Red Sonja #17
Gail Simone (script), Walter Geovanni (illustration), Vinicius Andrade (colors), Simon Bowland (letters)
Jenny Frison (main cover), Rebekah Isaacs (variant), & Stephanie Buscema (subscription cover)
July 29, 2015
Well, here it is, Gail Simone’s next-to-last issue for her run on Red Sonja. I am le sad, but also looking forward to seeing who will be taking over. Simone has said that she “hand-picked” this person, and a part of the fun of shared universes is experiencing a new creator’s interpretation of an iconic character.
(Note: This review may contain spoilers and is based on an advanced review copy from Dynamite.)
Let’s talk first impressions—as in covers. As usual, the main cover is done by Jenny Frison. I have made my appreciation of Frison’s work clear, but I like this cover for how it shows off the watercolor effect of Frison’s colors (Frison does her colors digitally, by the way). However, Rebekah Isaacs’ cover wins for sheer badassery. I’ve enjoyed Isaacs’ work on the Buffy comics, but I really want her to do more Red Sonja and sword and sorcery covers because this is some stellar work. I was also tickled by Stephanie Buscema’s cover. I have a strong dislike for Red Sonja covers where she appears to be straddling her sword—the phallic implication is obnoxious, however Buscema’s cover toys with this convention. For one, Red Sonja is not straddling the sword though it is positioned between her legs. And Red Sonja’s hand on her hip and her annoyed expression. In general, the variants for Simone’s Red Sonja are usually gorgeous and fun. I hope Dynamite continues this trend after Simone’s departure.
After taking a relaxing break at a local brothel, Red Sonja is approached by nuns. In her post-coitus stupor, she hits on the nuns which is great because 1) it further establishes that Red Sonja is canonically bi and 2) displays the characteristic irreverence of Simone’s Red Sonja. The nuns offer Red Sonja a reward if she will help them out. Never one to turn down some money, Red Sonja agrees. However, when Red Sonja finds out what she is to be defending, a tower of books, she is less than pleased.
This realization flashes back to Red Sonja’s own difficulties with learning to read. The implication seems to be that Red Sonja might be dyslexic, which is a subtle move on Simone’s part that I love dearly. Unsurprisingly, Red Sonja is a barbarian and while she’s cunning, intellectual endeavors and accomplishments are not of much interest to her. However, this move adds a compelling characterization—something Simone has been doing so well with her run on Red Sonja. I hope this little tidbit isn’t dropped and remains canon, but you never know with a licensed character.
My favorite part of this issue was the villain: an evil empress with a disgust for learned women and a compelling backstory. I’ve said before that if there is anything less well represented than a compelling female hero, it’s a compelling female villain. The empress is clearly misogynistic which seems to stem from some self-loathing. This doesn’t excuse her behavior, but it makes her interesting. Women can be misogynistic assholes, too. And this is not the last of the empress—the issue ends with her plotting her revenge against Red Sonja. I look forward to an epic stand-off in the final issue.
My one critique is that the description for this issue didn’t seem to match up with what actually happened, so there was some dissonance between my expectations and what I read. This issue is the next to last issue in the revenge arc, but the issue felt more like a standalone. On the first page, we are reminded that Death is nearby and not done with Red Sonja, but that is the last we hear of this. It’ll be interesting to see how all this is brought together with the empress in the final issue because right now it feels like a lot of balls in the air. But, hey, Simone seems to handle many balls in the air with aplomb. (So many puns!)
Geovanni’s illustration continues to be stellar though I don’t think you can top the last issue. Speaking of … the colors on this issue were a step down from the previous issues. They were harsher and more garish which worked for the brothel scenes, but not the rest of the issue. However, I appreciate that the art teams continue to populate the issues with supporting and background characters with a variety of skin tones and hair textures.
Here’s to Simone’s penultimate issue and writing a delightfully vulgar barbarian woman!