This miniseries from Dark Horse and Dynamite teams up two wonderful characters and two highly-acclaimed writers, all at once. Going by the ingredients alone, you’d expect it to be wonderful, and it certainly isn’t bad. But so far as crossover issues go, this one is just kinda all right.
Written by Gail Simone and Jim Zub
Illustrated by Dan Panosian
Gail Simone teams with Jim Zub to bring together legendary warriors in this truly epic crossover!
In a story spanning multiple eras in the lives of these classic characters, Conan and Red Sonja become comrades to take down a sorcerer-priest hell bent on creating a dark new age in Hyborian warfare!
Leaving the story to the side for the moment, the best element of “Conan/Red Sonja” is likely the art. Dan Panosian’s work puts a beautiful polish on the material, laying out dusty arenas and dank dungeons alike with scritchy lines and a pronounced sense of perspective. Unpromising elements like a turret in the background, wind up towering over you and adding a dose of foreboding. On the other hand, the animals are a little off; lions and hares alike come across like pieces of taxidermy.
There’s a lot going on in this issue, and it changes setting frequently, but the layouts fit it all in rather neatly. The action scenes are fluid, if a little conventionally set up, while the banter comes across with verve, playing out as it does across a variety of balanced compositions. All the while, Dave Stewart’s colours keep the sense of atmosphere strong, leaning into flame-reds and throwing murky shadows everywhere. On the other end of the spectrum, the washed-out greys and browns of the introductory sequence act as a neat contrast.
Both our main characters are drawn broadly enough to match the big strokes of the story without being over-the-top. Sonja is beautiful, with a seriousness about her that undercuts the lightness in tone and lends the tale a slightly darker edge. She doesn’t fall into cheesecake territory, either – although, if we’re quibbling, her features are sometimes too big for her skull. Conan, when we finally meet him, is on the big-and-goofy side, getting across a more sprightly energy that fits with his relative youth.
Plotwise, this issue spends more time with Red Sonja than Conan – and in terms of tone, feels a bit more Gail Simone than Jim Zub. It’s the emphasis on fast-talking banter than gives that impression, regardless of who actually wrote what. The third-person narration, meanwhile, has pretty much the dire and dramatic tone that you’d expect.
There is a central trouble here, though. Maybe I imprinted too hard on Roy Thomas’s “Red Sonja” stories, which I remember as grim and amoral episodes in a mercenary’s hardscrabble life. Maybe I’m just more fond of ambiguous stories in general. But this issue felt very moralistic – a lot more moralistic than I would expect, looking at these character’s histories. That Sonja determines on stopping the slaughter of animals in a gladiator’s arena early in the issue doesn’t bother me much – it’s not something my vision of her would necessarily do, but it’s a nice thought. More than this incident, though, it seems the entire issue hinges on a moral dilemma – with both Conan and Sonja landing firmly on one side of it.
I get that their agreeing on this issue shows their vital similarity. There’s got to be something holding them together in face of their competitiveness and banter. And I get that, mercenaries or not, part of what makes characters like Red Sonja and Conan appealing is that they contribute good to the world – in their own way. But this big a moral dilemma being met with a decisive action this early in a miniseries feels like overkill.
If have one real bone to pick with this issue, it’s that it’s obvious. Obvious in its moral intentions – obvious in its well-calculated beats (we get a hint of romantic tension between the leads before we’re through). I’d hate to be accused of missing the point – these warriors do benefit, most of the time, from being treated as larger-than-life – but when an issue about two mercenaries starting off their careers is about as invigorating as a plate of arrowroot biscuits, you’ve got to worry a little.Continued below
All of this said, the weapon that presents this moral dilemma – its broad symbolism – bookends the issue nicely, ushering us in as well as sending us out. This bookending contributes a sense of wholeness to the tale that irons out a few wrinkles in the execution.
“Conan/Red Sonja” #1 is a fun issue to read, and the art is gorgeous. And while I wouldn’t call it all-ages, it certainly has a broader potential audience than something more hard-hitting would have been able to claim. It’s an issue that’s going to have its fans. But those who are more interested in the darker sides to these characters should wait for a bloodier take on their shared destiny.
Final Verdict: 7.0 – Feels a bit too rosy overall, but has solid components.