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.

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