(w) Mark Russell (a) Mirko Colak (c) Dearbhla Kelly
These days, if you pick up a book written by Mark Russell, you can expect some degree of satire as he pokes fun at society with biting wit. That has been the case for The Flintstones, Prez, and Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles. That is the case for his other Dynamite series, The Lone Ranger. And this is the case for this new Red Sonja series, in which he collaborates with artists Mirko Colak and Dearbhla Kelly.
Russell’s script is full of the action and bloodshed readers would come to expect from a Red Sonja book, but it also is full of his trademark humor. The inclusion of the latter is likely to turn off those that have come to expect Sonja’s stories to be serious affairs. Given the sales record of Russell’s books, there’s a good chance Sonja readers didn’t pick up Prez (shame on you) and therefore blame can’t be placed on them for being taken aback by this script. However, I personally am familiar with Russell’s works. I knew what to expect going in, and therefore I was entertained from start to finish.
Red Sonja #1 is a blood-soaked actioner that gleefully flips off the ruling class. Seeing characters speak with a modern cadence and dialogue in a swords-and-sandals setting is admittedly unnerving at first, but as the issue progresses it becomes a natural fit for the story Russell is telling. Though Sonja is the titular character and the book’s heroine, much of the issue is spent with a world-conquerer in the mold of Genghis Khan, an entitled ruler that does not take it well when told “no” – especially when it is said by an empowered woman. It is easy to draw a parallel between this ruler and the current leader of the United States, but what he really represents is the ruling class – the oligarchy or “1%” that Russell and many others see as taking more and more of this world for themselves with little care or regard for the underprivileged that act as collateral damage.
Admittedly, the character of Red Sonja has never been of great interest to me, especially given her typical portrayals leave very little to the imagination, similar to how others view a certain series starring a strong female protagonist. However, Russell’s script and the fantastic artwork of Mirko Colak have certainly inspired a look back at the stories penned by Gail Simone and others. Here, Sonja is a strong, capable character who is nothing short of badass. Once more, the script is crafted in a manner in which her plight can be used to point out societal issues. In this case, it’s a double-edged sword as Sonja is unwittingly named queen of a soon-to-be-invaded territory. Here, Russell lays the seeds to discuss the problem of victim-blaming and women’s ability to reclaim their own agency in a world stacked against them.
As stated before, the artwork from Colak is a beautiful match for Russell’s script. Character’s are rendered with great expressiveness, which makes the humorous moments all the more effective. The page layouts make the books well-paced, another key to making the jokes land. However, the book – including the artwork – is not just about humor, as Colak proves adept at crafting action sequences too. The issue’s marquee sequence comes near the midway point, and is a wonderful showcase of Sonja’s cunning and brutality. This is heightened by Dearbhla Kelly’s colors. Though the world of Red Sonja is one primarily filled with earth tones, Kelly does not shy away from big, bold splashes of vibrant colors, which in turn gives the book an almost pop-art aesthetic.
Red Sonja #1 was a book was entered into with cautious optimism. The pedigree of the creative team is certainly strong enough to give this first issue a try. Those willing to take the leap will come away enamored and desperately looking for more. Those that pass up Red Sonja will simply be missing out.