The worst thing about “Sword of Sorcery” #0, by a long shot, is the title; I know I’m not the only person who keeps wanting to call it “Sword and Sorcery” instead. But if the biggest problem in a comic is that the reader wants to call it by a different preposition, then Christy Marx, Tony Bedard, Aaron Lopresti and Jesus Saiz can be pleased with themselves.
The lead feature of “Sword of Sorcery” #0 is the revival of “Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld.” I’ll admit that I never read the original title — although I’m looking forward to picking up the “Showcase Presents” collection — but for this new-to-the-character reader, Marx and Lopresti are off to a good start. Marx and Lopresti quickly introduce us to Amy Winston, general outcast among her fellow high school students. Since it looks like the school setting isn’t one we’ll be returning to any time soon, it would have been easy to gloss over it in a matter of seconds. Instead, Marx uses it to show us exactly why Amy is an outcast, as well as the pattern that has quickly developed as she and her mother have moved from one small town to another as they live out of a trailer. It’s simple but succinct, and it establishes not only Amy’s strong personality but also her physical skills.
I also found myself quickly warming to Amy’s mother; she may be a supporting character, but for a character that at first feels like someone in the dreamy victim role, I appreciated how once Amy turns 17 her mother snaps into action and takes control of the situation. It’s a sudden flip in personality that’s supported by the story itself, and it’s a fun little twist on the stereotypical. Add in a villain who is, well, rather villainous and we’ve got a great first episode. It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen Marx write comics, and this is a reminder of why they’re better for her return. Lopresti’s smooth, clean art is a much more known quantity these days and it’s just as attractive as ever, if not better. The scenes with Amy in school (complete with dyed hair) are excellent for both the way the characters move as well as the backgrounds, and the sudden shift to Gemworld is an explosion of color and tons of detail. It’s an important visual change-over, and Lopresti nails it.
The “Beowulf” backup feature from Bedard and Saiz is good, although I must admit in terms of tone it doesn’t quite match “Amethyst.” Set some time in the future (although if it wasn’t for the remnants of technology you might think it was the past thanks to what feels like some sort of minor apocalypse), it explodes into violence quickly, and is definitely much more dark and gruesome than the main feature in the comic. It’s a good read, though; Bedard quickly sets up the situation as he introduces both the mighty warrior Beowulf as well as the young Wiglaf who was sent to retrieve the potential savior. I liked how Wiglaf’s strength is in his brain rather than arms, and we’re shown a good example rather than simply being told. And in general, a retelling of the story of Beowulf and Grendel is a potential recipe for success.
What elevates “Beowulf” is Saiz’s art, which is easily his best comic work to date. The detail here is impressive; the tree breaking through Beowulf’s bunker with all of its twists and gnarls, or the flecks of snow as Beowulf grabs someone off the ground and hurls them over his head. Beowulf himself is physically impressive; for a character dressed in nothing more than a pair of bicycle shorts, he’s scary to look at. He explodes across the page when he attacks, and his muscular is strong and realistic without being over the top. When Saiz draws the two-page flashback/exposition scene, the page layout is gorgeous; heraldic figures and metallic forgings jump to mind as his panel borders bear close examination. Even something as simple as crows coming in for a landing on the final page is a little breathtaking, here. I’ve enjoyed Saiz’s work ever since “Midnight, Mass” but this is such a huge leap forward it makes me think that his talents have been wasted by cranking out 20-22 pages a month instead of just 10, if this is the end result.
Like last week’s “Team 7” #0, it’s turning out to be the new titles that are the issue #0s worth your attention from DC Comics. “Sword of Sorcery” #0 might have a slightly inelegant name, but it’s got two good first chapters inside its covers. If all fantasy comics were as good as “Sword of Sorcery” we’d have a more diverse industry today. I’m definitely going to stick around. I bet you will, too.