As an avid Red Sonja fan, naturally I had to pick up the latest one shot and I’m happy to report that it was both well-written and artistically captivating. With a title like “Break the Skin,” you have to be a little curious. Basically the entire comic can be summarized in one quote from creator Robert E. Howard, which appears on the last page, “… break the skin of civilization and you find the ape, roaring and red-handed.” — the perfect ending imaginable for the story due to both the figurative and literal meanings.
Set in a desert, we find our buxom heroine knee-deep in blood and death right from the beginning. Like many Red Sonja issues, there’s a certain amount of political intrigue — in this case, it’s in the form of a dying uncle and an item that could be considered both treasure and burden. Naturally there are multiple youngsters who are either set to inherit the responsibility or want the treasure for personal gain. Every family has its secrets, right? What about curses from ape-shaped deities? Needless to say, Sonja ends up to her ears in a family feud. By now, she’s got to have an excellent nose for trouble. You would think that everyone would have learned already to not use Sonja in their schemes because it always seems to blow up in their faces, but that would assume the villains in this universe learn their lessons.
I enjoyed the storyline in this one-shot a bit more than usual because it delves into human nature. Normally there’s some symbolism in these issues, but this one is riddled with it. Van Meter perfectly blends the morals of good and bad with some greed sprinkled in for flavor, along with how heavy the mantle of responsibility can be. One thing I love about the Red Sonja comics is that, despite the underlying symbolism, they always go back to good, simple fun. Even though there’s some thought involved, you don’t have to break your brain pondering the meaning life or anything.
The artwork has a modern edge to it, generally accompanied by some simplistic backgrounds. Not to say there aren’t some amazingly detailed panels, but Salazar seems to lean towards drawing the viewer’s eye to the characters and their actions, rather than worrying about scenery. Also, Phil Winslade and Paul Renaud did a magnificent job on the cover art — the rearing horse with Sonja, sword drawn, on top really depicts the strength of her character. It takes a pretty strong, confident woman to wage war in what’s ultimately a metal bikini. That being said, I bet winters can be cruel. Somehow I doubt one bearskin cloak can compensate for, well, clothes.
Red Sonja is something I like to read while kicking back after a hard day. “Break the Skin” is a particular treat that can be savored by everyone, not just the long time fans. If you’re simply looking for a good, fantasy based comic, this would be a good one to start with. After all, she’s a fiery, redheaded sword master with a chip on her shoulder — what’s not to love?