Red Sonja is arguably the most famous sword-and-sorcery heroine. First created by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith, Sonja was based on the work of Robert E. Howard, famed creator of Conan the Barbarian. Dynamite Entertainment, publishers of the Red Sonja comic series, recently brought Gail Simone and Walter Geovani on board to chronicle a new chapter in the adventures of the She-Devil with a Sword. Thanks to an awesome Comixology sale coinciding with Dynamite’s 10th anniversary, I was able to grab the first six issues of the series, titled the “Queen of Plagues” arc, for a massive discount. With my love of fantasy stories and Simone’s previous work, would this new series succeed in wowing me?
The “Queen of Plagues” storyline unfolds simultaneously through the past and present. Early on, we’re introduced to King Dimath, a man who saved Red Sonja from a dungeon where she was kept for slave gladiatorial matches years prior. Dimath beseeches Sonja for aid, as a massive army is on the horizon and his own army has fallen to a mysterious plague. Leading the army, however, is Dark Annisia, the only other slave to survive the hellish fighting pit. Sonja is thus forced to stand against her sister-in-arms and fight a desperate battle to defend the innocents beneath Dimath’s reign. But all is not as it seems, as schemers turn these events into a puppet show to unfold a hideous legacy of revenge.
Gail Simone, writer of these six issues of Red Sonja, is arguably the most famous female writer in modern comics. Aside from writing the acclaimed Secret Six, Batgirl, and Deadpool, Simone is credited with coining the term “Women in Refrigerators” which refers to the use of female characters’ suffering as plot devices simply to move along the character development of a male character. Simone’s writing shines here once again as she brings forth the fiery Sonja. What I love is that Simone’s portrayal of Sonja is no-nonsense; at her core, Sonja is a barbarian and a warrior, so it’s good to see her not only fight wildly, but also express her love of drinking and distaste for fancy banquets. Even in just the first issue, readers receive an exquisite character portrait of Sonja; I felt an almost instant connection to this character and felt joy rooting for her as she fought bandits, soldiers, and even mermen.
Walter Geovani, in contrast to Simone, is not a creator I was familiar with before picking up this series. Still, Geovani is a great fit for this fantasy story. The best thing about his work is the strangeness he brings to some of scenes, which adds to the fanciful elements; the strange armor, creatures, and ghosts he draws immerse you in the mystical world of Hyboria. Geovani’s battle scenes are also amazing as befitting of this high-action comic. Finally, the characters’ faces are great as well, expressing a range of emotions from joy to disgust to utter terror.
Still, “Queen of Plagues” is not without flaws. Though the flashbacks are necessary to the story’s progression, a few of them, especially in issue #3, felt jarring and a little bit too long; I feel as if one or two of those pages may have been better served in the present, especially to flesh out some of Sonja’s supporting cast. I also feel that the ending of the story, while good, felt like a bit too much all at once; Simone placed a lot of balls in the air and, while all the plot threads are resolved, everything seemed to wrap up too perfectly and too quickly. It may have been best to shorten some of the earlier flashbacks and use the extra pages to help tie up loose ends in a more coherent manner. Finally, Geovani’s drawing of distance scenes or characters seen at a range is of a noticeably lower quality than the rest of his work.
Even with its flaws, Red Sonja #1-6 still comprise an arc of comics that is a must-read for any fan of the sword-and-sorcery genre. It’s clear that Simone and Geovani have a lot of love and passion for the character of Red Sonja, and their efforts shine through in this wonderful series. These issues are also currently collected in trade, so its easy to pick them up if you want to read the story. This is a strong story that’s gotten me to add the series to my pull list, and I’m excited to continue to follow Sonja’s adventures.
-amazing sword-and-sorcery story
-exceptional fantasy art and battle scenes
-excellent character expressions to communicate a range of emotions
-great portrayal of the character of Red Sonja
-some flashbacks feel too long or break up the action a bit too much
-art of scenes at a distance is poor
-ending ties up all the loose ends rather hastily
Brett Simon is a twenty-four year old comic enthusiast. He’d be too scared to go drinking with Red Sonja.
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