Comics, Feminism

Review: Red Sonja #16

TNRSv216CovFrisonRed Sonja #16

Gail Simone (scripter), Walter Geovanni (illustrator), Adriano Lucas, Alex Guimaraes, & Marco Lesko (colorers), Simon Bowland (letterer)
Dynamite
May 27, 2015

In issue #15, Red Sonja suffered under illness while others fought and battled for her. In this issue, our redheaded heroine finally faces her biggest foe to date.

(Note: This review contains some spoilers. WWAC reviewed Red Sonja #16 with an advanced review copy from Dynamite.)

Okay, I am way behind on this.

Issue #16 reads a lot like an ending. Considering this, I finished reading the issue a few weeks ago then set to perusing the internet for answers. Had Simone finished her stint on Red Sonja? I thought she had signed on for thirty-something issues. Is this the ending of this particular arc? If so, a sixteenth issue seems an odd (though mathematically even) number to end it on. My research didn’t turn up much. Then I got busy.

When I finally got around to returning to this issue, I did a little more research and found out that this is not the ending of the “Forgiveness of Monsters” arc. Issue #17 will continue exploring the She-Devil’s experience with forgiveness. It’s making for a fascinating storyline that humanizes Red Sonja and makes her more than the stock slash-and-hack badass character that I have come to know and love.

Recently, one of Gail Simone’s Tumblr followers asked her if it was okay for a writer to explore the same themes over and over again in their work. Simone responded with a resounding yes and revealed the three themes she explores the most:

  1. The Search for Identity
  2. The Search for Family
  3. The Will to Survive
Red Sonja 16, panel by Walter Geovanni, Dynamite 2015

Red Sonja sasses death in Red Sonja 16.

Red Sonja #16 is the pinnacle of Simone’s third theme: the will to survive. The prior arc (Volume 2: The Art of Blood and Fire) focused on the search for “family,” and Red Sonja’s search for “family” has been one of my favorite developments thus far. Under the curse, Red Sonja has increasingly had to rely on those around her to do the defending. It’s an interesting turn of events for our flame-haired She-Devil. The development defies the logic of the loner-wolf ideology of the sword-and-sorcery genre and highlights the importance of codependency, exploring how we form families and communities irrespective of bloodlines (which is very feminist). Fortunately, her “family” returns in Issue #16 at the same time Red Sonja’s will to survive is truly put to the test.

Simone elaborates on the theme:

“The Will To Survive. This is a big one to me. I get a lot of questions about, ‘why do you write such dark scenarios’ and ‘why do you put your characters through such hell’ and the answer is simple, because real people go through Hell every day. Real people suffer from crime, injury, illness, neglect, poverty, addiction, abuse, prejudice and an untold number of other maladies. I like to tell stories of people surviving. I don’t care much about two superheroes fighting over a golden piece of crap, or a hero stopping a bank robbery. Those can be fun, but they don’t really move me.”

In many iterations of Red Sonja, she has been characterized as a bringer of death. While she has saved many a town and person through slaughter, the story focus has usually been on the latter and not the former. Simone has turned this common characterization on it’s head by emphasizing Sonja as a hero. Not even an anti-hero, but an actual hero who stands up for the oppressed. This feels like a natural trajectory for the character, as she has always (in any of her manifestations) challenged not only those in power, but also what power can do to those who have it (including herself).

While she faces off with Death (manifested as herself, just a lot taller), you can see the dawning realization in Sonja that she is not an anti-hero, but an actual hero. Despite the heaviness of these scenes, Sonja’s characteristic irreverence shines through. She mocks the giant Death version of herself, and the way Geovanni draws Red Sonja in this scene is laugh out loud funny, her facial expressions and body language mirroring her cheeky tone. It feels like an ending, but Red Sonja’s quest is not done yet. She still has more forgiving to do, including her biggest challenge yet, which she will encounter in issue #17.

As for the artwork, the art and the colors are on point in this issue. It’s really Giovanni’s best work so far on the series, and the color team’s efforts bring it all to life. That red red hair!

The covers are particularly exciting this time around as they are all done by female artists. Jenny Frisson continues her run on the main cover, while Stephanie Buscema continues on variants with her chibi-esque depictions of Red Sonja. The newest addition to the cover team is Cat Staggs with a stunning high contrast cover that draws attention to Red Sonja’s blade and her determined face.

And since Simone’s run on Red Sonja will not be ending with issue #16, I will be back for issue #17 (and not 2 weeks behind)!

  1. Al

    June 15, 2015 at 1:23 pm

    I love the way they’ve drawn Death!

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