Gail Simone really GETS Red Sonja! Simone has long been one of my favorite comics writers, but she exceeds all my expectations with her first graphic novel collection featuring Red Sonja. This is absolutely a wonderful story, and Walter Giovanni’s art is a visual cornucopia of imagery.
The story caught me completely off-guard because I was certain it would be standard barbarian fantasy fare: hero bumps up against near-invulnerable villain, then spends time battling his/her way to secret potion/weapon/spell that will turn the tables.
Simone gives us so much more in this volume, and she kicks it off with a display of violence that is sudden and satisfying. She’s a great writer and knows when to get off the page to let her artist work.
From that violent opening, Sonja’s adventures careen into a dungeon where she’s freed by a triumphant king who knows well the blood price that has been paid for that victory. Pay attention to everything that happens on these pages. I thought at first they were just throwaway pages that kept me from the impending action.
Everything Simone does in this story is carefully weighed and laid out. I liked watching the handmaidens trying to spruce Sonja up. Simone has a wicked sense of pacing, knowing when to cut back on the grim darkness and give her readers a break.
Before long, we get back to the action as Sonja takes her place at the forefront of battle against a legion of invaders.
The battle turns bloody, and Sonja falls. The invaders pen up the city because of the plague that runs through it. I like Simone’s sense of history. Back in those days, any whiff of a plague or even sickness could – literally – be the death of a community. Those illnesses ran rampant and killed hundreds and thousands. In today’s world we don’t worry overmuch about things like the plague. Occasionally some bug will get loose that kills people, but not to the extent that happened in the Dark and Middle Ages.
Once beaten by Dark Annisia, who was the only other survivor rescued from the dungeon with Red Sonja, our heroine ends up in the forest, sick with the plague and dying. She’s been beaten, forced to kneel at her opponent’s boot, and Simone does a great job of showing the readers the effect of these events.
The story proceeds in an interesting fashion. Like peeling an orange, the story starts at one point and keeps moving for a time before ultimately returning to its origin. Along the way, we get to know the story of how Red Sonja’s people were killed and what made her the way she is.
We also get to know more of the events that led up to her time spent in the dungeon. I love this circuitous method of unveiling the tale, and everything got much, much deeper as the stakes were continually raised. I figured the initial story would only take an issue or two, but this one winds steadily through all six issues comprising the graphic novel.
One of the other interesting concepts that Simone has is that other creatures than humans exist. That will open up Red Sonja’s world more, but at the same time it gives the story a Dungeons and Dragons feel that I wasn’t at first too sure of. But Simone does a great job of just blending all of these elements in, and I trust that she will do more with them as time goes on.
And all while facing these new opponents, Red Sonja is a total action heroine!
One of the problems that some readers have with Red Sonja is that she runs around in her metal bikini armor. Simone and her artist aren’t afraid to step away from that costume and dress her more effectively. As a result, Sonja looks different throughout the book, but she’s still the warrior old readers know and love.
Dark Annisia is more than just an opponent in these pages. Simone propels Dark Annisia with her own demons and desires, and I ended up compelled by her story and actually not wanting her to square off against Red Sonja – because the book isn’t called Dark Annisia, after all. I knew how that battle would go. The ghosts that follow Annisia are either figments of her guilt or truly supernatural entities that trail after her. Simone cannily doesn’t tell her readers for certain.
The resolution of the story doesn’t hold back. Red Sonja comes back into her own and is as fierce a sword-swinging heroine as anyone could ever hope for. The various strands of the story come together in an absolutely breath-taking finish.
Although this story is complete in and of itself, and there are no real plot threads left dangling to compel the reader to pick up the next story, I’m entranced by this incarnation of the swordswoman as well as Gail Simone’s storytelling. Others have told of Red Sonja’s adventures, but no one has told them as Simone is going to tell them.
I’m hanging around to see what happens next.