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A Blast From The Past: Meanwhile…



During C2E2, I discovered some old issues of Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld in the quarter bins.  I knew of this series, but had not read any comics of the character.  I have an eight-year-old niece who loves Wonder Woman, and thought she might enjoy another super-powered princess.

If you’re not familiar with Amethyst… her birth parents were the rulers of Gemworld.  When they were murdered, a good witch transported the baby princess to Earth, where she was raised as a typical all-American girl.  Later, at age 13, she discovered her heritage, and when transported back to Gemworld, she appears as a full-grown woman with magic powers!  (It’s Superman mixed with Shazam and Wonder Woman!  Why isn’t DC publishing new stories?!)

Of course, being a responsible adult, I had to read the comics to make sure they were suitable for her to read!  I read through the first seven issues I had purchased, and although the stories are not highly memorable, they were enjoyable, and I saw a lot of promise in the series.

I don’t know about other collectors, but I usually read the entire comic.  With old DCs, after reading the actual story, I seek out the editorial pages, especially Dick Giordano’s “Meanwhile…” columns.  His columns are always enjoyable to read, and sometimes provide interesting insight.  The following appeared in Amethyst #3 dated March 1985, with a DC Check List dated December 13 (1984).  It’s a guest column, culled from the letter pile, and although some 25 years old, still has some valid points.

I thought it worthy of further debate and discussion, so reproduce it here.

Dear Mr. Giordano,

Here’s two attempts to get printed.  Look at it this way: it’s better than another one of my annoying letters to you.  Anyway, I love to make speeches and I need the money.  Okay, let’s go.

(Sound of throat clearing)

Dear Whoever-Reads-These-Things,

I’d like to speak to you about a subject that has been ignored for years, an American tragedy, a shameful blot on the comics industry.

I’d like to discuss heroine abuse and neglect.

Women in comics are treated terribly by both DC and Marvel, mostly by Marvel, but Jim Shooter doesn’t do guest columns.  They are downplayed, put-upon, wasted, ignored, and stereotyped into six categories.  I like to call these categories the Six De’s.

The first De is Dependence.  The heroine is somehow linked to a hero, either by costume (like Batgirl), by relation (like Huntress), by romance (like Black Canary), or by joining a team (like Wonder Girl).  Thus, the heroine has a bloody hard time standing alone and independent.  Eventually, she becomes either a sidekick (“Green Arrow’s Girlfriend, The Black Canary”) or a bookend (Hawkman and Hawkwoman).

The next De is Deemphasis.  Everyone ignores the heroine and hopes she’ll go away.  DC has an enormous wealth of interesting, exciting, and enjoyable heroines, most of whom haven’t appeared in years.

Demoralize often goes under the guise of “characterization”.  The heroine is given a quirk in her personality or a mental aberration that cripples her.  A good example is The Thorn’s split personality, which makes it impossible for her to fight in the daytime.  The most common personality modes are The Bubblehead (“Oh, dear, this fight to death with Vrot the Remarkably Unpleasant will simply ruin my manicure”), the Battlehappy Battler (“I will tear Vrot the Remarkably Unpleasant into little pieces!”), and the Weak and Helpless Type (“I would fight Vrot the Remarkably Unpleasant, but I’m so afraid of snakes and I’m a pacifist anyway”).

Deglamorize is rediculous but effective.  The heroine is given an ugly costume, which effectively weakens her popularity without too badly weakening her ability in combat.  I’m sure we’re all familiar with the beautiful weather-goddess who was phenomenally popular and was just about to branch out into solo guest-appearances and maybe her own mini-series until the writer suddenly decided to have her go punk, complete with mohawk.  This set her upon the road to ruin as she progressed to the next stage…

Depower!  Of course, the aforementioned character was exposed to the fullest and most literal example of Depowering.  She was stripped of her superhuman qualities and rendered utterly normal … a fate worse than death.  There is a more subtle form of Depowering, where the heroine’s talents are downplayed and presented as trivial.  That way, she needs a hero around to keep her from getting killed.  Thus, deadly destruct-bolts become stun-stings, extrasensory perception becomes “I sense an evil presence somewhere in this room”, and even telepathic mind-control becomes a parlor trick.

The most drastic step is Death.  It means exactly what you think it means.  The heroine is quickly and not-very-neatly disposed of.  Ever since Phoenix left this mortal coil, hundreds of heroines are sacrificed daily in a vain attempt to produce a classic comparable to her story.  The only one that even comes close is “The Judas Contract”, which featured the death of Terra–a death that, let’s face it, we knew was going to happen.  Too many heroines have been sacrificed to the great volcano god Fan-Dom.  It’s about time the writers found a new cliche to overuse.

Now, I’m not suggesting that the comics creators are engaging in a sinister conspiracy.  It’s doubtful that Mr. Giordano has even realized the problem.  But it is sincerely wished that someone would realize what’s going on and take steps to correct the problem.  Why is it that when a character must go insane, sacrifice her life to save humanity, or get blasted by the neural-vac-power-remover, it’s always a woman?

I represent W.A.S.P., the Women Anti-Stereotyping Patrol.  We have been attempting to correct this injustice (by the way, if any W.A.S.P.ers are reading this … for Heaven’s sakes, write!  I’m good, bu I can’t do it all alone!), but we require some help.  If a favorite heroine of yours has been suffering from one of the six symptoms, write to the comic of your choice (don’t bother Mr. Giordano … that’s my job) and complain, politely but firmly.  If any submitters are reading this, consider revamping an old-heroine or creating a new one as your project.  It might be fun.  I know I had fun when I did it (I didn’t have fun when DC rejected it, but that’s not important).  And if any professional comics writers are reading this … for gosh sakes, lay off the heroines, willya?

I thank you for your time.  Now let’s see if I can get this thing printed.

Michael Pickens
[address redacted]

I hope this doesn’t fall under “defamatory”.  I tried to present the facts as I see them and to give DC a fair shake.  If you do decide to print it, I believe you’ll have room for a rebuttal.

  1. While I would love to see a nice Hardcover collection of Amethyst, I would dread seeing a relaunch under this current climate. A grim and gritty Amethyst dressed like Star Sapphire is something the world can do without.

  2. The DC Nation blurb in Batman, Inc. #3 included the line “The Heroine of Gemworld Returns” among some cryptic statements ostensibly written by parties unknown from the future.

  3. great post. makes sense since the genre is mostly driven by guy power/powerless fantasies. for me, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman write great women, would like to see more.

  4. @ Torsten: Did Giordano reply?

    @ JimShelley: I am a big fan of the current Green Lantern, but every time Carol/Star Sapphire’s on the page in that preposterous outfit, I shake my head. I STILL find it hard to believe that anyone would redesign what was already a skimpy one-piece into that.

  5. If my foggy memory serves me right — there was another version of that WASP club that read ‘Women Are Superior People’ —

  6. Rebis, not in that column. I didn’t actively collect DC Comics during that period, so I don’t know if other “Meanwhile” columns discussed the matter.

    From what I’ve read of Mr. Giordano via this column, I suspect he was wise enough to publish this letter, and then let the fans and professionals discuss it independently. Since this was before the Internet became prominent, I wonder if the Comics Buyer’s Guide had a thread in their “Oh, So?” letter column at the time.

    As for Flashpoint, I suspect it will be a “backdoor pilot”… characters will be introduced via an alternate reality, and if successful, will be launched into regular appearances or series.

    Actually… it’s more of a “synchrotron” method… ram a story at hyper-velocity towards a well-known character, marvel at the resulting explosion, and hope that the minor characters and storylines remain in existence long enough to be noticed and analyzed before they disappear.

  7. I still remember that column, it was a good one. Sad to see how little American comics have changed.


    Uh, you know that Colleen Doran is out there creating her own characters rather than doing someone else’s work for hire right?


    I think a manga-type Amethist reboot would be cool but honestly I’d rather see writers and artists make new stuff.

  8. Funny thing. I’m working right now on an Ernie colon issue of our mag, with a complete coverage of the amethyst series….and an exclusive Amethyst cover by the incredible Tim Fish (Cavalcade of Boys, X-Nation, Trust/Truth…)
    I walso wish Dc would relaunch it…and most important of all, collect it!

  9. @Eric H. said “Amethyst had a small role in Infinite Crisis, but I don’t remember if she’s been in anything since.”

    I’m 99.9% certain that she hasn’t appeared since.

    At least not until her name appeared on Booster Gold & Rip Hunter’s Chalkboard a few months back.

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