Arc Reaction: Red Sonja 7-12

Published on October 3rd, 2014

In this week’s Arc Reaction we’re going to follow Red Sonja on her quest to find a bath, to bed someone, and to free a thousand slaves – not necessarily in that order. The second arc of Red Sonja from Dynamite is finished! So let’s talk about exactly what Gail Simone & Walter Geovani bring to the She-Devil with a Sword. Minor Spoilers Ahead!

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Simone has done a wonderful job doing one thing above all else: she has given Sonja an incredibly likeable personality. Red Sonja is, naturally, a sword & sorcery book set in the Hyborian Age. And while this sort of setting can be a very serious thing, Simone opens up issue 7 telling us three things: Sonja is hungry, Sonja is smelly, and Sonja is randy. With most other writers there would be the risk of this just being some gratuitous pandering, but Simone keeps it light hearted while adding to Sonja’s personality. The running joke, which I’ll ruin for you now, is that no one is willing to sleep with Sonja in part because she stinks. It works. Sonja is herself crass and unrefined. That’s the defining element of her character, and Simone makes sure that Sonja’s character is always a priority in these books.

The art of Geovani compliments the story well. Most importantly Geovani gives Sonja an expressiveness that conveys the personality that Simone writes. He also handles the sword & sorcery setting well, and so the castles and courtyards really shine in his panels. When Geovani chooses to do these large shots, the panels do a wonderful job to establish the size and grandeur of Hyboria. Still, Geovani’s art is not perfect. The art does have a tendency to feel a bit static and stiff at times, and the action lacks a certain kineticism that would do a lot to improve the book’s feel. I would like to see him be more adventurous in his panel layouts and composition. But Geovani gets the big picture right, and he does a good job to balance the low fantasy setting with Sonja’s sharp personality.

ArcReactionRedSonjainsidePerhaps my favorite detail is that issues 7-12 of Red Sonja are episodic. Not entirely, but mostly. The simple premise of these issues is that Sonja is on a quest to gather six of the finest artisans in the land for a king’s party. Isn’t that a convenient number? And if Sonja succeeds, the king will free a thousand slaves. The premise is almost cheesy in its simplicity. So the first 5 issues each consist of Sonja convincing an artisan to join her merry band of entertainers. The final issue of the arc actually has her gathering the last artisan before visiting the king to free the slaves. It’s nice to have a story where each issue feels like its own jumping on point, and the arc still works as a whole. It really comes back to Simone’s focus on character. The plot in Red Sonja is simply a device to take us along on adventures, and so it’s never really the focal point. The villains are slavers, cannibals, and animal abusers; there is no moral ambiguity. The most involved moral conundrum is Sonja’s assumption that the “princess of pillowing” is held captive. She’s proven wrong, and it’s revealed the courtesan is actually the one with power. The stories are uncomplicated, allowing Simone to focus on how Sonja reacts in these situations. How does Sonja proceed when faced with a superior swordsman? What does Sonja do when her target is an abusive beastmaster? How does Sonja handle wearing a dress?

If you’re looking for a light, character-centric book, then Red Sonja may very well be a treasure. It’s not a sweeping epic, but Gail Simone ensures that Sonja is a character you’ll grow fond of. There’s swords and ale and tigers and cannibals, and most importantly there’s a strong, smelly, barbaric woman at the center of it all. And really, at the end of the day, I can’t think of much else like it. Gail Simone has done wonders in developing Red Sonja, and I personally can’t wait to see in which direction she goes next.

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Travers Capps
Travers@comicimpact.com