Legenderry: Red Sonja #1
Publisher: Dynamite Comics
Writers: Marc Andreyko
Artist: Igor Lima
Cover: Joe Benitez
Colors: Adriano Augusto
Letters: Thomas Napolitano
Reviewer: Steve Sellers
While I admittedly have not watched the Legenderry titles quite that closely, there is an intriguing concept behind it. The idea of taking established Dynamite characters and then reimagining them as steampunk Victorian-age heroes offers a certain charm. It’s an interesting setting to build around these characters, and steampunk is a genre that should be more represented than it currently is.
At first glance, Red Sonja might sound like a very strange choice for this kind of series. She’s best known as a barbarian warrior woman from the Hyborian Age. However, what I think overcomes the strangeness of this idea is the fact that Howard’s original version of Sonja is not that far removed from the Legenderry version. Howard had envisioned his original Red Sonya as a 16th Century fighter who used pistols as well as swords. The Howard concept fits neatly into a steampunk setting, though with just enough elements of the iconic Sonja to keep her recognizable.
While Legenderry: Red Sonja doesn’t break the mold, it offers the start of a fun, swashbuckling adventure.
It’s hard to think of an artist better suited to do a cover for this title than Joe Benitez. Though I’ve not read much of his Lady Mechanika, his visuals there are representative of how steampunk should be portrayed in comics. This Sonja cover is not far removed from his style on that book, but it is recognizably Sonja through the visual design. While I have mentioned in the past that Sonja is best when she’s visually iconic, the cover gets around this problem by making the chainmail bikini a prominent part of her design. Additionally, her face and body shape appear consistent with classic Sonja. This way, the additional elements such as the pistol and the jacket don’t interfere with the reader’s ability to identify her. The pose and expression on Sonja’s face, while very much stock posing, likewise look like a Sonja we might recognize. I can also appreciate the light touch of Michael Turner’s influence, which serves Sonja rather nicely. If there are any negatives here, it’s that the cover doesn’t give the reader any real sense of what the story is about and there’s no real background detail, but the art is striking enough to garner interest.
Although I’m unfamiliar with the work of Igor Lima, I’m pleased to see how well it works in these pages. The artwork makes an impact starting with the opening splash page, which sets the stage with a single strong image. The visual characterization of Sonja is effective, using her posture and smile to show the daring confidence of the She-Devil. She’s also visually consistent, both with the woman on the cover and with the Sonja we’ve come to know. There is likewise a good sense of detail to these pages, and even though Lima focuses more on the fantastic side of Victorian London, there is a strong sense of location presented through these panels. Even though there is near-constant movement throughout the story, the art clearly gives a sense of space and follows Sonja clearly throughout all the chaos.
Beyond that, Lima provides some strong layout work that gives a strong flair for the cinematic. Dynamite’s stable of artists usually excels at this style, and this issue proves no exception to that. The panel frames are reasonably smooth and show a good sense of action in these pages. The use of widescreen panels and large, dramatic frames for the big moments help contribute to the big-budget visual style. I’m reminded ever so slightly of the visual style of the old CrossGen titles, which were visually impressive and cinematic in a similar way. While I wouldn’t describe these panels as quite on that level, they draw stylistically on that format and work well with it.
The coloring in this issue is provided courtesy of Adriano Augusto, who complements the art style in an effective way. It’s really the coloring and the level of lighting that contributes to the swashbuckling tone in this issue, and overall, it’s satisfying. The tavern scenes are given just enough authenticity through the colors to pass as historical, even if it’s a more fantastical vision of Victorian England. Even during scenes that require darker colors, such as Sonja running across rooftops at night, the colors are just bright enough to maintain the mood of the piece. Likewise, scenes that take place underwater have just the right level of murkiness and danger to them, highlighting the urgency of the action scenes. The coloring is a good fit for this title and enhances the CrossGen-like flavor of the visuals.
Thomas Napolitano proves once again to be a solid presence for Dynamite with the lettering this issue. He uses some interesting techniques here, starting with the narrative captions. Using a red interior background for Sonja’s narration provides a good subtle visual cue, and the slightly stylized font conveys a sense of the period without being too exacting. Napolitano always seems to know how much space to allow the artist’s work to breathe, and this is certainly true here as well. The word balloons are judiciously placed as they should be, allowing the focus to be on the big cinematic moments. However, the most notable contribution lies with the sound effects, which are masterful. The fonts for each sound effect echoes well visually, and they enhance the action scenes with only a subtle presence. It’s likewise easy to visualize the sounds in a cinematic sense, and it’s these effects that give depth to the intense gun battles and the underwater combat. The lettering does a quiet job, as it should, but it contributes measurably to the success of these panels.
Marc Andreyko is a name that I regrettably only know by reputation, but it’s a reputation that carries a good deal of weight. Thus far, this adventure is off to a reasonable start, and I don’t regret having given his work a try. This version of Red Sonja keeps many of the trappings of her traditional character—she’s fierce and unyielding, enjoys a good fight, and will fearlessly drink and gamble through life. At the same time, this Sonja is a woman of the steampunk age, and in that, I think she owes more to Howard’s version in “The Shadow of the Vulture” than to Roy Thomas’s Savage She-Devil. The Andreyko version seamlessly brings the two versions together, adding the steampunk pirate angle. This makes Legenderry’s Sonja both distinct and intriguing, and a character worth following in her own right. I want to see more of this character and her adventures if they’re written like this.
In terms of accessibility, there shouldn’t be a problem for new readers to get into this title. Though Andreyko wrote a previous Legenderry series with Sonja, this issue is written without anyone needing to know what happened there. There’s a good introductory scene where we see Sonja in action, and then the story gradually unfolds with strong pacing. There may be characters that are quickly introduced and glossed over, but no one you need to know to make sense of what’s happening. The important thing is that the reader gets a clear sense of who this version of Sonja is and why she’s acting as she does, and Andreyko establishes both of those points firmly.
Now, it should be said that the premise of this series is not the most groundbreaking or original. The plot hook for this adventure involves one of the oldest classic setups in all of literature. At this point, though, we don’t yet know whether there will be a twist down the road. Even if there isn’t, there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with just telling an entertaining pirate adventure with the She-Devil. Taken on that level, Andreyko delivers a quite competent script, raising the physical stakes for Sonja with nearly every page of the book. What starts off as a simple card game becomes a deadly chase on the high seas, and the action plays out convincingly. Taken as a steampunk swashbuckler, this works quite well, and I hope to see where Andreyko takes us in the coming issues.
If you’re looking for a series that offers a change of pace, this looks to be a promising one. While it’s not entirely clear where the story is going yet, the creative team offers an entertaining ride involving submarine pirates, and that’s good enough for right now. This Red Sonja makes a nice companion to the regular series for existing fans, and it’s a good jump-on point for those who want a Red Sonja without worrying about continuity. As a full-priced issue, it’s a good enough comic to follow for the time being, and I’m curious to see where this leads.
Written by Steve Sellers
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