The moments before certain death are often introspective, and Issue #3 of RED SONJA takes us into Sonja's (presumably) last thoughts. Exhausted, burdened, and stricken with plague, the bold warrior we know is in rare form. We see flashes back to a more tumultuous time; contrasting Sonja's slow death from illness are washes of action that reveal the origin of her warrior nature.
The narrative splits between Sonja-at-present, alone and dying of plague, and Sonja-of-the-past, surrounded by family and village until both are violently taken from her. The suddenness with which Sonja's kin are slaughtered, and the resulting aloneness serve to explain her present solitude; since the raid, Sonja has been on her own, and it's fitting (even if it's emotionally difficult) for her to die on her own as well. Equally appropriate: that the thing that was taken from her in her youth -- family -- is what comes back around to save her in her present trauma (in the form of her bodyguards; family by role).
Sonja's origin story is brutal, and contains some painful moments -- murder, destruction, attempted rape. It's these painful moments that shape her as a powerful, independent warrior; in the face of danger, Sonja grows up and grows fierce, and channels her fear and anger into her skills as a fighter. She's empowered by her tragedy, but still affected by it, and we see dying-Sonja's thoughts turn to regret and sadness even as her youthful actions defied these feelings.
RED SONJA one of the more visually exciting books in print right now, and the look and feel truly take the narrative to the next level. Each page has a unique panel layout that drives the reader's eye forward, with some unexpected panel shapes that enhance the action going on within their bounds. That action also pops with bursts of red against stark white and neutral environments. Simon Bowland's letters are expertly placed, with exactly the right fonts for a sword and sorcery title. Sonja's voiceover is done in a serifed, old-world font that evokes "storytelling," while the dialogue is in a powerful, all-caps comic font that captures the force and energy of Sonja's speech. The effect as a whole: dynamic and polished.
The metaphor leap from the stag hunt to the marauder attack is a little bit funny; it's clear that the intent is to show Sonja as a tentative child who is not yet ready for violence and contrast it with her battle-hardened "red" self, but the combination of the immediacy with which the shift happens and the power of the change is rough. Sonja dropping her childlike indecision in the face of battle makes sense; the child who wouldn't shoot suddenly possessing the skill and gumption to kill a tribe of marauders (when her more experienced relatives could not) rings less true.
RED SONJA gains a layer of context by diving into Sonja's past, but retains its signature action-packed style in its glimpses of the heroine's childhood. Like many origin stories, Sonja's is riddled with tragedy, conflict, and perseverance, and we get to see how a violent childhood trauma sculpted her into the warrior she is today. Knowing where things are (presuming that the ending is, in fact, a rescue from death), and where they've been, I'm keen to keep reading this series, and learning more about how Sonja grows. And if she's dead? Zombie Red Sonja wouldn't be a terrible read...