Red Sonja: Scorched Earth Volume 1
Robert Carey (artist), Mirko Colak (artist), Amanda Conner (cover artist), Dearblha Kelly (colourist), Paul Mounts (cover artist), Katie O’Meara (artist), Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou (letterer), Bob Q (artist/colourist), Mark Russell (writer)
November 20, 2019
Sonja is a fugitive, fleeing a fallen city and the murder of a friend. Red Sonja: Scorched Earth Volume 1 opens with her in rags, riding a dying horse, trailed by butchers. But as she deals with her assailants, the pages depict the quiet calm of a warrior who has been trained in not just weaponry, but strategy. Her journey brings her back to Hyrkania, the place of her birth, and she learns that she is not unexpected. What she doesn’t expect is for the elders to name her queen of Hyrkania.
Turns out, it’s all a bit of a ruse. By becoming queen, she must submit to the rule of the very inconvenient Zamoran Empire. The new queen’s response to Dragan the Magnificent’s decrees is pithy. She pens a missive, artfully depicted on ‘parchment’ in Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou’s always apt font choices, that tells Dragan exactly who her people are and what he can expect from her as a ‘servant’ to his empire. It’s a quiet moment. In these few pages, we’ve already seen a woman who is tired. Weary to her bones, but always willing to rise up one more time against those who do not deserve the power they wield, while the cowardly former rulers of her new kingdom skitter off into the shadows.
Part of the She-Devil’s lore is that no one knows her origins or who trained her to be the warrior she is, but this volume spells it all out succinctly while also shaping her people. Though she’s been away for some time, she still knows the Hyrkanians well, even the ones who grumble sardonically yet follow her into battle. Mark Russell’s words are a constant sarcastic smirk, with tongue firmly in cheek at times, and a knowing glance and raised eyebrow at others. While her enemies and even some of her people may doubt her, Russell’s writing leaves the reader with no doubt of who is in control of the chessboard, depicting a Sonja that is every bit a worthy queen, no matter her attire. She spends as much time in battle as she does with her people, with the writing exploring her empathy as her greatest weakness and her greatest strength.
The art switches up throughout the series, most notably with scenes from her past where she is learning her lessons as a warrior and strategist. They are depicted in muted grays or pastels, with less detailed backgrounds and greater focus on her the dialogue and specific actions. Her shock of red hair, though muted in these moments too, stands out as a reminder that Red Sonja is a woman that never has anything to be ashamed of and will never hide from her opponents. That hair takes on a life of its own in battle. Not in a Medusa way, but the artists recognize that it is part of who she is and use it to great effect especially in battle, sometimes obscuring her face completely and leaving only shadows beneath is as her sword does its work.
Red Sonja: Scorched Earth Volume 1 contains an impressive cover gallery, featuring artists such as Joseph Michael Linsner, Christian Ward, Jenn St. Onge, and so many more. Most of the images depict Sonja in various states of violence or dealing with the aftermath of it. My disappointment with Dynamite’s cosplay covers remains, though, as, despite the cosplay models looking good, the lack of actual play in their cosplay leaves much to be desired.
With a Red Sonja movie in the works, Red Sonja: Scorched Earth Volume 1 and the Gail Simone collection give me hope that what we’ll see on the screen will be worthy of the redheaded She-Devil’s legacy.