I feel like every time I review this book I harp on how this is not Red Sonja. This doesn’t feel like Red Sonja, this doesn’t sound like Red Sonja, this character is not Red Sonja. Now, I’m not really a stickler for character type, I’m open for interpretation. I understand the need for change and I get that they are trying something different. The problem I have is they took a character who, while basic, was somewhat compelling and unique in her honor, in her stoicism and her ability to kill mother fuckers. I know that she was just a female Conan and that is an argument you can make, but I much prefer a female Conan to generic ‘empowered’ female character #3. There’s nothing unique about her in this book. That’s probably the books biggest criticism because there is nothing unique about anybody in this book. They are all mostly interchangeable regardless of gender. In issue 3 she frees Franken-Nemo from the control of Frankenstein before being flushed out of the ship and she is then descended up on by sharks and saved by the newly freed Nemo. This entire issue she is weaker than Nemo. Nemo does all the heavy lifting, he saves her on multiple occasions and he’s the badass while Sonja is just generically snarky. They did try to give some depth by giving her some claustrophobia and a voice inside her head but I don’t know if I would mark that as a win just yet. If this were at least in the vein of Red Sonja then she would be the badass to the helpless Nemo. THAT would be more in keeping with the character. Make Nemo a frail strategist freed by the powerful Sonja, fake Sonja’s death, have Frankenstein flush Nemo out and have Sonja save Nemo. Not all that different, but it at least keeps the tone of the character.
Beyond that massive main character misstep there just isn’t a whole lot. As I said, the characters are all pretty generic and interchangeable. As long as they aren’t stating main plot points you wouldn’t be able to assign random word bubbles to their characters. You know when Frankenstein says something because, if it’s exposition, it will be vaguely menacing and related to an evil plan. When he’s not interchangeable he’s generic. The same is true in reverse, if a character isn’t being generic then they’re being interchangeable. So that is weak pillar in the three pillars of storytelling: Characters, Setting and Plot. I think we’d be better off looking at these pillars and exploring why Red Sonja fails rather than just railing on what it does wrong. As stated above, the characters don’t really cut it in any compelling way and fail to make me understand, sympathize with or relate to any of them. The motivations of everyone involved is a complete mystery to me.
Let’s look at plot. Evil scientist wants to take over the world. Why? Because he wants to. What’s his end game? I don’t know, it doesn’t matter. Most things have been written before, it is incredibly hard to come up with an innovative idea. It can be pretty hard to find a way to do a cliché idea inventively. The most you can usually hope for is to do a cliché idea in an interesting way; it won’t matter if it’s cliché as long as it’s entertaining. Harry Potter is just King Arthur, but it’s an entertaining take on King Arthur. Hunger Games is just 1984 but an inventive take on tyrannical dystopia’s. I’m sure 1984 is a derivative of something else for that matter. Being derivative is a common hobgoblin of literature.
The point is: plot is a tricky mistress and you can’t take points away for a story being a basic bitch. Bad bitch stories are hard to come by. This, however, is a cliché plot done uninterestingly. Why is Frankenstein a bad guy? Why does he feel he needs to take over the world? The easiest way to make a bad guy interesting is to figure out why they feel they are the hero. If you can’t do that then you need to establish why you don’t want them to succeed. In Age of Ultron there isn’t really a clear way in which Ultron thinks he’s the hero (killing people to save people? Evolving a race?) but we do know we don’t want him to succeed (he will kill all the people and I am a person). I don’t know why Frankenstein is a baddie and I don’t know why I don’t want him to succeed. I also don’t know why my protagonist want's to stop him or why I want HER to succeed. As you can see, the plot is our second crumbling pillar.
That leaves us with one pillar left and luckily it’s a strong ass pillar. It’s a little worn because we haven’t seen much outside of ship innards and water for the last two issues but when viewed in the context of the greater Legenderry world it’s the only thing holding this book up. That pillar is setting and the Steampunk setting is the ONLY thing doing this ANY favors. At this point it’s the only thing keeping this book aloft. That and potential, the idea of a Steampunk Vampirella/Red Sonja crossover still has me interested, much more interested than whatever the hell is going on here. That’s where this book triumphs and that where this book will break. If you like Steampunk then you might be able to drudge through this, if you don’t then the whole thing collapses into the abyss to be replaced by something with a stronger foundation.