By Ron Marz (writer), Michael Gaydos (guest artist), Troy Peteri (letters)

The Story: After the exceptionally traumatic events of the last few issues, Sara is ordered to see her Department’s psychiatrist. Following the appointment, she makes a trip to the cemetery to visit her sister’s grave, but runs into the master of the Darkness in the process.

What’s Good: As much as I absolutely loved last month’s one shot, it felt rather ill-timed and I’m very glad the focus is back where it belongs—on Sara’s quest to find and recover her daughter. Or at least her attempts to deal with the emotional and psychological fallout from the event.

Ordinarily the lack of actual action and plot progression in this issue would bother me, but Marz does such a fantastic job with the characterization, and his dialog sounds so real and is so moving, that keeping the action part of this story (at least temporarily) confined to the Artifacts title doesn’t do either book any harm. I’m not sure how long my patience will hold out on that front, but as long as Marz keeps his writing at this level, and as long as Artifacts continues to deliver solid plot progression, I don’t think I’ll have much to complain about.

I have to give special props to Michael Gaydos. I was extremely disappointed when I heard this issue would be drawn by a guest artist–especially after Stjepan Sejic’s bravura outing on #138—but Gaydos knocks this one out of the park. While his art is nothing like the hyper detailed, cover-worthy panels that are Sejic’s signature, Gaydos’ rough but expressive pencils and colors are perfect for this story. (His full page splash of Ground Zero in New York is one of the most beautiful and haunting renditions of that famous image I’ve seen.

What’s Not So Good: This is a nearly impeccable issue. If were to single out anything, it would be Sara’s rather odd desecration of Kenneth Irons’ tomb. It’s not a gratuitous scene, nor is it terribly out of character, but the transition from Sara mourning at her sister’s grave, to her tearing apart a mausoleum feels forced and awkward. I understand that pages and panels are limited, but spending a little extra time on that tone shift would have made things a bit smoother.

Conclusion: Can I just say how much I love Witchblade lately, and Top Cow’s direction in general? Compelling storytelling, beautiful artwork and dynamic characters make this a series not to be missed.

Grade: A