The Top Cow series Artifacts is getting close to a dramatic climax. It’s rapidly becoming one of Top Cow’s top books and is a must read for fans of comic books with detailed plots, complex characters and gorgeous art. If you haven’t got a clue what I’m on about or are trying to get into the series, then welcome to our Beginner’s Guide to Artifacts. We also spoke to series writer, Ron Marz, to give you an inside look into why you should make this your new favourite comic book.

Artifacts is a rather unique comic book. It blends all of Top Cow’s best titles – The Darkness, Witchblade, Magdalena – and incorporates a whole host of characters you may have seen in previous issues of these books. Top Cow used to be known for its dramatic summer cross-over events. For example “First Born” or “Broken Trinity”. But after “Broken Trinity”, the Top Cow team decided to do something truly awesome – they created a book which would act as a cross-over all year round. Thus, Artifacts was born. Writer of Artifacts, Ron Marz had this to say on what makes this title stand out from the rest of the publisher’s ongoing books:

I think each of the Top Cow Universe books has its own flavor, which is a nice aspect across a line of books. Where Witchblade and The Darkness are driven by lead characters, and Cyberforce is definitely a team book, Artifacts is more of an ensemble piece. We can move different characters in and out of the storyline, while keeping Tom Judge as the central character. It gives me a lot of latitude in terms of the kinds of stories I can tell, both in content and scope.

Now let’s get down to the details. The series centres around thirteen ancient artifacts (hence the title). Each one wields an ancient power that grants their bearer magical abilities. Here’s a quick run-down of what’s what:

  • 13 ArtifactsThe Darkness (Jackie Estacado)
  • The Witchblade (Sara Pezzini)
  • The Angelus (Danielle Baptiste)
  • The Spear of Destiny (Patience/Magdalena)
  • The Blood Sword (Michael Finnegan)
  • The Glacier Stone (also Finnegan)
  • The Ember Stone (Gloriana Silver)
  • Pandora’s Box (unknown)
  • The Rapture (Tom Judge)
  • The Wheel of Shadows (Sabine)
  • The Heart Stone (pre-rebirth – unknown, post-rebirth – Rachel Harrison)
  • Coin of Solomon (unknown)
  • The 13th Artifact (Ji Xi)

However, once issue 13 is come and gone, everything takes a dramatic twist. Jackie Estacado – The Darkness – reshapes the entire universe and all bets are off. Artifacts are thrown into disarray and the world is totally different. Suddenly everything you knew about an artifact and who was its wielder is gone and it’s like a brand-new book. However, Tom Judge – bearer of The Rapture – is the only person who is aware that things are not as they should be and he’s trying his very best to get things back to the way they should be. On discussing who was his favourite artifact bearer, Marz states:

I’m not sure I can pick just one. I really enjoy writing Jackie Estacado and Sara Pezzini, especially together. And I love the Magdalena.

Estacado and Pezzini are mainstays of the Top Cow universe and their role in Artifacts is crucial. Separately, The Darkness and Witchblade’s ongoing books are intrinsic to the plot of Artifacts. Each title feeds into the main story and lets you see what these main characters are up to while the Artifacts series is going on.

Thirteen Artifacts

It’s incredibly clever, but I can imagine it’s also incredibly difficult for each of the teams in these books. Marz told us at Comic Booked that the key to this playing out successfully is team work. When asked if the writers of the other books (The DarknessWitchblade) touch base with him, since the stories are so connected, Marz had this to say:

Sure, we’re in touch when we need to be, and when the books are threading together like this, we’re definitely reading each other’s scripts. It’s pretty easy, because David Hine and Tim Seeley are pros. We had a good session at the New York Comic Con last year where we laid out all these plans.

This interaction between the creative teams and the books themselves makes Artifacts really stand out on the comic store shelves every month. This is way more detailed than just some cross-over event like those their rival publishers are currently putting out. Instead, what Artifacts gives you is a comprehensive reading experience that allows you to sample other Top Cow books in just one series. I personally read Artifacts and The Darkness, but often pass up buying Witchblade each month. However, by reading Artifacts, I don’t actually feel like I’m missing out on what’s going on in The Witchblade series as Artifacts is the book that actually contains the over-reaching story arc. It’s insanely clever and opens up doors for new readers, as well as seasoned Top Cow veterans, like myself.

tom judge darkness artifacts

Marz also sees this as a real highlight for the series. He states that working in this way has given him the opportunity, as a writer, to work with some real talent. The initial issues tapped into the talent of several artists, while Marz has more frequently worked with stunningly-talented artist Stjepan Sejic more frequently.

For me, the highlight has been the artists I’ve been able to work with on the series. The initial thirteen-issue storyline gave me the chance to work with Michael Broussard, Whilce Portacio, Jeremy Haun and Dale Keown, so that’s obviously an all-star group right there. And then my buddy Stjepan Sejic, whom I adore working with, took over the monthly series. So it’s been an embarrassment of riches for me. I really believe your story is only as good as your artist.

The art of Artifacts is outstanding. Hopefully, we will one day see a book going by that title where readers can sample some of the stunning images this series contains. If Marz’s idea that “your story is only as good as your artist” is true, then Artifacts is one of the best stories of late. In each monthly review I write for the series, I spend at least a paragraph or two gushing about the art as it’s just so gorgeous. Top Cow pride themselves on the art of their books. I mean, Marc Silvestri’s early work on The Darkness and Cyber Force is beautiful and visceral at the same time. It’s so great to see a book draw on a publisher’s strengths like this. If you like a book that’s great to look at, as well as read, then you really should be reading Artifacts.

Tom Judge ArtifactsReboots and remakes are exceedingly common in the entertainment industry today, whether it’s in movies, games or comics. We have DC’s New 52 and Marvel Now! filling up the comic store shelves with all kinds of popular titles being reworked and given all new first issues. Top Cow however, came up with a clever way of dodging around the pitfalls of a reboot. Instead, they created a rebirth – with almost the entire Top Cow universe changing and only a handful of characters aware of what has happened.

Since issue #13, Jackie Estacado has reshaped the universe in order to save his childhood sweetheart, Jenny, and keep his daughter safe. However, this has dramatically altered each character’s destiny and no-one is what they should be. No-one, apart from Tom Judge – an ex-priest and bearer of The Rapture. From issue #14, the reader follows Judge on his quest to fix what is wrong with the universe, reuniting each wielder with their true artifact and correcting Estacado’s mistakes.

This choice to reshape their universe rather than reboot it puts Top Cow a step ahead of the rest of their contemporaries and Marz seems to agree:

Doing a reboot allows you to tidy up loose threads and continuity glitches. It’s like a detox in some ways. I think the Top Cow rebirth differs a little from what Marvel and DC are doing because we’re not putting the lie to anything that’s come before, we’re not ignoring anything that happened previously. Ours is more of an evolution, where the New 52 is a restart and Marvel Now is a soft restart.

Something else that makes the Artifacts series special is the Top Cow Talent Hunt. Last year, Top Cow announced that it was opening up for submissions from writers and artists who wanted to write for them. The twist was that entrants could only send submissions based around a handful of the Artifacts‘ characters. These included the likes of Tom Judge, Glori Silver, Michael Finnegan and a few more. From the entrants, Top Cow CEO Matt Hawkins will select two writers and two artists to work on their own mini-series or stand-alone issue for Artifacts. It’s the chance of a lifetime and something you don’t see many major publishers going for. When asked what the Talent Hunt would mean for the series, Marz replied:

Obviously I can’t be entirely sure until we pick the winners. But there are certain Artifacts I’ve stayed away from in the storyline, so we could leave them open for interpretation in the contest. Once Matt Hawkins selects the winning stories, we’ll have everything back on the table. It’s always exciting to see what other people come up with, and how it can be dove-tailed into what you’re doing.

All in all, Artifacts is one of the best ongoing titles available today. Its scale and magnitude are second-to-none and the attention to detail is impeccable. It’s a fantastic series and clearly one that Ron Marz is proud to be a part of. If I haven’t managed to convince you that this book is outstanding from previous reviews, you’ve got it straight from the writer himself. Artifacts is a real gem and if you aren’t reading it already, you better start catching up now.

Artifacts #26 is available 2/20/13 and Artifacts vol. 5 is available 2/27/13.