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Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Artifacts Volume #5

Dr Rachael Harrison discovered the mutilated remains of a Bulgarian gangster and met Tom Judge a former priest now working with the F.B.I . Happy to return to her work in a Manhattan hospital, Rachael may have left the body behind but her perception of the world has been altered and it has something to do with a family heirloom.

Meanwhile Tom Judge and Tilly Grimes find themselves having to deal with a ritual murder at the Lincoln Memorial and Daniel Baptiste realises her new lover Finch being host to The Angelus is somewhat problematic.

Following Jackie Estacado remaking the universe at the conclusion of the original Artifacts story arc, things are different but the same. A distorted reflection of what used to be.

This is fertile ground for some great story work and Marz doesn’t disappoint.

One of the best things about Artifacts is it doesn’t fit into any specific genre hole and whilst this could come off a little scattered if handled the wrong way, the story here flows together as the interconnected lives of the numerous different characters are revealed.

The first story in this collection Phantoms of the Heart focuses on Rachael Harrison and her job as a doctor in a Manhattan hospital before events lead her to move to Massachusetts.

Rachel makes a new friend.
Rachel makes a new friend.

This story following the action of the previous volume, dials things down as we see Rachael go about her life. There’s plenty of detail too which lays the foundations for a believable character who is just a regular person who is on the fringe of some very irregular things . She reassures a child patient, has to deal with her possessive ex-husband who is working in the same Manhattan hospital when Tom Judge comes to see her. Her mother features and she flirts with a cop in her new job in Massachusetts, all these elements ground the character in a world that is recognisable.

 Once this regular world has been introduced, strange things keep happening. The subtlety of Phantoms of the Heart might frustrate those who prefer more action and less character development but the former rings hollow without anytime spent on the latter and the creepy atmosphere which builds throughout is nicely done.

 Blood Rites has Tom Judge and Tilly Grimes dealing with a disturbing murder, encountering a demon and performing an exorcism.

There could have been a risk of punky numeromancer Grimes seeming like a spare part here, since a lot of this story settles on Tom Judge, a flashback to a confessional from his priest days sets a memorable tone, however having the two split up works well and also reinforces the fact Judge isn’t really a people person.

There’s an ingenuity to having Judge using The Rapture get into a knock down drag out fight with the demon using an innocent man as a disguise, literally, only for the fight to get called off as the police show up to arrest the possessed man with his demonic hitchhiker now back in hiding .

This leads to one of the best and most memorable sequences in a comic for some time as Tom Judge performs an exorcism in the police station, not that the police actually believe that demons are real. This takes place over several pages which crackle with atmosphere, focussing on Judge’s incantations and the observations of the police outside the observation room.

Tom Judge takes on a daemon. .
Tom Judge takes on a daemon. .

Grimes being rather annoyed at being ditched by her partner whilst she was deciphering the runes left at the crime scene further cements the pairs relationship. Grimes doesn’t like the bitter truth of the possessed man being imprisoned/sanctioned for the demon’s murderous ways despite being innocent, it’s a reminder that the police and the justice system aren’t geared to handle the reality of how the world really is, as Judge bluntly points out how guilty the man looks in the eyes of the law and also that there are more pressing concerns.

Fallen from Heaven centres on the relationship between Danielle Baptiste and Finch the new host of The Angelus.

The opening images of the citadel of The Angelus being under siege from the gargantuan tentacles of some unknown creature whilst being narrated by the two oblivious lovers as they lay in bed establishes the vastly contrasting elements of their relationship, on the one hand it’s down to earth as Finch points out ‘I’m really more of a beer girl’ but Finch is also the host to an ancient power.

These two opposing elements come together with a crash as a wounded soldier from The Angelus host appears in Dani’s appartment to tell of the decimation of the citadel.

What’s immediately apparent is Marz treats Dani and Finch’s burgeoning relationship just like any other and it’s refreshing to see that same sex relationships can be handled without any sensationalism.

That Dani pulls a gun out and threatens to blow the soldiers head off ,’I know The Angelus is part of your life, but I’m not used to having…… that ……show up in my bedroom’, is a reminder that she’s not some damsel in distress.

Dani’s deja vu upon visiting the citadel is another nod to the universe not being quite the same as originally Dani was the host of The Angelus.

That a story can shift from a quiet bedroom scene of two lovers in bed, to a battle with a huge Lovecraftian creature and not only work, but also add more depth to their relationship shows how good a storyteller Mars is.

These stories would work well individually that they blend together well is another reason that Artifacts is such a unique and impressive title.

The team of Ron Marz and artist extraordinaire Stjepan Sejic are pretty much responsible for completely changing the way Top Cow’s characters are seen. This started with Witchblade, which under Marz’s influence went from cult t&a styled title to something critically acclaimed, this rejuvenation has continued with his Artifacts title taking in the numerous assorted characters of Top Cow’s universe which didn’t fit in Witchbalde or The Darkness and re-working them to fit this vision.

This vision has been impressively rendered by Stjepan Sejic, whose digital art is both eye popping and versatile. The mundane, Rachael speaking to her mother, the fantastical, Finch taking on the huge creature, the dramatic, Tom Judge’s exorcism, the endearing, Finch and Dani talking in bed and the disturbing, the demon emerging from it’s hosts body are handled impressively and with an epic sense of scale in some cases.




Andy Haigh
Andy Haigh
Andy Haigh started writing to counteract the brain atrophying effects of Retail Hell, now it's an addiction. Andy is an unrepentant sequential art absorbist and comics are one of his passions. Other interests include Film, Music, Science Fiction and Horror novels and quality TV like Game of Thrones. He can talk about these at great length if only someone would listen. He lives a somewhat hermit like life in The Shire, spends too much time on social media and is still waiting to go on an adventure.

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