Saturday, April 13, 2013

Nostalgia Review: Amethyst, Princess Of Gemworld 12

The End!
*Sniff*  I still miss Granch.

Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld, “Darkness Falls”
Written by Dan Mishkin and Gary Cohn
Art by Ernie Colón
Cover by Ernie Colón
Edited by Karen Berger

After twelve weeks we’ve finally reached the end of our visit to the mystical Gemworld.  In that time we’ve seen young Amy Winston progress from being an average teenager to leading an army to liberate a world.  She’s made – and lost – friends, fought against deadly enemies, and even fallen in love.
I don’t really approve of that last part, given who the object of her affection is, but even so, it’s been quite a journey, and it’s all led to this final confrontation with the evil Dark Opal.
Before we get to Gemworld, however, we find ourselves in the space between, as the Emissaries of Varn return to their home dimension with Sardonyx in tow.  As the portal to Gemworld recedes in the distance, the Lord of Serpents determines that he must somehow break free if he’s ever to return home, and to escape whatever fate the Emissaries of Varn have in store for him.
He gets his chance as he reaches out to grasp a shooting star that’s whistling past, shoving it into the void that is the face of the Emissary holding him.  The blazing heat is clearly not to the Emissary’s liking.
We move back to Gemworld, where Dark Opal, harnessing the power of all twelve gemstones, is mopping the floor with Team Amethyst.
While Amethyst, Garnet, and Moonstone shield the others from Opal’s attack, Amethyst suggests to Citrina that with the power of the assembled master gems – even if there are only ten of them – they can overcome the power of the twelve fragments if they can find a way to combine their power.
Citrina confers with the Diamond Priest, who positions the assembled rulers of their respective Houses into the proper alignment, their power is channeled through Citrina, and her blasts manage to stagger Opal.
Inside Fortress Opal we see that Sardonyx’s gamble paid off, and he escaped from the Emissaries.  It’s payback time for Dark Opal!  Unfortunately, unbeknownst to Sardonyx, he wasn’t the only one who returned to Gemworld.
Meanwhile, the power being channeled through Citrina proves too much for her wizened frame to bear, and she falters.  Amethyst steps up and takes the power on, keeping Dark Opal on the ropes and driving him back into his Fortress.
That proves to be a bad move, as his strength is even greater inside the walls of his home, and he goes on the offensive.
It doesn’t help matters that there is dissension in the ranks, as Lady Topaz loudly bemoans making the mistake of joining Team Amethyst.
They get a moment’s reprieve as Sardonyx strikes, but it lasts only for a moment:

"Just like your dick!" he added, because Dark Opal is cold blooded.

After being knocked through the walls of the fortress, Sardonyx is confronted by Citrina, who offers him the chance to join the cause.  Seeing no alternative, he agrees, and the power of Sardonyx is added to the others being channeled through Amethyst.
It’s still not enough, however, and Opal’s power is only increasing.
Carnelian, meanwhile, is lurking in the shadows watching it all, and realizing that there will be no place for him in the Hell that Dark Opal will create if he succeeds.  Unlike the Red Prince, Dark Opal is unaware of the Emissaries of Varn sneaking up behind him, and while Carnelian considers leaving matters up to them, he realizes that the danger of not getting involved is too great.
Amethyst rallies the troops to give her every last ounce of strength they have, and she hits Dark Opal with one last blast.  Opal remains on his feet, but just barely, and the Emissaries of Varn choose that moment to strike.  Though they managed to suck away the defensive field around him, the still has enough power to send them packing.
That’s when Carnelian makes his move, plunging a knife directly into his father’s back.
Though Opal struggles on, ultimately his wounds are too great, and Fortress Opal tumbles down on top of him, before finally disappearing as if it had never existed at all, taking Dark Opal and Carnelian with it.
With the evil reign of Dark Opal ended, the light finally returns to Gemworld, and the land’s former beauty begins to return.
All assembled – and especially Topaz – once again pledge their loyalty to Amethyst, and look forward to living under her glorious rule.  Except…

Damn, Topaz; even I've never had a woman actually leave my dimension to get away from me.

Amethyst lets them know that all the near-rape and murder has been fun and all, but she’s really much more comfortable living in the ‘burbs.
While vowing that she’ll return if they ever truly need her, Princess Amethyst says goodbye to friends on Gemworld, and Amy Winston says hello to her family back on Earth.
While they’re all caught up in the joy of her return, for her part, Amy is tired, and with good reason.
As night falls, a sound wakens Marion from her sleep, and she rouses Herb so that they can check on Amy.
Marion’s fears seem to be confirmed as she finds Amy’s room empty, but Herb calls her downstairs to let her know that Amy hasn’t gone far, as she’s snuggled up with Taffy on the living room floor.  “I think our little girl is home for good,” Herb says.
We take one last look at Gemworld, where the land of Opal is rapidly returning to its natural state, with the exception of the immediate area upon which Fortress Opal once stood:

This is my face every Monday morning.

Final Thoughts:
In terms of this specific issue, I have to admit that the actual battle with Dark Opal was kind of…boring.  Not a whole lot happened, just a lot of magical blasts and exposition.  Actually, more exposition than magical blasts.
Basically, it was just a few pages of Dark Opal blasting at Team Amethyst, Team Amethyst putting up a shield, but saying they can’t hold out much longer, Team Amethyst blasting Dark Opal and hurting him, Dark Opal blasting back, Team Amethyst blasting again and not hurting him, then some more blasting.
The worst part is that ultimately all of the blasting didn’t really accomplish all that much.  Oh, sure, it weakened Opal enough to first be taken by surprise by the Emissaries of Varn, and then by Carnelian, but if it hadn’t been for those acts of treachery, Team Amethyst probably would have lost.
That said, though I’m too lazy to scan the pages in, the scenes of Carnelian building up his courage and then finally making his move are kind of fantastic.  I’ll talk about that a little when I discuss the art, but I think my favorite moment is just after Carnelian plunges the blade between Opal’s shoulders, then backs off, blood dripping from his bionic hand, and a confused and dying Opal turns to him and says, “Car…nelian…?”
As for the actual ending, with Amy returning home to Earth, theoretically for good, though we all knew better than that, particularly given that Karen Berger stated on the letter page that there would be an ongoing series, that’s the one area where I think the central premise of the story, or rather, the execution of it, is a bit flawed, and where a similar story about a certain bespectacled boy has a bit of an edge.
The idea of discovering that, like Amy, you’re some sort of changeling, that you actually belong in another kind of world entirely, is one that is almost universally appealing to children, and indeed, to many adults.  We all want to be special, to have some greater destiny, and to find a place where we actually belong and can be our truest selves.  Like Harry Potter living under the stairs, or Luke Skywalker staring out over the desert of Tatooine, or Amy Winston…well, that’s kind of the problem.
There wasn’t anything wrong with Amy’s life.  She was just a perfectly normal teenager with a set of perfectly normal parents, and, in general, her life was good.
She wasn’t forced to live with relatives who actively disliked her, or stuck sitting on the sidelines tending moisture collectors while the rest of the galaxy was embroiled in a struggle against tyranny.
Sure, being an average kid who turns out to be anything but – hell, she’s not really even a kid – is certainly a relatable fantasy, but while we all look for a certain amount of escapism, some fantastic life we can escape to, unlike a lot of the rest of us, Amy really didn’t have anything to escape from.
Which is why it makes perfect sense that, in the end, she chooses to return to the average, normal life.
But from a reader’s perspective, while it makes sense, it still leads you, or at least me, to wonder, “Amy, are you high?  You’re giving up a world of magic for live in the suburbs?  For fuck’s sake – you’ve got a flying horse on Gemworld.  How can a Golden Retriever compete with that?”
And that’s my problem with the ending, even though it was clear all along that it was the only possible ending that the story could have.
In her shoes, back when I first read this as a kid, and even now as an adult, I would have stayed on Gemworld.  Sure, I had a decent home life, and I loved my parents – even when I fantasized about being, like Amy, from some other place, born to other parents, it wasn’t because I actually wished that I had other parents – but I also had…other things that I would have liked to escape from, but even absent that, I still wouldn’t have left Gemworld behind.
I also wouldn’t have abandoned my family completely either, but given how easy it is for Amy to travel back and forth, that wasn’t really a choice she needed to make.
Not that any of this really undermines the story, it’s just something that’s always bothered me, and I think the story might have worked a little better if there had been something that would have made it possible for Amy to make what would have been, to me, a more satisfying choice.
In any case, that’s it for Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld.
As mentioned, there was a follow-up ongoing series, but for whatever reason – probably an inability to find it on a regular basis, given my comic-buying options – I never really got into it, so I’m not really “up” on what happened to Amy once she did return to Gemworld.  I know that, from the one issue I have, it was eventually revealed that her father, Lord Amethyst, was kind of not her father – it’s complicated – and that at some point she ended up trapped inside of Gemworld, or she willing went there to hold it together, or she merged with it, or something.  There’s a reference to that in Books of Magic, which was written by Neil Gaiman, and involved a bespectacled British boy who learns that he’s a wizard and ends up going to wizard school and gets a pet owl.
(All of this was before Harry Potter, though there’s no indication that it’s anything other than a coincidence, as the idea – in either case – isn’t exactly without precedent.)

The Art:
What else can I say?  This issue was another example fine example of Ernie Colón’s outstanding art, though there wasn’t really anything that actually made it stand out any more than any other issue, especially given the kind of boring battle scenes.
I will say this, though; the man knew how to illustrate pain. As boring as the blasting scenes were, they were livened up a little by Opal’s reactions to the painful blasts.  Also, just the dynamic tension in Sardonyx’s hand when he catches the shooting star conveys how painful it must be even more than the accompanying “YARHH!” that Sardonyx screams.
And as for the pivotal scenes in which Carnelian makes his move, we see just how much of an effort it is for him to screw up his courage and strike out at his father while fully cognizant of the danger all around him as he moves in, and the even greater danger if he misses the mark.
And all the while his fool head is glowing from Citrina’s mark of shame that Dark Opal had transferred to him.  Good stuff.

Even More Final Thoughts:
It’s fitting that I should reach the end of this series on a birthday – mine – given that the whole thing actually started with a birthday.
For what it’s worth, if I’d been born into a House on Gemworld, I would have been Diamond.  Given that they had the whole hivemind thing going on, which, just, no, and they got massacred by the Emissaries of Varn, it’s probably just as well that my origins were considerably more mundane.
Overall, I’m glad that I took a look back on this story, the comics still hold a place of honor in my collection, and I hope there’s someone who got some amount of enjoyment from my examination of it.
There is still a lot more I could write about it, mostly relating to gender issues and the fact that is is possible to write a story about a strong woman, a fairy tale princess even, and have it be appealing to boys, or at least weird boys like I was, but I think I’ve said enough for now.
Thanks for joining me on this trip down nostalgia lane.  If I had anything even remotely resembling an “audience” I would ask if there’s any interest in seeing me give a similar – though hopefully less wordy – treatment to other comics in my collection.  But I can just ask Scott in person, and ultimately I may just decide to do it anyway, regardless of what anyone things.
(That’s the freedom that comes with obscurity.)


Jeff Lipton said...

"I'm not inclined to resign to obscurity"

If you're interested, you can find out about the rest of the series on the Wikipedia page.

Merlin T Wizard said...

Psych is a fantastic show.

I liked your reviews. I wouldn't even mind more in-depth exploration of the symbolism and meanings. But then, I'm a nerd.

Anonymous said...

Dan Mishkin has said the original plan was for only the maxiseries and he and Cohn wrote it that way. But DC had hopes of a toy spinoff, so it called for more; after about eight issues Mishkin decided it wasn't working and left, then Cohn.
I do think the betrayals work as part of the big finish. Even thematically, though I don't know they intended it that way—Amethyst builds a team that stands with her, Dark Opal treats everyone like dirt and gets paid back.
Be glad you never saw the 1990s version where Amethyst shows up as Eeeevil magic user in FATE and a couple of other books (presumably because it's supposedly so cool when clean-cut characters go all evil and psycho and shit)

Anonymous said...

Dan Mishkin has said the original plan was for only the maxiseries and he and Cohn wrote it that way. But DC had hopes of a toy spinoff, so it called for more; after about eight issues Mishkin decided it wasn't working and left, then Cohn.
I do think the betrayals work as part of the big finish. Even thematically, though I don't know they intended it that way—Amethyst builds a team that stands with her, Dark Opal treats everyone like dirt and gets paid back.
Be glad you never saw the 1990s version where Amethyst shows up as Eeeevil magic user in FATE and a couple of other books (presumably because it's supposedly so cool when clean-cut characters go all evil and psycho and shit)

Gary Cohn said...

Why does Amethyst give up the Gemworld? In the words of another girl in similar circumstances, "There's no place like home."

EVERYTHING DC published as "Amethyst" after the original 12 issues, including anything I wrote alone or with Dan, is apocrypha. Never happened. She went home to Herb and Marion and Taffy, and the Gemworld never intruded on her life again. Amy is 45 now, she has a tenured professor/librarian position in the Popular Culture archives at Michigan State, she teaches yoga three nights a week, she's been happily married to her husband, Carl, for over 20 years. He wooed her for a dozen years before she finally accepted that he'd grown up to be a good man. Carl also works at MSU in a cybernetics lab. He's been creating better and better prosthetic hands for himself and others. They don't have children, but they raise golden retrievers.

Merlin T Wizard said...

So much of what DC editorial does just leaves me shaking my head sadly. Thanks for commenting, though! It's great to hear from someone actually involved in the whole thing.

Ridor said...

Gary Cohn .... no! Carl? Oh, hell, no!