Neither strip seems interested in its subject matter beyond moving along the conveyor belt of plot: there are pages of laborious exposition devoted to explaining the New 52 version of Gemworld, but if pressed, I couldn’t tell you anything about it beyond there being lots of woods and some noble houses with shifty alliances. Aaron Lopresti has a workmanlike craft that ensures the explanation isn’t as static as it tends to be in a Bendis comic, but he doesn’t add any life to the proceedings.
Beowulf fares slightly better in this regard, thanks to lifting its entire setting from a great literary source, but its fusion of post-apocalypse, sci-fi and Viking motif (remaking an already-existing DC adaptation that did the same) is also generic. The only noteworthy aesthetic artist Jesus Saiz brings to the table is the design of the hero himself, a Liefeldean he-man with Wolverine mutton chops and a comically long sword; the blade is used to cut an “unfriendly” in a panel that also shares Liefeld’s (mis)understanding of spatial relation.
This gets us back to how Sword of Sorcery continues DC’s rekindling relationship with 90s sensationalism. The fake-edginess in both strips–the violence, the rape scene from #0, Amethyst using “blood” in the subtitles for two parts now (this issue’s The Blood of Amethyst, and next is The Path of Blood)–confuses, rather than captures, maturity. Both strips’ point-of-view characters, Amethyst and the wimpy Wiglaf, respectively, are metaphorically growing up, but Marx and Bedard’s version of adulthood consists of slicing and dicing/punching and kicking (with a few macho lines thrown in for the backup), but lacking any purpose or sense of responsibility, something Demon Knights captures so well. Wiglaf is put upon by everyone, Beowulf included, and doesn’t seem to have much motivation to do anything other than tremble at the super-soldier or be in awe of his prowess. Occasionally, Bedard will throw in narration calling Beowulf “a madman,” but mostly he talks about how mighty and powerful the character is (he botches the cliche “he’s no ordinary man” line by not actually establishing anything about “ordinary men”). Marx, on the other hand, has a firm grasp on Amethyst (her version, anyway): she’s a snarky, defiant teenager hardened to high school nonsense, but now having to deal with a situation in which she doesn’t have the perfect comeback (being called “Princess” in sincerity, for example), much like a teenager entering the adult world. It doesn’t make up for this issue’s listless setting, or last issue’s attempted rape, but it has some charm.
On a side note: while I came down hard on that misguided scene, I consider the lack of reference to it this month a mixed blessing: sure, it means no more dialogue like “We want a taste of Berry,” but it also (unfortunately) dwindles any chance Marx could spin a truly mature tale dealing with such trauma. Instead, that scene just becomes one more bit of empty shock for its own sake. If that’s all Sword of Sorcery is going to provide, it probably isn’t worth the effort.