There are a lot of comics out there, but some stand out head and shoulders above the pack. With “Don’t Miss This,” we want to spotlight those series we think need to be on your pull list. This week, we look at the latest incarnation of the She-Devil with a Sword, “Red Sonja.”
Who’s This By?
“Red Sonja” is written by Mark Russell (“Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles,” “Lone Ranger”) and illustrated by Mirko Colak (“Conan the Barbarian,” “Brothers Dracul”) with colors by Dearbhla Kelley (“The Green Hornet 66’ Meets The Spirit,” “Paradiso”) and lettering by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou (“Lone Ranger,” “Shanghai Red.”) They are joined in flashback by artist and colorist Bob Q (“Lone Ranger,” “The Green Hornet 66’ Meets The Spirit”) and artist Robert Carey (“Aliens: Resistance.”)
What’s This All About?
I think I’ll let the intro to each issue do the honors of summing things up.
Know then, O Prince, that the warrior known as Sonja the Red was styled, not for the scarlet of her hair, but for the blood of all who challenged her. A sword of such renown that, to this day, songs are sung of her in the great halls and feasting tables go quiet at the mention of her name, which haunts memory like a ghost of terrors ancient. Her victories are without number and the tales of her adventures remain but dim reflections of her true valor. We know but legends of her, glimpses of times past, caught in the reflection of sharpened steel and illuminated by the flame of her fury.
— The Nemedian Chronicles
So, Why Should I Read This?
With the return of Conan to the Marvel, it seems as good a time as any to highlight the other major pulp figure to come out of Howard’s Hyborean Age mythos, Sonja the Red. Sonja, a creation for Marvel comics and therefore technically a part of the main universe, as all licensed properties at the time were a part of the universe, even the “Star Wars” comics I believe, has remained an integral part of Conan mythos for decades, even after the two were separated by licensing: Conan and everyone else to Dark Horse, Sonja to Dynamite. Since then, we’ve gotten at least three solo series, all with different takes on the character — Gail Simone’s run being a personal highlight — and the 2019 series continues the trend to great effect.
Rather than continue to re-tread Sonja’s roots as a mercenary who loves four things: coin, drink, fighting and sex, “Red Sonja” asks the question that all good sword and sorcery characters are eventually asked: what happens when they become a ruler? And, perhaps more importantly, how the hell did they get there? For Sonja, I’m not certain this has ever been asked before, at least not in the same way as it has for Conan the Barbarian, who in all incarnations is destined to become King Conan. But this team has proven that they are the perfect band to bring this type of story to life.
Balancing comedy and tragedy, Sonja is thrust into the position by circumstance and must suddenly go from lone swordswoman to the leader and strategist for a rag-tag army made of people from her homeland, who are all the absolute worst, though not in the traditional pulp-sword-and-sorcery-violence-in-all-forms-stab-you-in-the-back way, which is refreshing. They’re all just assholes who literally appoint Sonja as the leader so they can run away without being responsible for the war. The comic acts as an indictment of corrupt leadership, the nature of empire, and the ways in which war is antithetical to moral values.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Mark Russell is one of the architects of “Red Sonja.” This guy has taken every licensed character he’s worked on and turned it to gold, showing a dynamic range of tones but always keeping the heart of the series close to the main characters and their problems. He leans more earnest with this series, with the humor kept light but always present, as opposed to his previous Dynamite work, “Lone Ranger,” which ended too soon. “Red Sonja,” though, is keeping some of those themes alive, just in a wildly different context.Continued below
Sonja struggles with her new position because it is so different from what she’s done before, giving Russell the chance to discuss her fears and to push her towards difficult decisions with no good answers, stuck in a war, with battles won, battles lost, and destruction all around. This is Sonja out of her element, having to wrestle with forces and ideas that are antithetical to who she is: to be patient when she is impulsive, to retreat when she wants to fight. To sacrifice when all she wants to do is save.
Joining Russell, and bringing the world and sounds of Hyrkania & Zamoria to life, is Mirko Colak, Dearbhla Kelley, and Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou. Colak’s draftwork is the perfect fit for the dirty, dusty land of Hyrkania and Kelley’s coloring makes sure to retain that level of grist and grit while not sacrificing the pop of Sonja’s hair, the richness of Dragan’s wealthy empire, or the deep darkness of the blood that runs through the pages of the comic. Otsmane-Elhaou’s lettering, as always, is a treat to see, as he draws the eye through the chaos and keeps our attention through the long stretches of talking and strategizing, simulating ancient text and varied narration and brutal sounds with ease.
For those wanting a more action packed “Red Sonja” series, this is not the one for you, but for me, the greater themes that this series is exploring, and the nuanced, emotionally vulnerable portrayal of Sonja is far better than if she were to be a standard Conan clone. She retains her fierceness but no longer is she simply fighting for survival, changing the game and forcing her to confront the things within her that have caused her to stumble and fall before. A hero is at their most interesting in their moments of doubt and weakness, when all is laid bare and we learn what kind of person they are and what they are willing to do.
That is what “Red Sonja” is doing in grand fashion and this being an ongoing rather than a mini-series means it can be explored in greater detail.
How Can You Read It?
Out today is “Red Sonja” #6 at your local comic book store or preferred digital outlet. Track down the back-issues and then, later this month, make sure to pick up the one-shot “Red Sonja: Lord of Fools,” which spins-out of issue #6 and sets up the next arc! As for the first trade volume, according to Amazon it is out in November but how many issues are collected is still up in the air, though most likely it’ll be these first 6.