Writers: Michael Avon Oeming with Mike Carey
Artists: Mel Rubi; Blond assisted by Caesar Rodriquez, Richard Isanove(c)
Robert E. Howard was a contemporary of H.P. Lovecraft and a contributor to Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos. If you're unfamiliar with these fictions, they're well worth the trip to the library.
The gist of the mythos is that an unimaginably alien race of creatures once ruled this planet and the entire cosmos. The creatures eventually went dormant, and that is the only reason why the evolutionary processes took over to produce humankind. When our culture and the culture of Cthulhu and his ilk collide, science fiction becomes horror. Oeming and Carey capture this theme in Red Sonja.
As hero battles villain the species treated as subhuman razes the city. Oeming and Carey aren't shy when showing the number of innocents diced in the crossfire. You can interpret these scenes in various ways. Doing the right thing isn't always pretty. In war, innocents on either side will always die. Rebellion isn't easy to stop. Pick your allies wisely. "War! Good god! What is it good for. Absolutely nothing."
Most people really do want to live in peace. It's usually one sphincter or a small group of sphincters that cause trouble. The sphincter in this case is an empowered whack job whose flawed personality Sonja pegs almost instantly. The lunatic is evil. Something empowered him, but that something was not necessarily evil. It was alien. The lunatic took the gift of knowledge and turned it into something vile.
Good dialogue, excellent artwork and a winning character make up for quite a few shortcomings. Sonja reveals her beliefs in a stirring, surprisingly optimistic speech she gives to "the loyal servant" of the so-called dark gods. In keeping with her personality she orates while she separates various appendages from his body. Mel Rubi and his color team indeed make this superb beauty a dangerous streak of crimson violence.
The identity of the masked maniac would have been enough. The prolonged battle isn't necessary. We knew Sonja was going to win. It was enough that the identity of the nut comes as a surprise. Just have her slice off his head, and be done with it. Oeming and Carey add one too many twists.
This second twist contrives a situation where Sonja loses a comrade. I get that not every story can or should have a happy ending, but using a supernatural ace up the sleeve to artificially create loss is a cheap trick that's beneath Oeming's and Carey's levels of skill. There's really no reason for it in terms of the story or just general common sense. Why would Sonja give the fruitcake a chance to speak when she could simply slice off his hand and cast him to his death? Why would she give the enemy the time to pull one last trick? She's not the merciful type. She's already come to the conclusion that this being needs to die. Have at it, then.
The book ends on a sour note that could have been provided without contrivance by the aftermath of the war. There would have been nothing left of the city. Sonja could have been moved by the desolation and the price of victory. There was no real need for the extra angst or the lucky save that prevents Sonja from suffering the same fate as her comrade. These deficits in storycraft do not hopelessly cripple the story, but they do hobble the tale.
Oeming and Carey execute a fairly layered story. Their characterization for Sonja and her nemesis rings true. The themes square with those of Robert E. Howard, but they falter when creating a satisfying conclusion. The twist they come up with during the final battle between Red Sonja and the maniac is a good one, but they don't follow through and inadvertently concoct an ending that lacks power.
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