RED SONJA is right at home in the sword and sorcery game, and this issue opens with a delightful juxtaposition familiar to fans of the genre -- a hearty battle sequence overlaid with internal monologue about the meaning of war. Gail Simone and Walter Geovani are in their element here, sparing no brutality, and crafting a fascinating world that feels "just right" for Red Sonja.
The battle sequences are appropriately barbaric, and Geovani is a master of melee. Complementing the sparring (wait, we're reading a sword and sorcery book for something besides the battles?) is a compelling rivalry between Sonja and Annisia. Their antagonism is savage; where the two were placed reluctantly in a gladiator-style battle before, they're now genuine opponents. That they once had a sisterly, loving bond makes their struggle even more powerful, especially as Annisia crosses the line and forces Sonja's hand.
Annisia's motivations are frightening and compelling; she's got her own kind of plague to deal with (which Simone and Geovani are quite careful to depict as possibly-real, possibly-all-in-her-mind), and she's well-placed as a foe for Sonja. It's challenging to create a formidable enemy for a fearless warrior like Sonja, but the combination of personal history and very personal demons makes Annisia an excellent match.
The pacing was incredibly fast on this issue, jumping from battle to backstory to battle to GHOSTS! to TRAGIC SLAYING! to PLAGUE! to monologuing to exile, with little room to breathe. I'd be okay with a slightly more rambling and deliberate format here; unless Sonja is truly in a rush to die, I think there's room to flesh out a bit more of what's going on -- especially since some of those things are pretty big.
This issue has definitely left us poised for a hell of a story to follow -- there's a powerful antagonist still unvanquished, a deadly plague to quell, a difficult past to deal with -- it's pretty obvious that Sonja isn't ever really going to just surrender and walk away, so I'm looking forward to seeing how she overcomes this minor setback. RED SONJA has all the makings of an epic tale...provided our fiery heroine doesn't plague out, of course.