Ray Van Horn, Jr. is a veteran entertainment journalist whose writing and live photography has been featured in Blabbermouth.net, Dee Snider’s House of Hair Online, Fangoria.com, Horror News.net, About.com Heavy Metal, MetalManiacs, New Noise, Music Dish, AMP, Hails & Horns, Unrestrained,Noisecreep, Impose, Pit, The Big Takeover.com, Rough Edge.com, Pitriff and others. His blog The Metal Minute won a “Best Personal Blog” award in 2009 from Metal Hammer magazine and he wrote and produced his own hard rock e-zine, Retaliate.

He has contributed essays to UK author Neil Daniels’ Iron Maiden and ZZ Top biographies. Ray’s fiction has been published in various periodicals and anthologies, including his flash fiction piece “Off the Record” for Akashic Books’ “Mondays Are Murder” noir series. His recent short stories “Before the Ball” and “Widow” were featured in subsequent editions of Alex S. Johnson’s Axes of Evil anthologies. Ray wrote serialized original superhero fiction for Cyber Age Adventures and five of those stories appear in the anthology Playing Solitaire. He was the winner of Quantum Muse’s fiction contest in 1999.

Ray is a former NHL game analyst for The Hockey Nut and one-time host of the forum “Comic Books” at ReadWave. He has done beat reporting, photography and lifestyle articles for Metromix, an affiliate of The Baltimore Sun, Carroll Magazine, The Northern News and The Emmitsburg Dispatch.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Cool Comic o' the Week: Witchblade # 174

Another shake-up appears inevitable at Top Cow Comics only a couple years after their game-changing "Rebirth" event.  If you troll the imprint's message boards, you'll find a few disgruntled readers teeing off over the cancellation of the main series for The Darkness along with the abrupt demise of that artifact's wielder, Jackie Estacado.  Estacado was, of course, instrumental in the "Rebirth" plot  as he managed to build his own universe (and Top Cow's, by attrition) after uniting all thirteen artifacts of power. 

Of-late, Estacado has been killed by Sara Pezzini, bearer of the Witchblade.  While Top Cow sorts out the aftermath of their shaken stable once more and subsequently introduces Marc Silvestri's new series Rise of the Magi and Matt Hawkins' Wildfire, the interim plans for The Darkness appear to be aimed toward the one-shot Vicious Traditions and future miniseries.  Also heading for the chopping block is Aphrodite IX, albeit she is reportedly going into temporary stasis while getting a new overhaul for a third outing.  The green-haired ninth-gen terminator will be colliding with Cyber Force in an upcoming crossover event.  Should be blast watching Aphrodite XI square off against her more ruthless model V predecessor.  I'm itching to find out which Aphrodite gets her middle finger blown off first.

Amidst all of this chaos, Witchblade has rolled along as Top Cow's flagship series.  However, readers have been expected to wait out a confusing shift in location and a new role for Sara Pezzini as a backwoods town sheriff.  In the five-part "Borne Again" storyline, we're to accept at face value that two years have passed since the last arc, "Absolute Corruption," and Sara has once again relinquished the Witchblade.  Still fresh in many readers' minds is the "War of the Witchblades" epic that remains one of the finest arcs ever told in this series.

Of course, things have changed greatly since Sara and Dani Baptiste scrummed over the bisected halves of the Witchblade.  The universe reset by Jackie Estacado sent Dani onto a different path following her mother's as a  New York City cop--precisely as Sara Pezzini was for many years before moving to Chicago at the threat of the Fibbies exposing her powers. 

In "Borne Again," Sara finds herself fired from her sheriff's position as a sliver of the Witchblade returns to her.  Following that renegade piece is the Angelus, who has been both saint and sinner for Top Cow in both Witchblade and Artifacts.  Purporting itself an agent of the light, the Angelus' mission is to rule the darkness.  As this story begins, we're not yet aware Jackie Estacado has been dispatched.  Funny enough, neither is Sara Pezzini once the revelation comes from the Angelus during their clash in Issue # 174, the bloody final chapter of "Borne Again." 

Why this story ends up being cool after suspiciously coming off like an overhaul of previous storylines is we're left to wonder as readers just how in the hell Sara got into this position in the first place.  Ron Marz, one of the finest writers of the realm, baits us along and then leaves a big question mark at the end of "Borne Again."  Did Sara end up in a new reality after killing Estacado?  Is this the prelude to a new era at Top Cow?  Or is this merely a jumping ahead story, to which Marz owes a pretty hefty back story to bring us up-to-date?

Many readers get ticked off by such presumption (as they have the roundabout change in artists from Stjepan Sejic to Laura Braga's slightly more abstract illustrations), but I for one like to be intrigued, especially when something seems obvious.  Sidebar:  keep your shoulders squared, Laura, you're doing fine.

How now, Top Cow?

                       Listenin' to:  Black Sabbath - Mob Rules

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