Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Red Sonja #1973 - A Review

Anthology comics are usually mixed blessings and Red Sonja #1973 proves no exception. Thankfully, this volume is more good than bad.  In fact, it's far better than most! But where this collection fails to please, it fails spectacularly.

The first story - The Raiding Party - is a fairly straight-forward tale by former Red Sonja writer Eric Trautmann.  More than any other modern writer, Trautmann delved into the rich history and mythology of Robert E. Howard's Hyboria, filling his tales of Red Sonja with well-researched references to the original countries and peoples of Howard's fantasy world. But worry not, new readers!  This tale of Sonja raiding the raiders is easily accessible to everyone and a damn fine ripping yarn, with amazing artwork by Ivan Rodriguez and Marcio Menyz.

The second tale - For Whom The Bell Trolls - proves that Roy Thomas still has it some forty-plus years after he first adapted the character of Red Sonya for his Conan comic. As is his habit, Thomas has put a twist on another classic tale in spinning his own story, with Sonja performing her own more action-packed version of The Three Billy Goats Gruff. Rich Buckler does a fine job illustrating this tale, though the colors by Arison Aguiar seem oddly muted apart from the red of Sonja's hair.

The third tale - Simple Life - was also colored by Aguiar and has similar troubles, with all the characters being so pale that an elderly peasant's white hair is the same color as his skin! Despite this, the art by Rod Rodolfo is vividly detailed. And the story - centering around Sonja being taken in by a farming family shortly after killing the bandits who killed her own family - is probably the best Luke Lieberman has ever written, pitting Sonja against a would-be adventurer who has everything Sonja has lost and little appreciation of it.

Gail Simone's The Hanging Tree proves a welcome comedic palate cleanser after the earlier action-centered stories. Here we find Sonja on trial for her life, showing her wit and humor as she struggles to prove her innocence on charges of murder. The story is an enjoyable one and the artwork by Kewbar Baal is amazing. There is one oddity - for some reason Sonja speaks of herself in the third person throughout, like Sheena in the old Irish McCalla TV show.

The penultimate chapter is undoubtedly the weakest and the fault of that lies entirely with writer David Walker. The Arena Of Dread (a.k.a. Red Sonja & The Nubile Barbarians) is little more than a brazen rip-off of the Roger Corman "classic" The Arena (a.k.a. Naked Warriors), with an enslaved Red Sonja thrown into the arena alongside a Pam Grier look-alike named Nubia. There's other women warriors as well, but none of the other titular Nubile Barbarians are give names or lines. This negates any positive message that may come of Sonja's efforts to teach these warrior women (who already know how to fight and were apparently condemned to the arena for resisting rape) that there is "more to life than being made to serve the whims of any man." Perhaps this is meant to be satirical but if that's the case it comes off as one of the stories it is meant to mock rather than a parody.

There is little good I can say about a story where the main villain is named Lord Sadisto and an entire scene is devoted toward "preparing" enslaved women, with particular attention being paid to seeing unsightly hair removed. Thankfully, artist Bilquis Evely takes the high road in depicting these scenes. While Walker's script is pure exploitation, Evely's artwork treats Sonja and the other women with respect and depicts them as powerful women rather than sexual objects. Hopefully we'll see Evely at work on another Red Sonja book someday, but not the return of Red Sonja and the Nubile Barbarians threatened on the final page.

The last chapter, Silent Running, is less a tale and more an extended montage of scenes of Red Sonja dealing with various threats - either running into battle or running from threats like falling boulders or poisoned darts. The first Red Sonja story written by Cullen Bunn, it is ably illustrated by Jonathan Lau with colors by Ivan Nunes. It's enjoyable for what it is, though it's no sprawling epic.

All in all, Red Sonja #1973 is a veritable bargain. Six stories for $7.99 is a pretty good deal, even if one of them is best looked at and not read if you can avoid it. The other five stories, however, make this book well worth the reading.

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