By Jonathan Edwards
I have never read an issue of Red Sonja in my life. What’s more, I’m only familiar with Tarzan at all because of the Disney film of the same name, and I haven’t seen that for something like a decade, if not longer. Gail Simone, on the other hand, is a slightly different story. Granted, I’ve not yet read nearly as much as her work as I should have, but, from what I have read, she’s a very skilled writer, and she very much continues to be one here. Because despite going into this crossover book knowing as outright little about two franchises that, frankly, I didn’t remotely care about, she had me fully hooked by this issue’s midpoint.
Our story begins in Australia, where we’re immediately introduced to primary antagonist Eson Duul. Duul is a hunter and an excessively cruel one at that. For, not only does he hunt endangered animals, but, once successful, he makes sure also to kill the remaining members of the species just so no one else can have what he does. The brutality of his method is on full display during this opening sequence, when his hunting party finally comes across the family of thylacine (also known as Tasmanian tigers or Tasmanian wolves) that they’ve been searching for. But, what makes this depiction truly heartbreaking is the use of restraint in what we actually see. That is to say, while we do get a panel showing the bullet hitting and killing the thylacine father after Duul fires his rifle, the slaughtering of the mother and her cubs is left off-panel save for a single shot of Duul’s underling Carl Snyder firing his Tommy gun. It’s perhaps a small detail, but it’s an important one, as it showcases Simone’s talent as a visual storyteller and, more importantly, establishes that this story’s tone is a dark one but not exploitative.
From there, we are introduced to both of our eponymous leads starting with Red Sonja. Injured, not feeling herself, and carrying a saddle through the desert, Sonja travels to the town of Shurai. Upon her arrival, she quickly beats the hell out of two jeering drunks and situates herself at a local tavern, where she drinks, disinfects and cauterizes her wound before declaring that she needs to see “the witch.” As for Tarzan, we first encounter him somewhere “an hour outside London.” And, presumably following the Edgar Rice Burroughs novels, he is completely reintegrated into human society, goes by the name John Clayton or title Lord Greystoke, but, at heart, is still the same Lord of the Jungle he’s always been. Tarzan meets with none other than Eson Duul, who has recently purchased the estate of Tarzan’s good friend Paul D’Arnot with the intention of turning it into a hunting lodge. And, as you might expect, Tarzan isn’t having that. These are great introductions that do an awesome job setting up either of our protagonists through strong characterization and well-written supplementary narration, and, honestly, there’s really not much else that needs to be said about them.
Adriano Augusto’s art is quite good throughout the issue, but where he most excels is in the transitions between Sonja and Tarzan’s respective time periods. It’s one thing to make them each look and feel distinct, but it’s another thing entirely to switch between the two and have the reader immediately know you’re switching between the too, without it also being jarring. But, Augusto pulls it off here.
The rest of the issue is more or less dedicated to elaborating on how Duul is a force of antagonism for both Sonja and Tarzan, who do end up meeting in the last couple pages. Sonja confirms that Duul can travel through time by means that’ll assuredly by explained further in the future, then Red Sonja/Tarzan #1 ends on a pretty solid cliffhanger. And, I have to say, I think I’m going to come back for the second issue. Now, does that mean I’ll review it next time as well? To be honest, I’m not sure. When the time comes, I might only want to read it for my own enjoyment. But, either way, I do legitimately want to know what happens next, and that’s not something I expected when I first signed up for this book.
Red Sonja/Tarzan #1