Near Miss: The Sisterhood of Steel (1984-1986)

sisterhood-of-steelThe Sisterhood of Steel is where the whole Near Miss project started, more or less.

Writer and co-creator Christy Marx has contributed a lot to pop culture, whether people know it or not. She was head writer on Jem and the Holograms and has written numerous other TV and movie scripts as well as contributed to numerous video games and comics. She’s someone who’s almost always working. If you’re of a certain generation, you probably know her work.

So when DC Comics announced Sword of Sorcery with a reboot of Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld penned by Marx, I felt hopeful. After all, DC Comics’ New 52 had been criticized for its lack of female creators (as well as the typical gross sexism in comics). Maybe — just maybe — DC was trying to expand its audience.

It seemed like a step forward until, well, we saw the first issue.

I don’t want to place the blame all on Marx for that attempted gang-rape scene. I have no idea what was in her script so I don’t know what she originally intended. And to me, the way it was drawn and paced on the page made it worse than the fact it was happening. (Also, it’s dismaying that no editor said at any time during the process “Uh, yeah, maybe this isn’t the best way to go about this …”)

I already knew about The Sisterhood of Steel before reading Sword of Sorcery #0 and was already forming this project, but that issue kind of cemented the idea for me.

The Sisterhood of Steel was an eight-issue miniseries published by Marvel Comics’ Epic Comics line created by Marx and artist Mike Vosburg. They said they were “striving to create a book that will appeal equally to male and female readers.” I don’t know how much they succeeded.

This was obviously some kind of labor of love. Marx and Vosburg obviously spent a lot of time creating this world. The back pages offer up appendices with brief character histories, explanations of the political and social structure of The Sisterhood and its rituals and more. In terms of world-building, you really can’t ask for more.

In terms of story and characters you actually care about, however, you will.

Our lead is Boronwë, a young woman who is blandly good at nearly everything. There is nothing wrong with Boronwë but there’s little that’s interesting about her either. I wouldn’t quite call her a Mary Sue, but she’s a skilled fighter whose major flaw is that she loves her best friend too much. She’s persecuted by Vandalis, The Princess of Swords … because I guess the title needed to have an enemy?

Character motivations are mostly thin and left me with the impression this was possibly conceived initially as a Dungeons & Dragons scenario. Political intrigue (slave traders!), star-crossed romances and fierce wars with barbarian tribes are dropped completely in the last two issues (out of 8!) for Boronwë’s trial for treason against The Sisterhood. For a title that wants to promise battles and fight scenes, there is certainly a lot of talking.

Still, there are things to like. While it’s sometimes a little graceless and looks a little dated now, it’s amazing to see what diversity of women Vosburg offered in his art. Some are young and some are old. Some are feminine and masculine. There is a diversity of races, heights and body types (to some extent — most everyone is drawn to be strong and athletic). Sexuality is treated matter-of-factly. Many of the sisters are clearly in same-sex relationships and Boronwë has sex without shame. Kelki, Boronwë’s friend, makes the decision to run away to choose love and family over fighting, but her choices are treated with respect. Marx and Vosburg offer many different paths for women, and that feels progressive even now.

I also like that while the battles were intense, they weren’t overly graphic. There is definitely violence and some blood, but it’s not gory. Some of the sex scenes were fairly explicit, though, although not gratuitous. I don’t know if that was an intentional plan, but that did feel more appealing to me.

It’s hard to say how much of a plan Marx and Vosburg had in telling this story. It does meander a bit as plot points are picked up and dropped. I have to assume it was canceled with only a bit of notice. The eight issues do wrap up a few major threads by the end, but more questions remain than were answers.

The story does continue, though, in a graphic novel by Marx with art by Peter Ledger, published by Eclipse Books. I have it but once I finished the eight issues of The Sisterhood of Steel,I felt bored and uninterested in reading it. I may go back to it some day, but I just didn’t care about these characters enough.

The Sisterhood of Steel was decent attempt at telling a different kind of story. It clearly didn’t make much of a connection — and it didn’t with me, even now — but I admire what it tried to do.

I only wish I felt the same about Sword of Sorcery.

Near Miss is a semi-regular feature that will be appearing on Comicsgirl throughout 2013. This project is sponsored by Big Planet Comics.

2 thoughts on “Near Miss: The Sisterhood of Steel (1984-1986)”

  1. Years ago, in a used bookstore, I picked up a copy of the graphic novel (“Boronwë, Daughter of Death”). I liked it pretty well and always wanted to read the comics that came before it.

    My favorite moment: the main character at one point finds something shocking, and neither melts down helplessly nor tosses off a jaded heroic one-liner. She gets on with what she needs to be doing but is obviously stressed about it, and at one point when she is confronted with a stuck door she bursts out with “I want OUT of this pit of madness!!!” I really felt that was a perfect reaction to the situation.

    The ending sets up for future stories but I guess we never will see them now.

    I suspect that I tolerate thin characters better than you do, if the background is interesting. The Sisterhood, its politics, its secret passages, etc. all had me very interested.

    Now I want to dig that graphic novel up from my stacks, and see what I think of it after all these years.

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