Review: Sword of Sorcery

By David Rondinelli

Authors: Christy Marx
Artists: Aaron Lopresti
Publisher: DC Comics
Publication Date: 2012-2013

swordofsorcery01After DC’s launch of the New 52 in 2011, they cancelled and added several titles in what were known as the first through fourth waves. Another series of cancellations took place in May 2013, including the ’70s throwback, Sword of Sorcery, vehicle for the revival of ’80s title, Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld.

Younger generations may not know of Amethyst’s place in comics history. A staple character of the ’80s, Amy Winston, everyday teen and all-around girl next door, finds out that she is the long lost princess of an alternate dimension known simply as Gemworld. When she moves from Earth to Gemworld she gets a growth spurt, some short skirts, and magical powers. The character’s main villain was an overlord dressed in Renaissance clothing with a creepy moustache who went by the name Dark Opal.

Civil War seemed to be the underlying theme of the series, as many of the characters in Gemworld regularly fought to take control of the different “houses,” all of which were represented by a certain precious stone.

Amethyst received special treatment with a 12-issue maxi-series, a regular ongoing title, and a few specials and annuals. The character appeared to lose her sparkle as the ’90s rolled around, leaving her in limbo and eventually a footnote in DC’s history. Appearing here and there in some of the crossover events, she made a semi-comeback in The Secret Seven, which was a mini-series that tied into the Flashpoint story event that led to the New 52.

Sword of Sorcery was an even earlier anthology series that was first started by DC in the early ’70s and was mainly a platform for Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, another title that slipped into obscurity. However, it is the perfect title to reintroduce the character to readers. This high fantasy series brings in a lot of nostalgia for the visually stunning films, books, and television series that were so relevant in the ’80s.

So what can readers make of the re-launch?

Well the title has already been cancelled, if that says anything about the public’s taste. However, the series was fortunate enough to make it to the end of its first story arc, allowing for some closure to Amy’s adventures as opposed to an abrupt ending.

What possibly could have gone wrong? Well for starters, what little story there is takes too long to get off the ground. Further, for the most part Amethyst’s mother makes a more compelling character than Amy/Amethyst. But what feels most disappointing is that Amethyst is a bit short on kick-ass action. It feels as if the creators of this book were under the impression that it would last longer, which might explain the large cast of characters and the slow learning pace that Amethyst takes to become a hero.

swordofsorcery02Writer Christy Marx, best known for her work writing such ’80s cartoons as Jem And The Holograms, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and G.I. Joe, and her original warrior-women comic Sisterhood of Steel, seemed like a great choice to take the reins on this series since she was such a big part of the ’80s fantasy boom herself.

The art is likewise redeemable, as artist Aaron Lopresti does a masterful job, with seizure-inducing bright colors that reflect the gem-themed world the characters populate.

The updated version of Amethyst makes a valiant effort at taking a more serious tone than the original incarnation. Amethyst’s human identity, Amy Winston, is aged from 13 to 17, “Gemworld” is replaced with the alien planet of “Nilaa,” and characters aren’t named after gems anymore. Further, Marx has posited the series as more of a coming-of-age story than a magical adventure, and the violence is ratcheted up considerably, which could all be seen as pros.

With a bright smile to match even brighter blond hair, Amethyst was essentially an archetype of the non-threateningly beautiful magical good girl, complete with winged horse (see also: She Ra, Rainbow Brite, My Little Pony). Gemworld, too, was a product of the ’80s, following the trope of characters being represented by simple, “girly” objects like colors (Rainbow Brite), desserts (Cherry Merry Muffin and Strawberry Shortcake), flowers (Rose Petal Place), etc.

However, the title just can’t seem to escape a sense of being stuck in the ’80s, which is perhaps why it was so quickly cancelled. She was born during the fantasy and adventure boom of the late ’70s and mid-’80s, and that is where she apparently belongs.

But if you can get past the slightly dated feel, Amethyst does have some good things going for it one being the strong female lead and another the introduction of Amethyst into the DC Universe (see her cool, if brief, appearance in Justice League Dark).

The series unfortunately features something many comic books suffer from, though—an insufferably slow buildup. Marx takes too many issues to introduce characters and get Amethyst into battle. Her warrior mother makes a much more immediate impression.

The latter issues of Sword of Sorcery really take a turn for the better with the introduction of villain Eclipso as a fugitive of Gemworld who was exiled to Earth. The occult anti-hero John Constantine tricks Amethyst into taking Eclipso back to Gemworld, culminating in an intense final fight well worth reading.

beowulfIt is clear that Amethyst is the character DC was looking to revive with Sword of Sorcery, as the other features in the title are utterly forgettable. I don’t even know what the new feature in the latter issues is, but toward the beginning of the run readers were introduced to an updated version of Beowulf. The best thing about this story was the very awesome “wolf” look of the title character. He could be DC’s answer to Wolverine if they could find a way to bring him into the modern fray.

If you’re a fan of Amethyst and want to read more, you can pick up her 600+ page Showcase Presents omnibus edition collecting most of her ’80s adventures. Readers interested in the updated version can still buy the individual digital issues from Comixology or pick up the collected edition, Sword and Sorcery Volume 1: Amethyst, slated to come out in September.

swordofsorcery03If you watch the DC Nation block of television programming on Cartoon Network, you can also catch an anime-inspired form of the character in what feels like a “too little too late” series of magical girl shorts where she takes to short sessions of butt-kicking in a video game-like world.

Still, considering that both the title of the comic and the main weapon used by characters and worlds therein is “sorcery,” the series seems to be lacking the magic that could cast a permanent spell on readers.

Recommended: Minimally, unless you are a die-hard fan of shiny things or the ’80s, for which it is then a diamond in the rough.

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