Friday, January 02, 2009

Jewels are a girl's best friend

It's the first Comic Art Friday of 2009, and this one's for the ladies.

This eye-catching installment in my Common Elements commission series features a pair of largely unsung heroines. In the foreground is Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld, who starred in her own eponymous series from DC Comics in the 1980s. In the background is Jessica Jones, protagonist of two recent Marvel Comics series, Alias and The Pulse, in her guise as the superheroine Jewel. The artist is Mitch Foust, whose work has appeared numerous times on Comic Art Friday over the years, but who makes his Common Elements debut with this lovely drawing.

As comics historian Don Markstein observes, Amethyst was a terrific character who suffered from a criminal lack of editorial confidence. In her original series, published in 1983, Amethyst offered a near-perfect appeal to an audience of preteen and teenage girls. She lived in a magical fantasy world; she transformed from a plucky if nondescript preadolescent named Amy into a beautiful and powerful young adult princess; she earned the love of a handsome prince without being subservient to him; she traveled about on a flying unicorn.

As written by Dan Mishkin and Gary Cohn and drawn by Ernie Colón, Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld was a fun, exciting story that, while intended for girls, made great entertainment for readers of both genders and all ages. It marked one of the horrifyingly few attempts by the major, mainstream American comics publishers to provide well-crafted heroic fantasy for the young female market. (Archie Comics' current Sabrina the Teenage Witch series, written and drawn by the brilliant Tania del Rio, is another fine example.)

And then, DC editorial decided that Amethyst needed to be a superhero. Or maybe a supervillain.

Things got ugly and depressing after that.

I continue to hope against realistic hope that DC will someday reprint the original Amethyst series in trade paperback, in a format that would appeal to the girls who today read shojo manga, or shojo-influenced American fare like Sabrina. They'd have a hit on their hands.

Like Amethyst, Jessica Jones isn't really a superhero in the conventional sense, despite the fact that she appears here in her short-lived Jewel super-identity. In most of her adventures, Jessica leads the life of a relatively normal human — she's a private detective in Alias, and a journalist in The Pulse — who maintains an intimate connection to the superheroic world through her relationships with her lover, and later husband, Luke Cage (the Avenger formerly known as Power Man) and other superheroes and villains.

Jessica still possesses her Jewel superpowers — notably super-strength, limited invulnerability, and flight — but she no longer uses a dual identity or wears a costume. Although her marriage and friendships keep her involved in the major events of the Marvel Universe, including the recent Civil War and Secret Invasion, Jessica's first concern these days is being a mother to Danielle, her and Luke's baby daughter.

The two series in which Jessica played the lead role are well worth searching out. As with Amethyst, Alias and The Pulse represent rare opportunities to see a positive woman character as the focus of a mainstream, female-targeted American comic.

I wish those opportunities were not so rare. But I'm only one guy.

And that's your Comic Art Friday.


2 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Blogger RE Cloud Yoch offered these pearls of wisdom...

good to see that someone else out there thinks american 'mainstream' comics should take a second look at targeting a female audience! if all the shoujo that is being sold in america doesn't wake them up, then it's their loss ^^

4:08 PM  
Blogger SwanShadow offered these pearls of wisdom...

Cloud: I believe that one of the critical mistakes the Big Two American comics publishers have made -- and they've made a ton of critical mistakes -- is narrowcasting the bulk of their product for a tiny (and getting tinier) core audience.

Unless Marvel and DC figure out -- and soon -- that they need to reach a broader market, and develop a diverse product line to reach that market, their long-term business prospects are dismal indeed.

12:53 PM  

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