The next new series I’ll be introducing are a departure from my usual fare. It’s time for more competent portrayal of the fairer sex with this and the new series I’ll be looking at after. First up, SWORD OF SORCERY #0, featuring Amethyst. Also a side story featuring a retelling of the Beowolf legend, but with a twist.
The character called Amethyst first appeared in 1983 in the pages of the Legion of Super Heroes of all places. In it, Amy Winston as a thirteen year old girl found out that she’s a princess of Gemworld, a generic magical realm ruled over by various houses that serve either the forces of order or chaos. Luckily there’s no literal godly versions of them like in Rob Liefeld’s interpretation of Hawk and Dove.
Yes, I’m still bitter. I don’t know why I should be considering I don’t care for Hawk and Dove. Why am I even talking about this here? This is Amethyst’s time to shine.
Anyway, the deal is much the same here in SWORD OF SORCERY #0, where we have an older Amy Winston adjusting to life in a new town because she and here eccentric mother travel a lot. On her seventeenth birthday, Amy’s mother promises to take them both back to their “true home”. As you can guess, their true home is the world of Nilaa. But I can’t be bothered to remember that, so henceforth I’ll just call it Gemworld. Why did Amy’s mother keep them on Earth instead of their true home where they have magic powers and golden blonde hair and the wealth being a royal affords?
Because the mother’s sister Mordiel happens to be a tyrant aiming to murder as many of her extended family, so as to amass the full power of House Amethyst. We even see her vaporize a random girl because she was distantly related to House Amethyst, and snort the resulting magical dust like cocaine. If you had doubts about the villain being the villain, snorting dead people that she killed herself erases all such doubts.
There’s also this minor subplot about Amy stopping a bunch of jocks from gang raping a fellow student, but it’s only important in that it 1) proves Amy is already a competent fighter, even unarmed, 2) illustrates that Amy just cannot be allowed to have friends, and 3) to get her and her mother moving to Gemworld proper. Except they were going to do that anyway, so whatever.
Is this a good origin story for a character? Damn right it is. In this one issue we learn all we need about Amy’s history, what kind of person she is, where she and her mother vaguely come from, how she knows how to fight despite being an otherwise regular high school girl, and what’s at stake if they return to Gemworld. From an artistic standpoint, everything is well constructed and makes good use of color, especially when it comes to the violet color scheme of House Amethyst. If I had a complaint about the art, it’s that when the various major female characters are in Gemworld, they all have the same blonde hair and roughly matching uniforms. Which means it’ll be hard to tell who is who at a glance.
It’s a minor point, because this start was great. Although since the series is starting with a zero issue, how much you want to bet people picking up issue one will be confused as to what’s going on or who anyone is? Especially if they find the series in various bookstores later on down the line, when it’s not obvious there was a zero issue. As a fan of picking through discount comics at a Half Price Books, I have to think of this stuff.
Oh before I forget, this issue also has a brief cameo by John Constantine. Is he going to be important, or was it just a bit part? Not sure.
The backup story, as I mentioned, is a retelling of Beowolf. But it’s a retelling with a twist: while it has many of the trappings of a Nordic setting, there’s visible evidence of modern technology, if abandoned and rusting. The titular Beowolf himself is found – by who I can only assume to be neo-vikings – in a ruined army base with functioning laser security sensors and cryogenic pod. Beowolf himself looks to be an engineered super-soldier who has lately adopted medieval weaponry. Even the neo-vikings back at their mead hall seem to wear modern style undergarments beneath their savage finery. It’s simultaneously odd but intriguing.
When Beowolf gets awakened from his slumber and presumably carries out his old duties of guarding his base from intruders, the only survivor – a young, bright lad – tells him his king desires Beowolf’s aid. Just as in the old story, the monstrous Grendel has been terrorizing the king’s mead hall and eating people. The rest as they say is history, as Beowolf agrees to come and solve the problem.
While the Amethyst main story was by no means a girly affair, I get the feeling the Beowolf backup tale was put in to placate potential male readers. Personally this was just icing on the cake, because I enjoyed the Amethyst story. Maybe it has something to do with the older sensibility of the tone, or simply because they got a female writer on it, but Amethyst’s story gave a refreshingly mature depiction of a female main character. Especially given that this is comic books, and the medium is hardly known for accurate or respectable depictions of female characters. I admit aside from Captain Marvel, I don’t commonly read comics with female protagonists, so my frame of reference is skewed. But if the art from any of those other books is any indication, I’m not missing a lot.
So do I recommend SWORD OF SORCERY? Yes, it’s a great start and a welcome change from the faux “empowered women” mentality that’s the most common way of portraying female characters. I’d like my female characters to seem like people first. Being strong or independent will follow naturally if they’re written well.
Now I have to lament that while trying to cut down on my comic intake, I’ve somehow let another comic join the pull list. Perhaps not coincidentally, it also stars a female protagonist that hits things.
And the parade of femininity continues next time with my first impressions of WOMANTHOLOGY: SPACE #1.