Red Sonja #1
Writer: Mark Russell
Illustrator: Mirko Colak
Colorist: Dearbhlah Kelly
Letterer: Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
Published by: Dynamite
Review by Stacy Dooks
Before Xena, before She-Ra, there was Sonja. Specifically Red Sonja, the She-Devil with a Sword, the star of many a Sword & Sorcery tale from Marvel Comics and later Dynamite. Created by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith, Sonja shares a background and a setting with Conan the Barbarian, but unlike the savage Cimmerian she’s not a creation of Robert E. Howard, the author of the original Conan short stories for Weird Tales Magazine. Sonja is based on two of Howard’s female characters, but her backstory is all her own: a wandering warrior in the ancient Hyborian Age who frequently found herself battling demons, raiders, sorcerers, and other assorted skulduggery with nothing but a sword and a chain mail bikini. Long before Leia, Sonja was the original mail bikini wearing heroine of fantasy, and while Conan certainly spent his share of time in a loincloth, Sonja herself tended to spend the majority of her exploits in that attire, for better or worse. The character’s books sometimes suffer from being judged by their covers but how did Red Sonja #1 hold up? Let’s dig in and find out.
Red Sonja #1 opens on Shadizar, captial city of the Zamoran empire. It seems Emperor Dragan the Magnificent has decided to reward the other kingdoms of the Hyborian Age with the gift of his beneficent rule. . .at the expense of the freedom of said kingdoms and the wholesale slaughter and enslavement of anyone who dares to resist him. He’s set his sights on Hyrkania, a rather unassuming nation that’s fairly unremarkable. . .save for one particularly famous red-headed citizen who has just recently returned to her native land. When the situation spirals rapidly out of control, Sonja finds herself the only thing standing between Dragan and the destruction of her nation. Will she rise to the challenge, or has the She-Devil finally found an enemy too powerful even for her?
Overall I found the opening chapter of this series intriguing. Russell definitely hangs a number of guns on the wall and a concentrated effort is made here to emphasize Sonja not only as a badass, but also a human being too, one who’s currently reeling from a recent loss and feeling adrift. The humor is also quite enjoyable, with the interactions between Dragan, his prisoners, and his servants definitely standouts. The art by Mirko Colak definitely grounds the story in a gritty realism: if you were expecting the cheesecake suggested by a great many of Red Sonja #1‘s variant covers his work is going to be a surprise, though hopefully you’ll find it as pleasant as I did. The colors by Dearbhlah Kelly make every environment vibrant and lived-in at the same time and compliment the art beautifully, and the lettering by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou conveys both the interplay of the dialogue and Sonja’s own self-reflection perfectly.
If there’s a nit to be picked, I have to say the dialogue needs a bit of work. Maybe it’s years of Roy Thomas dialogue saturating my brain, but there’s a certain cadence, a bombastic style to a good Howard pastiche that I felt was lacking here. It’s not a deal-breaker by any stretch of the imagination, but at times the book felt a little less like Red Sonja: She-Devil With A Sword and a little more like Xena: Warrior Princess.
Buy It. If you’re looking for a fun read to while away a winter’s chill with some swordplay, humor, and fun Red Sonja #1′s got you covered. Recommended.