Dynamite – seemingly for the umpteenth time – has decided to reboot “Red Sonja,” this time offering fans a dirty cheap entry point into the new series, which takes a sharp turn 3/4 of the way in. To fully discuss the issue, there will be some spoilers.
Written by Amy Chu
Illustrated by Carlos Gomez
The barbarian She-Devil with a Sword faces a whole different world and challenges in this new adventure written by Amy Chu and drawn by Carlos Gomez. Somewhere deep underground, strange and powerful demons clad in metal armor attack and roust Red Sonja from a deep magical sleep. Confused and weaponless, she must find a way to defeat these mysterious creatures, escape from her solitary prison, and make her way to the surface to discover where she is, and why she was put there…
For the uninitiated, the inside cover of this book sums up Red Sonja in so many words: a female Conan. Now, I’m not a well-read enough Sonja reader to know if that is reductive (it probably is) or piercingly accurate (it could be both). But that is what Dynamite wants you to know from the jump: this woman, kicking ass, is essentially a lady, ginger Conan.
Except for one, rather large point: Conan has never been exploited, through overtly sexual visuals, as much in his entire, 80+ year history, as Red Sonja is in this one, undersized issue.
Now, this, too, is a complicated issue. A few years ago, over drinks, a friend lambasted me for calling into question the appropriateness of Vampirella’s costume. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that to remove the cheesecake element from certain characters – Vampirella and Red Sonja chief among them – was to remove core piece of who they are. Now, I find that thinking a little silly – I don’t think this comic would’ve been any less true to Sonja as a character if I wasn’t looking at a half-obscured butt crack the whole time – but I tried to understand the position.
Maybe I’m a prude, but there was nothing in “Red Sonja” #0 that was enhanced by Sonja’s lack of clothing. In fact, I found it distracting. Carlos Gomez seemingly went to great lengths to pose Sonja in as many positions to allow for her bikini bottom to blow in the wind, or for a gratuitous cleavage shot. Again, I understand that the character has a history of this, but that doesn’t mean it is a good thing to keep perpetuating. So much of this issue is about Sonja being the strongest warrior you can imagine – why isn’t that enough? I’m not saying throw a burlap sack on her and shave her head, removing all the traditional elements of her femininity, but there are ways to make the character sexy without being so over the top.
And that’s a real detriment to the book, because the story it sets up going forward is a fun one: through reasons we can’t yet explain, Sonja winds up in the modern age, confused as to how she got there. While it certainly isn’t the first story to place a classic character in modern times, a fish out of water story can often be fun. Chu, through this brief issue, shows a knack for Sonja’s over the top, warrior’s dialogue, and you can practically write the humor yourself.
And then, after sitting with the issue for a few hours, re-reading it a few times, I realized something: Chu and Gomez are, essentially, doing Wonder Woman’s story in reverse. Instead of Steve Trevor crashing on Diana’s world, Sonja is crashing on our world. I hope that Chu has something other than a kindly man – perhaps one of the police officers aiming at her – who falls in love with her.
I’m not saying that everything in this issue can be chalked up to either being overly sexualized or a clone of Wonder Woman stories, because Sonja is a warrior in a way that Diana isn’t – Diana is concerned with peace, Sonja with war. It is fun to compare and contrast the two, but it’s a pretty clear difference of opinion. Chu and Gomez shine when they’re letting Sonja be that warrior; Gomez manages to make Sonja both fearsome and playful, and gives her a confidence that is infectious. When watching her fight, you can see both the ease and enjoyment that she brings to the situation. In these scenes, the best analogue is Thor, vanquishing his foes the way some of us shoot hoops. Sonja barely breaks a sweat, and does everything impressively.Continued below
Despite its many flaws, it is the joyous main character who makes me want to keep coming back for more. Despite the flaws, there’s something about the book that just broadcasts a sunniness that we don’t often get in the ‘swords’ category of comics. I would gladly take a more optimistic Red Sonja book, but hopefully one where she’s a bit more covered up.
Also, the persistent “whumpa whumpa whumpa” sound effect kept putting the idea of a dubstep invasion through my head. So, that’s gotta go, too.
Of course, there is one aspect of the book that is quite extraordinary and deserves to be spotlighted: the price. This issue, though only 16 pages, costs exactly 25 cents. At that sort of an introductory price, I can’t imagine stores had too hard of a time moving issues. However, with the issue as problematic as it is, the question is, when the smoke clears, will there many many – or any – more people reading the #1 issue that follows than were reading the last volume?
Final Verdict: 5.6 – A problematic, if not thought provoking, teaser.