In Review: Red Sonja/Conan #2

This is a rare misfire in story and art for Howard's characters.

The covers: You might have to make a deal with a Stygian witch to track down all four of these covers. The A is by artist Ed Benes with colors by Dinei Ribeiro. It shows the leads back-to-back standing on a mound of dirt as the undead begin to claw their way up to destroy them. I’m a big fan of Benes’ work, but this is not working. Both characters are really odd, facially and in their stances. The colors of their skin is overly shiny; all I can think of is spray-on tans. The background appears to be a picture and stands out as being so; it does not fit with the imagery. This is a major misfire that leaves me scratching my head wondering what happened. Much better is the cover drawn by Roberto Castro and colored by Ribeiro. This B cover is spectacular. It features a muscular Conan holding a monstrously wide short sword standing before a pillar with some sensational bone work at the top. Before him, rendered much smaller, is Sonja leaping forward with sword and axe in her hands. She looks spectacular as she’s about to show someone her fighting ability. I love this image, which I chose to accompany this review, and the coloring creates an ancient primitive mood. Fanstastic! The incentive cover is the “rare ‘B/W'” C cover that features the artwork of Benes, minus the coloring by Ribeiro. This is a great way to see what an artist brings to a book and makes one really appreciate what a colorist does. Nice, but for collectors only. The D cover is a bit better as it is the “rare ‘virgin art’ cover” that features the art and colors of the A cover, minus all text. If one wants to get a copy of the art in its pure form, this is the one to purchase. Overall grades: A C, B A+, C C-, and D C+

The story:  I admit to having trouble following the timeline of this issue written by Victor Gischler. The issue begins with Sonja crawling out from a mound of dead bodies. She is covered in gore and her blade broken. Once free, she gazes around her surroundings to see bodies, flames, and carrion birds in the sky, eager to feed. Making her way to a group of men, who are looting the bodies of the dead, she asks them which side won. A large brute grabs her from behind saying, “Sorta one of them battles where nobody won, if you know what I mean. But why worry your pretty head about unpleasant things when we can pass the time in better ways?” Knowing what the man means, Sonja uses the remainder of her weapon to slice his hand off at the wrist. The expected skirmish occurs, but then the story goes into the past to show what lead Sonja to her present state. Page 6 is where my first bit of confusion happened. 8 gave me a clue of what was happening, and when, but the transition to 9 left me confused again: was this the past or the present? The results of what’s done on 10 are shown on 13, but the overlay of the dialogue on 8 made me think it was the present, but it wasn’t. As a reader, I needed to be lead more strongly as to when events were occurring. And the last bit of text on 21 had me lost again. I enjoyed the action — which is some of the strongest and bloodiest I’ve seen with Conan, and the dialogue between the leads excellent, but if I can’t tell when events occur, I’m continually taken out of the story to get my bearings. Overall grade: C-

The art: Roberto Castro provides the visuals for this book and it’s a bit hit and miss. The opening page is dynamite stuff (no pun intended). Watching Sonja emerge from the pile of bodies is an incredibly strong visual and Castro hits all the right points. Yet on Pages 2 and 3, which is a full double-page spread, as she gazes upon the destruction, the bodies seem really sparse. It almost seems like after the battle was over the survivors took all the dead and dog-piled them onto Sonja. There should be so many bodies on the plain that the ground can’t be seen, and if it can, it should be red in blood. It’s just not. Sonja has no face when she first speaks to the looters. When she attacks the men on Page 5, the man’s face becomes a very rough sketch in the second panel. And look at the face of the speaker at the bottom of 5; it looks as though he’s melting. On Page 6 a man is approaching some soldiers, and it looks as though his right hand is missing — I though he was the one that Sonja had maimed: even their helmets are the same. Page 7 is great, showing Sonja and Conan on horseback dispatching men, as does the next page as Sonja makes a choice. The necromancy and action that follows is superb. When the story returns to the Hyrkanian and her storyteller, he looks nothing like the character readers first sen on 5; he got better looking! More hits than misses on the art, but those misses are sadly memorable. Overall grade: C+ 

The colors: The work by Alex Guimaraes is strong. The opening page is fantastic as the battlefield is littered with bodies whose lifeless flesh blends in with the dead soil. A red glove emerges from a mound of flesh, until Sonja is revealed. Her hair is not given the typical bright shine it has, muted instead, matching the death around her. The rusty colored smoke on the next two pages leads the reader to recognize that death has touched everyone, save her. Colors spring back into the book when the She-Devil with a sword encounters the looters: her hair is again bright, and the fourth panel explodes in orange and yellow when she takes the man’s hand. Pages 6 and 7 have some terrific night colors. This is often a stumbling block for colorists, who go too bright or too dark, but Guimaraes has selected the perfect blue to simulate the night skies. The yellow and orange used to cast a spell are spot-on and the sickly green used for two large characters’ flesh is perfection. Guimaraes does an excellent job on this book. Overall grade: A+

The letters: Letterer extraordinaire Simon Bowland provides dialogue, sounds, yells, whispered dialogue, and the tease for next issue. The font that Bowland uses for the dialogue exudes strength. It is the perfect font to create power behind the words, while creating a classical ancient feel. I’m so thankful that Bowland is doing the lettering on this book. Overall grade: A+

The final line: This is a rare misfire in story and art for Howard’s characters. I hope that next issue improves in both categories. Overall grade: C+

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer’s Guide for several years with “It’s Bound to Happen!” and he’s reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He’s taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.

    No Comment

    RELATED BY