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Red Sonja 0

Thursday, December 15th, 2016 | Posted by MichaelPenkas

red-sonja-0Red Sonja first appeared in the pages of Conan the Barbarian back in the 1970s. Her distinct red hair, iconic chain mail bikini, and total indifference to absurdity quickly made her a fan-favorite. She next appeared in a string of solo adventures for Marvel Feature before getting promoted to her own series. Unfortunately, stories about a woman in a bikini fighting psychedelic monsters just became too silly and sexist as the She-Devil with a Sword made her way into the 1980s. A few years back, some hack wrote a bunch of articles for Black Gate about the glory days of Red Sonja, lamenting that she would never again be as crazy or as fun as she was in her 70s heyday.

Never say never.

Amy Chu and Carlos Gomez are heading up a new Red Sonja series in 2017 and, as a sort of pre-holiday treat, they’re offering a sixteen-page intro story at the super-low price of 25 damned cents. That’s cheaper than a lot of the original Red Sonja issues ran and I’m pretty sure they’re losing money due to printing costs alone. But they’re hoping that potential new readers will risk a quarter on a story that motivates them to stick around for the regular series. Will this gambit pay off? Time will tell.

The issue starts off with a splash page of Red Sonja running up a crumbling stairway, sword drawn in either hand, threatening a Godzilla-sized demon. It’s a badass introduction to our heroine. Or it would be, except for the fact that our first view of the She-Devil with a Sword is an upskirt shot. And Sonja’s not wearing panties. And that’s why I won’t be including panel shots with this review.

Pages two and three get better, with a nice back-and-forth fight scene between Red Sonja and a green-blooded hentai demon. And if you don’t know what a hentai demon is, let’s just say that you’ll want to wear at least two pairs of underwear before facing one. One further shot of Sonja’s bare behind in these two pages (why, yes, I will be keeping count). And the bottom of page three has a small yet ominous “WHUMPA WHUMPA” sound effect.

Page four has a strange shift in perspective that suggests that the demon has suddenly lost interest in Red Sonja and is now focused on breathing fire on a bare patch of ground. No idea what’s happened here, but it appears that something has pulled Sonja out of harm’s way. The “WHUMPA WHUMPA” is getting louder. And we’ve got some ominous white text in a black word balloon that lets us know that someone evil and magical is talking.

On page five, we see a near-total splash page of Kulan Gath, the evil wizard who is Red Sonja’s archenemy because Chris Claremont said so. He’s firing a bolt of generic evil magic lightning at Sonja (and that’s been a cliche since the Emperor did it in Return of Jedi).

But for me the really weird takeaway is Sonja saying, “We end this horror show now.” Were there horror shows in the Hyborian Age? Did people gather in theaters on Saturday nights to watch some Bronze Age version of Elvira host cheesy horror plays?

It doesn’t matter, because on page six, Sonja wakes up in a cave, covered in dust, complaining that her head is “throbbing like a Stygian hangover.” Which is kind of like me waking up Sunday morning with an “American hangover.” Are Stygians even known for their drinking? She wonders if she’s been asleep, which would imply that she’s been down in that cave for years (a similar setup to episode one of the Sleepy Hollow series … or the end of Army of Darkness). After giving her sword a friendly kiss, she uses it to prop herself up. Meanwhile, the “WHUMPA WHUMPA” is getting much louder and a wall of the cave crashes in on page seven.

Page eight is a full splash page of Red Sonja standing in the rubble, surrounded by bright lights.

Page nine has some nice imagery as we get Red Sonja’s blurry-eyed perspective. She’s half-blinded by the bright lights in the otherwise dark cave, trying to make out shadowy cyclops beasts with glowing eyes who speak in a strange language and are surrounded by strange devices. We can see that they’re maintenance workers, but Sonja only sees monsters and runs towards them, sword raised.

Page ten is Red Sonja leaping into battle against a bunch of maintenance workers, who assume she’s crazy and run away. Also, we get bare butt shot number three.

Page eleven finds Sonja leaving the construction site to find what we recognize as a subway tunnel. But all she can figure out is that the rails on the ground are man-made. She tries to test their resilience with her sword before pressing her head to them because they seem to be rumbling. That’s right. The greatest threat that Red Sonja faces in this issue is the dreaded third rail. But before she can electrocute herself, she’s startled by a roar.

Page twelve is yet another splash page, this time of a commuter train hitting Red Sonja. Yep. That train does not stop and totally knocks her to the side of the track on page thirteen. Yet she doesn’t have a scratch on her after it passes. Not that I’m asking for strict realism in this thing, but that really does stretch even swords & sorcery credibility.

There’s another strange transition on page fourteen, as Red Sonja has apparently been walking for a while and now finds herself in some access tunnel that’s covered in ice. Like, a lot of ice, with stalactites hanging off the ceiling pipes and everything. She’s relieved to find a rat (“Finally a beast I recognize) and asks it where she is. And given everything we’ve seen of Sonja in past stories, she would not be at all surprised if the rat answered, but instead it just follows her as she heads through the tunnel.

On page fifteen, she bids the rat farewell as she climbs up an access ladder to an opening in the ceiling. We get two shots of her climbing the ladder. One shot is from the top staring down at her, ah, “distractions.” The other is from the floor, giving us yet another upskirt shot.

Page sixteen is the end of the issue and not much of a surprise as Sonja emerges from the access tunnel to find herself in downtown New York, surrounded by police officers pointing guns at her. “By Mitra!” indeed.

So, is it any good?

Despite being sixteen pages, this is very much a “teaser” story, meant to generate interest in the upcoming series. The artwork has more cleavage-focused and upskirt angles than some readers will feel comfortable looking at. And I would have preferred seeing Sonja have more cuts and bruises after fighting a demon and a commuter train. But overall, it gets across the wacky action tone that Amy Chu and Carlos Gomez are going for. At least, I hope they’re going for a lighter tone, because if this was supposed to be a serious story… wow, they really messed up.

Short version, if you want to see a serious fantasy heroine, check out some of Dynamite Entertainment’s other Red Sonja volumes (Gail Simone’s take is especially good). If you want to read stories about a crazy woman with no pants fighting demons, wizards, and public transportation, grab a quarter and head down to your nearest comic shop. Or just go to Dynamite Entertainment’s page to order it directly.

Welcome back, Red Sonja. I missed you.


Michael Penkas has been spending his time post-Black Gate working on all sorts of strange projects. His S&M mystery novel, Mistress Bunny and the Cancelled Client, is available in print and ebook editions. A full list of his previous Red Sonja reviews can be found here. He’s lived in Chicago since 2004 and would like to mention that this is not the first time he’s seen a crazy woman with no pants start a fight on a commuter train.

11 Comments »

  1. Sounds like I’ll be keeping my quarter.

    Comment by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones - December 16, 2016 8:34 am

  2. There’s also a free digital version on comixology and Dynamite’s websire.

    Comment by Glenn - December 16, 2016 12:08 pm

  3. Howard, yeah, this version of Red Sonja won’t be to everyone’s taste.

    Glenn, you’re right, folks can check out a free digital copy as well. Here are the links:
    Dynamite – https://www.dynamite.com/digital/viewProduct.html?PRO=C72513025379800011=1
    Comixology – https://www.comixology.com/Red-Sonja-Vol-4-0/digital-comic/437989?

    Comment by MichaelPenkas - December 16, 2016 12:16 pm

  4. Wow,

    I doubt you can imagine the memories that Red Sonja brings back. I’m talking about as an 11 year-old at Phil Sueling’s 1976 Philadelphia Comic Con. I was already a huge Conan fan — even had a beautiful copy of Marvel’s Conan #1 signed by Barry Windsor Smith at the Con!!! B-)

    But… I will never be able to erase the memories of the Red Sonja cos players at that convention. …Let’s just say there were chain mail bikinis aplenty, with nary an undergarment. Errrmm, it was basically all upskirt, all the time. (And let me state for the record, as a guy who would like to believe I don’t have a sexist bone in my body, that I’m quite glad that aspect of convention shenanigans has “matured.”)

    That said, I like the Sword & Sorcery Sonja as much as the next REH fan, but I could never grasp the whole “modern day setting” thing… maybe it’s just a sign of getting old and crusty???

    Thanks for a great post,
    Anthony

    Comment by AWAbooks - December 16, 2016 12:44 pm

  5. Thanks for this. Went back and checked out all your original Red Sonja posts again and they were still grand.

    As for this current incarnation of the She Devil with a Sword, well, it’s not as though there is a great deal to defend in the original series, which ranged from silly to really-freaking-mind-bogglingly silly, but…

    Isn’t bringing your ancient-world sword and sorcery hero to the modern era kind of a last gasp plot device? Aside from a couple of Marvel’s old ‘What If?’ singletons, has this ever worked in any medium? I’m thinking of say, ‘Hercules in New York’ or ‘Beastmaster 3’.
    It kind of abandons the entire milieu, background and history of the character. After all, who wants to read about Sword & Sorcery heroes having adventures in some long-established fantasy world when we can have them encountering urban traffic, modern pop culture and the police? Doubtless, wonders shall abound.

    But then, if the best the author can do to connect this version of Red to her roots is to give her a ‘Stygian Hangover’ (which gave me a Cambodian muscle cramp and a Roumanian headache) then maybe abandoning the Hyborian Age is all for the best.

    Comment by John Hocking - December 16, 2016 1:08 pm

  6. Be prepared for Red Sonja in Space!

    Comment by Martin Kallies - December 16, 2016 2:38 pm

  7. Anthony, Red Sonja artist Frank Thorne would actually do little comedy sketches with some of the Sonja cos-players, assuming the role of a bumbling wizard.

    John, there is definitely a sense of old sit-coms that add new characters or move to new locations in their last season in a desperate attempt to breathe new life into the series. But sometimes the shift can actually produce some interesting work. I’m thinking about the Jonah Hex comic series from the 1980s, where he got transported from the Old West to a post-apocalyptic 21st century.

    Martin, how about Red Sonja on the Red Planet?

    Comment by MichaelPenkas - December 16, 2016 3:01 pm

  8. “Anthony, Red Sonja artist Frank Thorne would actually do little comedy sketches with some of the Sonja cos-players, assuming the role of a bumbling wizard.”

    Holy Moly, I think I vaguely remember a cos play wizard with the Sonjas at the con… I never put it together that he might have been Frank Thorne(!) …Frank had way too much fun, trust me 😉

    Comment by AWAbooks - December 16, 2016 3:07 pm

  9. Double Holy Moly,

    Wendy Pini (later of Elf Quest fame) was actually the first Red Sonja cos play contest winner of Thorne’s in 1976. Just saw some web pics. Yup, I remember Frank and Wendy, 40 years later.

    http://www.ilxor.com/ILX/ThreadSelectedControllerServlet?boardid=57&threadid=93710

    Comment by AWAbooks - December 16, 2016 7:13 pm

  10. John, nice thought there.
    IMO Marvel did a perfect job on Conan in the “modern” (Shag-a-Delic, Baby) day.

    Sure, Beastmaster 2 – a maniac waving a sword – police would go “Freak on P.C.P.” and lucky if they only tazer him.

    But Marvel’s Conan was spot-on, and more REH – he wasn’t just strong and a good fighter – he was also very smart and very social. And he had a thought the best way to understand a culture was to go to its lowest level. IMO without the other Marvel heroes meddling he’d have become a crimelord but a ‘robin hood’ popular one, chopped off Kingpin’s head, etc.

    I think if most Sw&Sc characters were briefed properly, they’d have fun in the modern age – whereas most modern RL people would probably be in the ‘better be wearing brown pants’ – and “Lest Darkness Fall” uh, most people wouldn’t know half of what he did.

    Myself I’m going to have an episode where the Sw&Sc chars go to the modern age – well the 60s for a limited time. My main “Conan” type people think is a “Hell’s Angel”

    Comment by GreenGestalt - December 17, 2016 11:29 pm

  11. Hi, Michael, did you continue reading this?

    I heartily recommend this run. After #0, I think somebody had a word with artist Carlos Gomez and he dialled back the cheesecake shots; his art is actually fantastic, reminding me of a blend of Mark Bagley and Humberto Ramos. He’s particularly good at facial expressions and landscape shots and his action scenes are tremendous, they really crackle.

    Amy Chu’s kept the humour from Gail Simone’s run but it’s much less knowing and goofier; she’s gone to town on showing the differences between Sonja’s culture and the state of affairs in 21st century America; at the same time, Amy’s Sonja is a badass survivor and is able to adapt to life in America extremely quickly. Amy’s characterisation of Sonja is really nuanced though … while she’s impetuous and can be short-tempered, she makes friends easily and is much more likeable than Gail Simone’s take.

    We’ve had two arcs in America; one with Sonja in New York, and one with Sonja travelling across America. IMO, the NYC story was by far the stronger of the two but the second arc had its moments. A new storyline in a more traditional Sonja setting has just started, although some of Sonja’s contacts from the USA are still involved.

    If you haven’t continued reading after #0, I strongly suggest you do so. In my humble opinion, it kicks seven shades of shiznit out of Gail Simone’s run.

    Comment by Nick - January 26, 2018 6:39 am


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