It’s been almost two years since Gail Simone and Walter Geovani took over “Red Sonja” for Dynamite. Together, they’ve all gone on various adventures, vanquished many a foes, and participated in the occasional orgy. In their penultimate issue together, Simone and Geovani continue their trend of smaller stories and a tighter focus.
Written by Gail Simone
Illustrated by Walter Geovani and Vinicius Andrade
This intense issue finds the She-Devil in the grip of an obsession for revenge that is so all-consuming, she barely recognizes herself! What happens when the mightiest warrior finds the man who destroyed her life? Can even RED SONJA return from darkness this complete? Continuing the suspenseful FORGIVENESS OF MONSTERS storyline, taking Sonja to places she has never, ever been before!
Getting away from her DC contract was one of the best things that could have happened to Gail Simone. Her work with superheroes was frequently erratic, mostly because the areas I feel Simone excels at aren’t always the areas a major superhero company wants to go. Simone shines at small moments, at interpersonal drama and situational humor, at character work; when she had to interrupt that in favor of some world-shaking cataclysmic crisis or editorially mandated plot twist, her writing came off as frustrating. Perhaps it was the parameters of the comics work she was turning in, but in 2013, her output was getting stale.
She rejuvenated herself when Dynamite invited her on their rebooted “Red Sonja,” illustrated by Walter Geovani. This issue, #17, is the penultimate chapter in their run with the character, and continues with the graceful bowing out before the end.
As they wind down on the book, Simone and Geovani have turned in smaller stories that take up one-to-three issues. These boiled down adventures work well for the way this creative team has chosen to depart, and the smaller scale lends itself to some tighter storytelling and a sort of epilogue feel.
These last issues have also been a surprising celebration of life (yes, I realize the irony of a book focused on a sellsword everyone calls The Red Devil celebrating life), with Sonja reluctantly developing a community of people around her, going on adventures for the pure thrill of the experience, and hosting the occasional orgy. Simone and Geovani wisely made Sonja a sexy character, but they refuse to let her sexuality define her or motivate her actions. When she wears the chain mail bikini, for instance, it’s mostly played as a joke. Most of the time she argues her way into whatever she wants. Or, you know, slices everyone up with her sword. Same difference.
“Red Sonja” #17 centers around a group of nuns seeking Sonja’s help in defending against an evil Empress who wants to burn their entire library to the ground for some reason. Sonja doesn’t understand why they want to risk their lives for a bunch of scribblings on paper and urges them to run away before she walks out on them, but of course, the nuns don’t listen and they make their last stand. After fierce debate with herself, Sonja of course returns to defend their honor. What makes this avoid the typical trappings of the sellsword narrative arc is that Simone and Geovani make sure Sonja realizes she turned down the job because the need for knowledge was beyond her comprehension. And, after that dawns on her, she actively makes steps toward trying to fix that, to understand more of the world around her.
Their Red Sonja might be grumpy, horny, prone to fits of violence, and bitter, but she’s open to the wider world around her, and I think that helps make her interesting.
Simone has also found a way to balance action/adventure with her dramatic moments. Yes, there are all sorts of sword battles up in the house (which Geovani renders well), but unlike her major superhero work, it all feels more focused and personal for Sonja. The stakes come off as more immediate, and the consequences feel more authentic. Sonja doesn’t fight because of some necessity to appease a bunch of editors, but more because she feels she needs to defend something. While the battle scenes are fun and junk, they aren’t the memorable parts of the issue. You can feel that Simone has developed an affinity for Sonja, and she wants Sonja to be a better person.Continued below
I’ll admit that Geovani’s art doesn’t fit the aesthetic I’m drawn to, but I think he’s competent. He uses a lot of layered panels, leans a bit heavily on Dutch angled illustrations, and has this ‘00s vibe, which isn’t helped by the super rendered and airbrushed color tones Vinicius Andrade puts down, but Geovani delivers some fantastic expressions. He gets some nice emotion and empathy for these characters and his sense of timing is fairly strong. Boiled down, I don’t think it’s mind-blowing fantasy art, but it’s solid art and it nicely serves this story.
Simone and Geovani are perfectly aware of the voice of the book, and their collaboration — never too serious, never too silly, but tongue still lodged firmly in its cheek — has made not only this issue, but this series really enjoyable. There’s a playfulness to it, but there’s a willingness to explore and expand. They allow Sonja to grow, to learn, and want to seek out new experiences, and I think it makes this that much more interesting.
One final note: the solicit summary has nothing to do with the actual story of this issue. So there’s that.
Final Verdict: 7.8 – Focused and character driven, Simone and Geovani have continuously given Red Sonja some fun adventures.