Drew: Let’s talk motivation. It’s an important thing for characters (both good and evil) to have, but what is it? In the most abstract terms, it’s simply what the character wants, be it an object, a result, or a status (or avoiding any of those things). Morally, we can set up a continuum of motivation from altruism to greed, with most daily motivation falling somewhere in between. Comics, being a medium of contrasts, tend to focus on the extreme ends, with heroes often acting selflessly, with villains serving only their own ends. It’s an arrangement so ubiquitous, it can start to feel trite (which is why writers are so keen on subverting those expectations), but when it’s done well, as it is in Sword of Sorcery 5, it can remind us why we value those traits the way we do.
The issue begins with Amaya returning from her excursion to Earth. Lady Graciel has been worried sick, but agrees that it’s time to teach Amaya about her father. They head to house Turquoise to visit his grave. While there, Graciel’s normally icy attitude towards her father-in-law turns into outright hostility, as Firojha admits to betraying his son, which ultimately led to his death. Just then, assassins from house Onyx — working on behalf of Lady Mordiel — attack, wounding Graciel. Amaya jumps to her aid, reluctantly killing the attackers. Once the threat is neutralized, another member of house Onyx shows up to assure Amaya that they are loyal to her mother — just to prove her point, she murdered Firojha off-camera, then offhandedly wonders where his Turquoise magic will go. Cue some random Aladdin-style street rat (complete with a pet sidekick) getting zapped with magic.
That last bit relies on the intimate understandings of magic-as-inheritance, but the rest of the issue is quite straightforward, emotionally. Firoja is so power-hungry, he sold out his own son, a decision he has regretted ever since. Mordiel finds herself in a very similar position, ordering her assassins to kill her own sister in a mad power grab, though she seems conflicted about killing her only niece. Contrast those motives with Amaya’s desire to protect her mother, and you’ve established the extremes of just how much (or little) someone can value family. This establishes Amaya’s actions as the most heroic, but it also serves to make her the most relatable. We can’t really understand the desperate desire to wield magic, but we can understand not wanting anything bad to happen to our moms.
That bit of relatability helps bridge the gap when Amaya is forced to kill yet again. That’s not an experience we can all relate to, but by reminding us that Amaya is really just a teenager dropped into this madness, Christy Marx allows us to empathize that much more when it comes time for Amaya do reluctantly deliver the death blow.
Artist Aaron Lopresti emphasizes the weight of Amaya’s actions with that bleed in the final panel, allowing her to break from the strictures of the panels established on the rest of the page. It’s a small detail, but it cleverly drives home just how uncomfortable killing makes her.
I was less enamored of the backup in this issue, where we find Stalker hoping to recover his soul from the Devil in exchange for finding a woman. The inevitable catch? The woman is Stalker’s long lost progeny, and is pregnant. Stalker attempts to protect her, but they are found out by issue end.
I’ve seen enough episodes of the Twilight Zone for stories where people sell their soul to the devil to leave me a bit cold, but the real problem is the lack of clear motivation. Last issue, we saw that Stalker was willing to kill just about anyone for exactly no reason. Here, we see him balk at the notion of turning over his “great — to the power of about thirty — granddaughter,” which (assuming by “great,” the devil simply meant “2” — mostly because 1 to the 30th power is 1), would mean that there are over 1 billion generations separating these two. Never mind that there simply haven’t been that many generations of people (an average generation time of 20 years — which is actually pretty short — would require over 20 billion years, while scientists peg the age of the universe at around 14 billion years), the point is, they are extremely distantly related. Scientists estimate that everyone on Earth is at least as closely related to everyone else as 50th cousins — that is, within 50 generations (so, less than 2 to the 6th power) — which would make it likely that Stalker is more related to those randos he was killing than this rando he decided to save. Point is, I don’t buy his sudden change of heart. It literally doesn’t add up. Impromptu math lessons aside, my biggest problem with this backup may simply be that it’s not Tony Bedard’s Beowulf treatment, which I’m afraid we’ll never see concluded with the end of this series so close on the horizon.
Well, for fear of boring anyone with further math nonsense, I better turn things over to my 50th cousin, Patrick. What did you think? I was very excited to have the action back on Gemworld, and Marx didn’t disappoint. Did this issue work for you?
Patrick: Ah, the most brutal prompt of them all: did this work for me?
Neither the past nor the future of this series are very kind to this issue. One of the things we noticed early on in Amethyst, was that Gemworld is no mere “other” world. Too frequently, when a character gets pulled off into a fantasy land, the actual make-up of that land is more or less arbitrary. Sir James M. Barrie couldn’t tell you about the political intrigue between the various classes of pirates, and he certainly couldn’t have outlines the basis for the Indians’ economy. Peter Pan is about the Darling children having adventures in a place where anything is possible. That is decidely not the story that Christy Marx is telling here. Two months ago, Shelby made a flow-chart to express the complicated relationships expressed in the issue, and while the action of this issue is much more streamlined, I still have to double back to make sure I know who everyone is. Lady Akikra is a great example: when she shows up at the end of the issue to pledge her loyalty to House Amethyst, I only vaguely recognized her from that Onyx assassin’s passing mention of her a few pages earlier.
Now, I love a cast that gradually balloons to unwieldy sizes, and I’ve even grown to accept that when I’m confused, the best thing to do is to keep reading. If the relationships are worth understanding, I’ll be able to pick up on context clues in the future to sort it all out. With so precious few issues left of this series, my willingness to just go along for the ride is meeting some resistance. Similarly, this is our first issue of 2013 to take place in Gemworld, so much of the intrigue that I had mastered (two months ago) has basically been wiped from my memory.
I find all of that frustrating because it’s so apparent that this world is impossibly interesting. I would be happy to see Marx’ explorations of the war-fueled dynamics of these families for volumes upon volumes of Princess Amaya stories. For some reason, knowing that I won’t get that makes it so much harder to invest in what’s left. That doesn’t mean that there are some super fun, crazy details to discuss. Like the process Firoja describes for mummifying / monument-ifying his son:
I had his body preserved and nearly bankrupted my house using thousands of perfect stones for transmutation. I labored for weeks to change flesh and blood into this eternal memorial to my beloved son.
For reasons we haven’t really seen explored yet, these people worship stones. They get their magic from stones, occasionally their powers manifest themselves as stones, and they evidently endeavor to become stones themselves. It’s also interesting to note that, while one stone immortalizes the dead, a second stone — the healing ruby — brings Graciel back from the dead.
I was kinda surprised to see Amaya so trusting of Lady Akikra. I guess when you’re mother is bleeding out on the floor, you take magic stones from whatever bald pale head-tattooed female assassin comes along. Still, kinda seems like not all of the family’s “friends” are actually friends – Amy literally learned that lesson seconds ago.
Oh and between the teaser for the next issue “Next: Eclipso” and Graciel’s story about the ancient evil that was expelled to Earth a long time ago, there are a few more connections between this series and Team 7. I stopped even reading that series on the side (because, duh), so I don’t know how any of this is relevant. Just thought I would bring it up in case one of you were still sneaking Team 7 late at night after Mom and Dad went to sleep.
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?