Red Sonja #12
Publisher: Dynamite Comics
Writers: Amy Chu & Erik Burnham
Artist: Carlos Gomez
Cover: Ben Caldwell
Letters: Simon Bowland
Reviewer: Steve Sellers
Of all the quality characters in Dynamite’s stable right now, Red Sonja has proven to be the most consistent and enduring. Over the years, the quality of the creators attached have all been worthy of the She-Devil, and she continues to deliver a strong franchise for them. Even a year into the current run by Amy Chu and Carlos Gomez, this title has been generally solid and entertaining.
With this volume of Red Sonja, they took the interesting and somewhat risky decision to bring Red Sonja to the modern world for a year. That’s led to some interesting stories, and the “fish out of water” approach has led to some good issues of this title. With the first year at an end, it may be that time is winding down, as we see Sonja and her primary companion Max thrown back into the Hyborian Age.
Thus far, Red Sonja is still worth reading, as the creative team delivers a reasonably strong issue.
Over the years, Dynamite has offered some excellent covers featuring Red Sonja that cast her in an exceedingly favorable light. The main cover for this issue, unfortunately, falls short of that mark. In the first place, aside from the red hair, it’s difficult to even identify the main character as Sonja. Her body shape doesn’t reflect the Sonja that we see in the interiors, who is closer to the iconic Sonja than what we see in this cover. That isn’t necessarily bad if she’s identifiable in other ways, but the leather jacket (which she doesn’t wear in this issue) gets in the way of reader identification. In addition, the facial expression looks unnatural here, making her look even less recognizable as Sonja. I presume the idea is that she’s meant to look angry and defiant, but the shape of the head and mouth don’t get this across well. I’m also somewhat baffled by the background coloring, which overcomplicates the image and doesn’t reflect anything we see in the interiors. At a guess, the background may be meant to reflect the portal to the Hyborian Age, except the portal we see in the interiors looks nothing like this cover. While Caldwell is a good artist, this cover is a blend of interesting visual ideas that doesn’t quite work.
That having been said, the interior art offers a good, quality comic book. Carlos Gomez has had an excellent run on this title so far. Now that he’s spent a year on this title, his work has only improved, if anything. One of his clear strengths on this book is his ability to draw very different and distinctive figures. His Sonja is the classic Frazetta-style warrior woman, physically imposing and powerful in stature. This offsets well against the other characters, who are visually interesting in other ways, especially characters like the shorter and more rotund Wallace or the diminutive Kulan Gath. At the same time, there is a clear attention to story in these pages, and Gomez has a good grasp of character expressions and poses. Though there is a hint of a stylized approach that’s vaguely reminiscent of Joe Madureira, it helps bring the Hyborian Age to life and feels like a fantasy adventure comic.
Another notable element to Gomez’s art is his strong layout and presentation skills. The layouts present a strong cinematic flair, and they never skimp on detail at the right moments. The establishing shot of the desert in the ancient past feels desolate and remote, while the ruined city hints at a sense of mystery and foreboding. Background is provided when it’s important to the story, and though detail is sometimes skimped, it’s usually in panels where the action holds the reader’s attention. The fight choreography is likewise well executed, with battles clearly set up and then violently resolved. The action scenes strike with motion and impact, using the action to show character. He’s a welcome addition to this title, and I hope Gomez continues to have a long run on this character.
The coloring is brought to us this issue by Mohan, who brings deeper life into Gomez’s stellar visuals. Where the color work excels here is the emphasis on Red Sonja as our heroine, making sure that the strongest colors are centered on her character. This is, of course, especially true of Sonja’s iconic red hair, which plays off against the lighter colors featured elsewhere. For the most part, the Hyborian Age is treated with dusty colors, mostly a blend of yellows and browns. This works in places, such as the desert scenes, where it adds to the bleakness of the surroundings. This embellishes the hopeless tone of Sonja’s predicament and helps to establish the setting for readers coming into the series. At the same time, it works somewhat less effectively during the Kulan Gath scenes, which come off as less menacing because of the drabness of the colors there. Still, the colors set a striking tone on the last page, which sets up the cliffhanger for the next issue.
The lettering in this issue is solid, telling the story with good craftsmanship. In truth, Simon Bowland has been treated generously by both the script and the art, and he takes advantage of it nicely. The script is trim and concise, saying only what’s needed, giving the lettering room to work its magic. The clear visual storytelling also allows plenty of room to place captions and balloons without interfering with the story at all. Where Bowland’s work is most striking here is that he makes use of empty space with the size of the word balloons. Where Sonja speaks with a sense of urgency, the balloons and text are noticeably larger, creating the illusion of volume. The addition of the red borders to Sonja’s urgent lines is also an interesting touch, evoking both her iconic color and contributing to the tension built by the storytelling. It’s a good technique, and Bowland employs it rather well.
Though Amy Chu has been the sole writer up until this point, here she’s joined by Erik Burnham on the writing credits. Starting with this issue, Burnham is given co-story and full script credit, though Chu is still credited on the story level. Although an issue like this seems an awkward place to involve a co-writer, this issue is fortunately a seamless transition. Burnham manages to keep a consistent voice and tone to the previous Amy Chu issues, and there aren’t any moments that feel out of place in comparison. The most important point of consistency is with Sonja herself, and her characterization is rock solid here.
Taken as a singular issue, Chu and Burnham tell an effective story this issue, and it’s improved somewhat by a more streamlined focus. Fans of Red Sonja’s new sidekicks in the future may be disappointed since they don’t appear in this issue, but in another sense, that helps the story. The transition is more focused on Sonja and Max, but it also keeps the action firmly on the important characters in the piece. The primary plot point center on Sonja and Wallace’s return to the past, reconnecting the reader with Sonja’s home setting. This main plot point should eventually converge with Max’s quest in upcoming issues, but the attention belongs on the Hyborian Age, at least for the time being.
Aside from that, however, this issue is just an entertaining fantasy adventure. Some of the classic tropes are in play, but they’re mainly tropes designed to keep the action moving. Those readers who have missed Sonja swinging her sword at monsters and brigands should be satisfied with her scenes this issue. It may be something we’ve seen before, but we haven’t seen it in a year, so it becomes a welcome return to classic Red Sonja. At the same time, it’s also interesting to see those scenes in contrast with the Max subplot in earlier issues, where his modern sensibilities contrast well against the savage world of the past. This issue mostly moves things along and sets the pieces on the board, but it’s enjoyable in what it provides.
If you’ve been curious about Dynamite’s current take on Red Sonja, it’s worth giving a try. Although this issue isn’t the most accessible jumping-on point, it still delivers an enjoyable fantasy adventure with plenty of hard-hitting barbarian action. New readers may want to wait on a Comixology sale before coming on board. On the other hand, if you’ve been holding off on the book because the “Sonja in the future” storyline hasn’t appealed to you, you may find this issue more to your speed. Although this issue doesn’t break significant new ground, it does offer Red Sonja doing what she does best, and that’s worth admission price.
Written by Steve Sellers
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