In Review: Red Sonja #19

Sonja finds herself in a unwelcome situation and encountering foes who circle closer to a hidden prize.

The covers: Eight covers of the She-Devil with a sword to capture if you can. The A by Sean Chen, featuring colors by Cris Peter, has the title character frozen in the heat of battle as she’s just swung her blade to fell a large foe. She screams a battle cry, her hair whips wildly behind her, her empty hand reaches out as though to grasp her opponent, while her weapon is low to her right, having just delivered a fatal blow. The dead man’s body is falling off the right side, his hands reaching unsuccessfully for life. Behind the Hyrkanian her other victims litter the ground. Great image by Chen with the colors great; I especially like how the setting is a lighter than the characters to make the individuals pop. One of my favorite artists, Tom Mandrake, and one of my favorite colorists, Sian Mandrake, have created the B cover. In her iconic costume, Sonja rushes at a mob of monstrosities that feature skeletal warriors and an inhuman creature that would inspire Lovecraftian nightmares. This action sequence is taking place in some frosty mountains with some snow beginning to fall. One can never go wrong with one Mandrake’s work and having both on a piece make this a must-buy. Another one of my favorite artists is Jan Duursema who is the artist of the C cover. This is a drop dead gorgeous illustration of Sonja in a snowy setting pulling her sword from its leather sheath. The colors are by Sian Mandrake: the highlights in Sonja’s hair are outstanding and the coloring on her barely there togs perfection. This is another cover I’ll have to track down. The Cosplay Photo Variant cover, the D cover, features Joanie Brosas as Sonja, photographed by Cole Johnson. The cosplayer is laying on her back in the snow atop a fur coat. Should she appear to vulnerable to passerbys, she has her blade in her right hand as a warning. Great photograph and Brosas has the perfect look on her face: ferocious beauty. For those wanting dark magic, the E, the Subscription cover by John Royle with colors by Juan Fernandez, is the one to get. This has Sonja kneeling before a skull that bears a candle. Her blade has caught fire as three luminescent blue spirit skulls fly about her. The action that Royle has created is excellent, with the spirits’ trails and Sonja’s hair giving this piece some outstanding movement. The colors are also strong: those blues for the skulls are stellar. The F is the B/W Incentive by Royle and is the same as the E cover though without Fernandez’s contributions. I like this but prefer it with the colors. Sean Chen is the “Virgin” Incentive cover, the G, that’s the same as the A and also without colors. This is amazing in black and white and would be a welcome addition to any collection. The final variant is the H, the B/W Incentive by Jan Duursema. This is the same as the C, though without the contributions of daughter Mandrake. I have been a fan of Duursema’s artwork for a very long time and this is like glimpsing into heaven. This is a must-own! Overall grades: A A, B A, C A+, D A+, E A+, F A, G A+, and H A+ 

The story: This issue has Sonja acting exactly as I would expect this classical character to be when working with others. Amy Chu & Erik Burnham’s opens with Lord Sandak asking if Sonja, Taya, and Lera accept his offer to clear out some villagers. Lera says they can do so easily. Pleased, Sandak leaves, but not before chastising some of his men that are bringing a huge vat of water into his castle. What’s in the water will be revealed in a later issue. With the man gone, Sonja grabs Lera by the throat. “–You should be asking who you think you are to accept such dishonorable work on my behalf?” The woman is barely able to choke out, “Didn’t–hukk–Didn’t say we would. Just said we…easily could.” Taya vouches for her friend, “See? She twisted words! We agreed to nothing!” Sonja doesn’t like to lie, but Taya says things would have been worse if they had offended Sandak. After considering this, Sonja drops Lera to the ground, warning her never to speak or lie for her again. In the village, the trio see that the locals pose no threat for Sandak, though there are others among them that have been plaguing their journeys who reveal their blades and tattooed heads. Something very interesting occurs during the battle, with one of Sonja’s friends becoming a target for a very important reason: she carries the crown of Kulan Gath. Sonja does not know this, but Taya does. After the battle one of the three decides to make a deal with Sandak, which raises another’s ire. I’m loving Sonja’s outbursts this issue, with her being strong willed and unwilling to bend — that’s the Sonja I know! The final three pages has the hero coming upon a character previously spoken of but not shown. With this individual now in the mix, the action will undoubtedly increase. Overall grade: A

The art: I am a tremendous fan of Carlos Gomez and will follow him to any book he illustrates. His version of Sonja is right up there with Frank Thorne’s iconic artwork. The book opens with a full-paged splash putting antagonist Sandak fully on display for the reader. If every there was a dandy of the wizarding world, it would Sandak. His clothing is fantastic and his pose delightfully deviant. A turn of the page reveals the women, and Sonja looks amazing as her look burns silently into the man and the reader. The second panel establishes the enormous wooden vat being transported, teasing big things in a future issue. The third page has Sonja looking spectacular as her anger explodes onto Lera; when she grits her teeth the reader knows she’s about to go into action. The large panel that ends the page has terrific energy as Sonja grabs her companion by the throat. You know you’re looking at a terrific artist when a textless panel speaks volumes, such as the fourth panel on Page 4. During the scene, look at the background of the excellent forest Gomez has created. The layout of 7 is a little awkward, as my eyes went straight across the page, instead of down after second panel: this hurt the surprise of the action that occurs. However, the battle that begins soon after is outstanding. Gomez can capture movement sensationally, with swords and bodies flying. The inaction of one of the women is noticeable and furthers the long term plot of what she secretly carries. The characters emote well throughout the book, with Sonja gruff, Lera manipulative and worried, and Taya trying to keep the piece. Sandak is as wonderfully weaselly as can be. The introduction of the new character on the final two pages is like the arrival of ancient god given all the fog that he emerges from. Gomez is always aces. Overall grade: A

The colors: Another creator whose work I look forward to seeing is Mohan, whose colors are a joy. Look at the work done on Sandark: dead greens and dark browns highlighted with gold. These colors just ooze evil! The castle’s surroundings are dark greens of a forest, which allow the heroic trio to stand out, with their hair being quick focuses for the reader. Sonja is an eye catcher on every page with so much of her skin showing; her flesh and crimson hair always draw attention. When foes are dispatched during the battle their blood is a bright green, showcasing their deaths strongly as well as the taint that lies within them. One of the last scenes of the book is set within a tavern and the browns used for the woodwork are lovely and the bright yellows used for the candles perfection. Mohan is another creator whose work never disappoints. Overall grade: A

The letters: Tom Napolitano is the book’s letterer creating dialogue, sounds, yells, and the tease for next issue. Napolitano uses a tiny font as Lera is throttled by Sonja and it’s exactly the right look and size for the characters trying to breathe. When characters yell in this issue, and the majority of them come from the Hyrkanian, an italicized and bolded font is used, giving the character’s words a strong believability. The sounds are really strong in this book, from a WHUMP on the ground to a THUNK that causes a character’s downfall. I could look upon Napolitano’s work everyday and be happy. Overall grade: A

The final line: Sonja finds herself in a unwelcome situation and encountering foes who circle closer to a hidden prize. The story is great, with Sonja being the bullheaded warrior I love, her friends keeping secrets, and a welcome new character. The visuals are beautiful, be they showing the characters or the carnage they cause. You can’t go wrong with Red Sonja, just don’t cross her! 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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