A review by Tanya Gouchenour
Red Sonja is a character whose first comic appearance dates to the 1970s. She is loosely based on a character in a 1934 short story written by Robert E. Howard, and last year, she got a brand new series written by Gail Simone for Dynamite Comics!
In this new six-issue arc, we see some of Sonja’s recent past, interspersed with the present, where she must not only fight an enemy who was once a friend, but she must also try to save a kingdom from plague. Sonja is shown as someone who doesn’t suffer fools, nor does she kneel to kings. Until one shows her a kindness. The story is fairly straightforward, but does have some complexity. The relationship between Sonja and Annisia has welcome dimensions beyond the stereotypical friend-turned-enemy and the 6-issue arc has a satisfying, if bittersweet, conclusion.
It’s worth mentioning that during issue 3, Simone re-writes Sonja’s problematic back story. In the 1975 comics, her village is attacked, her family is killed, and she is raped and left for dead. That is incredibly far from what happens here, and it’s probably how she earned the nickname “the devil.” (Trust me, it’s awesome. I cackled like a madwoman when I read the new version.) The first comic version also involved a goddess appearing, giving Sonja fighting skills, and having her swear a vow that she will only bed a man who can best her in combat. None of that has shown up in the new version. In the updated tale, some of her skills were learned from her father & brothers, many more were learned in the gladiatorial arena. (In a later issue, it is learned definitively that Sonja has no vows of chastity, either.)
Gail Simone is the author of not only this, but Birds of Prey, Secret Six, and many other titles including the first run of New 52 Batgirl for DC. In her capable hands, Sonja is a fully-realized character, with complex emotions, and her story is fantastic. The side characters are also memorable, such as the young women who are assigned to be Sonja’s bodyguards.
Interior art is by Walter Giovanni, who does a great job. The world of Sonja is rarely static, and he really does convey a sense of motion. He captures the action just as well as inaction & the rare landscape sort of scenes. There is, in particular, a two-page spread of a clash between Sonja & Annisia that caused me to gasp out loud. All of the covers are by various female artists in the comic industry, which is somewhat unique, and each brings their own style to the title. (Artists include Nicola Scott, Jenny Frison, and Stephanie Buscema.)
The series is currently on-going, with Simone signed on up through at least issue 18. (At this writing, it’s up to eleven issues.) The first six have been released in a trade paperback collection under the title Queen of Plagues, with cover art by Jenny Frison. I encourage you to check it out at your local comic shop!
Lifelong nerd & reader of many fun things, Tanya is a cube-dweller by day & wannabe superhero on the weekends. She loves spending time with her husband & small menagerie. Cooking is of great interest, too. She is also a member of the Phoenix chapter of Very Awesome Girls Into Nerdy Activities, for which she is an Historian, chronicling the group’s charitable shenanigans at many events.