A Third Cracking Issue Out Of The Gate!
This review was originally posted on my personal blog here.
My love for everything that Gail writes is no longer a surprise. Or it shouldn’t be at any rate. She is one of the best writers working in the industry right now and a good part of it is because she is able to portray her characters so well. And her scripts are always exciting, no matter what. I’ve been following her from series to series, whether that be her original run on Birds of Prey, or the second, or Batgirl, or The Movemehernt, or even Red Sonja. And I can’t wait to read her Tomb Raider comic when it comes out.
With Red Sonja, for two issues now, Gail has presented a very nuanced and personal take on the titular character and this is something that she continues in the new issue. But this time, she takes things a step further and presents a much more modern and ass-kicking back-story for the character, something that has been in Sonja’s lore since her very inception. And it rocks.
One of the thing’s that been grinding on in my mind after reading Gail’s first two issues of this rebooted series is whether we’ll get to see Sonja’s back-history. In the first issue, we started in media res and only saw a very small bit of her past, and that too after she was already a fighter, a warrior of repute. In #3, Gail goes significantly back and gives us her version of Sonja’s origins. Once again, Gail manages to surprise.
Last issue, we saw Red Sonja suffering a very important defeat, which marked one of the biggest lows of her life. The way that she suffered that defeat, and the emotional implications of it for both Sonja and the reader, were immense, and now we see some of the consequences of that defeat. Sonja is near-death and as she dies, she flashes back to her childhood, to a much simpler life. At first it seemed like the flashback would serve as a motivator for Sonja to rise up from her self-inflicted emotional misery and that she would gain the strength to keep fighting. But the flashback turns into far more. The switch is both gradual and immediate, with a really well-balanced pacing between the two.
And once the flashback, her near-induced hallucination, gets narratively extended we see a young Sonja, someone who is still a young daughter of a Hyrkanian tribe. For anyone who knows Conan’s lore, especially as popularised by the Arnold Schwarzenegger classic and the Jason Momoa reboot, this story will now start to seem similar. Sonja’s tribe is attacked, then slaughtered by mercenary invaders, and she is the sole survivor. Thus begins Sonja’s journey to becoming a fearsome warrior, a devil to her foes.
The balance between the ongoing narrative and the flashback meshes together almost seamlessly. There’s a slight disconnect, very minor, but Gail still makes it all work. Her characterisation of Sonja, at both points of her life, is presented as really compelling and it resonated with me. Of course, this was all rather whimsical too. By the time the issue moves towards the final act, this reflective nature of the story was starting to give me shivers. Shivers.
Also, can I just make one important point? That would be that with Gail’s retelling of Sonja’s origins, one of the biggest… complications of her history has been revised. To sum up: Sonja no longer became who she is because she was brutally raped and because the goddess Scáthach intervened and gave her power to avenger herself and her family. Now, Sonja is a confident young warrior from the get go. Gail has replaced one of the core aspects of Sonja’s history that have been with her from the very beginning with something much more fitting (some would say much more palatable). And I like that big twist.
As far as the art is concerned, Walter Geovani has once again turned out a great looking comic. Compared to the previous two issues, there is a lot more “personal” time here and he uses those panels to great effect. Whether she is at rest or not, Geovani draws a really good Sonja, and that’s not as easy as people might think it is. The artist needs to be able to convey her power as a warrior whether she is moving in for a kill or whether she is drinking from a freezing stream, whether she is preparing for battle or whether she is having an epiphany. And Geovani does that. Combined with the soft and muted colours from Adriano Lucas, the visual beauty of the issue does transcend beyond what’s just on the page, because there is such a clear distinction when the script switches to Sonja’s hallucinations, her dreams. All through the judicial use of colours. And its a gradual shift, nothing immediate or off-putting.
And finally, the two covers. The main cover, by Jenny Frison is absolutely fantastic. She uses a very limited colour palette and yet she captures the icy vista so perfectly, with Sonja captured in a perfect moment where she is about to leap into action. The second one, by Pia Guerra, is not as good as some of the other variant covers that have been released so far, but it still is a great cover that captures the full-on action nature of Sonja and her capabilities.
In short, this was a fan-frikkin-tastic issue and I’m really happy with how Gail has been presenting the series in its entirety. She has continued to challenge my perceptions of Sonja and I’ve been continually impressed with what she’s been doing, and all the artists that she has brought together. I’m really looking forward to her Legends of Red Sonja anthology mini-series, which will be celebrating 40-years of Red Sonja. Fun times!