Sword of Sorcery #1

"Sword of Sorcery" #1 delivers a duo of fantasy stories, "Blood of Amethyst" by writer Christy Marx and artist Aaron Lopresti and "Beowulf Chapter 2: Iron Trolls" by writer Tony Bedard with art by Jesus Saiz.

"Blood of Amethyst" picks up directly from the cliffhanger at the end of "Sword of Sorcery" #0 and all of the action happens on Nilar, the Gemworld. It's a pleasure to see more of this candy-like, pink and purple, blonde and bejeweled land, colored in a pure, bright palette by Hi-Fi, but we lose "Sword of Sorcery" #0's excellent contrast between Amy Winston of suburban Earth and Amara of Nilar.

The plot itself is a deliberate stew of cliches, but not in a bad way. A young girl coming of age realizes that she is a princess in a faraway land, or is adopted, or has latent magical powers or skills. Sound familiar? It's a well-worn, well-beloved epic fantasy setup. It's also typical for the newly empowered princess to handle the news coolly or grumpily. Not only does the narrator get to be a princess, she is totally unimpressed with these new developments.

Nilar is handily filled with magic and gemstone artifacts, including Gemworld's version of a babelfish, and there's the always engaging if gimmicky setup of warring factions/houses and their chosen jewels, colors, animals and whatnot. Marx plays to these fantasies of power and poise, clan and country, but such with skill and enthusiasm she makes them fresh as well as fun. It's as if she's saying, "I know this is over the top and ridiculous, but you know you love it." The way Marx unabashedly and knowingly celebrates and delights in genre conventions is pure fun and a guilty pleasure.

Through Marx indulges heavily in tropes, her world-building and narrative action don't feel tired, nor do her characters feel like types. This is due to the strength of her natural dialogue, particularly for Amy/Amara. The mother/daughter dynamic between Gracie and Amy is comfortable and realistic and their obvious affection, tempered by the adult/adolescent divide, reminded me of Buffy and Joyce from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

Lopresti's action sequences are fluid and kinetic, and his excellent facial expressions definitely contribute heavily to pacing and characterization. Despite having only twenty pages, Marx and Lopresti map out a satisfying second chapter, with lots of action between character interactions, drawing the chapter to a quiet, ominous end.

Bedard and Saiz's "Beowulf" isn't as immediately likeable a story as "Amethyst," but it's not trying to be. Bedard has deliberately made his version of Beowulf an unpleasant and morally ambiguous "hero" -- violent, arrogant and impulsive -- and Wiglaf, the teenage protagonist, is sympathetic but somewhat depressed and self-pitying.

The mix of futuristic and medieval in this take on "Beowulf" can be jarring, yet Bedard and Saiz mostly bring it off. Bedard unfortunately relies more on interior monologue than dialogue for backstory and characterization in this issue, but Saiz's skills make up for it. In a dinner scene, Bedard's text boxes are almost unnecessary, because Wiglaf's dismay and solitude are in every line of his face and posture. Bedard and Saiz make good use of their measly ten pages, and the last page's cliffhanger is visually electric.

The pairing of these two storylines sets up an interesting contrast, intentionally or not. "Amethyst" and "Beowulf" differ wildly in tone, even as they both have a quasi-feudal setting and a teenage narrator. The "Blood of Amethyst" story centers on a trio of women in an unabashedly bright and feminine world, and while there is violence and a royalty/commoner distinction, the primary, most compelling relationships getting screentime are those of family -- sister/sister and mother/daughter. The "Beowulf" story is all warm tones, populated almost entirely by men, and the tone is far grimmer, with relationships centering on hierarchy and the mythology of a great, brutal warrior.

My biggest complaint about "Sword of Sorcery" #1 is that these two strong storylines in "Sword of Sorcery" #1 could easily have taken up a full-size issue by themselves. However, it's a tribute to Marx, Lopresti, Bedard and Saiz that they work so well with the size of the stage they have.

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