Saturday, March 16, 2013

Nostalgia Review: Amethyst, Princess Of Gemworld 8

Today’s trip to the comic shop cost me a little over $100, due in large part to my purchase of Volume 1 and 2 of the Archive Editions of Jack Kirby’s Kamandi, Last Boy on Earth, a purchase that the (far too young) girl who works there and is cute in an androgynous sort of way evidently approved of, given her muttered, “Oh, cool,” as she rung them up.
In any case, even without today’s extra expense – which also included a trade paperback collection of Grant Morrison’s Joe the Barbarian, because why not – I routinely drop a fair amount of money at the comic shop because comics are expensive.
That wasn’t always the case.  While I don’t remember it, apart from having owned some of the comics with such a price tag on them, within my lifetime comics cost a mere 35 cents.
The lowest cover price I can actually recall when buying new comics is 50 cents, but they didn’t stay at that price point for long, and by the time I started reading comics on a regular basis the typical price was 60 cents, with the occasional $1.00 “80 Page Giant.”
That changed one day when comics made a 15 cent leap in price, and that increase was nearly the end of my comic habit.
I distinctly recall the first comic I ever encountered with that new price – the very comic that I’ll be recapping and reviewing in just a few paragraphs – and I also remember that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, a feeling that was justified when I presented the comic to my mom to be purchased along with the week’s groceries and I saw the look on her face.
”You might have to give these up,” she said, as she contemplated the additional expense.  After all, it was 1983, and an extra 15 cents a pop would add up rather quickly given the demands of my comic book addiction.
It was a horrifying thought, particularly given how close I was to having the complete run of the Amethyst maxi-series
I’m reasonably certain that I outright begged her to at least let me keep getting this one comic book, and after considering it, she relented with the admonition that I must not tell dad.
And so it was that I was able to pick up this issue – though not this specific copy, as I actually replaced my entire run of Amethyst several years ago, given that the originals had fallen into disrepair over the years – which has a cover date of December, 1983, and that horrible, traumatizing 75 cent cover price.

I know that feel, Amethyst; that price shattered my world, too.

Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld, “First Light”
Written by Dan Mishkin and Gary Cohn
Art by Ernie Colón
Cover by George Pérez and Ernie Colón
Edited by Karen Berger

Our story opens with the mysterious Emissaries of Varn approaching the Diamond Sanctuary.
Unfortunately for the Priests of Diamond, this is not a social call – though maybe this is what social calls are like in Varn – but rather an attack.
The white-robbed priests are unprepared for the assault, and while they talk a good game about moving on to a higher plane and living on through the magic of their souls, on this plane they’re bodies don’t fare so well, and neither does their Sanctuary, which is reduced to rubble and sucked into the open hood of one of the Emissaries, and then spewed back out the hood of one of the others.
Amethyst, meanwhile, is busy comforting Prince Topaz, relaying some platitude that Herb once read to her after her grandfather died.  She manages to make him feel better, but makes herself sad thinking about how much she misses Herb, Marion, and Taffy.
Topaz decides to return the favor and cheer Amethyst up by taking her up to a promontory overlooking the ocean so that they can watch the sunrise.
The sunrise on Gemworld is rather different from the phenomenon on Earth, as Gemworld’s sun is not a large ball of gas floating millions of miles away in space, but rather a much smaller sentient entity that lives in the ocean.  It rises up from the depths, then makes its way across the sky, brightening the land in its course, until it reaches the Realm of Opal, where its light is considerably dimmed.
Speaking of Opal, like the Priests of Diamond, he’s receiving visitors in the form of the Emissaries of Varn, though, once again, it’s not a social call.  This is all business – the Emissaries bring a fragment of Diamond and present it to Opal, who has now nearly completed his collection.
Sardonyx is concerned that Opal has acted rashly in sending the Emissaries to dispatch the Priests, as the power of Diamond is sufficient to challenge that of Opal if, by chance, any of the Priests survived the attack.  Dark Opal, doesn’t have time for ifs, however, and while the two of them bicker like an old married couple, something out the window catches Carnelian’s eye.
Remember the little lizard creature that stole the fragment of Amethyst that served as Granch’s (*Sniff*) link to Gemworld when he went off to rescue his siblings?  No?  Well, you should have, because he’s back, and he still has the fragment…which is the final piece that Dark Opal needs to complete his collection.
Seeing this, Carnelian heads off in pursuit of the harmless little creature.  Unfortunately for him, thanks to the magic of the stone, Carnelian has bitten off more than he can chew, and the lizard is transformed into a dragon that can easily bite and chew the Red Prince:

"Wooga Wooga," indeed!

Amethyst and Topaz wing their way back to Castle Amethyst, where the Princess gets to oversee the first official meeting of the We Hate Dark Opal Club.  Being, at heart, a suburban teenage girl, Amethyst is a bit overwhelmed by the embarrassing displays of respect, but Lady Turquoise points out that the bowing and scraping is as much for their own benefit as it is for Amethyst’s.  “Do not deny us our fervor!” she enthuses.  (I increasingly begin to wonder if there was some subtext going on with Turquoise.)
Garnet points out that Turquoise is correct, and that Amethyst has to get used to being in charge, and the allies get down to business, weighing their options and speculating as to which side the other Houses not assembled there will take in the coming conflict.
In the process, Lord Garnet refers to Lord Aquamarine as a “Piscean,” which gets Amethyst to wondering, and so she asks Citrina if there is some kind of connection between Gemworld and Earth.
Citrina tells her to look into the “Well of Vision,” and tells Amethyst – and us – the Origin of Gemworld.
Centuries ago, the people of Gemworld all lived on Earth, but some cataclysm – Citrina notes that modern humans would call it a supernova – created a magical imbalance.  The wizards, witches, faeries, and other magical creatures then living on Earth decided that they needed to find somewhere more hospitable, and so they turned to one who had the power to lead them to safety:  Citrina.
Using her power, which only comes into its fullness when all of the Houses are imperiled, Citrina searched throughout creation for a new home, ultimately finding Gemworld and opening a portal to allow the refugees to flee to safety.
Amethyst, lacking tact, says, “I didn’t realize you were that old, Citrina,” but softens the blow by adding, “or had that much magic power!”
Citrina states that she has very little of that power remaining, but that her greatest gift is to be able to detect magical disturbances…like the one she’s detecting now at the Diamond Sanctuary.
Amethyst and company fly off to the Diamond Sanctuary, finding only ruins, and then fly off, not noticing that the place isn’t quite as devoid of life as they’d thought.
We briefly check in on the House of Emerald, where Lady Emerald’s mourning has taken a turn for the worse and she can’t be roused enough to take action and join Amethyst, leaving her two remaining daughters deciding that they’re going to have to take matters into their own hands.
After leaving the Diamond ruins behind, Amethyst and company head to the House of Ruby, to appeal to its Lord to join them in their war against Dark Opal.  Lord Ruby, it seems, had been the ruler of Gemworld before Amethyst’s parents, and he had been loyal to them during Dark Opal’s attack against the House of Amethyst.
Unfortunately, he paid dearly for that loyalty, and is reluctant to make war against Dark Opal.  However, before he can decide one way or the other, the Emissaries of Varn pop in for a surprise visit – again, not a social call – and they seem able to take anything Amethyst and her compatriots can throw at them, proving able to dish it out as well as take it.
The one I’ll call Vacuum Face slurps up Lord Moonstone, before turning his – or “its,” I suppose – attention to Prince Topaz.  Even though its fitting that this is how Topaz should check out – after all, he sucks – Amethyst tries her best to save him, but it’s to no avail until a mysterious bolt from the blue saves them.
Once the smoke clears, they learn that one Diamond Priest survived, and is pissed.
Up next:  Diamond vs. The Emissaries of Varn, round two.  This time, it’s personal.

Some Thoughts:

Beyond the increase in price that so traumatized me and made those few minutes of waiting for my mom to make her decision about my future as a reader of comics feel like an eternity, this proved to be a rather important issue.
After all, we had Dark Opal starting to get bold as he moves to cement his power, and we see the payoff to some of the minor events that occurred in the background in earlier issues, such as the lizard with the Amethyst fragment.
Besides that, we learn the origin of Gemworld.  There are a couple of things of note about Gemworld’s origin.  For one thing, if I recall correctly, it was later revealed that Citrina didn’t find it, she created it.
For another, somewhere over the course of the next ten centuries, conditions back in the dimension that contains the Earth, things stabilized enough that the inhabitants of Gemworld were able to return, bringing their home with them, and in the time of the Legion of Super-Heroes – the comic in which Amethyst had her debut as a preview insert – Gemworld came to be known as Wizard World, and it was where the Legionnaire the White Witch honed her craft.
There was also something or other about Mordru, one of the Legion’s deadliest enemies, being trapped in the center of Gemworld.  If I recall correctly, Citrina deliberately imprisoned him there by using his own power against him to kill two birds with one stone, trapping him inside and giving the magical refugees a home.
I’m also struck by just how much story has been crammed into these 8 issues (plus the Preview and the team-up with Superman).  If this were a modern comic written by someone like, say, Bendis, by the eighth issue the Winstons would still be sitting in the restaurant ordering Amy’s birthday dinner.  (And engaging in unlikely “ping-pong” dialogue in which everyone talks in exactly the same fashion as everyone else.)
As I’ve noted before, there’s something to be said for compression.
The other thing that strikes me as I look back on it now is how Dark Opal’s quest to get a complete set of all twelve gemstones mirrors my own quest to get the complete set of all twelve issues of Amethyst.  All things considered, if my mom had decided not to let me get that comic, I probably would have been perfectly willing to sign a contract with the Emissaries of Varn in order to ensure that my collection would be complete…

The Art:

As always, the art is solid, and I have to say that the Emissaries of Varn are creepy as fuck:

"So guys...anything you can do to help make sure I don't have to give up comics?"

As is their destruction of the Diamond Sanctuary and slaughter of the Diamond Priests:

Would have been worth it to be able to keep reading comics.

Additional Notes:

20 years ago, DC launched their Vertigo line of comics, featuring a handful of new titles and the migration of several existing comics such as The Sandman and Hellblazer which had previously been published under the DC logo.
After two decades, Vertigo is still going strong, and it owes much of its success to its founder Karen Berger, who, after this time, is, regrettably, stepping down as Executive Editor.
The comic-reading world owes a debt of gratitude to Karen Berger for her part in filling the stands with a lot of great comics…including Amethyst!
So…thanks, Karen, and best of luck in whatever new ventures you pursue.
Also, it turns out that I didn’t have to make a deal with those creepy-ass Emissaries, as eventually, after the initial sticker shock, my mom never really mentioned the price increase again, and, as should be obvious, my comic book habit continued unabated for years and years.
Still, I was totally ready to make a deal with the Emissaries…


Anonymous said...

I remember when the cover price was 12 cents ...
Amethyst. A wonderful series. I could cheerfully throttle whoever came up with the idea of turning her Dark in a later book (I think it was Keith Giffen in Fate).
Ditto Kamandi. I'm amazed at how Kirby really gives the feeling of world which pre-existed Kamandi (a lot of later writers on the book failed miserably at that)

Jon-Paul Maki said...

Looking back it appears that within my lifetime comics cost as little as 20 cents, though I don't remember that. 50 cents is the lowest price I really remember.

I didn't read much of the ongoing series. I think I have the first issue, and whatever issue it was that was a crossover with Crisis on Infinite Earths.

I'm actually enjoying Kamandi a great deal. One of my favorite things about reading old Kirby comics is the little mini-essays he wrote explaining the thought processes that led to the idea behind a series. While he obviously veers off into directions that only Kirby could, you realize that no matter how "out there" the concept gets it actually makes a certain amount of sense.

Anonymous said...

His discussion on how he'd mostly limited intelligence to creatures who could go bipedal was quite interesting.
And the Watergate send up still makes me laugh.

Ridor said...

Hey there, I would like to know if it is possible for you to scan & send the first 3 pages of Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld #8 to me via email? My email address is - I'm a diehard fan of Amethyst.

Thanks for checking me out and double thanks if you don't mind sending me the first 3 pages of that issue!!