say again: wow.

The true brilliance of this issue is that it will give readers who have never heard of Sara Pezzini a good idea of who she is as a character, who the main antagonists of her universe are, and what the Witchblade is and what it is capable of. All of this information is painted in extremely broad strokes, and as such it may be a bit jarring for a brand new reader to go from this exposition back to the “real” Sara’s world in New York. But as a simple primer this still works well, and is honestly so gorgeous to look at that I would have happily paid twice the cover price for the art alone. Perhaps most importantly for an exposition issue, it certainly won’t bore longtime fans. The information covered is old ground, but it’s presented in such a fresh and fun way that reading it doesn’t grate or feel like a retread in the slightest.

What’s Bad: My only complaint is that I WISH we could have had one more ‘regular’ issue before this one-shot (or alternately, that this one-shot had come out before last issue.) As awesome as it is, I can’t help but be slightly annoyed that the whopper of a cliffhanger they left us with last month has been shoved aside for the sake of a one-shot. I know that balancing issues and events is a delicate thing, but it’s still a little irritating. Ah well…when you put out a book like this one, it’s impossible for me to stay mad for long!

Conclusion: If you truly dislike fantasy and/or swords and sorcery, I’d probably stay away. But if you like amazing artwork and a simple but fun story well told, buy this issue. I don’t care if you don’t care about Sara and her magic gauntlet, I don’t care if you’ve never read this book before, and I don’t care if you hate the series or the entire Top Cow universe. Buy. This. Issue.

Grade: A