In Review: Red Sonja #21

Red Sonja continues to be a magnificent series to follow.

The covers: Ten covers for this mighty issue! The A hails from Sean Chen with colors by Cris Peter. This has the warrior in her metal bikini holding a battleaxe low in her right hand and a broadsword high in her left. A breeze causes her orange hair to move slightly. She stands before a ruined, abandoned city that’s obscured by a green-gray haze. This looks fine, though this is the smallest and thinnest I’ve seen this Robert E. Howard character look in a long time. The B by Ben Caldwell returns Sonja to a modern setting. She sits in a golden chair, a crown on her head, a white fur coat on her shoulders, and a cigarette in her mouth. She holds a fistful of Benjamins in her right hand, while she holds a bottle of beer in her left. Several bottle are tucked next to her on right side. Two Bengal tigers roar up from beneath her. Sonja has gone full on gangsta. This might upset those who want a more pure Sonja, but I really like this. Kewber Baal has created a very stylistic C cover. Sonja is shown from the knees up in profile moving to the right. Her voluminous hair billows out behind her, overtaking the top left of the cover, while her white coat moves similarly, taking the left half of the book. Her face is dark as she heads for trouble, her sword held tightly in her right hand. Very moody piece. The D is by John Royle, with inks by Jagdish Kumar and colors by Juan Fernandez. Sonja sits spread legged, her massive sword held forward to the ground. She sits atop a foul creature she’s just killed, given the amount of steam still issuing from its body. The heroine looks incredibly proud of herself and more than capable of fighting another foe. The artwork is terrific and the colors are spectacular, with the title character standing out handsomely against the roses and violets. The Cosplay Variant is the E cover, featuring Desiree Cosplay photographed by Kristy Creighton. The model is wearing the iconic bikini and a slight hide coat. She leans against a stone altar looking to her left as if expecting trouble. I’m a huge fan of these cosplay covers and I’m glad Dynamite continues to do them. F is the B/W Incentive that features Chen’s art from the A cover. This is incredibly cool to look at. I like this frontpiece with Peter’s colors, but I have to admit it’s equally awesome to see like this. Caldwell’s B artwork returns as the G “Virgin” Incentive. This is exactly the same cover sans all cover text. If one wishes to get this art in its purest form, then this is for you! Royle and Kumar aren’t to be left out of seeing their visuals return in a new form as the H is a B/W Incentive. It’s the same as the D, but without Fernandez’s contributions. As with the F, this is cool, but I prefer this colored. A rare return to past Dynamite Variants is the I cover which is the “Blood Red” Incentive by Roye and Kumar, This is the same as the H cover, but the linework has been colored with red rather than black. These were often done on Sonja books and other Dynamite covers years past. This is a neat idea for a variant, but, I’m telling you, I like it better with Fernandez coloring it. A new illustration appears on the J cover, the Comic Market Street Exclusive by Derrick Chew. This cover has the reader looking up from the ground upon Sonja. She’s wearing her trademark metal bikini and brown coat as she reaches behind her back to pull her swords. She looks great, the coloring is stunning, and the background has a neat blur to create some realistic distance between her and a distant castle. I’d love to see this as a poster, print, or tee-shirt. Overall grades: A A-, B A+, C B+, D A, E A+, F A, G A+, H A, I A-, and J A+

The story: This tale that closes a door in part of the Hyrkanian’s saga is created by Amy Chu and Erik Burnham, with the latter writing the script. Last issue ended with Sonja falling into a castle moat that had a Great White shark in it. This issue delightfully opens elsewhere, with Lera reaching down for Skath as Sonja and Taya watch. The problem is the former ruler is hung over and blacks out. He’s left behind. He awakens to find himself alone in the forest and the village equally deserted. He finds a blind man in a tavern who fills him in: the battle against Rusa Sandak has begun, led by Sonja and her allies. Skath was supposed to join in, he’s heard, but the drunkard ran off. This causes the deposed leader much guilt and as he wallows in his sins the story returns to Sonja and her predicament. Amazingly, Sandak sees this as an opportunity to turn the crowd to his side. Thankfully, a person appears to stop this, while Sonja continues to swim in the deadly waters. There was a lot going on in this tale. So much so that every page held a solid surprise or had an awesome moment of action. I cheered and laughed at the heroine’s action on Page 7, and did the same for a different character on 9. The comeuppance on 10 is delicious and exactly what the reader needs to see after the last few issues. There’s a completely unexpected arrival on 14, but if one has been paying attention to what a supporting character has been carrying, this appearance was going to occur at some point. The battle that follows is excellent and its conclusion an utter surprise. The book ends perfectly, for how else would Sonja leave a setting? This story is simply outstanding. Overall grade: A

The art: Carlos Gomez’s art is something I treasure. I can not get enough of this illustrator’s work and I fall in love with it each time I see it. This issue reinforces my devotion to this artist. The angle of the second panel is a solid reminder to the reader as to how Skath last saw his female allies. His awakening in the fourth panel is both funny and sad, with the latter emotion hitting home with the final panel on the page. Skath’s entrance into the empty town is forbidding, though lessened once he encounters the blind man. This character has a sensational close-up in the bottom left of the page. The pain that Skath feels on Page 3 is great; the reader will feel the anguish of this character completely. The third panel on Page 4 is awesome for the point of view and what swims beneath the fiery haired heroine. The speaker at the top of 5 has a wonderfully weaselly design that’s hammered home in the character’s appearances. 6 and 7 have Sonja fighting the shark under the water and it’s jaw-dropping to look upon. She looks as though she wouldn’t stand a chance against the gigantic size of this creature and its equally impressive maw. When a blow is stuck on 7 it’s an epic visual. The last panel on Page 9 is what I’ve been looking forward to and Gomez does not disappoint. My only nit on this issue is the shark; it’s obvious at times that a photograph of the monster has been inserted into the artwork, such as on page 10. I wouldn’t have minded if it hadn’t stuck out so much. That said, the rest of the book looks fine, with reformed Skath looking great and the surprise person that appears on 14 superior. I love the battle between this character and Sonja, with the antagonist’s eyes looking delightfully dark. The last page shows Sonja looking beaten, and who can blame her for all that she’s endured in the last year? Her exit looks as though it’s a movie still. Overall grade: A

The colors: Mohan provides the issue’s colors and they are exceptional. I love the coloring that shows the three character in the second panel on the introductory page. The gray surroundings that Skath finds himself in when he wakes matches his foggy state of mind. The blues on the blind man’s close-up are perfection. I also have to give a shout out to the candle lights within the tavern for being so realistic in their brightness. The waters that Sonja swims in are deceptively peaceful in blue, luring the reader into a passive state so that when the shark attacks it will be surprising. The sounds that occur during this aqua battle are colored in bright reds and yellows to have them pop off the page during the conflict. The entrance on 14 is spectacular for being backlit by the moon, casting this antagonist to be in dark shades to Sonja and her friends. I love how this character’s pasty skin really has her hair and eyes pop. With Mohan providing colors, one can rest assured that they will always be done right. Overall grade: A

The letters: One of my favorite letterers, Taylor Esposito, creates this issue’s dialogue, yells, scene settings, sounds, and narration. There are many different levels of yelling in this book, from the heroic and outraged to the joyful and terrified, each getting a slightly different size and thickness to visually show the reader how each should be correctly heard. When narration appears it’s differed from the dialogue by being italicized. This may seem like a minor thing, but it’s rare to find letterers that do this, and it should be done since it’s a different form of communication to the reader. The sounds are the hallmark of this issue with those during the battle with the shark and the surprise protagonist superior. Overall grade: A

The final line: An outstanding conclusion to this chapter in Sonja’s life. The action is great, the revelation life changing for the Hyrkanian, and the visuals absolutely stunning. Red Sonja continues to be a magnificent series to follow. 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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