Sword of Sorcery #0
This time last year there was a lot of furor floating online in regards to the treatment of women within the first few issues of the New 52; these stories were, to not mince words, sexist but they were also books that stood out from the majority. Still, for many readers there was an underlying suggestion in these issues that DC were satisfied being sexist because well… women don’t read comics. Women don’t read comics because women aren’t geeks; they don’t game, they don’t obsess, they don’t fantasize, maybe they don’t read at all, maybe they can’t?
To these critics the only space for a woman in DC comics was thirty-odd inches wide and at chest height; they were objects of perversion and not perspective characters; A statement as accurate as it is overstated. So to see a series like Sword of Sorcery start now must have come as something of a shock for these crusaders, a complete turn around from the major comic company: set as it is in the geekiest genre of the medium, starring as it is a fully formed – and not just fully developed – female protagonist and scripted by a female writer. On paper it’s what the feminists always wanted, but what about on page?
The first page suggests so. It shows a girl in her late teens walking into a new school to sneers, highlighting her struggle to fit in with the fit crowd and this tale is all told with a slightly unique attention to detail: the clothes the characters wear are complicated, no plain colored blouses here, it’s all bedazzled. This, theoretically is what a young female reader would be interested in ( Is this assumption equally sexist? Sure, but stereotypes are useful in storytelling, but only when they’re accurate) in the same way that the pseudo-science and similar school pressures of Spiderman are what would appeal to a young boy. Comics these days lack a lot of that childishness but Sword, like Daredevil, seemed to be bringing a lot of that back.
Where it goes from there though kind of cuts that thought short, after a brief battle of words with her mother (another relatable experience) the hero of the book Amy (short for Amethyst) goes on to break up an attempted gang rape of her only new friend; a girl conveniently also named after a geology term, which suggests that maybe we will see more of her. Including a rape scene like this certainly makes the book more mature but although it may seem as if it would also make it somewhat misogynistic (girlfriend in the freezer material) this is actually typical proto-feminist stuff. Rape is a trope terror for empowered women to face but it is a real and really frightening one at that and overcoming it an obvious win; so why change what works? A statement that applies well to a lot of Sorcery‘s story.
Though since this act is essentially all that we see men do during the book you could easily argue that as well as compromising its positive gender agenda this act actually tips the comic into the realm of reverse sexism, of denigrating men, but I think that it balances the scales later on by casting a woman in the role of the villain. All the major characters in the comic are female – the first male character not showing up until the very end, his identity a great little surprise that is cleverly hinted at much earlier on – so for me this wasn’t an issue at all. The full on feminisation of traditional stories is also becoming something of a staple these days (See: Brave, the two new Snow White films) but again I say: it works, so why change it?
The art by Aaron Lopresti though, which was working wonderfully in this opening section with its muted tones, strong shadow work and aforementioned attention to detail does change, but for a very good reason. As the title of the book suggests, Sword of Sorcery is very much a fantasy story and so before long we, along with Amy, are whisked away to a magical world. When the book leaves the world of men behind for the more fantastical features of Gemworld, or Nilaa as it is now known, the colour scheme and art style shift as drastically as the character designs do.
Now characters are defined by different shades of brightness instead of blacks, the colors strikingly strong (purple in particular, following on from Hollingsworth’s work on Hawkeye), the panels larger and the pages much livelier while still seeming very much as if sketched from the same hand. Establishing such a visual binary with some subtlety is surely difficult, so props to Lopresti and colorist Hi-Fi on achieving this with such grace and fidelity.
When black-haired Amy enters Gemworld she is transformed into her alter-ego Princess Amethyst, who is blonde and traditionally beautiful; this for me is not just a potentially iffy idea thematically (What’s the message given) and visually (There are too many blonde women in the comic for comprehension) but also one that represents the change in the comic as a whole. It loses some of its edge and originality, dropping the verisimilitude driven vignettes in favour of what looks to be a big, traditionally epic fantasy arc. Unfortunately though the sections of story in Gemworld are a little too airy and far too fairy for me to truly buy into; the evil queen, the chosen one, the coming to terms with secret history, these are all tropes that perhaps do need to be changed, if only to keep me interested.
So while the end of the issue admittedly interested me less then its beginning I still found it to be very satisfactory, both on the meta-level of sexual dynamics and the much more important one of story. I’m guessing that all of my issues with the later will be addressed and attempts made to subvert the stereotypes but then maybe they don’t necessarily need to be. What I want is secondary here because this isn’t and shouldn’t be a book designed for me, what it should be is a fantasy story that can suck young readers (male and mostly female) in and hook them there. So far it seems up to the job and so I sincerely hope that the book sells well because good or bad it should exist in some form and it just so happens that in this case it is good.