Sunday, May 1, 2005

Red Sonja #0 - A Review

Written by: Michael Avon Oeming & Mike Carey
Penciled by: Mel Rubi
Inked by: Mel Rubi
Cover by: Greg Land, Matt Ryan & Jason Keith
Colored by: Caesar Rodriguez & Richard Isanove
Lettered by: Richard Starkings and Comicraft
Editor: Luke Lieberman
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment

Something I discovered this week as I worked the comic shop; it is deceptively hard to sell something that is only a quarter. Even to the regulars who usually take my word on books that are good. And make no mistake about it True Believer; Red Sonja is good.

I can see why some fans would be turned away by the cover, featuring a beautiful woman in a skimpy outfit as rendered by Greg Land. Greg Land, who can draw a beautiful woman like no other but whose name seems to suggest “We’ve got nothing else to sell this book, so we’re going to give you cheesecake and hope you’ll buy this book anyway!” And the fact that some of the premier pin-up artists of the genre are doing alternate covers for upcoming issues of this title can’t be doing much to dissuade this attitude.

The art by Mel Rubi doesn’t do much to help the case that Red Sonja is meant to be taken as serious fantasy. The opening shot, focusing upon Sonja’s shapely backside as she saunters into town like Clint Eastwood, seems to be entirely detrimental to the idea that she is a true warrior. After all, she wears armor that fails to protect her vital spots and serves merely to titillate those who look at her. She is just a piece of eye-candy playing at being an amazon. And that, my friends, is the brilliant part of the artwork here.

Similar to Conan #0 (which also opened with a 25 cent special), this story serves not to show our hero through their own eyes and words but through the eyes of others. So in Conan #0, we see Conan as a king and warrior whose deeds were recorded and remembered by the world at large. In Red Sonja #0, we see a woman who is regarded as alternatively as an oddity, a threat and a sociopath.

The opening pages capture this point without words. Sonja is spotted by many assailants who see her as one more victim to rob, one more shapely woman to throw on a sacrificial altar… and without words, Sonja senses the danger and reacts, causing her would-be murderers and rapists to have second thoughts, as do all predators faced with prey they think is a predator.

This is handled in a very subtle manner by writers Carey and Oeming, whom I think will surprise their regular fans with this issue. Carey in particular is famous for his flowing dialogue and yet there is barely any text at all in this issue. I’ve already heard complaints from several Carey fans about how disappointed they were in this book because it lacked so much dialogue. Conversely, I heard complaints from several of those who usually favor books like “Lady Death” or “Vampirella” that this book was too hard to read and that there needed to be more splash-pages and less dialogue.

So what does this prove? Perhaps nothing, save that we all had loaded expectations coming into this book. Some wanted nothing but an art-book full of bimbos with broadswords. Others wanted a finely-written epic ala Lucifer. What we have, instead, is what I expected- the return of one of the comic industry’s first feminist figures in a story that all too briefly establishes the brutal world she lives in; one where women are nothing but chattel to strong men. I expected a story about a woman who strives to make something better for herself, cutting down all those who would tell her otherwise. Read past the violent fight scenes. Look past the skimpy costume. And you will find a story as good and as interesting as anything involving a certain muscle-bound barbarian.

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