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Interview: Christy Marx Talks Princesses And Blood Power In ‘ Sword Of Sorcery’

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This week, DC Comics released the #0 issue of Christy Marx’ Sword of Sorcery reboot. You may know Marx better for her scriptwork in cartooning over the past thirty years on shows like Jem And The Holograms, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Spider-Man, and plenty more. On top of that, Marx has worked extensively with Marvel Comics in the past on “Conan” and “Red Sonja”. “Sword of Sorcery” marks her return to the medium to deliver yet another kick-ass female heroine.

Marx is working to reboot the original 12-issue run on “Amethyst, Princess Of Gemworld” from the 80s, a character who seemingly vanished from the DCU. From the #0 issue, it is already clear that Marx is taking liberties with the series in order to revitalize it for a modern audience. The new series follows a 17-year-old Amy who discovers that she can harness extraordinary powers as the Princess of Gem World. Marx notes that her rendition delves deeper into Amy’s personal issues as she finds herself in an epic battle for the House Amethyst.

We caught up with Marx to chat about her rejuvenation of “Sword of Sorcery”, women in comics, blood powers, and much more.

BD: For those who never read the original series, can you tell us about Amethyst and what Sword of Sorcery is about?

CM: In the original series, Amy Winston was a 13 year old girl living on Earth with her mother and father. She suddenly discovers that she’s actually from another world and is the Princess of Amethyst. When she would go to Gemworld, she would instantly age up to the form of a grown woman with magical powers, but retained the mind of a young girl. She engaged in a long struggle against an evil lord know as Dark Opal, but would also return to Earth to be with her adopted parents.

In my reboot, I’ve aged Amy to 17 and focused on a coming-of-age approach. She was raised on Earth by her own mother who brought them there from their homeworld, Nilaa, to ensure that Amy would survive to grow up and reclaim her heritage. Amy has no idea that she’s the Princess of House Amethyst until the day they return and she quickly finds herself involved with power struggles and dynastic intrigues while having to learn about her newfound powers. Her most dangerous opponent is her mother’s sister, who can only possess the full power of House Amethyst if both Amy and her mother are dead.

BD: When Dan DiDio approached you, did you know right away this was a project you wanted to work on?

CM: Absolutely! I had read the entire original series when it first came out and I knew instantly that this would be a fantastic project to sink my teeth into. If I recall correctly, when he asked if I was interested, I said, “Hell, yeah!”

BD: The book is centered on Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld. Do you feel there’s still a lack of strong female heroes in the comics industry? How do you approach writing a female lead to appeal to a wide audience?

CM: There are far more strong female characters now than when I grew up reading comics as a kid, so I think we’ve made some progress. I’ll know we’ve made real progress when female characters are treated more as fully-realized characters in their own rights, regardless of gender, and don’t have to run around in outfits designed for titillation. Don’t get me wrong, I like a nice sexy character of either gender…and prefer that sexiness to come from who the character is rather than what they’re wearing.

I believe that last statement is one of the ways that distinguishes my approach to reaching a wider audience — I’m not thinking about writing for only one gender or the other; I’m thinking about coming up with a good character in a good story. If you create compelling characters and put them into dire and interesting situations, you should be able to engage anyone.

BD: You mentioned that you’re making the book more about Amethyst’s personal conflicts, giving it a bit of a darker edge. What personal conflicts can we expect to see her go through?

CM: She faces a serious shock in learning that her whole life has essentially been a lie. She has two-edged relationship with her mother, who had to raise her in a way that prepared her for her heritage and yet told her nothing about it. This has left Amy prepared in some ways and totally unprepared in others. Nilaa is a more cutthroat place where power struggles have life and death consequences. Amy’s Earth upbringing gave her values that are often going to be at odds with those around her. She’s also somewhat of a fish out of water in that she knows nothing about the world, its people, its cultures, and the intricacies of the power struggles that dominate it, yet she’s being expected to accept huge responsibilities and make dangerous choices. On Earth she was a loner and felt like an outcast; in Nilaa, she’s a Princess. That’s quite an adjustment to make.

BD: You seem to be taking a more Young Adult approach to the book and making a lot of changes from the original series. What from the original do you really love that you’re keeping?

CM: The sense of wonder and adventure, the feeling of discovery, and the growth of female protagonist into a role that is thrust unexpectedly upon her.

BD: Amy is a regular 17-year-old girl who discovers she can turn into Amethyst. How much does she change when she becomes Amethyst, does the change create conflict in Amy’s life as well?

CM: One of the differences in my approach to the series is that I’m veering away from the old-school comic book tendency to use words like Gemworld and calling her Amethyst as names. I’m blending fantasy with a touch of science fiction in that the new world is an alien world that has its own name, Nilaa, and when Amy travels there she also learns her birth name, which is Amaya. She may be the Princess of House Amethyst, but she has her own name. I’m also distinguishing between who she is on Earth, Amy Winston, and who she is on Nilaa, which is Amaya. Most of the book will be set in Nilaa, so we won’t actually be seeing that much of Amy…though beneath the new armor and gear, she remains the same young woman.

BD: I really love what I’ve seen of her character design so far. Did you have a lot of say in how she would look or was that mostly Aaron Lopresti?

CM: When I first began to work with my editor, Rachel Gluckstern (who is a big, big supporter of bringing back the Amethyst series), I was emphatic about getting away from the mini-skirt look of the 80s. I wanted her to look like she actually could function as a warrior woman. The design was entirely by Aaron and I didn’t see it until it was completed and approved. I was so pleased to see the results. It sparked some great ideas, too, such as adding mystical elements to her gear that go beyond it just looking good.

What role does the Gemworld play in it all?

CM: As I said in a previous answer, there won’t be “Gemworld”, there will be an alien world that has been partially settled and to some degree “terraformed” by sorcerers from Earth. The world itself is made of dichotomies: the Earth plants and animals that are maintained by the powers of the Cardinal Houses and the native environment that continuously wants to push back at that. Native creatures have also been modified by magic to serve the needs of the humans who came there, so what we might otherwise think of as magical creatures are more correctly “alien” creatures.

BD: You spoke of “alien blood powers” in another interview. Can you elaborate on what this means?
CM: I’m creating a system of power and magic that is tied to genetic traits. Amy/Amaya has the key genetic traits of House Amethyst which are golden-blond hair, pale skin and amethyst-colored eyes. Each House will have a set of genetic traits that mark those who are capable of using and inheriting power. But that power can either reside within one person or be shared with more than one as long as they have the necessary traits, and that is the heart of the conflicts between members of any House of power. Want to be the Lord of House Diamond and have all its power? Prepare to kill any sibling who shares the key genetic traits, and then assassinate your power-holding parent. It takes dysfunctional families to a whole new level!

BD: I imagine many older comic readers are excited about the series, bringing back something they remember from childhood. Is it difficult to balance that sense of nostalgia and writing for a contemporary audience?

CM: I didn’t come at with any sense of nostalgia in mind, to be honest about it. My immediate response was to craft something that fits today’s readers. The field of YA writing has exploded and the teenage readers of today, especially, are more into fantasy than even they may realize. Harry Potter, Twilight, and Hunger Games are fantasy and they are huge. They deal with death, love, sex, blood, power, and good vs evil. Today’s readers are more sophisticated in some ways and that requires a new way of thinking about the material I create for them. Plus the same material easily appeals to an older audience because at its core it’s all about good storytelling.

BD: You were really into comics growing up, how do you think the medium has changed over the years? How has the portrayal of women changed?

CM: The roles of women and the treatment of women in comics have to some degree mirrored the growth of women’s rights in Western culture. When I was girl, you were expected to get married, and the only “acceptable” jobs open to women were secretary, teacher, nurse, or if you were really daring, stewardess or model. Imagine telling today’s girls that their choices were restricted to this. They’d laugh at you in disbelief.

As girls and women have become more empowered, the portrayal of women in comics has likewise expanded and become more empowered. Granted, early on a lot of it was superficial at best, but the point is that the change has happened and the evolution continues. Once we have more women writing, drawing and creating comics, we’ll see more depth and range to that evolution.

When I was writing The Sisterhood of Steel, I created a society of women who engaged in the same power struggles and relationships as men would under the same conditions. And yet, they approached it in a direction somewhat unique to women. I encountered a male publisher who dismissed me as writing “men with boobs”. He didn’t get it. Hopefully, that outmoded attitude has faded away and we have a new generation of male readers who can appreciate women as equals, both in comics and in life.