Gail Simone (Batgirl, Birds of Prey) gives the iconic fantasy heroine a fresh new attitude! Red Sonja, the She-Devil with a Sword, intends to pay back a blood debt owed to the one man who has gained her respect… even if it means leading a doomed army to their certain deaths! Who is Dark Annisia, and how has this fearsome warrior accomplished what no god nor demon has been able to do: force Sonja to her knees in surrender? An epic tale of blood, lust, and vengeance, Queen of the Plagues takes Red Sonja from the depths of her own grave to the heights of battlefield glory. Featuring Gail Simone’s Red Sonja #1 script!Why You Should Read: You may or may not be familiar with Red Sonja. She’s one of, if not the, most recognizable sword-and-sorcery heroine, a Conan the Barbarian character who became popular enough to headline her own comics series, novels, and even a film. You may or may not be interested in Red Sonja. I completely understand. It’s sword-and-sorcery, after all, and Sonja’s got kind of a sketchy reputation on account of her incredibly complicated and problematic history*.
*note I’m not completely on-board with the blog’s assessment of Sonja, but it’s a good rundown of the issues that surround the character
I was familiar with only the ickiest aspects of Sonja’s history and only marginally interested in the character when I picked up the first issue of Gail Simone’s 2013 reboot, but it’s Gail Simone, yo, so I read it anyway. It was actually pretty decent, you guys.
This is a very effective reboot. Simone and Geovani have been allowed to re-build Sonja’s history from the ground-up, eschewing all of the Conan continuity (as far as I know) and skeevy origin elements that may have provided a barrier to entry. The introductory arc does an excellent job of establishing Sonja’s personality and motivations, as well as the tone of the series – where, say, Rat Queens is bit more intentionally anachronistic and satirical, Red Sonja takes the setting more seriously. This is unapologetic pulpy sword-swinging fantasy drama 100%, and while I’m typically not a fan of that, Simone’s characterization of Sonja is absolutely worth the price of admission.
All of this is not to say that the story isn’t fun or funny – in fact, that’s one of its biggest selling points. Red Sonja can be fucking hilarious. Simone’s Sonja is grumpy and gruff and crude and blunt, and god help you if you shut down her favorite bar. Some of the best moments in the series are the ones in which Sonja has to interact with people without cutting their damn heads off. She can be marvelously awkward. But she’s not a one-note buffoon, either. Sonja is a bad-ass with a heart of gold. She is (sometimes reluctantly) compassionate and loyal and sometimes merciful, has a strong sense of justice, and is overall a pretty morally solid character for a mercenary.
The opening arc isn’t flawless of course – there can be awkward bits of dialogue and exposition, and the plot twists in the final issues seemed to come completely out of nowhere for the sake of thematic book-ending and closure. I think I like some of the ideas involved more than the actual execution, but there are some nice moments, lots of ladies not taking shit, and an interesting, complicated, and sympathetic antagonist in Sonja’s counterpart, Dark Annisia. The relationship between her and Sonja was probably the strongest element of this first trade, and I wish it could have turned out a little differently.
Speaking of strong elements, artist Walter Geovani knocks it straight out of the goddamn park with this art. It’s fucking gorgeous. I really expected to be turned off of the title by an excess of T&A, but aside from a couple of improbably boob-tastic moments in the first issues, the art is actually astoundingly respectful, and it only gets better as the series goes on. Sonja doesn’t even have to stay in her infamous chainmail bikiki for very long – after the first two issues, she switches to some more climate-appropriate winter wear, and I don’t think we’ve actually seem the bikini since. Geovani’s Sonja isn’t just decoration or fap fodder. She’s powerful and beautiful and full of so much personality. You can see it in her body language, her poses, and oh my god her face. Her face is AMAZING. As I do more of these you’ll probably hear me talk about expressions a lot, because fantastic facial expressions are super important to establishing the personality of a character, and the books that do that kind of thing well stick out, man. And Geovani – Geovani’s Sonja is just priceless. Once again the action scenes are pretty rad, too. The panel arrangement particularly in the action scenes flows really nicely. Also, goddamn look at that coloring! UGH THAT HAIRRRRRR SO GORGEOUS. Adriano Lucas is doing some outstanding work across the board, but his amazing colors in issue three might actually make that my favorite. Also, they don’t mean a whole lot when you’re reading from a trade, but when she took over the book, Gail Simone lined up a parade of amazing female artists to do the covers, and they’ve created some masterpieces. Especially Jenny Frison. Good god. I want every single one of her covers on my wall. So yeah, Red Sonja, man. Solid story, amazing art, great character, pretty funny, plus the series only gets better as it goes on, so you guys should jump on this shit now. Volume 1, Queen of Plagues, collects the first six issues, and if you like it, I highly recommend jumping on board for the next arc, because it’s actually been loads better. I’ll probably be recommending that when it comes out in trade, too.
Level of Familiarity with Company Continuity Required to Enjoy: None! This is a reboot of the character, and while there might be some in-jokes and/or references here and there, I didn’t miss ’em. This is absolutely a good place to start.
Purchase: Amazon // Comixology (digital copy)