She learned the truth at 17, that she was born to be a queen.
OK, sorry, I couldn’t resist riffing on the old Janis Ian song after reading the lead strip in this new DC title. A reinterpretation of an Eighties cult favourite, Amethyst tells of how school outsider Amy Winston receives a very special gift on her birthday – the knowledge that she’s a lost princess from a fantasy kingdom. It’s the dream of many young girls, but for Amy the dream turns into a nightmare. For one thing, arriving on Nilar the Gemworld, she and mom Gracie are attacked by warriors. For another, she’s suddenly blonde.
Her redhead mother’s now a blonde too. And though Amy doesn’t know it yet, so is her wicked aunt Mordiel. And they all wear purple. Colour coordination is obviously big on Gemworld.
But so is intrigue, and magic, and warfare … all the things you could wish for in a book entitled Sword of Sorcery. Amy’s pretty handy with a sword herself.
We first meet Amy at school, the unpopular new kid, with her black, blue and purple hair, and big clunky jewellery. She makes the acquaintance of Beryl, another friendless sort – odd name, specs, awkward. So far so Heathers, Mean Girls, Square Pegs … Refreshingly, though, Amy’s not mooning over unattainable boys – she’s too busy having a terrible time. Moved from pillar to post by Gracie, she’s trained in combat skills daily by her mom, whom she – understandably – considers a ‘freak’. The story she’s told Amy is that on her 17th birthday, at a precise moment, she’ll take her to their true home, where her father is buried.
And that’s today.
Before that, though, Amy checks up on Beryl, who’s been promised a date behind the bleachers with a school jock. Naive Beryl expects the best, but streetwise Amy suspects the worst. It’s the worst; the guy turns up with two pals, intending to get ‘a taste of Berry’, not expecting the wildcat that is Amy. Suddenly, all that training pays off.
In Nilar, meanwhile – whatever that means in this context – Lady Mordiel is stealing the life essence of young girls who share her bloodline, several-generations-removed non-royal bastards.
Back on Earth, Amy is stunned when her mother opens a glowing portal with a mystic crystal, having likely anticipated a trip to Wales or Slovenia or somewhere equally Earthbound. They cross into a wonderland where both worshippers and would-be assassins await. Along with the aforementioned blonde and purple stylings.
Battle commences and while Gracie leaps forward to defend her daughter, Amy refuses to take advantage and flee. This first chapter ends with Amy – Sunday name Princess Amaya of House Amethyst, so the Who’s Who text page tells us – leaping into the fray, in the first step towards claiming her birthright as warrior and royal.
Well, that was a nice surprise. Having read an interview with writer Christy Marx I wasn’t expecting to like this: it sounded to be straying too far from the original concept of Amethyst – a 13-year-old suddenly flung into a magical world and her own adult body. Marx promised tweaks to backstory and relationships and it all sounded not for me. But it’s good to give books a chance and within a couple of pages, the strip had me. Yes, Amy’s older on Earth, and the only physical change seems to be her hair. But the essence of the strip, a young woman having to deal with big challenges and responsibilities, remains. This story, entitled The Catalyst, isn’t something I’d give to my young nieces, what with the threat of rape, and the murder of kids, but there’s a nice Showcase edition of the original stories out next month – a great all-ages read and perfect for colouring-in. Hopefully this … I was going to say update, but the original is a timeless classic … this reimagining will appeal to a different market, slightly older girls and big boys of all ages.
It’s certainly nicely written. Marx quickly sets out the characters of her heroines – Amy, who wants to fit in with other kids while Crayola-ing her hair, dressing drably and avoiding the shallows; Gracie, intense, worried, fiercely protective. And both have the inner strength to take on imperial witch Mordiel, who’s been gathering power as she awaited her relatives’ return from exile.
The narrative is divided between the magical and the mundane, but the former never overwhelms the latter in terms of drama; the concerns of Amy may seem like small potatoes compared to those of her mother, but we all know how intensely teenagers feel things.
Former Ms Marvel and Wonder Woman artist Aaron Lopresti sticks with the ladies by committing to Amethyst, giving Amy and Gracie distinctive, characterful looks. Sadly, this goes out the window on Gemworld, as the Winston women suddenly look like the Olsen twins at a Renaissance Fair (click on images to enlarge). When they come across Mordiel, don’t be surprised if they break into a chorus of Triplets. Obviously, it’s a story point, but the sooner the three get into distinctive outfits and better differentiate their hair, the better.
That’s the nearest thing I have to a quibble with the art, as Lopresti is a solid stylist. I’ve never seen him draw teenagers, but the schoolkids convince me, and I’ve seen Glee. The builds, expressions, postures, they all make for believable kids. As for Gracie – or more properly, Lady Graciel – she’s a harried mom, a tigress determined to give her whelp the skills to survive. And Gemworld looks stunning, fantastical without being twee.
The colouring by Hi-Fi is exemplary, with superb facial modelling – essential when an artist isn’t working with an inker – and well-considered and applied colour palettes. The lettering, meanwhile, is handled by Rob Leigh and it looks good.
So yes, this isn’t your parents’/my Amethyst. But it is a version that deserves to connect with a new generation, and be given a chance by my own.
The second strip, Beowulf, is another update on an old DC property. Well, ‘property’ may be the wrong term, as the story of the warrior Beowulf dates to Anglo-Saxon times, making it public domain. But DC published a few stories about him in the Seventies, and he popped up in Wonder Woman – drawn by Lopresti, coincidentally – a few years back.
This new version is set in an unspecified future, but seems to be using the source material, with a warrior called by King Hrothgar of the Danelaw to take on the beast Grendel, who preys upon drinkers in the royal mead hall. This instalment sees a young boy, Wiglaf, trick Beowulf into going back with him, but I suspect the terrifying warrior isn’t as dim as he seems. Apparently part of some mad science project, he likely has an agenda of his own.
Tony Bedard’s script isn’t as immediately engaging as Marx’s for Amethyst, retaining the feel of a heavy epic, but points must be given for offering a different flavour. It looks like this isn’t going to be so much sword & sorcery as sword & science, and it may yet grow on me. But darn all those authentic Anglo-Saxon names, I find made-up comic stuff so much simpler.
The art by Jesus Saiz is sublime, managing to be both elegiac and action-packed, with beautiful composition and figurework. Brian Reber’s colouring is sympathetic, letting the strength of Saiz’s illustrations shine through while making them pop. Steve Wands letters with dash, resisting any urge towards unreadable Thor-fonts, instead opting for a mix of regular comics calligraphy and a more rough and ready style for Wiglaf’s journal. It’s good work all round.
With an attractive Josh Middleton cover rounding off the package, this comic, offering something different and of high quality within the bounds of the New 52 marketing campaign, deserves to find an audience.