When Dynamite Entertainment announced at Emerald City Comicon that Gail Simone would pen the new Red Sonja book back in March, the company and Simone drummed up excitement for the book, and one of pulp comic’s great heroines, through the release of multiple variant covers for the first issue, each drawn by a female artist. Not only did the variant covers garner more attention for the book, they also highlighted the plethora of talent amongst female artists in the comic book industry, allowing women like Fiona Staples, Nicola Scott, Amanda Conner, Colleen Doran, Stephanie Buscema, and Jenny Frison to put their own spin on the legendary warrior.
Inspired by the outpouring of support and demand for female talent in the industry, Simone and Dynamite embarked on a “bold new experiment in graphic storytelling” by bringing together some of the best female writers, in comics and traditional prose, to pen their own tales of the “She-Devil With a Sword”. The result is Legends of Red Sonja, a five-part anthology written by Nancy Collins, Devin Grayson, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Marjorie M. Liu, Mercedes Lackey, Rhianna Pratchett, Leah Moore, Blair Butler, Tamora Pierce, Nicola Scott, and Meljean Brook working within the narrative frame set by Gail Simone.
In the first installment, Simone quickly lays down the foundation of the anthology: A group of 12 mercenaries known as the Grey Riders are hunting Red Sonja. They all have their own reasons for wanting her dead, but along the way they learn of her various adventures through the stories of others in their travels. The two stories featured in this issue are Nancy A. Collins’ “Eyes of the Howling God” with art by Noah Solanga, and Devin Grayson’s “La Sonja Rossa” with art by Carla Speed McNeil.
Collins’ “Eyes of the Howling God” is told from the perspective of Eles, the learned assassin amongst the Grey Riders. A monk once in service of The Howling God, he was witness to the murderous and thieving Red Sonja who violently slew the human embodiment of The Howling God before robbing the temple statue of its ruby eyes. When Eles tried to stop her, she marked him for life, slicing her sword across his eye and setting him down the path of revenge. Solanga depicts Sonja as an ancient Laura Croft giving her a chain mail shirt and short shorts. It’s a little off-putting considering the setting, and the fact that she’s essentially fighting a werewolf, but I’m pretty sure Laura Croft found herself in some supernatural situations, so who am I to judge? Next up in Gayson’s “La Sonja Rossa” in which a sea captain tells the Grey Riders of how his beloved ship, Lacrime Di Gioia, was brought down by a young beauty with revenge in her eyes, but Red Sonja valiantly fought to save the crew and those on board from certain death, supposedly going down with the ship though the Grey Riders aren’t buying the tale. McNeil’s art is a little harder to pin down. At times it’s a bit cartoonish, but about midway through the story that cartoonish aspects work in the art’s favor, giving Sonja’s fight with a giant squid an epic scope.
What I definitely admire about the book are the different stories within this first installment. In Simone’s main book, Sonja is a fairly balanced figure – an opportunist possessed of a strong sense of loyalty prepared to mete out justice at her own discretion. The anthology, though not connected to the main continuity, continues Sonja’s characterization by giving the reader two diametrically opposed versions of the warrior. Eles, someone from within the Grey Riders, sees her as a thief and murderer having witnessed her actions personally. His view of her is ultimately biased, but no more so than the captain of the former Lacrime Di Gioia. He, too, was witness to the impressive feats of Red Sonja, though his is a tale of bravery in the face of death. Neither has more merit than the other. If anything, their stories emphasize the fact that Sonja is neither one or the other. A warrior the likes of Sonja is capable of actions both virtuous and immoral. It’s what makes her human and legendary.
Final Thoughts: We’re off to a good start. Let’s see what’s next!