Red Sonja has always been a conundrum for me. At her worst, she’s reduced to some sort of half-assed Brave style character: rebellious and take charge, but still just hands down adorable. At her best (which is really just a different side of seeing her at her worst), she’s pretty much just Conan the Cimmerian with tits. And despite my love for Robert E. Howard and his dark eyed creation, I could never truly muster the same adoration and respect for his fire-maned kinda-sorta creation.
In July of last year, Gail Simone of Birds of Prey and Wonder Woman fame took the reins. And quite frankly, she has made a believer out of me. Red Sonja, Volume 1 collects the first six issues of Simone’s dark fantasy reboot, and this book pops. Between the amazing dialogue, the gorgeous art work, and the exciting adventure, this book has everything a fantasy reader could want (unless you’re into hobbits–and screw those people anyhow).
Volume 1 collects our newly-reinvented Sonja through her first adventure, Queen Of The Plagues. The storyline hops back and forth between the past and present, which is usually a story device that I truly dislike. Seriously: flashbacks make me all soft. Regardless, Gail Simone does a brilliant job of tying Sonja’s latest grand escapade with her origin story. Neither one feels forced or tacked on–indeed, they complement each other marvelously, allowing for a graceful story without distracting us from crashing battle axes or tall gouts of gore.
But beyond all the flashing sword and sorcery, the thing that impressed me most about these first six issues was the humor. Gail Simone does an amazing job of crafting a story that is rich with bleak, iron-edged pathos–but she still manages to allow for moments of levity that don’t upset the balance of the story’s voice. This is definitely not a simple task. When your story’s protagonist is a half-naked ginger who decapitates people, you’re already two sneezes away from having the whole thing turn into a giant caricature. But Simone manages to hit those moments of dialogue perfectly, and the whole book is stronger for it. And trust me, you don’t want to miss out on two handmaidens reverently referring to Sonja as “O She of the Excellent Cleavage.”
And as long as we’re on the subject, I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up the uncanny grace and fluidity of Walter Geovani’s illustrations. His work in the past has always displayed this level of expertise, and I think he was the perfect addition to Simone’s words. It’d be easy to use another Red Sonja series as an excuse to draw nothing but pin-ups with swords, but Geovani does an amazing job combining the She-Devil’s sex appeal with a true, unencumbered strength.
Sonja is sexy not because she’s a rebellious woman (although there is that) and not because she’s half naked most of the time (although there’s that, too). She’s sexy because she just doesn’t give a damn about you or me or anyone else’s opinion on who she is or ought to be. She represents the grandiose gypsy freedom that many of us wish we could have: like Jack Kerouac with a broadsword and lower-back problems. And Geovani’s artwork combines flawlessly with Simone’s words to create that very thing.
It may have taken some time, but I think Red Sonja has finally found her true voice in this latest reboot. It’s an engaging, well-written story coupled with gorgeous, jump-off-the-page visuals–absolutely something every fantasy nerd should give a read. Massive amounts of kudos go to Gail Simone for shouldering this decades-old character and reinforcing her with more depth, humor, and muscle than I’ve ever seen her.
Red Sonya, Volume 1 was written by Gail Simone and illustrated by Walter Geovani. It is available for pre-order on Amazon, and will be released February 25th, 2014.