In Review: Red Sonja #16

This action-packed time traveling romp ends wonderfully. Absolutely recommended.

The covers: There are eight covers to collect for the concluding chapter of this saga. The A cover is by Mike McKone and features an image that no reader would wish to see: Sonja on horseback charging a forward with a yell on her face and a sword ready to use in her hand. The point of view is great, with the horse in the reader’s face and Sonja leaning in to strike him or her down. The colors give this image a very cool feel, enhancing the snow that’s falling, with her hair and skin, as well as the color of the horse, paled. Very nice. The B cover by Tom Mandrake and Sian Mandrake has the Hyrkanian wearing her iconic chain mail bikini and a red cape, holding a sword above her head with both hands. Behind her is a monstrous stone face of a creature carved into a wall. She looks gorgeous and the stonework grotesque, capturing the spirit of this character perfectly. I am a fan of both Mandrakes and hope this bodes well for each returning to do more work on Sonja. The title character is back in the snow on the C cover by Art Thibert. Squatting on a tree stump, Sonja has a massive battleaxe over one shoulder. The blade is caked in gore that’s dripping onto her leg. Behind her is the severed head of a giant, whose tusks, horns, and pointed ears, as well as it’s pasty green head, mark it is a monster. The D cover is the Cosplay Variant featuring Shannon Kingston as Red Sonja, photographed by Guy Iorio. Sonja is wearing her bikini, a knife sheath around her right thigh, and brown woolly boots that are just below her knees. The water she’s standing in is practically swallowing her footwear, though she doesn’t seem to care. She has her sword behind her neck, held by both hands. She’s looking at the reader as though challenging him or her to try and make a move on her. A gorgeous forest is behind her, with light passing through the trees, giving her a holy tone. Great image. I’m continually impressed with these cosplay covers that Dynamite uses for this series. The E is by Interior artist Carlos Gomez whose cover resembles a movie poster. Every major character is on this cover: the beast of Khauran, Sonja, Kulan Gath, Max Mendoza, Spike, Holly, Professor Wallace, Taya, Lera, Jay, and several cloaked individuals led by a masked woman. I love that Max and Wallace are using magic. This would be the perfect cover for an omnibus. The F cover is the B&W Incentive cover featuring the art from the A cover by McKone. If one likes that, one will like this. The G is by another B&W Incentive cover, with this one featuring Thibert’s art from the C. This is really an impressive variant cover for all the amazing details that Thibert has put into this piece. It looks just as outstanding without the colors. The final cover is the H, yet another B&W Incentive cover, with Gomez’s E cover sans colors. This, too, is good. I’m a huge fan of Gomez’s work so this is one I’ll have to track down. Overall grades: A A-, B A, C A+, D A+, E A+, F B+, G A+, and H A

The story: This sixteen issue saga’s conclusion is by Amy Chu & Erik Burnham, with Burnham scripting it. The book opens with Sonja screaming in shock at seeing Professor Wallace burned to a corpse by the evil powers of Kulan Gath. The wizard then turns his fury on Max Mendoza, blasting the young magic user backwards. Fortunately, he was able to shield himself from being immolated. Reveling in his power, Gath says, “The Necromantic power I’ll draw from killing every living thing in the seven cities may not compare to what I would gain by absorbing the abundant native magic over time, but I have grown impatient with Meruand its citizens. Pray to your gods while you can, for all of you are about to die!” Someone behind him disagrees and the antagonist is shocked to see the speaker. I won’t spoil who it is, but it’s a fantastic reveal. The pronunciations of this character causes Gath’s ire to rise, resulting in guards being unleashed to kill everyone. This starts the climax of this story as it’s Sonja and her allies against the villain and his minions. The dialogue Sonja has briefly with a friend on 6 was perfect: a brief truce that will have repercussions when the action has ended. Swords and magic are the means of battle, with the melee taking a turn with the arrival of a forgotten character on 8 who is fully revealed on 9. This character and a friend’s appearance earn cheers from the reader, before the one word of dialogue spoken at the bottom of 10. This leads to a shocking moment on 11 that’s beautiful. I was pleased the characters find the artifact on 14 and where a character wanted to go. The story’s coda begins on 17 after a passage of time and I appreciated the reveal on 18, which I expected but needed, and was very happy for what’s done on 19, which I did not expect. Like any good story, there is always the possibility of future adventures and the final page teases such a chance, though with nothing written in stone. This was an absolutely fitting ending and I found myself getting nostalgic on 18 and 19, considering what the characters had been through. Bravo, Ms. Chu and Mr. Burnham. Overall grade: A+

The art: Carlos Gomez starts strongly with Sonja screaming in the first panel on the first page, followed by Wallace’s crispy corpse hitting the ground. The blast that Gath directs at Max is extremely strong, showing the reader the strength of this vile villain. The large panel on 2 gives this story a tremendously epic feel by showing Gath railing above the center of town with a cast of thousands below him. Sharp energy crackles around his left hand as he rages. This powerful image is fabulously undone by showing Gath in a tiny panel turning to see who’s behind him. He looks old in this panel and uncertain, after all, who would dare speak to him after such a spectacular speech? This makes the reveal on 3 great and the power of this character as he walks forward makes the reader’s heart grow and causes the veins in Gath’s forehead throb. When the guards enter the story they look awesome — big, armored, and ready to kill. I also like the fire that swirls about the antagonist as he screams his command. When Sonja begins to fight, she’s spectacular. I love that she looks absolutely vulnerable with only that metal bikini on, but she can more than hold her own against any foe, including these guards. The third panel on 6 shows Sonja solving a problem quickly with only a sound effect accompanying an action. It’s a kick ass visual and a funny one. The largest panel on this page is terrific; I’ve been waiting for this reunion and seeing them back to back made me so happy. The flames on 8 are incredible and the final two panels are shown from points of view that build tension until the spectacular reveal on 9. When this pair are shown clearly on 10 they are wonderful; surrounded by so many other characters, the dominant individuals are just flat out cool. The penultimate panel on 11 is great. Page 13 has a large panel that shows several characters, with one getting a tremendous amount of space that even four other panels on the page make way for this hero: very clever layout by Gomez. The exit on 16 is perfectly heartbreaking. I really like that the first panel on 18 mirrors the final panel on 19. This book just looks fantastic. Overall grade: A+ 

The colors: Mohan does a sensational job on this book. Bright colors open the book with yellows used for the background as fiery red headed Sonja screams. These are followed by two darker panels showing the terrible deeds of Gath. I really like what’s done to shade the villain’s skin, creating aged skin as well as toned flesh. The magic that the wizards use are a highlight of the book, using oranges, yellows, greens, and blues fantastically. Another character has more crimson than Sonja and this large individual looks great: every page he appears he’s awesome. Also impressive are the many shades of browns that appear throughout, from the village to the clouds of dust that result from the combat. The bright oranges and yellows on the final page give the items that use them incredible strength. This is just really well done. Overall grade: A+

The letters: This issue’s text is by Simon Bowland who creates yells, dialogue, Gath’s unique speech, sounds, and narration. Gath’s speech is like a scrawl, giving him an ancient voice whenever he speaks. The narration is differed from the dialogue, a trait I look for in all letterers. The yells come in many different sizes and font, reflecting the levels of passion used when they are uttered. The sounds are a hoot and a half due to all the sounds of this massive final battle. Bowland is great. Overall grade: A+

The final line: An epic conclusion with every character addressed. Some great surprises, some fun moments, and some outstanding action highlight this issue’s story. The visuals are a continual highlight, always sumptuous, fitting, and stunning. This action-packed time traveling romp ends wonderfully. Absolutely recommended. Overall grade: A+

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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.
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