Friday, April 15, 2016

RED SONJA #0 - 6

Writers: Michael Avon Oeming w/Mike Carey | Art: Mel Rubi
Colors: Caesar Rodriguez w/Richard Isanove (#1-4), Brian Buccellato (#5), & Blond (#6)
Color Assists: Imaginary Friends Studios (#3), Michael Kelleher (#4)
Letters: Richard Starkings & Comicraft w/Josh Johnson and Rich Wenzke
Editorial Consultant: Luke Lieberman | Based on the Heroine Created by Robert E. Howard
Special Thanks to Arthur Lieberman at Red Sonja Corporation

There are two tropes I particularly enjoy in the world of sword & sorcery fantasy: the "lone warrior wandering the world", righting wrongs and getting involved in local struggles against hell-born demons, evil wizards, or corrupt kings, and the "she-devil with a sword" wearing impractical "armor" and killing everything in her path. Obviously the latter was pioneered by Red Sonja herself, and the former is on full display as well in this inaugural outing from Red Sonja's 2005 series (a series which would go on to run 80 issues plus numerous mini-series and one-shots before being rebooted in 2013).

There were several occasions when I considered reading the Dynamite series, but one thing above others kept turning me off: I just didn't like the art. Something about Mel Rubi's work didn't appeal to me, and because of that, I never gave this series a chance. But last year Dynamite partnered with Humble Bundle and put several digital comics up for sale in a "pay what you want" deal. I dropped a few dollars for the chance to finally check out this series.

Issue 0 begins with Sonja entering a small town, where she's attacked by (and kills) a number of men looking to rob her. Following this brief introduction, issues 1 through 6 of the series feature Sonja defending a messenger from the city of Gathia who is ultimately killed while in her care. She relays his message to the city and winds up getting abducted by a priest to help his resistance in overthrowing Gathia's sinister ruler, the Celestial. The coup is successful with the aid of Gathia's savage neighbors, the Zedda, but the priest is murdered and the city's inhabitants -- men, women, and children alike -- are slaughtered by the Zedda as Sonja proceeds on her way.

We learn along the way that Sonja seeks servants of the "Dark God" who razed her village, and that the Celestial was one such servant. We're also informed that Sonja's astounding combat skills were the blessing of a goddess and that she will allow no man into her bed until he has beaten her in combat.

The story is all right. I appreciate that Oeming and Carey forego Sonja's origin and simply jump into a story where she's already established and her legend is known to the people around her. And the plot is fine, if a bit hard to follow in places. Some omniscient narration or exposition might've helped to clear up a few points which seemed a little vague. Much of the script reads as if the writers have a fully-formed idea in their heads, but aren't communicating all of it.

Also, the script's narrative device is screwy. Issue 0 is narrated by a girl in the town Sonja visits. Issue 1 is narrated by the priest. Issue 6 opens with what appears to be omniscient narration and ends with narration from Sonja. In between, no one narrates anything. I appreciate that thought balloons are considered gauche these days, but you can't just have random people start narrating your story at various points. Either go omniscient or have one or two narrators all the way through, but don't be all haphazard with it. It's confusing and amateurish.

Lastly, while I certainly appreciate a story about a sword-wielding warrior woman who lops off heads and hands every other page, some of the violence was a bit too much for me -- such as a scene featuring Sonja and her warrior allies, Osin and Borg, graphically killing a bunch of "demon spawn" who look like little kids, and the part where the Zedda take to gleefully murdering Gathia's women and children (including beheading an infant).

As for the artwork, I should note that Rubi's effort here isn't all bad. Sometimes his faces are nicely expressive. Sometimes his action is great. And his landscapes and buildings are almost always impressive. But at the same time, the stuff that has long turned me off from his work is evident as well. Occasionally the figures look sloppy and sketchy and sort of... stretched out. The action is sometimes stiff (some speed lines here and there would really help to keep certain sequences from looking overly static).

Overall, I think part of my problem with the artwork in retrospect is that Rubi's work often pales in comparison with the cover art. RED SONJA had tons of variant covers by an array of artists such as John Cassaday, Marc Silvestri, Paolo Rivera, Neal Adams, and more, and while it's perhaps unfair to compare their single-page pinups with Rubi's sequential interiors, it's hard not to.

That said, I was surprised to learn that several of my issues with the artwork seem to be due to the colors. Issue 0 features both the finished story and Rubi's pencil art, and the pencils are really quite nice. But from what I can see, these stories don't seem to be inked; rather they look like they're reproduced and colored straight from the pencils -- and the coloring is way overdone in certain spots, seriously harming Rubi's linework.

I know this is the very first story arc in a series which eventually ran for a really long time (and still runs today, ten-plus years later, in a different form), so there's certainly room for improvement and, in all likelihood, things will/did get better. But based on these six issues, much as I like some of what I see, the negatives still outweigh the positives and I don't find myself interested in reading any further into this particular RED SONJA volume.

That said, I might check out the 2013 Gail Simone reboot someday -- and I should add that, as I read this story filled with graphic violence and occasional bits of titillation, my thoughts drifted numerous times to last month's rumor that Bryan Singer is developing an "R-rated RED SONJA series for television" and my mind filled with visions of a GAME OF THRONES-esque series about the She-Devil with a Sword. It's really neither here nor there as far as these particular issues are concerned, but that show ever comes to pass with the right actress and a decent budget, I'll be ready to watch it from day one.

Available from Amazon.

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