Friday, July 19, 2013

Brand New Feature: Red Sonja #1 (Dynamite)

by Gail Simone, Walter Geovani

Red Sonja is a property that has existed for a good bit of time now, but not one that I have been familiar with. The scantily clad heroine has existed in comics since the 70s, and has changed publishers a few times. Originally, Sonja was part of the same universe as Conan the Barbarian, all under Marvel Comics. The two properties now exist within separate publishers, and though their universes still have much in common, they do not exist within the same world. Much like the most recent incarnation of Conan the Barbarian under Brian Wood, this new chapter of Red Sonja seems to require no previous knowledge, introducing the character and the world and it makes for a great introduction for unfamiliar readers.

Sonja opens with the conclusion of a massive battle. The winning side, led by King Dimath, has conquered this village and he is brought to the castle dungeon where the previous inhabitants had kept their enslaved. The king is told that here, many slaves were kept in chains and forced to battle each other for the entertainment of the townspeople. Now, only two remain as survivors, and neither are men. Here, readers are introduced to Red Sonja, and though she only utters a few words, there is a force to her that is already tangible.

The story skips ahead a bit, and readers find Sonja, dressed in her traditional chain mail bikini and passed out by a campfire. She is alone in the middle of the wilderness, and her first interactions with a group of thieves draws even more comparisons to the tales of the young Conan. Despite being without her sword, and self-admittedly drunk, she speaks with confidence, making threats to the men without ever rising or turning to face them. The one who leads them is offended by her unwavering bravado, and takes to her challenge. If readers were unsure of just how impressive and skilled Sonja must be from her initial introduction, the following sequence is sure to be all the information necessary to understand everything one needs about Red Sonja. She is violent, vengeful, and a warrior that could stand against the best in any land.

King Dimath's kindness in sparing Sonja in their initial meeting in that dungeon has bought him an allegiance with the warrior. He summons her, and though it seems that they have been apart since then, her dedication to him remains just as strong. The king faces an terrible situation. His army has succumbed to the plague, and an army Zamoran's made of sea-creatures who walk with soldiers is fast approaching. Word has spread that this army kills all who occupy the towns they pass through, burning the villages to the ground upon their departure. The king enlists Sonja to train his civilians so that they may have a fighting chance. Just four days later, the Zamorans arrive, and Sonja has not had enough time to prepare the town. A militia of women a children against the beasts of the Zamoran army, Sonja and King Dimath recognize the impossibility of it all. She rides out to face the thousands, hoping to buy the people some time, only to be face to face with someone she once knew, leading the charge against her.

Gail Simone and Walter Geovani are quick to sell their rendition of the character. Readers unfamiliar with this character and her history will quickly forget all of that as they are swept up in the pacing and personality of the leading lady. Sonja is a strong character and the opening scenes will make a fan out of most. While this type of story will attract some more than others, anyone currently impressed by Wood's Conan will find familiar themes here. Similarly, Geovani is a perfect fit as the artist on the title. Sonja is rendered in a way that balances the quite-exposed female form with a real sense of ferocity. She never feels exploited in how she is drawn, never exaggerating features her to be overly sexy. Geovani instead always manages to display a visual language in how she carriers herself and the expressions on her face. The result of such a depiction leans more towards the strength of Sonja as a warrior to be feared, and not simply a body to gawk at.

Will there someday be a reuniting of Sonja and Conan, and will readers be lucky enough to see it penned by Wood and Simone? That is a dream that will have to wait. For now, Gail Simone and Walter Geovani have a story so good, readers won't need Conan to want to keep reading. In fact, he may find himself outmatched by the She-Devil  with a Sword.

Writing: 8/10
Art: 7/10
Overall: 8/10

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