It’s kind of astonishing how good Vampirella/Red Sonja has been.
In a sense, of course, we shouldn’t be surprised. I’ve yet to see a bad comic book written by Jordie Bellaire, and Drew Moss’ dark, moody art, perfectly complemented by Rebecca Nalty’s colors, is a fit for a book that is dark and moody. But, well, Vampirella is a character in a kind of absurd red swimsuit, and Red Sonja wears a metal bikini. Yes, yes, I know, both characters have had fantastic runs by creators as renowned as Gail Simone and Grant Morrison, but I still have to admit that I approach the two with some hesitation.
But this series has blown all of that away. With a deft handling that both respects the histories of the two characters and moves them forward into handling mature and complex tones and themes, Vampirella/Red Sonja was one of the big standouts from Dynamite last year, and issue #8 only carries that onwards. Finishing the two-part story set in Prohibition, in the 1920s, it’s a fun, pulpy story fighting the sort of villain that is appropriate to both Vampirella and Red Sonja’s milieu, that also doesn’t shirk away from real complexities.
I won’t pretend that I think Bellaire wrote the book with this in mind, nor that, to be fair, enchanted slaves of a vampire are a fantastic analogy to the real world. But it’s impossible to ignore, too, what the book has been saying about violence. To quote Bellaire-through-Red Sonja:
“The bad guys and the good guys, working together. All the same, there’s no right or wrong. I don’t mind. I know how to handle men with questionable judgement. Sometimes I’m scared . . . that if things were different . . . I would be forever useful to the wrong sort of people.”
Red Sonja’s brutality against the corrupt cops and bootleggers isn’t to be praised, the book says. That thuggery might be necessary, it might be needed, but it isn’t good: it’s a necessary evil. Her willingness to use violence as a first resort makes her an easy pawn of “the wrong sort of people.” The series opened with Sonja as a literal animal, a senseless killer in Russia, and it’s hard to escape the idea that even at her best Sonja isn’t that far removed from that.
Remember – the whole inciting incident of the series, which sent Sonja and Vampirella tumbling through space and time, was an act of unchecked, senseless violence. And, too, recall what was Vampirella’s most heroic moment in the series so far: killing the human traffickers in late ’60s New York. The people that she rescued ran and recoiled from her violence, rather then praising it.
This is debatable, I’ll freely admit. But the fact that it’s a book about Vampirella and Red Sonja that is inviting such debate and interpretation is remarkable.
I have to take a second to praise Becca Carey, the letterer of the book. Carey has been using two different fonts – one for English, and one for Sonja’s language, which also, of course, is used for Sonja’s internal monologue. Both are easily comprehensible and readable, but aesthetically distinct, and visually pleasing.
For reasons that I can’t quite put a finger on, the ‘w’ in the Sonja-font is just one of the nicest pieces of lettering that I’ve seen. It’s a critical element of the comic, too – in a book that has been defined by switching settings rapidly, it manages to distinguish Sonja’s sense of otherness regardless of where the book takes the reader.
Buy a copy. It’s well worth your time and money.