Gold Digger v3 #10-22 (2000-2001)
And now the adventures of Julia Diggers, Barbarian MILF.
Turns out, while Gina and company were busy uncovering the lost secrets of the djinni, Julia lost the title of "Armsmaster of Jade" to her rival G'nolga, who we met in the last story arc of the black-and-white series. G'nolga, of course, cheated up the wazoo in order to win - and then made it look like Julia was the one fighting dirty. Julia is dead set on winning back her title and her honor, but first she'll have to fight her way through her own martial arts school, her own clan, and the strongest warriors in Jade!
Of course, there's more to it than that. G'nolga is working for Tirant and Array, who need her to be Armsmaster, because only the Armsmaster can requisition the super-artifacts used to fight off the evil "Shadows" in the distant past. Tirant and Array have also recruited Hanzo (a swordsman accidentally transformed into a swordswoman) and Rook (the ghost knight) to serve them as well. But Jade's Northern Edge Guard are hot on their heels, and the entire plan hinges on G'nolga.
Oh, and Gina and Brianna are bumbling around too, throwing a monkey wrench into everyone's plans.
This is another really strong, well-paced story. Each issue has a clear arc of its own - Julia relays the story of her defeat, the villains outline their master plan, the Edge Guard investigate what's going on, etc. - while at the same time adding to the overall story. Some new plot threads are introduced - the two djinni picked up in the last arc start plotting something, Julia picks up three students, and Gina starts to figure out the basics of magic. And, of course, those pesky Nomad Artificers pop up again, having apparently constructed not only some of Jade's super-artifacts, but the entire dimension as well.
One thing I've always been impressed by is the way Fred is able to present the antagonists as a challenge without making them ludicrously powerful1. That's because in Fred's story both the heroes and villains lose all the time. Julia loses to G'nolga in the opener, and gets smacked around by every other opponent she faces before barely defeating them. Brittany and the Edge Guard fight G'nolga and her goons to a stalemate. The Edge Guard actually defeat Tirant and Array only to have victory snatched away by a freak coincidence. A power-boosted Tirant somehow lays the smack down on everyone, only to lose it all because he doesn't fully understand what he's controlling.
A lot of adventure stories tend to forget that success and failure walk hand-in-hand - one is meaningless without the other. Someone who wins all the time, who never shows any signs of weakness, is just as hard to get behind as a perrenial loser. People love a winner, but they hate someone who wins effortlessly.
Art-wise, Fred drops the more anglar style he was using for the early color issues and goes with a smoother, more pleasantly cartoonish look.2 And, since he's now handling all the coloring duties as well, he dumps the fussy mud colors of earlier issues for a simpler, brighter palette that's both distinctive and eye-catching. This fight scene from issue #13, pitting Julia against her own mother, is a good example of the style Fred uses for these issues.
Fred's fight scenes are always exciting reading, though it's frequently hard to single out individual pages or images for praise. There's a real sense of danger - Brunhildagard's strikes seem to be lightning-fast, and the awkward poses, close-ups, and extreme foreshortening make the reader feel as off-balance as Julia does. And despite the awkwardness, every one actions have been clearly choreographed - there's a clear sequence rather than a bunch of herky-jerky moments. The arc of Brunhildagard's elegantly flows from one position to the next with no break in the action, as do Julia's blocks. There is, perhaps, not enough shown of the arena for the audience to intuit Brunhildagard's strategy, but it's obvious from her actions that there is one.
If there's any criticism I have of these pages, it's that the color design could probably use a bit of work. The color of Brunhildagard's strikes is repeated in the background, and the color scheme is too warm overall which tends to blur the panels together. The coloration of the strikes isn't ephemeral enough - they seem solid, which helps convey their strength, but it also makes them seem a bit lumpen and rushed.
Production-wise, Fred ups the page count from 16 to 24 pages with issue #13, allowing him to be a bit more leisurely with his fight scenes and character development. There are also some major problems with consistent color matching - Julia's hair goes from orange to cherry red to dark brown, for instance - and it's clear that this isn't always an artistic choice.
And, for continuity fans, issue #12 marks the last appearance of Raphiel in the main Gold Digger title, though he pops up later in the GD: Tangent webcomics (and one of the Edge Guard minis, too, if I remember correctly). His disappearance always struck me as weird - Fred was clearly trying to establish him as a potential love interest for Brianna. Then again, he's already got a book with three main characters and almost two dozen key supporting players, so maybe there just wasn't room for Raphiel in the books.
Your Gratuitous Pop Culture Reference For Today
Bonus Stealth PeeboChu
Hmm. While I'm hoping things work out for him, there's no way that code's going to execute properly. Sorry, little dude!
- Okay, Array is ludicrously powerful, part of her shtick is that a) she doesn't realize how ludicrously powerful she is, and b) is so lovestruck by Tirant that she lets him call the shots most of the time. Plus, at this point she's still eschewing the flashier uses of her power in favor of a subtler approach.
- The old look persists on the covers for a few issues, probably because they're drawn well in advance of the actual issues.