“The Age of Innocence”
(Gail Simone / Jim Zub / Dan Panosian / Dave Stewart; Dark Horse)
They’re back! Together! Two of my favorite characters who’s rights were sold off to competing companies, so that they were doomed to roam the same world, Hyperborea, created by Robert Howard, but never meet, not since some Conan issues way back in the 70s. Dynamite (who currently has the rights to Red Sonja) has permitted Dark Horse to bring the two characters together in a four issue run, written jointly by Gail Simone (who now writes the ‘regular’ Red Sonja series) and Jim Zub, who has done some Conan stories.
Surprisingly, or at least interestingly, they’ve chosen to write a new ‘first meeting’ of the two characters, in younger incarnations. I’m dating myself of course, by remembering them meeting already, but ok, I’m ok with that, or the general idea.
Alas, I’m not ok with these incarnations. I’m a purist, I like my barbarians (male or female) more on the stoic side. This story, and the dialogue, seem a bit wordy to me. I had the same complaint with the Conan run written by Brian Wood, though I’m also of the age to have been around when Arnold Swartzenegger was in the two (apparently non-canonical) movies, the first of which I still say holds up as great. But yeah, I just don’t think Conan talks that much.
I don’t think my complaint is a matter of style though, like it might be with Wood’s Conan. I just think the script for “The Age of Innocence” is a little melodramatic and repetitious. For example, the intro of the splash page uses six captions, only some of which I’m reproducing here:
Know you, O Prince, that there is a history of this great land written not in the blood of armies or the whims of kings… / …but in the crimson-stained blades of two lowborn warriors. / Know that the fates of multitudes rested not in lofty palaces or secret temples… / …but in the rough-skinned hands of two exceptional beings.
The repetition of the sentences structure, beginning with “know” and “two” doesn’t, to my mind, create or build any kind of power or movement, which is the only reason to repeat words or phrases. The second sentence just could have been cut—it doesn’t tell us anything more.
Not convinced? How about Sonja being given lines like, “I must say that I do not” or “I believe I did tell you to shut up.” Why wouldn’t she just say, “I do not” and “I told you to shut up”? Neither Red Sonja nor Conan mess around with fancy language. Or, they shouldn’t. Not to say either of them is dumb—the opposite, but I invoke the Dao De Jing: “Those who know, don’t speak / Those who speak, don’t know.” So when Conan is given word balloons that are as big as his head and upper torso, he just sounds dumb and arrogant.
I’m not a fan of the artwork either. Artist Dan Panosian makes Red Sonja look like a girl (not a woman) from Elfquest. And Conan is almost unrecognizable. looking in some panels more like Ash from Army of Darkness.
Still, there are some good moments, with Conan and Sonja fighting and calling either other ‘harlot’ and ‘dog’. And, I like the idea of them (these two grumpy loners) gradually learning to trust each other, of which I wish there were more room for developing. But, with a four-issue run, the plot must go on. Ditto with them, or at least Conan, fairly quickly deciding to save the world, when both of them for the first half of the issue are basically cat burglar thieves. And, Sonja being turned into some kind of animal rights activist is kinda too much.
But still, the best part is Sonja, and her kick-ass-ery. I like this version of Red Sonja better than Gail Simone’s most recent versions, where she seems to be writing in a more silly/zany mode, which I know some people like and prefer. I just like my Sonja dark and moody, I guess, like all my favorite comic book characters. And, she is here, while also maybe being Conan’s good conscience. Or, at least a semi-good influence.
Dear Dark Horse: Please buy the rights to Red Sonja to we can see more of these two characters together, and more of a strong stoic non-silly Red Sonja (and finally a movie?). Or, Dear Dynamite: see previous sentence.
My other Red Sonja reviews: