A war is coming and Red Sonja’s kingdom is flat broke. Resources are thin and the only gold to be found is a single key. Something’s gotta give…or it must be taken.
This month’s issue gives us more insight into Sonja’s thoughts, as well as how she feels about herself and her duties. Mark Russell’s version of Red Sonja continues to be fascinating, incorporating bits of previous takes on the character. There’s a bit of Gail Simone, Amy Chu, and Roy Thomas’s Sonja here, all rolled into one beautiful, deadly contradiction.
Sonja is a woman of principle, but she seems to only be interested in enforcing those principles when they don’t bring her people to harm. Sonja won’t tolerate a killer in her midst, but she has no problem putting her enemies in the ground.
I love this take on Sonja, which seems to be written specifically for anyone who has ever judged the character based on her looks. She is so much more than eye candy, and we are seeing new layers to her in just a few issues.
One character that hasn’t quite gelled for me is Sonja’s cousin, who kind of goes out of his way in this issue to remind Sonja of his alleged importance to her. While some of his exposition can feel a little bit clunky, it’s telling that Sonja herself doesn’t seem to be able to reconcile her wanderer’s ways with the obligations that come with being reunited with family. Yet again, this Sonja is a woman full of contradictions, which makes her extremely fascinating to read.
The political satire is still well done. Everyone in a position of power is faking it till they make it. Even the self-assured wannabe-emperor Dragan is little more than a schoolyard bully with an army, ruling through fear and the complacency of his subjects. Through him, the poor stay poor and he just keeps getting richer and bolder (sound familiar?). He also tends to be given the funniest lines in each issue, which makes him a villain that’s easy to dislike, yet fun to follow.
Too many villains in past Red Sonja tales have been irredeemable rapists and gleeful sadists. There’s a lightness to Dragan, seen especially in an oddly sweet scene with his son (well, sweet by Dragan’s standards) that shows genuine caring on his part. It gives the villain some much-needed depth and makes him more engaging to read, despite his twisted world view and despicable priorities.
This series continues to surprise, as it represents a very cerebral take on the world of Red Sonja. It has the tone of a historical epic, with some elements of classic farce. The comedic moments really work, with Russell’s dialogue wonderfully straddling the line between modern humor and the kind of grand pronouncements one would read in a Robert E. Howard tale.
While this series has fewer fantasy elements than Red Sonja books of the past, I’d still highly recommend this series to fans of the genre and fans of historical fiction. It treads a nice line between spectacle and plausibility. With just two issues under its belt, now is the time to get in on the action.