Taylor: Corporations have had it hard lately — at least as far as PR goes. With the rise of the Occupy Movement, people became more sensitive and informed when it comes to the doings of some of the mega-businesses that manage our economic future. Never before in history have these companies been scrutinized with such skepticism on their ability to create a fair and profitable world. The CEOs and chairmen who run these cash cows similarly have a problem when it comes to how they are perceived. When most people envision a CEO they picture a greedy W.A.S.P. sitting atop his sky scraper, caring only about the bottom line. Whether warranted or not, powerful businessmen have been demonized by the public at large and in all likelihood will continue to be as long as they exist. But what if those who run these companies were actually actively involved with the very demons we make them out to be? Sword of Sorcery 4 explores this question and since demons are involved you know an appearance by John Constantine is required.
Issue 4 picks up after the events of the Justice League Dark Annual. For those who haven’t read JLD, Amaya was summoned (more like kidnapped) by Constantine using a teleportation Crystal that connects Nilaa with Earth to help battle some evildoers who were trying to capture the books of magic. Naturally, Constantine, Amaya, and company are successful and Amaya is eager to return to her duties back in Nilaa. However, before Amaya returns home, she wants to use the House of Mystery to stop by Chicago for some deep dish pizza. While there, she is kidnapped by an evil “CEO Sorceress” who wants to steal Amaya’s powers. Her plan is to use some demons she controls to take over congress, you know: typical evil mastermind aspirations. However, using her magical abilities, Amaya escapes the sorceress’ evil clutches, bludgeons some demons, and sends the evil woman down to the very demons she thought she controlled. Constantine shows up to close the demon portal before sending Amaya back to Nilaa, reminding Amaya that she still owes him twenty clams.
This was an interesting issue of Sword of Sorcery for a couple different reasons. First, we aren’t in Nilaa for the first time since the first issue of the series. Amaya hasn’t been back to Earth since her life was drastically changed, so her desire to engage in the world she grew up is understandable. This manifests itself in her jonesing for some pizza – which I think most people can understand on some level. Yet while I completely understand the want of pizza, it seems kind of odd for Amaya to shirk her responsibilities back in Nilaa just to satisfy her taste buds. Writer Christy Marx has done a wonderful job of showing Amaya growing into her role as a warrior-princess, so it seems a bit odd to see Amaya indulge herself in such a fashion in this issue. Perhaps this is another reminder that Amaya is just a teenager, but usually when this happens in this title it’s more subtly integrated into the plot. But this in the end is perhaps just nitpicking, after all, I can’t complain when Marx appropriately places my city atop the list of best deep dish pizza cities in the world.
This issue also stands out from the previous by placing Amaya in harm’s way by herself for the first time. Prior to this, Amaya only had to battle the forces of evil in conjunction with her mother or the Justice League Dark. It’s good to see Amaya step up and capably use both her brains and her brawn to help her overcome her foes. Also, it’s great to see her wield a mace.
This once again demonstrates how far Amaya has come since her days as an average high school student. In the second issue of this series, Amaya was terrified at the prospect of killing a man and now she is single handedly slaying demons. Examples like this really are part of what makes Sword of Sorcery such an enjoyable title to read. While action and intrigue is great, the story of Amaya’s coming into her own is what ties this story down. It makes her an interesting character to follow in this story and also makes her relatable to the reader. All of us have gone through maturation phases in our life so it’s easy to relate to Amaya and her experiences even though she is battling demons while we battle the daily commute. The bildungsroman format has been around for awhile so while all of this is nothing new, it’s a pleasure to see it executed so well in this comic book.
One last notable difference between this issue and those which proceeded it is the art. Aaron Lopresti has been in charge in charge of the pencils with all of the previous issues of Sword of Sorcery but in this issue the pen is handed over to Travis Moore. While Moore does a pretty good job of catching Lopresti’s style the change was enough to make me long for Lorpresti’s art. The crisp pencils of Lopresti have always captured Amaya’s adventures with a stylistic flair and the adjustment to Moore’s looser art was bit off-putting to me. This is probably more a comment on my inability to adjust to new things than Moore’s art, however, and there are some excellent panels in this issue. In particular, the panel showing a group of CEOs held hostage by a bunch of demons stood out to me. Placing these two groups together begs the question, just which one is more evil?
Nate, how did you feel about this issue of Sword of Sorcery? It didn’t have the usual dramatic flair of previous issues so I wonder if you enjoyed it as much as other issues. Also, what do you think the evil is that came to Earth from Nilaa, and can Constantine contain it? Lastly, do you think the Stalker bonus material included here will somehow get involved with Constantine given how much of it deals in the supernatural?
Nate: Hi Taylor—Thanks for the chance to be a guest reviewer!
I have been really enjoying this title thus far (for four whole issues!), and while there were a lot of things I liked about this issue, there were a couple of things that kept me from enjoying it as much as the last few. The biggest is that Beowulf has been replaced by Stalker the Soulless, but more on that later….
First, I wondered how those who haven’t been following Justice League Dark read the opening to this issue. As you mention, last issue, Amaya was sucked through a magic portal to who-knows-where (unless you are reading Justice League Dark), and now appears in the House of Mystery with Constantine! And, for those following Justice League Dark (like myself), I wondered how Constantine has time to run Amaya to Chicago for pizza and to show up to close demon portals to hell, despite needing to rush off to some other dimension to rescue Timothy Hunter and Zatanna (though I suppose it only took 5 minutes to get to Chicago….). Anyway, these are minor issues that I can overlook. More importantly, gone are Nilaa, flying feathered lions, mysterious assassins, militant relatives, and all the pretty gem-folk. Nothing against Chicago, and I may be one of the few East Coasters who prefer Chicago pizza to New York pizza, but I missed Nilaa.
Or maybe, like you Taylor, I just missed Aaron Lopresti’s pencils. Travis Moore took over the art on Amethyst in this issue, and I will admit it took a little getting used to. His characters seemed to lack the detail and expressiveness of Lopresti’s, though his action was dynamic and he drew some nice demons! Trying to be objective, his work is mostly pretty good; it just didn’t look like Amethyst to me.
I am also enjoying how Christy Marx is developing Amaya. She is a believable, compelling, headstrong character who is growing in confidence and ability. It was nice to see her looking very Buffyesque and using the skills she was learning while fighting the huge, mace wielding Elzere in the last issue:
Marx doesn’t quite have Constantine’s voice down, though—at least, not the Constantine I have been reading over the years. Jeff Lemire didn’t quite nail him at first in Justice League Dark, but I am either getting used to Lemire’s Constantine or he is getting a handle on the character over time, as I don’t find Constantine as jarring in Justice League Dark as I used to. I did found him jarring here. Although I loved his banter with Amaya:
I am not sure what to make of Constantine’s last comment. The cover of the issue says “The threat of Constantine.” Is he making a threat? Or is this a statement—that paying the price is something inevitable for whatever evil happened? Is he going to be the one to act? That would be unlike him, really—seems he would generally leave that up to others, unless there is something for him to gain by doing so. And is he saying Nilaa will pay the price, or Amaya? If there was powerful magic or evil seeping into our world from Nilaa, I can see Constantine trying to obtain it or subvert it, or send it back if he found it too dangerous, but to threaten that “Nilaa must pay” for it is not how I would expect him to react.
Though for him to manipulate Amaya into leaving the portal stone with him as her only link to Earth is just like him. Luckily this is her story, or she probably would end badly…. But it raises the question of “what evil.” Is Nilaa a (the) source of magic on Earth? Or demons and monsters? Or what? In any case, I like the idea that conflict with Earth is looming, and that Constantine and Justice League Dark will continue to cross with this title.
However, I do think it was a bit early in the Nilaa/Amethyst story for a return trip to earth and a cameo by Constantine. I understand why it happened given the happenings in Justice League Dark, but it did sort of disrupt the world building taking place in Amethyst. Also, when Amaya was captured and brought before the “CEO Sorceress” I was thinking there was potential for an interesting villain, a sort of Lex Luthor type woman that could serve as a parallel to aunt Mordiel and be a threat to Amaya and Nilaa from Earth. As it was, she was pretty easily disposed of, though it was fun seeing Amaya in action against her.
Now to the back-up. Given the strength of the Beowulf story and my prior exposure to Stalker the Soulless in Gail Simone’s Wonder Woman run, I was kind of looking forward to the back-up featuring Stalker. In Wonder Woman, Stalker made a compelling villain, tricking Wonder Woman, Beowulf, and Claw the Unconquered into facing the demon that stole his soul. Stalker even managed to make off with Diana’s soul to replace the one stolen from him. Here, the back-up presents an interesting premise, but a totally unlikeable character, so it was hard for me to really care about the story. There was an attempt to make Stalker more relatable by showing him as a “noble leader—at least by barbarian standards” and describing his greatest attribute as his “devotion to his family.” However, with the death of his wife, he was very quick to turn his back on his child, drop any goodness he had, and become a cold-blooded killer. Had he expressed any remorse or conflict over his fate, he would have been a much more sympathetic character. I suppose it is too early to know how this story will play out, and there are probably things that could be said about Gods who don’t answer prayers and demon that do, and the nature of souls and their connection to agency, morality, and goodness, but at this point it is just hard for me to care.
Nate lives in a sleepy New England town where he spends the majority of his time working exceptionally hard at avoiding anything resembling work. While he is an avid reader, due to his busy schedule he mainly restricts his choices of literature to comic books and cereal boxes. His hobbies include visiting post-conflict countries, hanging out with the disenfranchised, and corrupting the children of the wealthy with vision of social justice, and/or the apocalypse.
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?