Review copies for both issues were provided courtesy of Jim Zub.
It’s been awhile since I reviewed a Sword & Sorcery comic, which is a shame since it’s one of my favorites genres. Nevertheless, I’m glad the wait is over, as I recently read the first two issues of Conan/Red Sonja from a writing team of Gail Simone and Jim Zub, with artwork by Dan Panosian and colors by Dave Stewart.
Though once they shared the pages of barbarian comics, Conan the Barbarian and Red Sonja have not been in a comic together in two decades. Rights to make comics about the two characters are held by Dark Horse Comics and Dynamite Entertainment, respectively. Luckily, these two exceptional comic publishers came together to develop this long awaited crossover.
Red Sonja and Conan the Barbarian are two of the world’s most famous warriors. Both first encounter one another when both are dispatched to recover a precious box from a fortress. Though initially the two work together upon realizing they have the same mission, blows are exchanged once each decides to claim the box. However, through combat, both heroes ultimately uncover mutual respect and understanding before returning the box to the man who hired them.
Flash forward six years and both Red Sonja and Conan sail the high seas. Their ships come into conflict, but once again mutual understanding between warriors quiets the battle. The ships then encounter an island covered with a strange plant that chokes life from the land and leads to the death of all its creatures. Even if our heroes unite in arms, they may not be able to defeat the dreaded Thoth-Amon.
Each chapter of Conan/Red Sonja is divided into an “Age,” with the “Age of Innocence” when both characters are in their late teens followed by the “Age of Adventure” involving seafaring combat and exploration. Making each story take place years apart is a successful, and intriguing, concept for a number of reasons.
Firstly, this narrative choice allows each issue to theme itself around a certain type of Sword and Sorcery adventure, respecting the genre’s tradition while building new ideas. Secondly, these temporal divisions also allow for Dark Horse and Dynamite to allow this story to take place in both of their continuities without causing problems; if Red Sonja and Conan only see each other every few years, there’s no issue if they don’t appear in one another’s solo comic on a regular basis.
Juggling multiple writers in a series is often challenging, but combining the talents of Simone and Zub is a wise choice. Both have significant experience writing characters in this genre, as well as a broad spectrum of comics work. I’m fairly sure I could pick out which bits of dialogue were written by, or at least were more in the voice of, which writer, but this didn’t reduce my enjoyment. There were, however, a few bits of awkward dialogue during moments of exposition, but these scenes are brief enough and easily overlooked.
Conan/Red Sonja marks my first exposure to Panosian’s artwork, and I’m surprised I haven’t seen his work before. Panosian’s style lends itself very well to this low-fantasy environment, and his work on medieval landscapes and battles is superb. His lines do falter, however, in some moments where armor, weaponry, and characters’ faces appear off-model, but these are minor faults as best.
Colorist Dave Stewart backs up Panosian with flair. His earthy palette reflects the low-fantasy of a world where magic exists, but is rare. It’s in moments where something is out of the ordinary where the colors shift to become brighter and more alien, which allows the reader to feel the same sense of discomfort as the heroes.
The lettering, courtesy of Richard Starkings and Comicraft, is superb. Excellent placement of caption boxes and clever use of alternative word balloon shapes help elucidate individual characters’ thought patterns or experiences.
Conan/Red Sonja #1 and #2 kick off the highly anticipated mini-series with all of the adventure, excitement, and intrigue one of has come to expect from the legacy of Robert E. Howard. Fans of fantasy and lovers of Conan and Red Sonja will definitely enjoy these comics. I’m glad this successful collaboration between comic publishers occurred, and I hope this isn’t the last time we see these two characters join forces on the printed page.
-great adventure story that rewards fans of the characters while accommodating new readers
-excellent artwork during action sequences
-novel plotline that involves a plant as the deadliest weapon on the planet
-moments of awkward dialogue
-characters’ faces and armor look strange and off-model in some scenes
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