Friday, 21 September 2012

RANT: Sword of Sorcery #0

September 19, 2012 represented a monumental day in comics.  Well, for me, anyway.  It was the day Amethyst Princess of Gemworld (created by Gary Cohn, Dan Mishkin & Ernie Colon) finally returned to the DC universe in a noteable form - as in, not being featured just to be killed or becoming a villain.  Being that this is of great importance (to me), I felt compelled to write about my thoughts of the 19-page Sword of Sorcery #0 featuring Amethyst - written by Christy Marx, art by Aaron Lopresti (cover art by Josh Middleton).

(I haven't even read the Beowulf story yet so I won't be touching on that)

This post was originally going to be a review or a comparitive analysis between old & new;  I decided to just give my opinion as I am far too connected to the original series.  I'm one of the girls the series "worked" on - it introduced me to & got me reading comics.  Amethyst has been my all-time favorite character since I first glimpsed the amazing covers by George Perez & interior art by Ernie Colon - there is just no chance that I could read any sort of reimagining without much bias.

For clarity, the Amethyst characters will be distinguished as such:
Amy Winston 1st, Amethyst 1st = the original 1983 series
Amy Winston 2nd, Amethyst 2nd = the 2012 reboot

Hopefully that's not confusing...

Obviously the first thing I couldn't help but do was compare everything.  In the original series, the Winston household was portrayed as quite stable: 13-year-old Amy 1st was blissfully enjoying her birthday;  her parents were both loving, educated professionals; they lived in a generously-sized 2-story house in a well-kept neighbourhood;  they had a loyal & intelligent dog named Taffy.  Idyllic.

The reimagining seems to have taken a different turn as Amy 2nd is presented as a just-about-17-year-old outcast with a deceased father & a very unstable home - she lives with her mother in a trailer, constantly moving to new locations.  A rather bleak and ominous set-up...

The story's intro rather threw me in its execution; Amy 2nd is shown having blue & magenta/purple dyed hair, wearing a leather coat & dressing in dark clothes including big honkin' boots walking down a school hallways filled with other students.  Every other teen looks pretty 'typical':

Here's what threw me:  Amy 2nd looks exactly like many of the teenagers I have seen over the past 15 years.  I thought she looks downright normal - I honestly was questioning why none of her other schoolmates had even the slightest 'dark' tone.  If 2-or-3 toned hair is a trait that people view as 'freakish', then the 'freaks' must be a majority.  I do get the point that it was probably more of an artistic device to cement just how much Amy 2nd does not fit in, but it came across as overly-unrealistic.  Yes, I'm also aware I'm talking about a comic book & expecting realism.  Moving on.

Touching on the family relationship scenario, there are big changes.  Amy 1st's parents were killed on Gemworld and she was whisked away to earth to be raised by the Winstons.  As I've mentioned, Amy 2nd's father is dead.  Her mother is alive -she and Amy 2nd are continually on the run.  I felt that this will really change some dynamics of the series from "Little girl lost on another world, alone & must trust her 13-yr-old instincts" to "17-yr-old almost-a-woman pulled to another world alongside her mother & is told who to trust". Now, who knows how long Amy 2nd's mother will be around to influence, teach her about the home world Amy 2nd has only just discovered...

More on the character development: Setting up Amy 2nd to be a natural-born hero was a near-rape scene.

In it, a popular handsome jock asks slightly-nerdy "Beryl" to meet him behind some bleachers later that night.  Overhearing, Amy 2nd senses no good & sure enough: the jock shows up with two friends who all plan on having their way with the girl.  Amy 2nd steps out of the shadows, kicks some ass & proves to the readership she has both instinct & fighting prowess.  Here are my 2 problems with this scene:

1)  Beryl's reaction.  She runs in absolute terror from Amy 2nd, who just saved her ass - literally.  It seemed to be an out-of-place reaction.  The story tried to make sense of it when Amy 2nd told her mother, Gracie, of the occurance & Gracie tells Amy 2nd that Beryl was "in shock".  Maybe it's my own personal experience, maybe it's the over-saturization of rape victims in today's media & entertainment, but I really thought she'd be more thankful at being saved than fearful she would get her butt beaten.  Or something.  In the end, I took it to be just another tool in establishing to the reader how much of an outcast Amy 2nd really is.

2) There was also a near-rape scene in the 1st issue of the original series whereas Amy 1st (an adult on Gemworld due to different time-flow) was the victim instead of the saviour.  Creators Gary Cohn & Dan Mishkin have both admitted that the scene was a huge mistake and, in retrospect, would not have included it.  It did set up Amethyst's power capabilities & allows for the character of Granch to be a wicked-cool hero, but this could have been done in another way.  Now I'm probably reading too much into things but in using a similar scene, is it DC's way of correcting a past misstep by making her the hero instead of a victim...?  Was it a conscious maneouver or an easy way out to develop character?

In regards to the whole changing Amy's age from 13 to 17: was it really necessary?  Bear in mind I have absolutely NO idea as to what DC has planned in the future storylines.  All I know is that there are many younger characters who have massive popularity;  Sailormoon was 14 years old & dating a COLLEGE guy fer cryin' out loud, yet that didn't hurt her manga, TV series or movies any.  At the same time, I'm not entirely sure who this new Amethyst is being marketed to yet.  Maybe this will lead to a more romantic plot than we had in the original.  Maybe the fan boys wanted something to drool over.  Who knows?  Hopefully DC does.

Let's discuss Gemworld itself.  In the original series, the reader discovered it as Amy 1st did (with the exception of the title splash page, which seemed to be more like a second cover than a part of the story).  The reimagining introduces the main villain & Gemworld (now called Nilaa - I won't comment on that) on the 6th page, yet Amy 2nd doesn't travel to the world until around page 15.  Myself, I enjoyed the original introduction - it added to the sense of absolute chaos & urgency Amy 1st was facing.  It's a minor quibble & totally based on personal preference.  In reality, the reimagining's intro to Gemworld was merely setting up the true evil of the main villain - Amy 2nd's murderous aunt Mordiel, sister to Gracie.

(The above scan is a little darker than the original comic book)

Gemworld is presented in lush color with colorful exotic birds, thatched fantasy homes that hobbits would call palaces, and crystal spires everywhere - even enveloping/composing the buildings.  It's absolutely breathtaking -  artist Aaron Lopresti should be quite proud.  *sigh* But I know what you're thinking: "What's your complaint about THIS then?"  Right here: no faces.  Ernie Colon's Gemworld featured many glittering gems scattered about the landscape, but also faces EVERYwhere - the walls, the castles, the trees - and some of the faces would react, particularly in Dark Opal's realm.  This was a wonderful little mystic quirk that really livened up the series & I've always found them to be quite charming & endearing.  Yes, even Dark Opal's broach.  I miss them already.

Speaking of Dark Opal...bring him back.  Amethyst will need another villain after her "murderous aunt who wants all the power of the House of Amethyst" is disposed of.   BRING. HIM. BACK.

One thing I have to mention is also something that aggravated me & it probably really shouldn't have.  It was this panel right here:

Amethyst 2nd's reaction irked me beyond compare.  At that moment, she's not bewildered that she's on an alien world & wearing wild armor.  She not shell-shocked that she just discovered she apparently has "power".  Never-you-mind there is a legion of warriors bowing to the two women.  No, she's sarcastically upset that her hair dye won't cover her natural blond hair on Gemworld.  Priorities, girl!  Oy.  Once AGAIN I took it as establishing her character for the reader.  It is a cute line, but I REALLY feel they should have saved it for a later issue/calmer moment.

(EDIT: Yes, she did acknowledge all of those things I mentioned above - I just figured THOSE would by far be more staggering than suddenly-golden locks.)

I better wrap this up as this is lengthy enough to submit as a thesis...

The last thing I will mention are the Houses of Gemworld presented in the Who's Who feature at the back of the issue:  Amethyst, Diamond, Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald.  All are major gems except for Amethyst - why is this gem included...?  Other houses mentioned: Citrine, Onyx & Turquoise (can a certain fiery red-headed warrior lady be far behind?  She better be...) .  That's right: no mention yet of Topaz, Aquamarine, Moonstone, Sardonyx, Garnet or Opal.  I may be going out on a limb here but Amethyst & Citrine are both varieties of quartz.  Could this be a clue to a future plot...?

Who knows?

What I do know:

I am looking forward to Sword of Sorcery #1.  I am hoping beyond hope to see Lady Turquoise & Lord Garnet...but I won't hold my breath.  I held it for 25 years waiting for this title & one can't expect perfection according to personal tastes.  It would have been beyond wonderful if DC had gotten some input from Cohn & Mishkin, though...  Their original maxi-series is an absolute masterpiece.

PS: Be sure to check out Tangognat's fantastic post "On Attempted Rape Scenes in First Issues of Amethyst" here:

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