It has been a while since Comic Bastards tackled a group review. What better way to get back into the grove than with Dynamite’s Red Sonja reboot? As with every group review, each participating writer will give their score followed by their reason for the score. Now a quick blurb about the issue:
Through the plains of Hyrkania, a message sweeps through the scattered peoples of the nation. Bells ring, horns blow, voices shout – the King is dying! Red Sonja rides to save the King from his doom as the powers of Hyboria crowd around to strike when the kingdom is weakest. But a dread new power rises from within Hyrkania's own borders, bent on defending its homeland – no matter the cost, no matter what its people become. A defining chapter of the Red Sonja saga – dark, clever, vicious, and funny – as the She-Devil with a Sword must stop the rise of a brutal new regime… her own people!
I am not hugely familiar with Red Sonja. To me she has always been on that list of female characters, who, judging by their covers would likely die of exposure in anything approaching a cold climate. Vampirella, Power Girl, Deja Thoras, etc: these were to me the cohorts of Red Sonja. Well in this issue the buxom Sonja has been rebooted, and this time with less cleavage (although some surprisingly modern looking underwear). That's right, the chainmail bikini has been replaced by a chainmail leotard! It's a welcome change, though it doesn't make up for a character that remains frustratingly two-dimensional. Sonja is apparently a wild free spirit, has had lots of lovers, likes killing, and, despite the slight change in costume, is still mostly pants-less. In a lot of ways, it feels like the issue went half-way towards giving her more to do but couldn't quite get past the fact that she's mostly just very hot.
And to the artist's credit, Red Sonja does indeed look very hot, although for a warrior princess she wears a ton of lip gloss. The art in general is clean and occasionally imaginative with some excellent coloring. A few moments specifically pop thanks to Aneke's use of light to add dimension and tone. The story is decent as well if a little predictable, but much in the way that Red Sonja seems a little at odds with herself as a character, the story felt caught between dueling desires to be a serious epic and a somewhat campy high fantasy piece. In the end, it's not a bad comic, but I can't see it ever becoming one I would feel compelled to read. Then again, she is very attractive...
Dynamite’s Red Sonja #1 brings to mind any of the latest Dark Horse Conan comics, familiar and fun fantasy-action. Red Sonja has always been the female counterpart to Conan in my mind, with nearly interchangeable adventures, just gender swapped. So this title to me is essentially Dynamite’s Conan, but with a female lead, which rules. The only problem is that this first issue slows down midway and only picks up for a cliffhanger ending.
Sonja denies a claim to the crown of her homeland, and afterwards we are bombarded with her existential daydreaming, treated to vignettes of past adventures and past lovers. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this, as it depicts Sonja as a lost hero, trying to find her purpose in the world, this gives her a relatability that most mystical heroes never have. One of the best parts of some of the latest Conan comics is making an otherwise invincible hero seem human, it seems that Dynamite has caught on, for the best.
Unfortunately, the plot doesn’t pick up again until the last few pages where we are left hanging, though it’s on a pretty exciting note. So there is hope for this series to pick up. Not a bad beginning, painting Sonja as a discontent hero whose home has no more room for her. Though it appears that they need her much more than they thought.
Pandering and boring come to mind when I think about this issue. Red Sonja, if written properly, didn’t need a reboot in which she’s dressed more like a beggar than a warrior. Yeah, ironclad bikini isn’t believable, but it is classic. Sometimes classic is okay to be. For instance, messing with the classic Cadbury Egg cost Kraft 6 million dollars.
As for the story, could we spend any more time on Sonja either talking about why she couldn’t be Queen or regretting that she didn’t become Queen? It’s damn near the majority of the book. Also, her King dies and she just bones out for a year killing forest creatures? What the fuck? If you want her to be gone for a year to come back to the changes then come up with a story to be explored later. Don’t just say, “she killed weird creatures in the forest.” That’s fucking lazy storytelling. If you were gone for a year and came back and said that everyone would stop being your friend and assume you were just in rehab from chasing the dragon one too many times.
The art is okay. The layouts are pretty fucking dull and what little action there is seems awkwardly staged. Thieves jump a wagon and then guards jump the thieves and Sonja almost jumps in and then suddenly everyone is just arrested and Sonja is pouting as she walks away. Really stopped caring about the story at that point. The art was clean and ultimately added to the boredom of the story.
The old Red Sonja was a fierce warrior that helped people, but faced real danger. A kingdom that’s cleaned up, but kind of a cult… seems below her skill set. I didn’t get the sense of danger here. This is obviously something Sonja will handle relatively easily and it just depends on how many issues Dynamite wants to sell before it ends. Also the modern contract jokes sucked and broke the reality instantly. I’m barely giving this a two and only because the art was competent, even if it was dull.
I am a relative newcomer to Red Sonja, and aside from a short stint reviewing Conan the Avenger a couple of years ago, I’m a babe in the woods with Robert E. Howard’s characters in general. In spite of all of that, Marguerite Bennett and Aneke have created a #1 issue of Red Sonja that really feels like a #1.
The issue reminds me of the first time I saw the J.J. Abrams Star Trek—it was a property I was mostly familiar with through its cultural cachet, rather than direct exposure, and it felt like Abrams & co. had sat down and figured out the things people knew about Trek (Scotty saying “I’m giving her all I’ve got,” Bones saying “Dammit Jim, I’m a doctor, not a _______,” etc.) and built a cool sci-fi flick around it. With Red Sonja, Bennett and Aneke have taken the things the people at large know about Sonja and addressed them, the idea of Queen Sonja, or Sonja the She-Devil, and factored them into a skillful story about a woman who is in charge of her life. Sonja is a quintessential member of this generation in this new version: she holds the weight of a legacy, but maintains her own agency to choose her path. And yet, in spite of all that, she finds herself adrift, trying to figure out/remember who she is. It’s a relatable Red Sonja story, which I didn’t think I would ever see.
Aneke’s art is new to me, and I have to say, it is striking. She hits that perfect balance between savage violence, dry wit, and sexuality that makes this book really work. There also seems to have been a conscious choice to leave Sonja’s hair un-inked, and with it just colored, it makes it seem wilder, less bound, and that speaks to this book, thematically. There’s a lot of small strokes of genius in this issue, and I think we have Aneke to thank for most of the visual ones. I can’t wait to see how she handles the series going forward.
In all honesty, I wasn’t planning on liking Red Sonja. I’m not much for sword and sorcery and I don’t know enough about her for her tale to have grabbed me in the past. I wish it had, because this issue rules, pretty hard. Definitely worth your four bucks this Wednesday.
Red Sonja #1 Writer: Marguerite Bennett Artist: Aneke Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment Price: $3.99 Release Date: 1/13/16 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital