Monday, April 23, 2018

Red Sonja: Queen of Plagues Issue 4

As you may recall, last issue ended with the death of Red Sonja (Dead Sonja?).  So it is not too surprising that we open on Dark Annisia patrolling the fence she demanded built around the doomed city of Patra.

Dark Annisia spots an old man climbing over the fence, a task that is not that impressive as the fence cannot be more than three feet high at the most.  Seriously, when she said in issue two that she was going to build a fence around the plague city and turn it into a “living cemetery”, I envisioned something more impressive.  At the very least I was expecting something that an elderly man would have trouble scrambling over.Did the Patrans pay for this fence?

Dark Annisia stops him, but he claims that there is no plague in Patra; No one has died from the plague since Dark Annisia killed their king and exiled Red Sonja!  Unfortunately, the people in the city are now starving since the fields lay outside the quarantine zone. 

Even more unfortunately for the old man, Dark Annisia asks the ghosts she always sees following her to decide the man’s fate—unsurprisingly they have her kill him by striking his head from his body.  Apparently triggered by the old man’s reverence towards Red Sonja, Dark Annisia declares to her monster men soldiers that from now on she wants to be called “Red Annisia”.

Back in the snowy mountains, Red Sonja is apparently less dead than her rescuers claimed when they found her at the end of the last issue.

This is a bit of a cop out, right?

Not that she is doing very well though.  Red Sonja has gone blind, which apparently is a sign that the plague is nearing its final stages.  While Red Sonja is somewhat delirious at this point, her young rescuers manage to convey to her that the king’s son may be able to cure her if they bring her back to Patra.  Similarly, Red Sonja manages to convey to them that she wants alcohol.  As a compromise, the girls create a makeshift stretcher to pull her behind their horses while Red Sonja drinks from a wineskin and sings poorly.

At this point we have a flashback to the Zamoran Slave Pit with a younger—or at least slightly less well-endowed—Sonja meeting Dark Annisia for the first time.  At this point Annisia has a somewhat mocking tone when talking to the younger woman.  She informs Sonja that names are forbidden in the pit and warns Sonja that her willful attitude will get her sent out fight first.  Sonja simply declares that she has a name and if she gets sent out first she gets sent out first.

Despite Annisia’s condescending tone, she does give Sonja some advice on how to fight—advice Sonja will get a chance to use right away as the two women are sent to the pit to fight together against a team of four men for the amusement of the Zamoran king.

During the battle, Sonja manages to kill three of the four men by herself, much to Annisia’s surprise.  Sonja then methodically cuts off the heads of the men she killed.  Holding the three heads aloft, she proudly declares to the Zamoran king that her name is Red Sonja!

[RS] "Now, say my name." [DA] "Red Sonja" [RS] "You're goddamn right."

Back in the present, Ayla and Nias are foraging in the woods when they are set upon by a group of Zamoran monster men.  Their captain declares that an example must be made of them for breaking the quarantine.  So in somewhat ironic fashion he declares that the girls should be literally gutted like fish.  Specifically, he says, “Bend them forward, cut through to the spines as they do with fish.  Pull out the bones my friends.  Clean them and gut them.”

A still mostly blind Red Sonja hears this pleasant exchange.  Telling the “Deep Ones” that the girls are not seafood, she proceeds to slaughter the monster men despite being her physical limitation.  The captain turns out to be the same monster man who picked which slaves would fight back in the Zamoran pit.

Saving the girls and killing her old tormenter seems to reenergize Red Sonja.  She vows to return to Patra and take down Dark Annisia.

Thoughts

  • I know I mentioned it before, but that fence was truly unimpressive.  No wonder people keep escaping.
  • Dark Annisia rechristening herself as “Red Annisia” seems a little out of left field.
  • I felt the flashback this issue was the weakest one so far.  We already knew Red Sonja and Dark Annisia had bonded in the Zamoran slave pit and I didn’t feel like we got enough new information of what it was like to justify the pages spent on it.  Young Sonja seemed pretty much fully developed, personality wise at least, by the end of her first fight, I wish more time was sent showing how her time in the pits shaped her into the bad ass she is today.
  • I’m having a hard time determining how much time passed between young Red Sonja killing the raiders that destroyed her village and her fighting in the slave pits.  She seems almost as young as she did in last issue’s flashback in the initial scenes with Dark Annisia, but in the fight scene that takes place a few panels earlier, she looks a few years older.  This doesn’t seem intentional as the dialogue implies the flashback is all happening over the course of a few hours.
  • Red Sonja literally calls the Zamoran monster men Deep Ones in this issue.  They still seem more like Davy Jones’ crew from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies than Lovecraft to me though.
  • As the exception that proves the rule, the deep one captain describing how to gut the young women like fish in great detail was well done and creepy.  This was the first time the monster men seemed truly inhuman to me.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Red Sonja: Queen of Plagues Issue 3

The story picks up two fortnights after last issue, with Red Sonja is leading her horse through a frozen forest.  The effects of the plague and the isolation are taking their toll on her.  She realizes she has lost the will to care for herself—the only thing keeping her alive is the fact that she is caring for her horse.  Red Sonja hears a noise in the forest and quickly draws her bow, only to see a magnificent white stag.

That is a magnificent beast

Despite the fact that the stag would provide her with much needed food, Red Sonja cannot let loose her arrow.  Having lost all hope, the exhausted warrior collapses into the snow ready to die.  Strangely for a wild animal, the stag lies down beside Red Sonja, keeping her warm.  Lying in the snow, Sonja begins to hallucinate.

First Sonja is visited by an image of her father, who tells her that it is time for her to join her family.  Sonja then suddenly finds herself in the past, a young girl chasing after a different (?) white stag on her first hunt.  During this hunt Sonja also fails to kill the stag, much to her father’s disappointment.  He explains to his daughter that by letting the stag go Sonja has cost them food they need to survive.  Sadly he tells Sonja that despite her skills with woodcraft and the bow perhaps she is not yet ready to be a hunter. 

The conversation is interrupted when one of Sonja’s brothers sees a column of smoke and fire rising up from the village.  Realizing the village is being attacked by marauders, Sonja’s father insists she wait in the woods while he and her brothers rush back to aid in the defense of their home.  Sonja doesn’t listen though, and follows after she hears screams coming from the village.  When she arrives, Sonja is stopped short by the hellish scene before her.

This is a man who enjoys his work.

Before Sonja can join the fray, one of the marauders on the outskirts of the village sees her and grabs her from behind.  The man has a bit of a sadistic streak in him, and decides to hold her tight and make her watch as her family and friends are killed.  To her horror she realizes that these men attacked her village not because they wanted anything the villagers had, but merely because they were bored. 

Sonja realizes she needs to be slippery, “like the stag”.  She squirms in the man’s grip, and he realizes too late that she managed to get hold of his dagger, which she plunges in his gut even as he strikes her head with the pommel of his sword.  Sonja stays conscious just long enough to finish him off with an arrow.

Sonja wakes the next day to see the marauders have moved on, leaving her people laying where they died in the village streets.  Sonja takes it upon herself to bury all of the villagers, digging graves until her hands bled.  Only once they are all attended to does Sonja decide to “truly hunt” for the first time.

It really is the thought that countsBack at the marauder’s camp, the men joke that their recent slaughter of “pig farmers and dirt tillers” was actually doing them a favor.  The leader, a man named Ryshak, wanders off into the woods to take care of the call of nature, but Sonja is waiting for him and shoots him in the neck with an arrow.  As he lies there dying, Sonja pulls out a dagger and tells him that she is “really doing him a favor” as well.

When Ryshak’s men come looking for him, we find out what Sonja has been doing with the dagger.  Before they can react to the signt of Ryshak’s head hanging from a tree, Sonja begins loosing arrow after arrow.  She keeps to the trees and stays out of their reach.  There were twenty men in the band, but over the course of four hours in the dark, the young girl known as Sonja kills them all.

The She-Devil with a Bow?

Back in the present day, Red Sonja wakes up next to the stag.  Her horse is gone, and in her confused state she hears the stag tell her she has one last task to perform before she can rest: digging her own grave.  Since Red Sonja only has a sword to dig with and the ground is frozen, she doesn’t get very far before collapsing in a heap. 

Wolves close in on her prone body when they are driven off by the sudden arrival of Ayla and Nias—her young “bodyguards” from the previous two issues.  They excitedly babble at Red Sonja about how they have been looking for her everywhere and that king’s strange son, who everyone thought was a fool, managed to find a cure to the plague!  There is only one problem.

The next issue will be called "The Adventures of Ayla and Nias"

Yep, Red Sonja is dead.  Well, that was a short series.

Thoughts

  • The appearance of the white stag ties the present day and the past story together nicely.  Of course, the sudden appearance of a white stag is full of symbolism all on its own. I like the true nature of the stag is left ambiguous.
  • Here we get Gail Simone’s new origin story for Red Sonja.  It gets rid of some of the more problematic elements of her original origin story including her rape and her vow to the goddess Scathach that she would never lie with a man unless he defeated her in fair combat lest she lose her strength.
  • I do find it interesting that the future “She-Devil with a Sword” almost exclusively uses her bow to dispatch her enemies in the flashback.  I guess she picks up swordplay when her and Dark Annisia are in the arena?
  • Another cliffhanger ending, although I doubt most readers truly believe Sonja is dead three issues into her own reboot series.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Red Sonja: Queen of Plagues Issue 2

The issue begins with Red Sonja facing off against the only other survivor of the Zamoran slave pits: Dark Annisia.  While fighting the woman she once considered a sister, she remembers her time in the pits.  On the evening before they were to face each other in combat, Annisia vowed that she would not fight Sonja.  When Sonja grimly informs Annisia that they will simply kill her if she doesn’t fight, her response shows the depth of emotion Annisia has developed for Sonja during their time in the pit.

Xena levels of subtext here.

None of this seems be relevant now as Dark Annisia comes after Red Sonja on the battlefield in a rage, screaming at Sonja that her actions “dishonor the dead”.  Despite Red Sonja seeming to have the advantage early in the fight, things take a turn in Annisia’s favor when she pulls a dagger and stabs Sonja in the thigh.

The downside to a chainmail bikini

Obviously a better class of monster soldier is needed.In the meantime we get to see how the battle between the forces of Patra and Zamora is going.  Considering how outnumbered and undertrained the Patra forces are, they seem to be doing pretty well.  We also get to see that the Zamoran forces contain a lot of weird “monster-people” fighting on their side, which pretty much cements that they are the bad guys in this situation.

Back to the battle between Red Sonja and Dark Annisia, Sonja attempts to talk down Annisia and convince her to leave the people of Patra in peace.  Annisia is having none of it though, claiming Sonja’s life is one of “selfishness and betrayal.”  When Red Sonja claims she never betrayed her, Annisia screams it is not her who was betrayed by Sonja but “the dead”, specifically the ghosts of the slaves they killed in the pits.

It quickly becomes obvious to Red Sonja that Dark Annisia is not being poetic; she literally believes the ghosts of the dead follow her around and that it is her duty to bring them new companions to ease their solitude.  She also believes that Red Sonja has forgotten them and merely pretends not to see them.  In other words, Dark Annisia has lost it.

Watch out Sonja, we all saw what ghost like this did in Return of the King

Goodbye Dimath, we hardly knew you.Unfortunately for Red Sonja, even if Dark Annisia is not all there mentally, she has lost none of her deadliness on the battlefield, as she illustrates by casually killing King Dimath.

The sudden death of their monarch has a predictably detrimental effect on the morale of the Petra forces.  Nevertheless, Red Sonja is determined to fight on and make Dark Annisia pay for what she has done.  Almost sadly, Dark Annisia informs Sonja that instead of killing her, it will be Red Sonja who stands down today.  When Sonja asks why she would ever do that, Dark Annisia shows Sonja her reflection in her blade.

Maybe some concealer would have helped.

Yes, Red Sonja has contracted the plague.  Dark Annisia mocks her for throwing away her life for “scribblers and basket weavers”.  However, Dark Annisia gives Sonja a choice because of who Sonja is and what they once shared.  Rather than put Petra to the torch, they will build a fence around the plague city where it will become a “living cemetery”.  All Red Sonja will have to do is kneel before Annisia and surrender.

Ultimately Red Sonja surrenders to save the people of Patra.  Dark Annisia has her marked with the plague markings we saw on the scavengers in the first issue and she is exiled to the snowy mountains of the north where she is to speak to no one and avoid all human contact until she dies.

At least she dressed appropriately for the weather.

Thoughts

  • It is a bold move to have Red Sonja fail so completely in the second issue of the reboot.
  • I was not a fan of having “monster men” as part of the Zamoran army.  I prefer my Hyborian Age adventures to have a more Lovecraftian horror vibe when it comes to such creatures.  As part of this army, they just seemed like a replacement for standard fantasy goblins or orcs.
  • There is a definite implication that Dark Annisia’s feelings for Red Sonja are more of a romantic love than a sisterly one, although Red Sonja herself seems oblivious to this.
  • I think that the reveal that Dark Annisia believes herself to be literally haunted by the spirits of the people she killed was handled well.
  • Ending the issue with Red Sonja wandering the snowy mountains with her plague markings is a hell of a cliffhanger.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Red Sonja: Queen of Plagues Issue 1

After a long hiatus, I am going to try getting back into blogging.  So in the tradition of my Forgotten Realms comic book recaps I am going to turn my attention to another swords and sorcery series: Gail Simone’s run on Red Sonja.

Red Sonja was created by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor Smith for Marvel Comics back in 1973.  She is very loosely based the the Robert E Howard character “Red Sonya of Rogatino” but is a distinct character in her own right.  She (in)famously wears a chainmail bikini into battle, and was popular enough to headline her own Marvel comic series at several points during the seventies and eighties.  Dynamite Entertainment acquired the comic book rights to Red Sonja in the early 2000’s, but my recaps are going to start with Gail Simone’s 2014 reboot.

This is a man who is confident in his victory!The comic starts “three turns of the season past” in the aftermath of a great battle.  The man with the sword is King Dimath. Dimath seems like a decent enough king, but in his conversations with his lieutenant it soon becomes clear that his son Tiath is cut from a different cloth entirely.  While the battle was going on, Tiath was collecting humors and various other specimens from the dead rather than fighting by his father’s side.

While searching the keep, Dimath is informed that the only survivors are in the dungeon.  Originally there were eighty prisoners, but each night the Zamoran king would have them fight to the death for sport and only two remain alive.  King Dimath asks to see these “fierce men” only to find out they are not men at all—they are women!

The two survivors seem completely feral and incapable of speech.  King Dimath’s lieutenant suggest the kindest thing might be to dispatch them, but Dimath will have none of it.  He insists both of them be given food and a bath, then be given a horse and free passage away from the site of the battle.  Upon hearing this one of the women manages to grunt out her name: Red Sonja!

There are a lot of empty wineskins around our heroine.The story then jumps ahead three years.  On the border of Cimmeria, Red Sonja sleeps as three somewhat inept scavengers with strange markings on their faces case her campsite.  Without moving, Sonja interrupts their whispered conversation telling them to go ahead and take the food and the gold if they need it, but if they try to touch her or her sword that they will die.  The scavengers bluster, but Sonja informs them they are only getting this opportunity because she is drunk and she doesn’t want to get their blood on her horse. 

It looks like the the scavengers are about to back down, when two young girls armed with bows arrive on the scene to “rescue” Sonja, who they refer to as “your radiant ladyship”.  Things go south and Sonja quickly dispatches two of the three scavengers, leaving the third to beg for his life before vomiting up blood on her boots and collapsing.

The two girls explain that the scavenger has the plague, and that they have been looking for Red Sonja because their king begs her assistance.  Red Sonja explains that “no “king” summons Sonja”, but when she hears it is King Dimath who needs aid, she agrees to go with them.  Before going, she leaves the remaining scavenger wine and a blade so that he can end his life on his own terms.

Arriving at city-state of Patra, Sonja reluctantly dresses up for banquet being held in her honor.  King Dimath explains to her that the plague has come to Patra and decimated his army.  The Zamorans have marked any city-state touched by the plague to be put to the torch.  With no army King Dimath knows they won’t be able to stop the Zamorans, but at least wants his people to die fighting.

Well, at least she wears more "armor" than Red Sonja!Sonja agrees to train the civilians to fight, even though she knows it is likely pointless.  Only four days in the Zamorans converge on the city.  Sonja mounts a horse and rides out to meet the invading army.  To her surprise, the Zamorans are being led by someone she knows—the woman known as Dark Annisia, her sister from the Zamoran slave pits!

Thoughts

  • Even though this is a reboot of the Red Sonja character, Gail Simone doesn’t waste any time getting straight to the action.  I think it was the right choice to start with Sonja as an established heroine and parcel out the updated origin story over the next several issues.
  • Walter Geovani does an excellent job on the art.  He has a very clean and detailed, if somewhat conventional comic book style.
  • Even though Red Sonja wears her traditional chainmail bikini in this issue, Gail Simone lampshades the improbable outfit a bit when Sonja’s young “rescuers” at one point refer to her as “she of the excellent cleavage”.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Forgotten Realms and other D&D comics are available now as part of a Humble Bundle

Sorry for the delay in posting, but things have been crazy at work recently.  However, considering how much time on this blog I have spent recapping the old DC/TSR Forgotten Realms comic book series, I would be remiss if I didn’t note that the entire series is now available as part of a Humble (Book) Bundle.

And it is not just the old Forgotten Realms series either.  The old Advanced Dungeons & Dragons series is also part of the bundle, not to mention several of the newer Dungeons & Dragons series produced by IDW.

This is a seriously good deal and at the time of this post it is still available for five days or so.  So if you have enjoyed my postings on the old comic series and want to check it out for yourself, now is the perfect time to do so.

Monday, August 3, 2015

A quick programming note and Gen Con quick hits

This weekend I had some issues with the Windows 10 upgrade to my study PC that ultimately took the better part of Saturday to resolve.  Since that is when I was planning on finishing up my Monday blog post, it will be postponed to my normal Thursday post.

In lieu of a full post, here are a few quick Gen Con news items:

Tribality  posted the demon lord write ups from the upcoming D&D Adventure League storyline Rage of Demons.

Wizards of the Coast and D&D 5e did really well at the ENnies, winning the gold in thirteen catagories.  The full list of ENnie Award winners can be found here.

Onyx Path Publishing has announced Vampire: The Masquerade 4th Edition.  I find this a bit odd as they are already publishing both twentieth anniversary versions of their classic World of Darkness material and a second edition of their new World of Darkness material.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Random Reviews: Ant-Man

The first thing any good burgler does is show his face to the people he is burgling.

My feelings about the Ant-Man movie are complicated.  I was really excited about Ant-Man when it was first announced that Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) was going to be directing it.   Needless to say I was disappointed when he left due to creative differences with Marvel Studios.  So for me Ant-Man will always have to compete with the pure Edgar Wright version of the movie that only exists in my head, and like anytime when reality has to compete with fantasy it is tough for reality to compete.

That said, Ant-Man is a fun movie.  Marvel Studios seems to have making superhero movies down to a science now, even when translating their lesser known properties to the screen.  Also, with the sheer number of movies Marvel Studios has produced in recent years they have smartly started to play with the genre a bit.  The Captain America: The First Avenger was naturally a superhero film mixed with a period piece, but the Captain America: The Winter Soldier was also a mix, this time of superhero film and a spy thriller.  Ant-Man is a superhero film mixed with a heist movie.

Like any heist movie, Ant-Man establishes what needs to be stolen, then establishes all the reasons why it is impossible to steal the item.  It then has the ringleader establish a crew with specialized skills that can overcome the security around the item to be stolen.  Of course, the heist has complications which are only overcome by quick thinking on the part of the crewmembers during the heist.  In the end, despite these complications the heist is successful.

Of course, since it is not a pure heist movie Ant-Man also has to fit in time for a traditional superhero origin story and a big supervillain battle before the movie is over.  Like Avengers: Age of Ultron it also takes some time away from the main plot to establish ties to the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe by having Ant-Man fight an Avenger to get a MacGuffin “needed” for the main heist.  Personally, I wish they had kept it closer to the traditional heist film structure and eliminated the battle at the end, merely leaving Darren Cross raging at how Hank Pym had pulled one over on him.  I am guessing my opinion is in the minority on this though.

As someone of Latino descent, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk a bit about Luis.  Played by Michael Peña, Luis is one of the first* Latino characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  While I wish he was more then a comedy sidekick, he is genuinely funny and gets the most to do of any of the secondary characters.  Welcome to the MCU Luis, hopefully we will see you in the sequel.

All and all I enjoyed Ant-Man.  It had a good mixture of action and humor.  I don’t feel it was quite as enjoyable as last summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy but I would definitely recommend it to superhero movie fans.

 

3.5 carpenter ants out of 5 

 

*Maria Hill is Latina in the comics, but in the MCU she is played by a white actress (Cobie Smulders).  Conversely, Agent Sitwell is white in the comics, but is played by a Latino actor (Maximiliano Hernández) in the MCU.

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