Tom Judge and Tilly Grimes visit Washington to investigate a ritualistic murder at a popular tourist site and Tom has a run-in with a creature determined to drag him back to hell in Artifacts #22, part 1 of “Blood Rites”.

As a big fan of the Artifacts series, I have to say that the Heart Stone plot of late had let me down a little. After the huge impact made in Artifacts Vol. 4 (a collection of issues #14-18), issues #19-21 just felt really slow. I can understand the reasoning behind this – after such a huge plot and dramatic shift in the Top Cow Universe, it’s easy to see why a slower pace and mellower tone was favoured.

Artifacts 22 page 3But now we’re back on track and Artifacts #22 starts with a real bang and a wonderful nightmare sequence. Sejic is among my favourite comic book artists, and in this issue he certainly does not disappoint. His colours are outstanding and I think the realistic slant he puts on his panels makes the horror of a Sejic comic even more startling. You see almost photo-realism in the people he draws, making the monsters he creates like the things nightmares are made of. Hence why the dream sequence we open up with is so fantastic. A tangle of Lovecraftian-like tentacles are attacking our hero, Tom Judge, while he is in a confessional. I mean, really, what better visuals could you hope for only three pages into a comic?

Moving on to Washington, the action doesn’t slow down as we see a gorgeous splash page featuring a rather gruesome murder and elaborate patterns painted in the victim’s blood. Sejic and Marz seem to favour pages in this format, with the occasional floating panels with other characters explaining what’s going on. These scenes remind me of the pages that made me fall in love with Artifacts Vol. 4. For example, Tilly scrawling frantic mathematical equations on the church floor while Tom explains to Danni what she is doing. In #22, these floating panels are framed with the same scrawling red as the messages on that on the floor of the Lincoln Memorial in the main image. Attention to detail like this is what really makes the Artifacts series one to stick with as every issue is this rewarding.

After some witty detective work, Tom visits the National Cathedral. There are some real chances for clever panel work here, with a stunning shot of Judge sitting below a stained glass window with some very coincidental Biblical imagery. A discussion ensues with a peculiar man and Marz’s script is stunningly enigmatic in these panels. While I’m not the biggest Witchblade fan (which Marz is particularly well-known for), I still love the work Marz has done on Arifacts. Marz worked on the Broken Trinity event and I can see touches of that appearing in Artifacts #22. I feel like we are building up to something really big in this series and Marz is planting little seeds of something exciting in this issue.

Tom Judge speaks with the stranger, only to end up confronting monster from his dream in the comic’s final few pages. There’s a fantastic double-page spread at the end, which  made me squeak with excitement, but I really don’t want to spoil it for those Tom Judge fans out there. Let me just say that I hope a print of it appears on the Top Cow store pretty damn soon!

Tom Judge and Tilly Grimes

Overall, this is a far superior issue to the three that came before it, and for that the fans will be thankful. You can really feel that Marz and Sejic had fun with this, especially on the pages with the larger panels. There’s a lot of heart put into the Artifacts series and it is rapidly becoming one of my favourites. This comic is a great issue for fans of Artifacts, although if you haven’t read much of it so far you will have to double-back and do a little catching up. However, what I’ve noticed about the Artifacts single issues is that they open with this wicked little “Previously on Artifacts…” type catch-up, which is really handy to have month-in-month-out. It’s easy to forget what came before and, anyway, I’m one of these people who has to read new comics straight away rather than search out last month’s issue and remind myself of it.

My final highlight of the issue is the punky Miss Tilly Grimes. I fall in love with this character a little bit more with every issue. Personally, I would read a whole Tilly spin-off, she is that much fun. Not only is the dialogue Marz pens for her worthy of adoration, but so too are the tiny little Sejic touches; the punk-rock haircut, the little twist in her smile, her numerous piercings, and mostly her magical maths.

Artifacts #22 is a fan-pleaser, full of gorgeous, rich art and witty dialogue. As well, judging from some of the variant covers and promotional images, issue #23 will see a welcome return from a Top Cow mainstay who should play an interesting part in the Artifacts series.