Red Sonja #1
Marguerite Bennett (script), Aneke (art), Jorge Sutil (colors), Erica Schultz (letters), Marguerite Sauvage (main cover)
Variants: Jay Anacleto, Tula Lotay, Tony Fleecs, Ming Doyle, Nicola Scott, Robert Hack
January 13, 2016
(Note: This review is based on an advanced digital copy from Dynamite and may contain spoilers.)
Here it is! The brand new Red Sonja, featuring a brand new writer—Marguerite Bennett (DC Bombshells, Angela: Queen of Hel, A-Force, and a lot more—she’s kind of a big deal). While last year, Bennett wrote Red Sonja for Dynamite’s epic female-led crossover series, Swords of Sorrow, this is Bennett’s first time helming the Red Sonja series.
Before I can write an “objective” (or at the very least thoughtful review) of the new Red Sonja, let me just take a moment to fangirl out: squeee, Marguerite Bennett is writing my favorite comic book character of all time, oh my Scathath! Okay, now that I got that out of my system, let’s get to it, shall we?
First of all, Dynamite has released several covers featuring the work of some terrific artists. Check out the gallery below:
I won’t break down each cover as I don’t think I have ever seen a cover I didn’t like from Hack or Lotay, but Ming Doyle’s might be my favorite. This surprised me, because while I do like Doyle’s work, I haven’t always liked her covers for Red Sonja. Red Sonja’s facial expression is so often somber under Doyle’s pen, but this cover reminds me of depictions of Athena. The muscular arms, the athletic build, the almost contrapposto pose—it feels classically Greek.
As for the writing, two things in particular stood out in this issue for me. The first one was pacing. The setup is that Hyrkania is ruled by a benevolent sovereign who has created an utopia, and Red Sonja is bored. She’s made for brawling, and there isn’t really room for brawling and chasing down bad guys in a utopia. To see Red Sonja go from fighting a truly outrageous monster (props to Aneke for creating this off-the-wall creature) at the beginning of the comic to her desperately trying to find any baddie to battle—the reader feels her boredom. I even started getting antsy wondering where this plot was going, much like Red Sonja herself. I think it takes a skillful writer to create that sort of affect—particularly in an adventure comic like Red Sonja where character and plot is often subsumed (or thrown out altogether) in exchange for epic sword-fighting scenes and the slaughtering of wacky beasts.
Second: power. Power is always a theme in sword and sorcery (i.e., the work of Robert E. Howard in general who has an intriguing life story). The sword and sorcery genre is always skeptical of power, particularly concentrated power, whether that power is in the hands of villains or the protagonists. In a sense, the sword and sorcery genre has libertarian attitude towards power that borders on anarchy. This theme is directly engaged in this first issue. Within the world, Red Sonja’s main concern is her own autonomy and the opportunity to do some sort of good on her own terms. But this issue also highlights that Red Sonja’s sense of purpose is contingent upon a world in which power is always a source of corruption and never productive of good.
Aneke drew Red Sonja for Legenderry Red Sonja before. On the whole, I found Aneke’s art appropriate to the humor of the book, though I found it had some inconsistencies in perspective. Aneke’s art was also expressive and fun, which seems suitable to Bennett’s writing: during her Swords of Sorrow run, Bennett wrote a particularly quipy Red Sonja in contrast to Simone’s more stoic (and grumpy) version of the character. Also, booty—Aneke draws Red Sonja with an ample derriere to suit her equally ample bust. I appreciate this over the frequent version of Red Sonja who is drawn like Barbie before she had plastic (literally, ha!) surgery in the early 90s. I am still a little wary, but we will see as the series goes on.
Of course, we have to talk the absence of the chainmail bikini. This a bold move on the part of Dynamite, because regardless of how you feel about the bikini, it’s undeniably iconic—and too often defining of the character of Red Sonja. Dynamite has been known for too long as the comics company that does cheesecake which overshadows some of the fascinating and fun female characters they do have. I am on board with the new design—it is obviously more practical and covers more, but still shows a fair amount of skin; I think that goes hand in hand, for both male and female characters, in the sword and sorcery genre. The design of the cape’s hood echoes the pattern and shape of a fox’s face which is an animal known for its cunning—a characteristic of Red Sonja that Simone frequently emphasized when she first took over the character in 2013. But, I am curious as to what readers think. Please share your thoughts on the new costume design in the comments section below!