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”.

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