Thursday, November 6, 2014

Red Sonja, issues #1 and #2

Greetings once again, citizens! Today’s review is going to be something a bit different from my other comic reviews for several reasons.

First, this is the first time I’m reviewing something that’s not Marvel. I don’t have anything against any comic companies, but I am rather fond of Marvel. Today’s offering though, is from Dynamite. Dynamite seems to do lots of licensed properties, like Conan, Terminator, Green Hornet, etc. I haven’t heard a whole lot about them, to be honest, which isn’t too surprising since they’ve only been around since 2004 or 2005. They’ve got a surprising number of recognizable titles though, but they’re more or less all licensed ones.

Next, this is the first time I’ve reviewed something that’s not a superhero book. As much as I love superheroes, my first love when it comes to fiction genres is fantasy, and this happens to be a fantasy comic. Part of the reason I picked this comic up in the first place is because I wanted to see how a fantasy comic was.

Finally, this is the first time I’ve reviewed something by the incredibly talented Gail Simone. Like Alan Moore, Gail Simone is a writer who I’ve heard universally good things about, and have had multiple titles written by her recommended to me by various people. So let’s get started on Red Sonja volume 2 #1!

Now, this book was one that was not a recommendation from anyone. So why did I pick it up? Well, as I mentioned, Gail Simone is a name I’d had several people mention to me, and I was interested in picking up a fantasy book. Really though, there were two things that actually made this title stand out from everything else around it. First is the cover.

A red-headed woman in a chainmail bikini. At one time, that would’ve certainly stood out. However, after playing D&D for over ten years, I’ve seen more chainmail bikinis than I can count, so I’ve become immune to them. No, that’s not the cover I’m talking about.

This is the cover I saw, because my comic shop keeps newer issues in front of older issues. This jumped out at me immediately because it reminded me of the artwork of one of my favorite shows of all time, Samurai Jack. It’s obviously not identical to that, but it’s reminiscent, but with less emphasis on harsh angles and blocky figures. The cover made me take a closer look, and that’s when I remembered a Gutters strip I read about the series before it was launched. I specifically remembered the commentary that was below the strip, and it made me curious enough to buy the first two issues.

We open on “Three turns of the season past” where a man in some fancy looking armor is proclaiming victory. The man, King Dimath, is discussing the outcome of the battle with a lieutenant. The enemy king is unaccounted for, though whether he escaped or his body has yet to be found is uncertain. Dimath’s son was “collecting humors and specimens” much to Dimath’s shame. Dimath, his son, and the lieutenant head down into the dungeon. The lieutenant tells Dimath that there are only two survivors down there, and that the slaves kept within had been worked incredibly hard, and forced to fight in the arena. Dimath wishes to see such fierce men, and seems more than mildly surprised to learn that they are not men, but women. The lieutenant suggests mercy-killing them, since neither one seems to have any spark of humanity left, but Dimath insists that they be fed, bathed, and given a horse so that they may make their own way. After hearing this, one of the prisoners finally speaks up, saying that her name is Red Sonja.

Back to the present now, we see Sonja sleeping in the woods by a fire, wearing a scale mail bikini, and with several wineskins lying empty around her. Some thieves are trying to sneak up on her, to avail themselves of her belongings. However, they can’t seem to shut the hell up, and she wakes up, saying they can take the food and gold if they want. The lead thief continues to show off his incredible intellect by challenging her, even though she already said they could take the stuff they wanted. She gives him another opportunity to just leave, but no, clearly he wants to die.

At this moment, two girls armed with bows interpose themselves between the moron and Sonja, saying that they will save her. Pretty sure she didn’t need saving, but it’s the thought that counts. Sonja, being hungover, tells them to be quiet as they rescue her. However, the girls can’t seem to fire on the bandits, leaving them open to be attacked. Sonja’s had enough of this crap and proceeds to make quick work of two of the bandits.

Before she can kill the third one though, he vomits blood onto the ground, saying he’s sick and begging for help. The two girls explain that it’s the plague, and that the king wishes to see her. Sonja tells them they can take their king and shove him where the sun don’t shine, but then they mention that it’s King Dimath, and her tune changes. She has the girls begin whipping up a hangover cure, and also cleaning her boots. Once that’s done, she tells the girls that she can find her own way, but they are apparently serving as her bodyguards. Side note, the girls have been calling her by grand titles and such, and in this bit of dialogue, one of them calls her “She of the Excellent Cleavage.” I cracked up at that, but I couldn’t tell you why. Maybe it’s just because it seems so at odds with Sonja’s personality so far, or maybe it’s because it sounds like something a tactless internet commentor might call her. Anyway, Sonja seems confused that they’re her bodyguards, but they insist that they’ve killed hundreds. Of rabbits. Very large rabbits. I can only assume that this did not help the hangover. They leave the plagued man with a wineskin and a dagger, so that he can “die a soldier.”

Upon reaching the city, Sonja sees that there are no guards posted, and she demands to know what the deal is. However, her “bodyguards” (Nias and Ayla) say that the king will explain, and that the people plan to greet her with a party. We cut to her being prepped for the party, and protesting the wearing of a gown. Nias (or Ayla, it’s hard to tell with them being identical) tells her that this is to be their city’s last state dinner, and the gown is traditional. Sonja reluctantly allows them to dress her in it. For all of her protestations though, Nias and Ayla tell her she looks beautiful.

At the party… wait, where’d the midsection of the dress go? The thing looked like a normal gown on the previous page, but now it looks like a bikini top with a skirt. 

Did she cut it away? She does seem to like showing off her midriff. Or maybe that’s just the artist. Anyway, Dimath tells her that his people have been touched by the plague, and that the Zamorans have marked them for death. The Zamorans were the opposing army from three seasons ago, and though these days they’ve been slaughtering cities afflicted with the plague, and “have a terrifying general, who brought unclean allies from the coast… beasts of the sea who walk like men.” Sooo crab people? Or murlocs? I hope it’s not murlocs, that’s the last thing we need. Regardless, Dimath begs Sonja to teach the citizens that remain how to fight, so that they may die with honor. Sonja of course agrees.

After four days of training montage, the Zamorans arrive. Sonja rides ahead of her “army” to meet them, and finds herself face to face with their general.

Issue two opens with Sonja doing an internal monologue about Dark Annisa, how they were in the arena together, and she considered her a sister, all while killing Annisa’s horse. Unfortunately, she gets trapped under the dead horse. A couple of guys decide to try and kill her, but Nias and Ayla manage to HOLY CRAP!

Okay, I made fun of them earlier, but that was some damn fine shooting right there! Dimath rallies his troops, and battle is joined between the two sides. As that happens, Annisa and Sonja engage one another, and Sonja continues to monologue to herself. Man, you’d think that’d be distracting to do while in a fight. But at least she’s not having a flashba-

Nevermind, flashback time! We see Sonja and Annisa in the dungeon, receiving the attention of an incredibly creepy frog man. The two are scheduled to fight, but Annisa says she won’t fight Sonja, even if it kills her. Back in the present, Annisa is being significantly less friendly, what with trying to kill Sonja and all. Oh, and she starts talking crazy about having a ghost posse with her. Sonja tries reasoning with Annisa, who only talks more crazy talk, but then Dimath rides in and attempts to end all this nonsense. And he does… by getting a knife thrown through his throat.

Sonja dramatically tells Annisa that she will pay for that, but Annisa shows Sonja her reflection, showing her to be afflicted with the plague. Annisa describes what Sonja will feel from the plague, and then shoves her tongue down her throat. I’m not a doctor, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to make out with plagued people. Er, anyway, Annisa offers to allow the town to go on with what little remains of their lives, but she demands Sonja’s surrender in return. Sonja does so, and is then exiled, but not before being marked as a carrier of the plague, marking the end of the issue

So, as an introduction to this character and world what are my thoughts? I think I want to read some more freaking Red Sonja! The artwork’s great, with a satisfying level of detail in every panel, character models that look to be proportionally correct, and distinctive looks for each character. The colors are also really good, giving a sense of mood and atmosphere, and helping the characters to feel unique. The greatest strength though is the writing. Red Sonja is clearly an ass-kicker of the highest caliber and knows it, but there is also a sense of humor to her. We don’t get to see too much of the other characters, but from what little we do get, there’s still a good sense of the characters. The pacing is good, setting up who Sonja is and why she’d be concerned with this city’s problems, but still having a lot of mystery about the character to be explored later, and it also leaves you on a pretty tense cliffhanger, wondering exactly what will happen to Sonja and the city. I highly recommend this series to anyone who is interested in reading about a barbarian. I also highly recommend following Gail Simone on Twitter, because she’s pretty funny.

Next time: More Superior Spider-Man! Until then, take care, citizens!

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