Catch-Up with Red Sonja – Part 2: New Eras
Catch-Up with Red Sonja – Part 2
This article continues my journey to catch up on the adventures of Red Sonja. In Part 1 I delved into Red Sonja’s origins at Marvel and her first series of adventures at Dynamite. In this article I explore the more recent adventures of Sonja the Red. This set of articles highlight the main pillars of Red Sonja’s comic book history. It’s taken quite a bit of research from many different sources to complete this journey. By the time I’m finished, these articles might just prove to be one of the most complete chronicles of Red Sonja’s adventures. Indeed the bards themselves may use these articles as a reference when they sing of the glory and might of the she-devil of Hyrkania.
Dynamite rebooted Red Sonja in 2013 with Gail Simone penning the title. Her entire run on the series is collected in The Complete Gail Simone Red Sonja Omnibus The issues collected in this Omnibus feature artwork by Walter Giovani and Noah Salonga. Simone’s Red Sonja is more human than previous iterations of the character. The first thing Simone does to accomplish this thematic change is to slightly tweak Sonja’s origin. This Sonja starts off like the classic version, with Sonja’s family being slaughtered by raiders, but then the story takes an exciting turn. Twelve year old Sonja, unaided by the red goddess Scáthach, hunts down and kills the mercenaries. From there, Sonja earns her nicknames of “Red” and “She-Devil” through her own hard earned fighting prowess.
It took me a couple of issues to get into Simone’s series, but then I couldn’t put it down. In the first story arc Sonja repays a debt and must face off against a familiar face. Next, in what turned out to be my favorite arc, Sonja must track down six artisans in time for an emperor’s feast. Should she fail, thousands of innocents will be killed. Through the rest of the book Sonja deals with an amorous giant, protects a library, and must find a way to break a curse placed on her by evil wizards. Modern Red Sonja stories often feature side characters who accompany Sonja on her adventures. The side characters featured in Simone’s stories provide some of the best moments in the series. From the twin archer bodyguards to the gourmand to the fire mage, the side characters add to the story instead of just being devices to move the plot along.
Both Giovani and Salonga’s artwork is solid. Their styles sync up so well that it’s hard to tell that two different artists did the illustrations for the issues collected in this Omnibus. There were a few pages where the flow of the action got a little muddled. Even when this happened, by the next page the visuals cleared up and the sequence of events was once again easy to follow. My favorite part about the art in this Omnibus is the collection of covers. Every cover is drawn by a female artist who was hand picked by Simone and the series’ editors.
Once Gail Simone’s run wrapped up, Dynamite rebooted the series once again. Entitled Red Sonja: Worlds Away, this new series was written by Amy Chu with Carlos Gomez and Marcio Fiorito on art duties. It ran for 26 issues from 2016 to 2019. This reboot starts out completely differently than any of the Sonja stories that preceded it. The first volume of Worlds Away opens on Sonja facing off against the evil sorcerer Kulan Gath. During the fight, Sonja falls under an enchantment and awakes in New York City in the year 2017. Once she realizes that Kulan Gath has also transported himself to the future, she teams up with a group of New Yorkers to take him down and return him to Hyboria.
When I picked up the first volume, I started out skeptical of the new series’ premise but the chemistry between Sonja and the side characters eventually hooked me. Through various circumstances, two New York City police officers, a bartender, and a history major all join Sonja’s cause and help her in the fight against Kulan Gath. Honestly, I may have liked the supporting characters more than I liked this version of Sonja. Chu’s Sonja is quaint compared to the previous iterations, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This character choice just wasn’t what I’d come to expect after consecutively reading many different Red Sonja series. I will say, Chu writes a believable time-displaced heroine. She finds a good balance between Sonja’s fierceness as a warrior and her innocence at finding herself in a completely different time period.
The pacing in the first half of this volume could be better. It starts out dialogue heavy and many of the flashbacks don’t add much to the narrative. Yet by the end of the volume, the sheer amount of action makes up for the slow start. The art team’s work really elevates these action sequences. They employ scale to great effect. Honestly, this was my favorite interior art out of all the Red Sonja series I read for these articles. It’s always easy to tell what’s happening on the page and I had no trouble telling all of the characters a part from one another.
The end of the Worlds Away sets Sonja up on a journey across America. Later on in the series she eventually returns to Hyboria and resumes the kind of adventures one expects from a Red Sonja series. Fittingly, this return to storytelling form sets up the current era of Red Sonja. Midway through 2019, Dynamite once again rebooted the title. Scorched Earth collects the first 6 issues of the new series as well as a special one-shot. The newest Red Sonja series is illustrated by multiple artists and written by the incomparable Mark Russell.
Scorched Earth’s story opens on Shadizar, the capital of the Zamoran Empire and seat of its ruler Dragan the Magnificent. A prophecy states that Dragan will die on the day his empire stops expanding and his next target to conquer is Hyrkania. Meanwhile, Sonja has returned to her homeland after many years abroad. After reluctantly accepting the crown and becoming the Hyrkanian Queen, Sonja must lead her country’s rag tag army against Dragan’s invasion. Whereas other Red Sonja stories focus primarily on Sonja and occasionally show the other characters, Russell’s story is as much about the she-devil as it is about Emperor Dragan.
True to form, Russell’s dialogue is humorous and pithy. In the first chapter Dragan sends an envoy to Hyrkania. The missive the envoy delivers reads like a time-share sales pitch or a political campaign stump speech. Similarly, there are several subtle but clever nods to modern politics woven into the ancient setting of Russell’s story. Russell also draws parallels between flashbacks to Sonja’s training under Khitai’s master of war and the tactics she employs in the present against the Zamoran Empire. Several chapters also contain cool battlefield maps that detail the progress of Dragan’s campaign and Sonja’s defense.
The various artistic styles in Scorched Earth make this volume a dynamic read. The interior art is drawn in a modern style but colored in a way reminiscent of medieval artwork. The muted colors give the panels an aged look that fits the story’s setting. That said, the different artists’ styles don’t always mesh well from issue to issue. I found the lack of visual continuity distracting at times. Luckily, Russell’s writing is so good that I was able to move past the distraction and continue to enjoy the book. Another personal highlight was that the regular covers were drawn by Amanda Conner.
For those who want to check out any of the collected editions mentioned in these articles, Dynamite has been running sales on many of their titles, including Red Sonja. First issues of their books are also available for free. Or if you want to support your local comic shop until Diamond resumes shipping new comics, ask about their selection of Red Sonja back issues and trade paperbacks. For those who read Scorched Earth and like the character of Emperor Dragan, Russell also writes a spin-off series called Killing Red Sonja.
And so dear readers, my journey through the history of Red Sonja has come to an end. It took some in-depth internet research to put this article together. Hopefully your journey into the world of Red Sonja is easier than mine was. Difficult as it may have been, I truly enjoyed catching up on Red Sonja’s history. I hope these articles help you start a journey of your own into Red Sonja’s original adventures and Dynamite’s tales of the Hyborian Age.