Another clever, fun and exciting adventure of everyone’s favorite Devil with a Sword.
What They Say:
Part 1 of a new story arc! Fresh from her ordeals in the Queen of the Plague epic, Sonja is charged with the task of playing bodyguard to Hyborea’s greatest chef, even though seemingly everyone wants him dead! Join us for this unique issue of recipes, culinary technique, and decapitation!
Story: Gail Simone
Art: Walter Giovani
Colors: Adriano Lucas
Letters: Simon Bowland
The first story arc of this new Red Sonja series turned out to be rather dark and heavy. While there were plenty of moments of humor and adventure, the plot, the antagonists, and the history it brought up for the character made it a more dramatic and emotional read than I had expected. Don’t get me wrong, this is a good thing. The first arc of this new creative team did a wonderful job of establishing their version of this character and told an incredibly fun and engaging story. The emotional weight of this current arc, however, feels much lighter, and in some ways this makes it more in keeping with the classic sword and sorcery stories that inspired this character.
Sonja is hired by Samala, the ruler of an Egyptian-ish society, to find five people: a courtesan, a dancer, a stargazer, a swordsman, a beastmaster, and a chef. It turns out that Samala is dying and he desires to throw a grand going away party for himself in one month’s time. For reasons unexplained, those five people are integral for the party’s success and if Sonja succeeds and brings those people to him within one month’s time he will free one thousand slaves. If she fails then those slaves will be buried alive in his gigantic mausoleum.
Her first target, the chef, lives in a swamp and cooks for a tribe of gourmand cannibals. Sonja has had difficulty finding him and after four days of searching she is tired, dirty, hungry, and—in her words—“randy.” This is an interesting character moment given that most of the Red Sonja titles I’ve read before portrayed her as a virgin. Even in the movie version she waits for the man who can best her in battle in order to give her virginity to someone worthy. It might be that this has changed in the years since I kept up with the character, so I’m not comfortable saying that Simone is fundamentally changing the character here, but it does speak to her approach to Sonja: as a living, breathing human woman with normal desires and feelings (who can also fight like a demon and drink almost anyone under the table).
This approach tends to lend itself to a sort of gruff earthiness on Sonja’s part. She’s a very straightforward character: food is used to keep the body going; a bedmate is good for a night; beer is wonderful. This is perhaps seen best in her interactions with the chef. The chef speaks of the transcendent quality of food, the alchemy of spices and temperatures and flavors. However, when he asks Sonja what dish her mother made for her that she most cherished, her answer is simply, “Meat.”
In some ways this comic feels more like a classic sword and sorcery tale in the style of Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, or Clark Ashton Smith than the previous arc. The stories about Conan or Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser were typically done-in-one affairs full of adventure and magic and humor. They rarely delved into the character’s backstory or contained a strong sense of emotional weight. That sense of fun and adventure is in this issue in spades and it makes a kind of nice palate cleanser from the Queen of the Plague arc.
The comic manages a great balance between character work, exposition, and action, and it feels like Simone has a strong grasp of how she wants to write Sonja and where she wants to take her. This is all wonderfully drawn by Walter Giovani who does a great job with facial expressions, body language, panel placement and size, and—of course—action. His art is aided by the Adriano Lucas’ rich colors and Simon Bowland’s letters This is a great jumping-on point for those new to this series and another excellent issue for those of us that have been there since the beginning. Highly recommended.