As one who’s read comics for over forty years, I’ve had some dealing with Red Sonja. She always seemed a bit of an orphan to me – a female warrior happier roaming the lands looking for danger, for fortune, for spoils she could call her own if (and only if) she wanted. She was a princess without a land. A beauty without compare. Tall, muscular, almost statuesque, she’d always been drawn so boldly yet so lovingly … and loving was always furthest from her mind. Despite a myriad of tales, she never seemed truly committed to any particular quest, often times going to and fro with only the direction of a creative crew to spur her onward.
Things look to have changed just a bit as Dynamite Entertainment has put together a pretty impressive re-launch of the character. Even more impressive is the name they’ve introduced to spearhead this re-imagining: longtime novelist and comic book enthusiast Gail Simone.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
It all begins three years ago when noble king Dimath rescued an enslaved nation from the evil wrath of Zamoran ruler, a coward who isn’t even present for the defeat of his city. In the process of sparing these people, Dimath spares two women – two gladiators chained in a dungeon and buried under layers of filth, sweat, and blood. Readers learn that one of them is, in fact, our beloved Sonja (naturally, as this is a re-launch, methinks it’s shaping up as a bit of an origins story – never a bad thing), but the fate of the other won’t be known until the very last pages: we learn that she’s returned in present time, and her sights are set at now destroying the city King Dimath had previously freed from malevolence.
I have a solid reputation of being pretty hard on first issues. It isn’t that I dislike them; rather, it’s that I find them increasingly difficult to do in this day and age. Think about this: how effectively can one creative team introduce a book’s characters, world, and situation in a mere 20 to 30 pages? It’s indeed a daunting task, and it’s certainly one Ms. Simone appears up to here. There’s a palpable sense of glee at giving Red Sonja a makeover, if not the perfect chance to rise from the ashes of what’s come before (literarily) and poise her for a new future.
And why not? As I tried to explain above, Red Sonja has often times felt as though she was given the treatment of an afterthought by many teams. She doesn’t have the name recognition of a Batman, Superman, or Spider-man. She doesn’t have the respect that even the Conan book has, what with its link to the big budget movies. She’s never quite had the cache of courtesy given even to TV’s XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS, another statuesque beauty that came out of nowhere and received fandom’s willing (and lustful) embrace. Sonja’s been around for quite a while, and it would seem that only now Dynamite’s giving her a chance to explode.
Explode she does. When she finds herself unnecessarily kept from sleep on a bed of leaves by a trio of brigands who threaten her safety, she barely bats an eye. However, once the band of thieves threaten the two young ladies who’ve curiously shown up at the same time with intentions of saving our ginger heroine, she rises to the occasion and quickly dispatches two thugs to the Underworld. The third? Creatively, he happens to tie in with the message the women have been sent to deliver: Sonja is being called to Dimath’s side with hopes that she can help save his kingdom.
So far as my particular scale for first issues is concerned, RED SONJA #1 is solid but it misses gold. I don’t dislike the story; it’s just that there were too many elements relying on flashback. As a narrative device, I’ve always believed that the flashback should be used sparingly. It’s definitely used to good effect here, but it necessarily limited my time with Sonja – the real star of the comic – and that’s who I tune in to see.
Still, it feels as if Simone has a firm command – much like the character she’s penning – of this world. My impression may dramatically improve with the second issue as readers are left with one of those grand, jaw-dropping cliffhangers in this issue’s final panel. If nothing else, Simone has definitely served up a solid reason to return to the world of Red Sonja … even if it’s only for a short but sweet visit!
RED SONJA #1 (Ongoing) is published by Dynamite Entertainment. The issue is written by Gail Simone; the art is drawn by Walter Geovani; the book is colored by Adriano Lucas; it is lettered by Simon Bowland; and the series is presently edited by Joseph Rybandt. Individual issues bear the cover price of $3.99 … and that’s a bargain considering the depth, action, and characterization contained within.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. As a first issue (as part of a re-launch of a long-established character), RED SONJA #1 at times feels surprisingly a bit perfunctory, and that’s likely because Sonja is so already well known to those who love her best: her readers. As a jumping on point for new readers, I suspect the addition of novelist and comics’ scribe Gail Simone (who’s long been credited with Wonder Woman’s current resurrection) might bring fresh blood into the fold. God knows she’s delivering fresh blood to the pages. Kudos to a solid start: I’ll definitely check in to see where it’s all heading.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that I’ve repeatedly contacted the fine folks at Dynamite Comics via email and their web site in hopes to arrange for reader copies of RED SONJA #1 (Ongoing); however, the company apparently does not recognize nor cooperate with requests from new media outlets.