In Review: Red Sonja #4

If this series doesn't improve next issue, I'll be walking away.

The covers: Thirteen lucky choices to choose from for this fourth issue. The A is by Amanda Conner and Paul Mounts. Sonja is wearing antlers like a crown as she faces the left. Her hair sweeps back onto the word Sonja, with her locks dripping blood onto the white ground. She’s dressed in her iconic metal bikini, though she also has on a woolly white cloak that billows before her. She is holding a massive sword down in her right hand, with the blood on it adding to the pool below her. You can’t go wrong with a cover by Conner and Mounts. The B cover by Joseph Michael Linsner has Sonja confronting a Middle Eastern man. She stands firm wearing her usual garb, but flourished with shoulder armor and a light blue wrap around her neck, elbows, and waist. I like seeing the character in unusual places and having Sonja in the Middle East is something I would welcome. The green background really draws attention to the reds and blues on her. Christian Ward has created a fantastic C cover. Sonja’s head is being forced down, so much so that her face is barely visible in the bottom center. Her flame red hair shows that she’s being pushed down. A wicked dagger is spotlighted by her hair and Sonja’s hands are on the purple sleeved arm that bares the blade. Great sense of motion on this and the colors are spectacular. This is one fetching cover! More from Ward, please! The level of detail on the D frontpiece by Kenneth Rocafort is staggering. Sonja stands upon a rocky outcropping with a sword in her left and a dagger in her right. The sword is in the reader’s face. Her hair is blowing to her right. Behind her is an exquisitely designed valley full of refugees. This is simply amazing! The colors are wonderful, with the blue sky making her crimson hair pop. The E is the Cosplay Variant featuring Alkali Layke photographed by J. Dub. Wearing the metal bikini with leather sleeves and a matching belt and gloves, Sonja stands against a mountain, pulling at her hair as she’s lost in thought. Layke looks great and this is definitely a cover to find. Death comes out of a tarot card to embrace Sonja on the Incentive cover by Bob Q. The Hyrkanian leans backwards to accept his hug and puts her right hands against his face lovingly. Cool looking cover with great colors — and I love the monstrous sized scythe Death holds above the card. Outstanding! The Incentive B&W cover by Conner is the same as the A, with it only lacking Mounts’s colors. I like this, but I prefer it colored. The Incentive B&W cover by Linsner is interesting not only because it is in black and white, but it lacks the man appearing on the left. I love seeing this preliminary work. The Incentive “Virgin” by Rocafort is the same as the Incentive by the artist with all the text taken off. If you liked this before, you’ll love this even more. The Incentive B&W by Q is just as impressive without the colors. The Incentive “Virgin” by Conner and Mounts is the same as the A, though without any text. Also exceptional. I can say the same about the Incentive “Virgin” by Linsner, which is the B cover without text. The final cover is the Exclusive “Virgin” by Lucio Parillo available at Scott’s Collectibles. Sonja is severely underdressed on the side of a mountain that’s having quite a bit of snow fall. She has on a red cloak, but it’s not enough to protect her body, though she has on her typical metal outfit, which looks smaller than usual. She pulls an arrow from her quiver to take out an unseen foe. To her right is a white wolf looking in the direction of her prey. I love Parillo’s work. Overall grades: A A+, B A, C A+, D A+, E A, Incentive Q A+, Incentive B&W Conner A-, Incentive B&W Linsner A, Incentive “Virgin” Rocafort A+, Incentive B&W Q A, Incentive “Virgin” Conner A+, Incentive “Virgin” Linsner A, and Exclusive Scott’s Collectibles A 

The story: The previous three issues in this series have been okay, but have sorely lacked the action that Sonja’s exploits are known for, instead going for Sonja as the military leader of her people. Unfortunately writer Mark Russell continues this format and it’s not interesting reading. The book begins with Emperor Dragan’s forces receiving more supplies so they can continue their assault to take Hyrkania. After choosing to use chariots to take down their foes, the story moves to Sonja and the Hyrkanians, whom she orders to move out, since they are to be overwhelmed by the impending faster forces. This evacuation is interrupted by another flashback of Sonja being trained by Master Domo with her receiving another nugget of wisdom from him. Returning to the present, Sonja’s forces do battle with the chariots. The story ends with a return to Dragan again having to rethink his plans to take down Sonja and her people. This story is going nowhere. There is no change to any characters’ situation from the beginning of this issue, or the issue before it. This is nowhere near the level of adventure that Robert E. Howard intended for this character. Overall grade: D

The art: This issue also has two artists: Mirko Colak & Bob Q. Colak handles the visuals for the present and Q is responsible for the five page flashback. Their styles are very different, creating a jarring effect upon the reader while reading. Because the split occurs during a change in time, it should be rather smooth, but it has me wanting to quickly get through the past to return to the present. I have loved Colak’s work on other series, but he’s given much to illustrate but conversations. It’s not until Page 12 that Colak gives the reader a clear look at Sonja — that’s too long. The battle that does occur on 15 – 17 is fine, but Sonja gets no action in it and when she does, at the end, the reader is pulled so close to her as to render the action she’s taking as impotent. Colak can clothe his characters well and make the settings, even these desolate deserts, interesting, but when the action is frustrating to look upon, the reader will not be able to pull any joy from it. Q’s work has Sonja fighting three combatants. She isn’t shown clearly to the reader until the third page, not great, and the actions are fairly wooden. How wooden? Look at the size of the sound effects that lay atop the art, perhaps to cover the visuals? The coloring doesn’t help. I’m not enjoying the combination of artists or their work on this. Overall grade: C-

The colors: Two colorists on this book, with Dearbhla Kelly on Colak’s pages and Bob Q coloring his own work. Kelly’s work is bright, which sets off the characters against the vacant backgrounds. Sonja stands out, even at a distance, with her fiery hair. The sounds have spectacularly strong colors to have them explode off a page. When the action gets intense, blood red backgrounds fill the panels. Q’s colors are really, really dark. It looks as though the pages are set in England in fall. Even Sonja’s hair is deadened by the dark colors. The sounds are bright, but in doing so only serve to remind the reader how dark everything else is. And the sun comes out when a pair of characters arrive? It doesn’t fit thematically with the tale, again serving to remind the reader how dark the previous pages were. Overall grade: C+

The letters: One contributor’s work that I can’t complain about is that of Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou.  Narration, dialogue, yells, sounds, scene settings are crafted well. The narration that opens the book is beautiful; it’s as if one is about to read a classical ancient text. The dialogue is very clear and placed in a large font and italics when characters yell, such as on the first page. The sounds on this book are very strong, with each noise stupendous. There is a scene setting on Page 6, but it looks to have been created by Bob Q. There are several death rattles in this issue, with them being done in a thin font to show the final utterances of the speakers. Good work. Overall grade: A 

The final line: If this series doesn’t improve next issue, I’ll be walking away. I want Sonja involved in action, which this has series sorely lacks, the end to flashbacks which are almost as annoying as those on Arrow, and one single artist illustrating this book to make it look unified. I love Red Sonja and this book is becoming painful to read. I had such high hopes for this relaunch. Overall grade: C-

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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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