Today, Taylor and Patrick are discussing Sword of Sorcery 3, originally released December 19th, 2012.
Taylor: It’s the end of the year and even though Christmas has yet to happen, we are beginning to see the obligatory end of the year lists that have become a staple of most review sites. On the one hand, I find these lists to be particularly useful and interesting when I’m trying to scout out all of the media I shouldn’t have missed in the past year. On the other hand, these lists can be quite arbitrary when you consider that measuring cultural themes by a mostly pointless time span is not a valid means of assessing something’s cultural capital. Whatever your feelings are on these lists it can’t be denied that they cause us to pause and reconsider a period of time in our lives that is quickly coming to an end. It also causes us to consider where we are going in the future and all that we hope will happen. These themes of change, beginnings and endings pervade the fourth issue of Sword of Sorcery and have us wondering, just what will become of this series in the new year.
Having gained the ability to yield the magic of her house, Amaya is hard at work trying to master the new powers that her bloodline has given her at the open of this issue. However, using magic is harder than Amaya has anticipated so her mother employs the burly Elzere to help with her training. He doesn’t go easy on Amaya but it is clear that she has great power and is a quick study. Later, Amaya tells her new-found friends about the differences that exist between Earth and Gem World when her mother urgently takes her away. The reason for this sudden exit is that they are to meet Mordiel to try to broker a peace deal. After taking magical flying tigers to Amaya’s neutrally minded uncle, our heroes meet Mordiel but no peace is gained. Instead, war is declared. A little after these events the portal crystal that Amaya’s mother controls begins to glow and Amaya makes the rash decision to see who is controlling it, without waiting for her mother.
We already know that this title does action well. Several of the previous issues have been almost entirely devoted to action of some kind and it’s been thrilling to watch all of that unfold. But this obviously can’t go on forever and in this issue of Sword of Sorcery we see the comic shift its perspective. Instead of focusing on action, we see characters being fleshed out and the world of Amethyst being developed and explained. Amaya’s character development continues to please me to no end. On the one hand, Amaya is still the teenager from high school we first saw at the beginning of this series. We see this on display when she is trying to describe the meaning of the the phrase “sucks” while she is casually hanging out with those of her age in Gem World. But now we are also beginning to see her gain confidence in her new surroundings and with the new powers she has been granted. The playful banter between Amaya and Elzere is a display of Amaya’s comfort, not only with her martial skills, but also her willingness to confront new challenges. This new development in her character surfaces again at the end of the issue when she enters a portal that has been opened by an unknown stranger, making for a nice growth in her character. The Amaya of just a few issues ago would have been too timid to enter that portal and Christy Marx has down a fine job of showing how this act is part of Amaya’s growth into the hero we all know she can become.
Similarly, the world of Amethyst is being fleshed out and grown as well. In this issue we get some interesting dialogue between Graciel and Senshe concerning the origin of Gem World and its inhabitants. It turns out that everyone who lives in there came from Earth thousands of years ago and that on Earth all humans might have known how to use magic at some point. Also, there is some object called the “black diamond” that is sure to come into play later. The deepening of the Sword of Sorcery universe can only make this title all the better and I’m looking forward to the title becoming ever more dramatic when the fate of Earth and Amethyst become intertwined. Further, credit has to be given to artist Aaron Lopresti and Marx for creating a world where the addition of flying tiger-dragons not only is accepted, but fucking sweet as all hell. I want one.
Also, I would be remiss to not mention the developments in the back-up title, Beowulf. I’m still enjoying this title quite a bit and find more and more that I wish it was its own stand alone comic. With that being said, I’m continually pleased with how much intrigue and action is packed into each installment of this title. In this issue, we learn that Beowulf is indeed a super soldier whose creation was meant to counter the rising power of the ever larger amount of superheroes populating Earth.
But what happened to all of the superheroes after the man made apocalypse that sent earth back into the Iron Age? Are Superman and Wonder Woman dead? If not, where are they? And how does Beowulf play into these questions? I’m glad that this title is not content to just let itself sit on the back burner. Instead it is choosing to develop a strong narrative that so far has been a lot of fun to read.
Patrick, how do you view the developments taking place in Amethyst? Do you have any idea what this “black diamond” thing is? Do you think all humans had magic and, if that’s true, doesn’t that make them superheroes? What would Beowulf say to all that?
Patrick: The revelation that the peoples of Amethyst all came from Earth is, indeed, awesome. Sword of Sorcery already did a masterful job of avoiding this, but one my pet peeves is reading a narrative that’s stuck in a world with no reasonable connection to our own. I don’t much care for Superman stories on Krypton, because I have a hard time seeing our own lives (or any variation thereof) reflected in that world. I think — though I’d have to do some serious soul-searching to be sure — this aversion is overridden when the fantasy world is fleshed out in intricate detail. So worlds created by obsessive detailists like J. R. R. Tolkien and George R. R. Martin end up drawing me in, while the slapdash worlds of any non-Earth Green Lantern tend to bore me. Not only is Amethyst shaping up to have a clear identity all it’s own, there’s the promise that the real world is just a simple portal away at all times.
But let’s talk about that Issue-Ending Portal. Are we catching up to the events of the Justice League Dark Annual? At the time we read that issue back in October, I thought it was odd how fucking competent Amaya was with that sword. Hell, at the time, I was more comfortable referring to her as “Amy” than “Amaya.” But since that time, a healthy portion of each issue of Sword of Sorcery has dealt with Amaya’s acquisition of power. Last month, she got her magic; this month, she’s training with some beefy dude with a mace. Speaking of, that character — Elzere — is awesome: he’s like a rude Frankenstein. I love the way Marx writes the relationship between them: it’s harsher than gentle ribbing, but never gets into creepy abusive territory.
As far as what the “black diamond” could be… Lord there are a lot of candidates for this thing. It sorta depends on how deeply into DC’s Big Stories you think this series will delve. My first impulse, given this title’s relationship to the concept of Magic (and the aforementioned crossover with Justice League Dark) is that the Black Diamond has something to do with the Books of Magic, which — as we recently discovered — aren’t so much magical as they are impossibly advanced alien tech. But this could also refer to the biggest McGuffin in the DCnU right now: Pandora’s Box (or the contents thereof). I’d prefer the former, as it means that this little magical corner of the universe can stay isolated a little while longer. On the flip side of that, if any series is going to make a play for a meaty role in the Next Big Crossover, I’d much rather it be this one, than like… 48 other books. (Bonus points to anyone who can guess the 3 books I’d like to actually see at the heart of the Next Big Thing.)
And as for the slightly-less-secret history that this entry in the Beowulf series gives us: that shit’s neat. Anyone that’s been following our coverage of Rotworld knows that we here at Retcon Punch LOVE it when the superheroes die. I have no reason to doubt anything the “Mother” says because it all lines up pretty well with the continuity of the New 52. She mentions Amanda Waller and Basilisk by name, and both that person and that organization are — in the present — engaged in making super soldiers to combat the meta-humans. And that alien invasion she mentioned is the subject of the first story arc in Justice League*. Prior to this ending-revelation, I thought of Beowulf as a fun whatever-story, but maybe it’s a dramatized premonition — forecasting the moment the tides turn against our favorite heroes.
It looks like Beowulf will be taking some time off:
Without doing research, I don’t know who “Stalker” is, but it excites me to think that this character could be stomping around any reality at any time. Ultimately, I have faith in this series’ ability to deliver on the promise of: I will take you to strange and beautiful places. Moreso here than anywhere else in the publishing line, I have NO IDEA what’s coming next, and I can’t wait to read it.
*It’s too bad that Darkseid’s attack on earth ends up being referred back to so frequently because it’s some of the most stale storytelling of the New 52. It’s Geoff Johns at his worst, ignoring his natural ability to build worlds and mythologies. It’s just all ego and action. Remember how many times LOST would show you the plane crash from different perspectives (the passengers’, Ben’s, Desmond’s) and it was awesome EVERY TIME? I think that’s the intended effect. Oops.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?
Do you think we’ll ever get to a point where the magic of Amethyst is explained in some sort of pseudo-scientific way? If indeed this title is going to explore the books of magic – which are machines that were thought to be magic – doesn’t it follow that perhaps magic isn’t so magic after all? I for one hope it doesn’t come to that. I think we all learned how stupid such explanations can be from the whole midi-chlorian bullshit we witnessed in Star Wars. LET MAGIC BE MAGIC!
Right? Sometimes it’s just fucking magic, okay? The weird thing is that as much as you can trace magic or gods back to aliens and super advanced technologies, there are still some references to God. Actual, literal God. I know we stopped covering Phantom Stranger, but he and The Spectre are both great examples of forces that trace their origins back to strictly supernatural sources. No matter what you do, you can’t have God explained with nanobots or whatever. I suspect that even this hyper-advanced alien tech has magic behind it, but I similarly hope that we never delve that deeply into How The Books of Magic Work, because: boring.
Also the explanation of “God” is the ultimate deus ex machina and really undercuts a story. I mean, wouldn’t it be cool if God was made up of a 4 billion nanobots? Further, what if these nanobots somehow discovered that magic was an actual thing?
For me there’s not too much of a different between “Magic” and “God.” For narrative purposes, both happen JUST BECAUSE. So they make sense as elemental forces in a story, but like, I don’t want to see God as the protagonist of any stories (unless he’s that cloud of nanobots you suggested, but then FUCK IT, let’s just watch LOST again).
I know we’ve not been loving on Blue Beetle these days, but it is amazing to me how good Tony Bedard’s work on Beowulf and New Guardians has been. And maybe I’m just not clued into the right circles, but I feel like he is under-represented in the community of writer-specific fandom. Is there some quintessential Bedard I should be reading? Or are we starting to see that now (starting in New Guardians 0 and here)?
Taylor, we used to break down every prophecy that we saw depicted on the page and I was tempted to do that again with the story about how the superheroes fell. But then I backed off when I realized I was coming up with conflicting theories. On the one hand, the mushroom cloud that supposedly took out the heroes evoked Dr. 8’s Hail Mary play during the Apokalpis invasion as it played on Earth-2. But on the other hand, the Green Lantern depicted in the earlier panel is clearly Hal Jordan (not Alan Scott… also that’s Darkseid and not Stepenwolf).
Seriously though, guys, cool it with Amanda Waller.
Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure “Black Diamond” is referring to the current arc in Team 7, which feature the pre-title copy pimping the “Black Diamond Probability.” That title is also one of the hubs of the Amanda Waller vs. Basilisk story, which makes me think the third wave titles were designed to cross over easily into one another (which makes EXACTLY no sense). Sorry to shit on this mystery with Team 7 news.
Also, can I just state my frustration at the fact that DC refers to that title as Team 7, even though the cover calls it either “T7” or “Team Seven”? It’s a simple demonstration of how much nobody gives a shit about that title.
Also, still sort unclear why they’re called Team 7… right?
Doesn’t T7 take place five years ago though? And further, isn’t it sort of implied that all of the shit they’re working on in that series is going to figure into the Trinity War, and thus to the larger DC mythology anyway? Anyone keeping up with those other 3rd Wave titles? I plan on reading Stranger and T7 on the plane tonight, but I’ve been happily not thinking about them for weeks!
I don’t see how T7’s involvement with the Black Diamond five years ago should affect the conversation Glaciel and Senshe were having about it. If anything, the fact that Glaciel couldn’t be bothered to even know about the Black Diamond suggests that T7 is almost certainly involved.
Also, neither of us mentioned that one-page diversion with the nomadic chick asking permission to seek revenge on his husband’s killer (her dead lover!). Amethyst always has this quick cutaways to other stuff going on the world – is that color or foreshadowing?
I felt like Marx was dropping a lot of bread crumbs with that random cutaway and the reference to the black diamond. Unfortunately, this issue felt a little bogged down in information dumps and setting up for future story lines.
The Black Diamond is probably a reference to the DC Villain Eclipso, whose powers comes from a Black Diamond. This is probably the same one mentioned in Team 7.
Eclipso is very complicated and has been retconned a lot and will probably have an entirely new origin/personality in the New 52, but if anyone is interested in finding out a little more about the Black Diamond to look for clues to come, as always, Wiki is the place to go: