Review: Swords of Sorrow #2
Swords of Sorrow #2 dropped last Wednesday, and with all the build-up from the first issue, as well as the Masquerade and Kato one-shot and the first issue in the Vampirella and Jennifer Blood team-up, we were pretty excited to see where the story was headed in #2.
In this issue, the Messenger continues to deliver the swords of sorrow to our lady badassess, and Red Sonja and Dejah Thoris finally cross paths and team-up. However, Catherine Bell is ready to jeopardize this glorious team-up in order to get rid of her alter ego Bad Kitty. Read below for our Swords of Sorrow review team’s general thoughts on this second issue. Our musings are divided into: narrative and character development, artwork and costuming, and covers.
(Note: This review contains some spoilers. WWAC reviewed Swords of Sorrow: Masquerade and Kato, written by Gail Simone with art by Sergio Davila, with an advanced review copy from Dynamite.)
Narrative & Character Development
Desiree: I feel that we’re still in the bumpy stages of set-up. I’m not feeling much attachment to any of the characters yet, not with the same fervor I did during the villians issue.
Ginnis: Speaking of the villains, I liked the little bit more we got about Catherine Bell/Bad Kitty. They are really setting her up to be a sympathetic villain, and it is makes me even more intrigued to see how the villains will go down. Will Catherine or Chastity be redeemed? And what happens when Purgatori and Mistress Hel step in? Those two are definitely straight up evil.
Also, Lady Greystoke!!!
Desiree: I’m still waiting for the pop in the series: when things come together and we get to see this great group of female characters do whatever it is they’re building up to. The dialogue wasn’t as engaging as I hoped, and I’d still like a bit more insight into these characters as individuals. But I like the feel of the dynamic between Sonja and Dejah.
Gin: I can see that, but seeing how SoS is a little light on this really makes me appreciate the one-shots and other series that are crossing over with this. I think it is being handled very well as a crossover, and SoS does the work of piquing my interest and building my excitement while the others fill in the gaps.
Amanda: Now we’re really getting into it. The first issue was clearly setting the stage, and I found myself fairly chomping at the bit waiting for the action to begin. There is still some set-up happening in this issue, clearly, but we’re also starting to see the plot pick up and the character development begin. I really enjoyed the rapport between Sonja and Dejah, and I can’t wait to see more of that develop between the other characters. And so I say: onward!
Kate: This is my first exposure to all of these characters, so being completely ignorant of all of them, I have to say I’m finding this title struggles a little in its function as a gateway into the related titles. In hindsight, the Chaos Prequel is a much tighter, much more successful book at introducing characters, hinting at their pasts, and making you want to care about their futures. While I think Simone has characterized Red Sonja brilliantly, I’m still waiting for that for the rest, and there’s only four more issues left.
Birdi: I keep waiting to get an oh snap moment, a moment when I giddily clap my hands and have that “oh yeah now we’re challenging some historical concepts of characterization.” This has yet to happen for me. So far it feels so rigid — camp and pulp allow room for playfulness and poking fun at archetypes. I don’t think the camp is being fully engaged, at least not yet, and I want it to be engaged. In reading SoS #2, it’s clear that Simone is trying to allow the characters to stand face-to-face with their initial creation and challenge that mold, but in order to challenge that, don’t we need to at least crack the mold? At least let, oh I don’t know, allow the blade of a sword swiftly slice through the mold so that we can see the historical characterization against the new representation.
Wendy: I’m still not very impressed with the main storyline. The dialogue is weak and the action seems forced. We’re still hopping around to all these ladies who have been given nice swords with no real instruction on what to do with them. Messenger could have left a few more details, methinks, but since he didn’t, we’ve got the forced excuse for everyone to be confused and “squabbling”—though apparently this squabbling could be a good thing. Since returning to comics with Marvel’s Civil War, I’ve concluded that I am not fond of crossovers that rely on this format. That is, a skeletal main storyline crammed into a few issues of the main event, forcing you to pick up all the supplementary material to actually understand what is happening as a whole. As far as I’m concerned, there needs to be far more meat to the main story, and I’m just not getting that here.
Artwork & Costuming
Desiree: I’m not in love with the artwork, I find the coloring to be very dark, making me wish for something more vibrant. However, the action scenes are very well done. I like how the action flows and embraces the intensity of these warrior women. There’s also a lovely lack of cheesecake battle shots which I appreciate.
Gin: It’s so nice to not see Dejah Thoris in nipple tassles. I loved the art—generally, I am quite the fan of Sergio Davila. I think his art is dynamic. That panel where Dejah Thoris and Red Sonja first clash? Sooooo good. And the colors really jumped off the page for me — so we have totally different views, Desiree!
Amanda: Overall, the art met my expectations, and while I felt it was strong, I wasn’t completely awed. There are some panel breaks that are fun, but there are others that I found to be awkward (like where Dejah Thoris’ head is floating outside of a panel against a sky that melds into the background of Vampirella’s entry scene in Dublin). To be fair, though, this is not completely my style, and it’s not like I was disappointed in the artwork—with a few exceptions, I just wasn’t blown away. The same goes for most of the costuming. I do, however, love all the muscle definition on the strong ladies.
But, to second your comment from above, Ginnis: Lady Greystroke! Be still my beating heart. I’m not familiar with her at all (newbie here), but I love her equestrian gear, and the scene where her riding helmet flies off as she cuts down the enemy with her sword…heck yeah. There’s a strong “X” diagonal composition, and that sword jumps right off the panel and the page. The bloom of bright red blood, Lady Greystroke’s blonde hair, and the creamy curve of her horse’s neck really pop against the grey enemies and stormy backdrop. More of this please.
Kate: Overall, I like the style of the artwork—it’s more high fantasy than pulp, IMO, but since it’s Gail Simone and the story seems centered on Red Sonja and a fantasy universe, I think that’s okay. But can we talk about what is wrong with Chastity’s costume and when that changed from the prequel? Like, what the hell is she wearing?
Gin: I noticed that, too. Like Purgatori and Mistress Hel’s costumes, and to an extent Bad Kitty’s make sense, but Chastity’s costume doesn’t. Clearly, we need to redesign, right, Kate?
Wendy: What does it tell you about Dejah’s costuming when I say her metal bikini and crotch curtains is a huge improvement on her normal outfit? Now she’s on par with Red Sonja’s outfit! I really did like the art in this because the characters were almost all striking and powerful in their appearance. They are rarely simply posed for the sake of posing, and those poses weren’t simply gratuitous opportunities to show off some T&A. Faces aren’t too well defined, but muscles are, so I’ll give the art a pass overall.
Swords of Sorrow #2 featured three covers: the main cover by Tula Lotay and two variants: one by Emanuela Lupacchino and one by Robert Hack.
Cover A by Tula Lotay
Gin: I wasn’t familiar with Tula Lotay’s work prior to SoS, but dayum, do I love it. It echoes Jenny Frisson, but it is still very much it’s own style.
Amanda: Lotay’s is a lot of fun. I like the way in which the flattened, pin-up style artwork is, in a sense, violated by the brushstrokes of red paint. It reads as blood—which is what you might expect from an action scene in this comic genre—but only at first. A closer look shows that it’s layered over the other artwork and is not connected to a potential source of blood (that is, the T-rex doesn’t look injured). The action in the scene would even make more sense without the red strokes. For me, the addition of this visual element calls the pulp scene below it into question. But that’s perfect for Swords of Sorrow, isn’t it? This whole series is about rethinking female pulp characters. I love it!
Kate: I like the savagery here and the blood spray. It’s graphic and awesome…but what is up with Vampirella’s boob/swimsuit/boob line on her left breast?
Wendy: I like this one a lot. Perhaps it’s the pale colouring and the bloody brush strokes, but it makes me think of older Japanese art work. I like the savagery in Vampi’s expression and what looks almost like fear in the dinosaur’s eyes, amplified by the blood splatter (even if we’re not sure of the source of all that blood).
Cover B by Emanuela Lupacchino
Gin: I think Lupacchino’s artwork can be a little off-putting at first. I mean Dejah Thoris’ boobs. I mean, gravity is different on Mars, but the more I look at Lupacchino’s work overall, the more I feel it just goes for the over-the-top camp, which I have quite the fondness for.
Amanda: This cover is punchy and gratuitous, but the composition is strong. I love how Vampirella and the T-rex mirror one another’s expressions; it’s clearly a predator-vs-predator face-off. Dejah and Sonja are similarly paired in the back, and that makes me draw similarities between their characters—I guess they clash because they’re so much alike, huh? The thing is, I just want to pet the T-rex’s shiny, shiny shoulder. Cute lil’ T-rex.
Kate: This is the most T&A cover of all of them, and Vampirella’s posture walks a fine line between a nominee for the Hawkeye Initiative and being nominated for Escher Girls, so I can’t say I’m a fan.
Wendy: Definitely a greater focus on the T&A than the others, but I like how much space the dinosaur takes up. I’m fond of action poses and covers that actually tell you what’s going on. This is very to the point.
Cover C by Robert Hack
Gin: So one of our fabulous copyeditors pointed out that this cover is a direct homage to the A Princess of Mars cover. I just want all the covers. I can’t afford all the things. It makes me sad.
Amanda: I love the “throwback” covers with their hilarious trompe l’oeil updated price stickers. I’m not a big fan of this illustration, but it hearkens back to an earlier era and it does that well. I enjoy mentally transplanting this Dejah Thoris into a Norman Rockwell painting.
Kate: YES, TROMPE L’OEIL PRICE STICKERS, I love it so much. Also being able to see the brush strokes and texture. I love “retro” covers to begin with, and this feels like it embraces that pulp-aesthetic in a way that elevates it.
Wendy: I like this for the nostalgia effect, though the image itself doesn’t do much for me. Except for her skin tone. I love the colouring and shading and how it makes her stand out against her background.
It looks like our feelings are split down the middle. Pulp can be pretty polarizing because of the element of spectacle which has historically veered into T&A for a male gaze, but we are all intrigued to see where the story and stories continue to go. What about you, dear reader? What are your thoughts on the current state of the Swords of Sorrow series?