It is hard to believe that nearly 42 years ago, comic writer Roy Thomas, in looking for a new character for the Conan comic title, chose a little known female warrior described in an article with Conan creator Robert E. Howard as a “Russian hell cat” who fought alongside our barbarian that was depicted in a long out of point story called “Shadow of the Vulture. Changing her name from Red Sonya of Rogatine to what he felt to be a more exotic Red Sonja, Thomas ran with the old “Shadow of the Vulture” story, beginning the evolution of what would eventually come to be one of the best known and most respected female heroines in graphic print today. Yes, Sonja has evolved through the many years developing an iconic “Iron Bikini” fighting garb, an immensely confident persona, and a commitment to courage and truth that places her right up there with big old Conan himself. Perhaps even bettering him during the last several years, thanks to the wonderful wording skills of writers like Eric Trautmann, Luke Lieberman, and of course the incredible current monthly run of Gail Simone. This warrior lady has gone full circle and is one of Dynamite Comics’ most successful titles.
The time is right for a compilation.
Now my first response to hearing about another Red Sonja compilation is to say a resounding “Noooooooooooooooo” as I have plowed through several mediocre tales that have no sense of direction or organization. Many of the “special” issues of tales for Sonja have not been too terribly great. And I have had the fortune (or misfortune, depending on how you view it) to review many of those aforementioned issues. They typically let me down on a fairly consistent level.
But when I first checked out the cover of this Issue #1973, I had a distinct feeling that things might be a little bit different. At least the cover gave me hope anyway, as we have a tribute to some of the great Marvel tales of the 1970s even with the old classic “MARVEL COMICS GROUP” being replaced by “DYNAMITE COMICS GROUP”. As an old school reader of these titles, my interest was at least there for this one. Somebody did their homework at least.
So I open it and read through the six stories of the issue. My initial thoughts….Quite nice. Really, quite nice. This compilation of stories dodges the pitfalls of many other such compilations by utilizing many of the writers who gave Red Sonja her mojo throughout the years. It works well as the six independent tales cover a different angle of the She Devil with Sword, giving that sword a sharp cut and powerful thrust.
Right off the bat, Eric Trautmann writes in the style of the old Howard narrative, covering Sonja’s pursuit and eventual confrontation with a raiding party that has a precious cargo in their procession. Equally represented graphically with Trautmann, is Ivan Rodriguez’ classic, yet modernly brutal imagery. This story gets the whole issue off to a strong start and begins a pace that remains throughout. I finished this first story whispering a “Hell Yeah” under my breath.
Story number two, entitled “For Whom the Bell Trolls”, has Sonja writing OG Roy Thomas combining a little bit of grit, a little bit of grime, and a lot of brutal fairy tale whimsy, depicting our lady in the midst of thugs, trolls, and the like. Always the level head, and always (always), the warrior elite, Sonja maneuvers through the vulgarities that she encounters with her classic She Devil style, maintaining her composure and providing the reader with a lite refreshment after the firm start. Artist Rich Buckler, though not as visually impressive as Rodriguez’ earlier work, is ample and provides a more traditional touch with Sonja that the reader will recognize and enjoy.
Enter “The Simple Life” written by Luke Lieberman and drawn by Rod Rodolfo. Going back to Sonja’s roots, we see a family taking a young Sonja into their humble home after finding her freezing and near death, fresh off her village’s massacre. The family is kind and help to nurse her to health. But something is amiss regarding the family’s only child, a son who seems not to appreciate those good things of life that he has. You know that Sonja has something to say about that. What we see in this story is a lesson building that also shows a side of Sonja that has been a part of her character for some time. The ability to command respect and show mercy at the same time.
With “The Hanging Tree, written by Gail Simone, the reader gets a story in line to the current evolution of Sonja. One where she is set up for a crime that she didn’t commit by a town of dandy’s who have some offense to the She Devil’s more “basic” ways of manners. Sentenced to die, Simone writes the tale with a mixture of direct dialogue and thoughts from Sonja depicting the man of whom she is accused of murdering and the action at large. This She Devil Sherlock Holmes tale is the best written one as we see Sonja matching her wits with those who feel and believe that they are superior to her. They are not needless to say. I was a little put off by the art of Kewbar Baal as the depictions of our lady is much different from the other stories. Don’t get me wrong. The art looks fine. It just seems, I don’t know, different. It might just be that I am so used to seeing Walter Geovani on the monthly drawing Simone’s words. So I don’t fault Baal at all. I think that I am just crazy maybe.
Red Sonja writing newbie David Walker tackles a subject that we don’t see our She Devil in too terribly much, that of a slave. In this tale, entitled “Arena of Dread” we see how Sonja doesn’t play well with others. Or at least she doesn’t play well with sick and disgusting overweight despots who desire our lady for his pleasure. Upset with her insubordination, he places her in the arena with the aim to destroy. Things play out and we get a story that though covered by a newcomer, shows a strong knowledge of who Red Sonja is and in what she is about. The ending is pleasing to say the least. And the art by Belquis Evely is solid in both the fluffy palace settings as well as the bloody and brutal arena.
The final tale, Silent Running is a rather simple story covering Sonja’s day to day battles with adversaries. Not a single bit of writing is depicted, but a framing sequence is used to achieve kind of a montage feeling of intense action in a very short period of time. I am not so sure what kind of credit that also Sonja newbie writer Cullen Bunn should have since there is no dialogue. But one look of Jonathan Lau’s art, and you won’t care. Lau’s renderings are absolutely off the chain, wiping out the reader with some incredible stuff and allowing a perfectly placed wrap up for a very good compilation.
So after reading these six tales of Sonja the woman, Sonja the myth, and Sonja the legend, I found Red Sonja #1973 to be one solidly put together piece of graphic literature. For the price of $7.99, you get 50 pages covering 42 years of history. All are well done and all are crafted with passion, precision, and purity I would say, covering a woman who is much more than a “Russian hell cat” or a metallic bikini clad warrior. This compilation sets a very high bar for any future ones that may follow.
Red Sonja 1973 Writers: Eric Trautmann, Roy Thomas, Luke Lieberman, Gail Simone, David Walker, and Cullen Bunn Artists: Ivan Rodriguez, Rich Buckler, Rod Rodolfo, Kewbar Baal, Bilquis Evely, and Jonathan Lau Colorists: Marcio Menyz, Arison Aguiar, Bilquis Evely, and Ivan Nunes Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment Price: $7.99 Release Date: 7/15/15 Format: One Shot/Print Digital