Friday, January 25, 2013

Nostalgia Review: Amethyst, Princess Of Gemworld 2

You may have noticed, as was correctly pointed out in the comments, that the last installment wasn’t really much of a review, but was, instead, essentially a summary of the first issue.
That was – mostly – by design, as it’s my intention to do a full set of reviews of the entire maxi-series, and to get things started I simply wanted to ensure that everyone was up to speed on the setting, basic plot, and the dramatis personæ.Of course, I probably should have made my intentions clear from the start.
So, as we move on to the next issue – and on to each subsequent issue – I will provide a little more in the way of critical commentary on the contents.
With that said, let’s move on to the second issue, with a cover date of June, 1983:


Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld, “Cat and Mouse”
Written by Dan Mishkin and Gary Cohn
Cover by Ed Hannigan and Ernie Colón
Art by Ernie Colón

Edited by Karen Berger

When we left off, young Amy Winston had decided to find out for sure whether she had merely dreamed her adventure on Gemworld, or if it had really happened, so, following the advice given to her by the Witch-Mother Citrina, had used her birthstone pendant to open a portal back to that magical world.  Unfortunately, in the shadowy halls of Castle Amethyst, danger awaits in the form of a knife-wielding man.
His thought balloons inform us that there is a spy in Castle Amethyst who advised him that, should the Princess return to Gemworld, it would be to this very location.  We also learn that the stranger is son of the evil Dark Opal.
Taking Amethyst by surprise, the red-clad stranger separates her from her gemstone and takes her into his custody, leading her to the throne room.  We learn that the man’s name is Carnelian.  With a knife to Amethyst’s throat, he forces Citrina to use her powers to prevent any would-be rescuer from following her, and he absconds with the helpless Amethyst.
It’s worth noting here that in the first issue, Citrina had appeared in green robes, but here, and in all subsequent issues, she appears in yellow robes.  Given that she takes her name from the gemstone citrine, which is yellow, one has to assume that first issue went to press with a coloring error.
Due to the strange temporal relationship between the two worlds, back on Earth, considerably more time has passed, and Herb and Marion are horrified to discover that Amy is gone once more.  Even stranger, this time Taffy, the family dog, is also missing.
This is where young Jon encountered a problem with willingly suspending his disbelief.  I was – and still am – okay with the more fantastical elements of the story.  Magic?  I have no problem.  Bring it on.  A strange world where time moves differently – and inconsistently – from the way it moves on Earth?  Makes sense.
Hell, even the more whimsical elements – and I’ll have more to say about the elements of whimsy in subsequent reviews – such as Gemworld’s anthropomorphized flora and fauna, were okay with me.  I mean, it’s a magical world, so why wouldn’t the trees have faces?
But then there’s the dog.  Not a magic dog, just a dog.  Your average Golden Retriever.
See, when Marion instructed Taffy to watch over a rattled Amy after her return from Gemworld, the dog took it to heart, and, sensing danger, followed Amy through the portal to Gemworld.
Unfortunately, she got lost along the way, and was stuck between dimensions.
While recouping her power after acquiescing to Carnelian’s demands, Citrina hears the sound of Taffy wailing between dimensions, and uses what power she has to open a portal to reveal the source of the sound.
Sensing Taffy’s connection to Amethyst, Citrina instructs her to go off in search of her mistress – as the rest of those loyal to Amethyst remain unable to pursue until Citrina regains enough power to release them – and uses what little power she has to bestow a charm of good fortune on the loyal dog.
Okay, sure, there are always these stories about family pets that do remarkable things, but even as a kid, I kind of rolled my eyes about these kind of narrative excesses, as my own experience with dogs made it seem more likely that Taffy would just go off and romp around in some mud and briar patches, then eventually return to the castle, having totally forgotten about Amethyst, when she got hungry.
But that’s just me.  Anyway,Taffy charges off in search of Amethyst.
Amethyst, meanwhile, tied up on the strange mechanical cat creature that Carnelian rides, learns that Carnelian, of all the inhabitants of Gemworld, is the only person around who has no magical abilities whatsoever, and is forced to rely on mechanical devices.
She also learns that Carnelian is very grabby.With no Granch to save her this time, Amethyst instead lucks out in the form of attach by one of Gemworld’s many dangerous native creatures, which reminds Carnelian that he needs to keep his mind on business, not on getting busy.
Taffy is also dealing with some dangerous predators, as she finds herself surrounded by a pack of large, feral dog-like creatures.  She challenges the pack leader, and – through pluck and determination, or through Citrina’s charm, or some combination – comes out on top, because of course she does.  Why wouldn’t a smaller, domesticated animal win in a fight with a stronger wild animal?
Elsewhere, Citrina is finally able to free Amethyst’s faithful rescuers, and Herb and Marion are calling the police to search for their missing daughter.  Herb is trying to calm his wife, but in the process of doing so, we learn that the Winston’s may know more about their daughter than they’ve let on:

Herb:  And it’s not as though she’s disappeared off the face of the Earth…or is it…?
Marion:  Oh, Herb – you don’t think that she’s come back and taken Amy away…?
Herb:  I don’t know what I think…I’m not sure the woman in yellow even existed – except in our own minds.

(Note the reference to yellow, which is another indication of an initial coloring error.)
At Fortress Opal we find Dark Opal preparing for company, the strange and, per Sardonyx, unpredictable Emissaries of Varn, who have brought a contract with them, one which Opal requires Sardonyx to seal with his blood.  We don’t know what Opal is getting out of the bargain, but given that it’s Opal, it probably doesn’t involve sunshine, kittens, and rainbow.  Not in a good way, at least.
Not to jump ahead, but I think we’d have to refer to this scene as Chekhov’s Sardonyx.
As for Opal’s son, the Red Prince, he has arrived at his destination and sends a signal to the soldiers waiting escort him and his prize to Fortress Opal, and, presumably, to the praise and approval that Carnelian so desperately craves from his father.
Of course, while they’re waiting, Carnelian has some ideas as to how to pass the time.
Well, really just the one idea.
By which I mean rape.
Amethyst has the presence of mind to get him to untie her wrists – after all, by this time she’s kind of an old pro at almost getting raped – and once again she’s saved in the nick of time…by Taffy!
Amethyst manages to get hold of her gemstone, but still being a novice, is no match for Carnelian’s robot cat thing, and she’ll be in even more trouble when the soldiers arrive.  Fortunately, Taffy has a Plan B, in the form of the pack she now runs, and following her orders they attack the soldiers.
Citrina and her retinue arrive in time to force Carnelian to beat a hasty retreat, after Amethyst throws a magic match into his cat’s gas tank.
It’s worth noting that after Amethyst blows up his cat, Carnelian busts out a gun and tries to pop a cap in Amethyst’s ass, which raises the question, “Where does he get these wonderful toys?”
After Carnelian returns to Fortress Opal in shame – and gets whacked upside the head for his troubles – Dark Opal declares that it’s time he takes matters into his own (blue, striped) hands, cryptically declaring that Citrina herself will help him…

Some Thoughts:
As a kid, the overall reliance on the threat of rape in these stories didn’t really stand out for me or detract from the story.  From my perspective, it just made sense.  Amethyst was beautiful, and the ogres from the last issue and Carnelian from this issue were evil.  Of course they would try to do bad things, and of course I viewed rape as a bad thing.  But compared to murdering people, seizing control of an entire world and enslaving its population…well, I’m not really comparing the things.  Bad is bad, after.  But it just didn’t occur to me that there were depths to which these creeps wouldn’t sink, and my view of narrative structure wasn’t really sophisticated enough enough to find the use of rape problematic in that sense.
I suppose also I had the sense that there was no chance of Amethyst actually getting raped.  I knew that she would either be saved or find a way to safe herself.
There are many in the contemporary comics community who object to the overuse or rape – particularly when it’s used as a retroactive backstory to add a “depth” to a female character – and I can’t really object to their objections, particularly given that I largely agree with them.  From my current perspective, I do understand why it’s problematic as a story element, but while I’m not going to argue in defense of that choice on the part of the storytellers, or the editor, I still can’t quite bring myself to really let it detract from the overall story.
For what it’s worth, this was the last issue to contain such a scene.
One complaint I do have, though, is that the rape attempt scenes could have served as a catalyst for some other storytelling options, which point to an area in which, as a whole, Amethyst kind of falls short.
I’m thinking in terms of the approach to narrative that was taken by Joss Whedon and company on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in which, during the high school years at least, things like demons and vampires and magic were used as metaphors for the fears, pressures, and anxieties of growing up.
This is a thematic element that the set-up of Amethyst was uniquely positioned to pursue, particularly given the duality of Amy/Amethyst, who is forced to – literally – grow up instantly, but who also has the option of returning to childhood at a moment’s notice. 
Or does she?  Can she ever go back to being Amy Winston, ordinary teen?
We see some of that as the story progresses, but it’s explored only to a very shallow extent, and, looking at it now, I wish there had been more of an exploration of the theme of growing up too fast, particularly given the very scary and traumatizing exposure that Amy, who, as Amethyst is only physically an adult, has to adult sexuality.
To say nothing of what gets dumped on her in terms of adult responsibilities.  Growing up is hard enough on its own, but it has to be that much worse when doing so brings with it the burden of freeing an entire world from a brutal dictatorship.

The Art:
I’ll talk more about this in subsequent reviews – particularly when I get into some of the more whimsical aspects of Gemworld – but I will say that, as a kid, I really didn’t dig Ernie Colón’s style, and it was something that I only developed an appreciation for in later years.  I didn’t hate it, but…well, he was no George Perez or Mike Grell, and they were pretty much the gold standards for me as far as comic book art went in those days.
Prior to his work for DC, Colón spent years working at Harvey Comics, providing uncredited artwork on Richie Rich and Casper, the Friendly Ghost.
Looking at his work on Amethyst now, I find myself slightly surprised by the fact that this wasn’t apparent to me back then, as I can immediately visualize images from those comics that demonstrated Colón’s distinctive style, and I’m much, much further removed from having read any Harvey titles now than I was then.

In any case, that brings us to the end of this installment.  Join us next time, when Dark Opal weaves a tangled web, Amy has some ‘splaining to do – as do Herb and Marion – and we learn a little more about Granch (whom I think should have been named “Kraa-aaack!” as that’s the sound you most often hear when Granch is around.)

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