Saturday, March 02, 2013

Nostalgia Review: Amethyst, Princess Of Gemworld 6.5

As a kid, whenever DC or Marvel came out with a new comic that strayed outside the standard super-hero genre and had no obvious ties to any of the other comics they published, I often wondered whether or not said comic took place in-universe, or if it existed within its own continuity, completely unconnected to the rest of the titles that the respective companies published.
In some cases the answer was obvious, such as with DC’s Atari Force comics, which clearly existed in its own unique universe, or as with the Star Wars comics that Marvel published, which had no connection to the Marvel Universe.
With such licensed properties, it would perhaps seem obvious that the comics based on them would not be part of the continuity of the internally-owned titles, but that wasn’t always the case.  For me, specifically, there was the fact that, as a kid, I didn’t really understand the concept of licensing.
Beyond that, however, there were multiple instances, with both companies, in which they did incorporate their licensed properties into their main line continuities.
In fact, Marvel incorporated Conan and many of the other Robert E. Howard characters and concepts into the Marvel Universe in some very significant ways, and did the same with the Micronauts, Shogun Warriors, Godzilla, and ROM:  Spaceknight.
DC didn’t publish as many licensed titles as their Marvelous competitors, so comics like Atari Force tended to be sort of one-offs, and the majority of what they published did exist within the confines of the DC Universe, though given the existence of the multiverse, there could always remain the question of “Which one?”
In any case, as a kid reading Amethyst, I often wondered, “Does Amy live in the DC Universe?”
In a comic with a cover date of November, 1983, DC answered that question in the most definitive manner manner possible:  with Superman!

Pew!  Pew! Pew!

DC Comics Presents #63, “Worlds To Conquer!”
Written by Dan Mishkin and Gary Cohn
Art by Alex Saviuk
Cover by Ernie Colón
Edited by Julius Schwartz

There was a time when “team up” books were regular features of both DC and Marvel.
On the Marvel side of things, there was the straightforwardly-titled Marvel Team-Up, which was a monthly book featuring Spider-Man teaming up with a rotating line-up of his fellow inhabitants of the Marvel Universe, and the rather unfortunately-titled – with the hindsight of jaded, porn-addled sensibilities – Marvel Two-In-One, which featured the (also unfortunately-named, but also ever-lovin’ and blue-eyed) Thing engaging in the same kind of monthly collaborations as old Web-Head.
On the DC side there was The Brave and The Bold, featuring Batman and…, and DC Comics Presents, which teamed Superman up with a rotating cast of characters.
(DC also had World’s Finest, which featured a regular team-up between Superman and Batman)
Getting back to the subject of licensed comics, it was in DCP that DC went the Marvel route and introduced licensed characters into the DC Universe proper, teaming up Superman with He-Man and introducing the world to the rest of the Masters of the Universe.
(DC also produced the little mini-comics that were included with MotU figures)
In any case, using Superman (and DC Comics Presents) as a means of introducing characters into the DC Universe was something of an established tradition, so it made sense that if they were going to clarify Amethyst’s place in the DCU, that’s who would be used to do it.
For the record, Amethyst was not a licensed character, and her ties – and Genworld’s – to the larger DCU would eventually become further solidified and significant, but that’s a discussion for another time.
For now, we’ll move on to the subject at hand, which, as it turns out, is a hand, or rather the lack thereof.
We open up in Castle Sardonyx, where Prince Carnelian is poring over copies of publications that are clearly from his native world of Earth, while a big ogre-like creature hovers in the background and Sardonyx provides us with some exposition.
It seems that as a result of the family squabble in the last issue of Amethyst, Carnelian lost his right hand when Granch used magic to cause Carnelian’s gun to explode, and since that time Amethyst herself has been chasing after the Red Prince.
As Carnelian finally makes whatever decision it was that Sardonyx was pressuring him to make, in bursts an angry Amethyst, who blasts Sardonyx out of the way and follows Carnelian and his ogre servant through the portal that Sardonyx had opened for them.
The portal leads to Earth, where Amethyst reverts to being teenaged Amy Winston, and realizes that the few seconds delay in her pursuit of Carnelian might have amounted to hours or days on Earth.
Still, she’s intent on finding him and so takes stock of her surroundings, realizing that she’s in the middle of downtown Metropolis.  She looks up in the sky and sees neither a bird nor a plane, but rather Superman.  Though she’s powerless on Earth, she can open a portal to Gemworld, and does so directly in Superman’s flight path to attract his attention.
She quickly gives Superman the lowdown on who she is and what she’s there for, and Superman’s examination of her pendant – which is made of “no Earthly material” – seems to confirm her story, so, being Superman, he agrees to help her try to find Carnelian.
Alas, even with his super-senses, he’s unable to find anyone matching Amy’s description of Carnelian.
We learn that there’s a reason for that – just as Amethyst reverts to her Earthly age when she returns to Gemworld, so too does Carnelian, who is now a teenaged boy.
Young Carnelian and his servant are engaged in negotiations with a shady costumed man.  Longtime readers of Superman comics would recognize the costume as being the uniform of the members of SKULL, a high-tech criminal organization that was often a thorn in the Man of Steel’s invulnerable side.
Carnelian, it seems, is shopping for a new hand.  After the nogoodniks in SKULL learn that trying to just steal the gems he’s offering as payment from young Carnelian is about as easy as taking candy from a baby who has a huge freaking pet ogre, a lesson that proves deadly, they agree to provide him what he’s looking for.
After being outfitted with a bionic hand that he’s assured will grow with him, Carnelian’s attention is drawn to a glowing green gemstone.  He’s informed that the stone is a “concentrated form of Kryptonite” that they’ve been working on in hopes of using against Superman, whom Carnelian acknowledges that he’s “heard of.”  Carnelian reaches out to pick up the gem, and in the process he reverts to his adult form.  His ogre informs him that there is now a “magical presence” in the room that had not previously been there.  Carnelian realizes that he himself is that presence, and that the Kryptonite appears to give him the magical abilities he had always lacked.
Meanwhile, Superman tells Amy that he’d love to help but, being Superman, he’s got shit to do, so he can’t spend the whole day trying to find Carnelian, but that he’ll keep an eye out as he takes care of his super-duties.  As a jaded adult, I suspect that he also realizes that it’s probably not good for his super-image to be hanging out on a secluded rooftop with a teenaged girl…
He doesn’t get very far before hearing Amy scream, as the now-magical Carnelian appears behind her and prepares to take her back to Gemworld as his prisoner.
Superman flies in and clocks Carnelian, knocking him off the rooftop.  This bothered me, as Superman is completely unaware of the fact that Carnelian now has magical abilities, so as far as Superman knew that punch was going to send Carnelian plummeting to his death.
But, as Amy points out, Carnelian does now have magical powers, and given that Superman is vulnerable to magic – which is made worse by the fact that it’s Kryptonite-fueled magic – Carnelian quickly dispatches Superman, sending him plummeting to his presumed death.
Apparently not wanting to allow Dark Opal to get his hands on it upon their return to Gemworld, Amy throws away her pendant before Carnelian whisks her away.
Of course, that was just a ruse on Amy’s part – she knew Superman would survive the fall, and she she deliberately tossed her pendant towards him.  Once he catches it, the pendant, per Amy’s wishes, opens a portal to Gemworld, and Superman flies through, finding himself in Castle Amethyst seeking the aid of Citrina.
In Fortress Opal, we actually catch a glimpse into what Dark Opal has been plotting all along, as he levitates fragments of all the major stones of Gemworld – save one – and comments on how this alignment of the stones is incredibly powerful, though not powerful enough without the final fragment.
Things begin to go awry, however, and Opal finds his powers failing, which, he is informed by a breathless Sardonyx, is the result of Carnelian’s shenanigans.
Amethyst, meanwhile, has managed to escape the clutches of Carnelian’s cold, mechanical hand, and is on the run.  Superman appears in the nick of time to save her.  Carnelian hits him with a Kryptonite blast, but to no effect, as Citrina used her magic to transfer his powers into Amethyst’s pendant, and Kryptonite doesn’t affect him when he has no powers.

This was always one of the dumber aspects of Silver/Bronze Age Superman stories.  After all, Kryptonite isn’t deadly to him because he has powers, it’s deadly to him because he’s from Krypton.  Not having the powers doesn’t change his basic physiology, so there’s no reason that Kryptonite wouldn’t still hurt him.  In fact, I should think it would make it even more deadly.
But whatever.
Amethyst returns his powers to him once he hands the pendant over, and there’s a quick info-dump about how the Kryptonite unlocked all of the magical energies that Carnelian had absorbed – but had been unable to use – in his time on Gemworld, and the presence of the Kryptonite is destabilizing all magic, and also it’s going to explode, apparently.
Soon, Dark Opal enters the fray and manages to take the Kryptonite away from Carnelian before the Red Prince can manage to get too big for his red britches.
There’s some additional fighting, Superman manages to snag the Kryptonite away from Dark Opal, Amethyst opens up a portal, and Superman flies through it before the Kryptonite can explode.
Back in Metropolis, Superman notes that Amethyst protected him from the Kryptonite and the explosion with her magic, but he’s uncertain as to whether or not she was able to protect herself.
However, one of the little lizard creatures native to Gemworld appears from nowhere and offers the Man of Tomorrow the now burned out chunk of Kryptonite, which, with a “pop” transforms into a bouquet of purple flowers.  Amethyst is A-OK!
Up next:  The Wedding Crashers.

Some Thoughts:
This story seemed rather rushed, even by DC Comics Presents standards, which was a comic that generally tried to cram as much story as possible into a single issue featuring multiple main characters.  In fact, for quite a while the main story in an issue of DCP was shorter than a full-length story, as it typically ran a backup feature.   Like The Brave and The Bold, DCP generally featured more obscure characters in the guest-starring role, though there were also the occasional appearances by A-List characters like Green Lantern or Wonder Woman.  However, DCP worked best when it was shining a spotlight on some of the lesser-known members of the vast cast of characters populating the multiple universes of the DCU, and towards that end it often featured a backup story called, “Whatever Happened To…?” which would provide an eight-page solo adventure featuring one of those mostly-forgotten characters.
This particular issue didn’t have the backup, which is why it seems especially strange that the story felt so rushed and compressed given that it had the full twenty-two pages in which to unfold.
I suspect that’s because it was rushed in order to meet a deadline, as it had to hit the stands between Amethyst #6 and #7, as there was a need to explain the presence of Carnelian’s new mechanical appendage.
I don’t normally list the Inker (or Letterer or Colorist, for that matter) with the issue credits, but it’s worth noting that there were three separate Inkers on this, which lends some credence to the “rushing to hit the stands” theory.
That said, the notion of Kryptonite being a thirteenth magical stone on Gemworld is an interesting one.  I suspect that, after coming up with that particular notion, Mishkin and Cohn were hard-pressed to come up with an interesting story to go along with that premise.
It’s not a bad comic, exactly, it just isn’t that good.
I did like the scene of Carnelian’s servant just absolutely destroying the SKULL henchman, though, and as always I was pleased to see that Amy remains as bright and resourceful as always.
However, I did feel like she was kind of dumb for not realizing that, like her, Carnelian would be de-aged upon returning to Earth.  Even I figured that one out before the reveal back when I first read the comic.  As for Superman not being able to find him, being a kid didn’t change Carnelian’s outfit, or the fact that he had a big freaking pet ogre, so I still think he would have been relatively easy to spot, even in Metropolis.  I suppose, to borrow a concept from Marvel, the No-Prize explanation is that SKULL has taken measures to keep its hideouts hidden from view.
The other interesting aspect is that we do get some idea of why Dark Opal is so interested in getting his striped hands on a fragment of the Amethyst, and it’s always kind of fun to watch the way that Carnelian and Sardonyx are always struggling with each other to remain in Dark Opal’s favor, ideally with one of them doing so at the expense of the other.  In fact, Sardonyx engages in full-on, literal evil moustache twirling when he runs off to tattle on Carnelian to Dark Opal.
That does, however, lead me to one of the other problems I had with the issue and how inconsistent it felt as part of the larger narrative.
After all, I didn’t understand why Carnelian needed help from Sardonyx to get to Earth, and why the two of them were working in secrecy.  Why would Opal care?  It also made little sense for Amethyst to be busily chasing after Carnelian the way she was.  She has bigger fish to fry, and other matters that should be taking up her attention.  I understand that it was just a framing sequence to allow for Amethyst and Carnelian to both be on Earth at the same time, but it seems like there would have been a better way to set that up that was more in line with what was happening.

The Art:
Alex Saviuk was never what you would call a “superstar” in the world of comics – though as Keith Giffen, who served as the “Art Consultant” on this issue, once pointed out, there is no such thing as a “star” in the world of comics, let alone a “superstar,” given the relatively small and specialized fanbase – but he certainly was a better artist than this issue suggests.  Again, I find myself going back to “rushing to hit the stands” theory.
The art isn’t bad, it’s just not up to the standards I would have expected from Saviuk.
Even so, it was strange to see Gemworld and its inhabitants being drawn by someone other than Colón, and even if he wasn’t rushed I don’t think Saviuk would have been up to the task of presenting that strange and whimsical world.   Instead, we get a very generic setting, with very little personality, whereas Colón’s art makes Gemworld seem like a character in and of itself.

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