“Tall tales and Swords”
Red Sonja: The She-Devil with a sword has been around since she was created in 1973. (Which I love how the number of this issue is an homage to that particular fact.) She’s been a brave warrior, a fierce lover and loyal comrade all through out her existence. Her stories are the stuff that “tall tales” are made of. Which is exactly why I loved this book. It’s a collection of tall tales of sorts, each showcasing different aspects to the She Devil’s personality so that you could get the impression that these would be the type of stories told by friends of hers or others whom merely came into contact with her on their daily travels. The stories are told well. Some of them have adventure and bloodshed while others have heart. Since this is anniversary issue done in anthology style we are not bogged down by long-standing continuity that might be found in other current comics on the shelves today. (Which works out great for me since I am a big fan of the character but admittedly have not been an avid follower of her exploits throughout the years)
Our first story opens with Sonja tracking a caravan through the trail that is transporting suspicious cargo. She views the caravan from afar before making her move. She decides to ambush the marauders, which ends up quite badly. For them. We get some great moments and dialogue here as she kicks the driver off of the moving wagon and says “One side fellow.. I need your wagon more than you do.” This indignation of course draws the ire of the leader of the pack. The warrior decides to attack her head on. While he holds his own at first it is shown that he cannot handle the fierce barbarian and she relieves him of his hands via her blade. My favorite moment of the story is when after she disarms (literally) their leader she tells them she won’t take it personally if they feel that they have not brought enough men to handle her in combat. She then gives this mischievous smile and the remaining warriors quickly retreat. Such a great scene.
In the second story we follow Sonja at a local watering dive, enjoying a brew while she is propositioned by a rather untimely beast. He makes his intentions to Sonja quite clear and which she declines and quietly walks off. Having been embarrassed the beast makes his way after the fire haired beauty to make her change her mind. (Sure that always works, sigh) Sonja being the smart cookie she is, realizes this is about to occur and she makes her way to the next bridge and stops. She readies her weapon for conflict and all of a sudden behind her a larger troll rises from beneath the bridge! (I know it’s a stereotype here, but it just works.) The troll says he’s the new troll of the bridge and thus sworn to eat any human that dares crosses it. Sonja says fair enough but there is a brute twice her size chasing her, perhaps he could wait for that meal. Sonja gleefully takes back a top her horse and sets off. She gets only a few yards up the way when she can hear the sound of the troll and her deranged suitor in battle. She then doubles back and just as the troll is going to enjoy a meal, he shrieks loudly as a sword pierces his eye and he falls backwards. Sonja then strikes him with her blade twice more to give a fair warning. The troll does not heed and she finishes him off swiftly. Upon the troll’s demise she tells her unwanted admirer, that there is “No need to thank me.” To which he tries yet another advance. (Jeez some guys don’t know that no means no) A quick shot to the barbarians “treasure chest” and he finds himself down on the ground mating with the road. This was pretty funny. It showed Sonja’s softer side by offering to save her adversary from a grim death, but then relighted her fiery spirit when she knocked him out. Two stories in and it’s just plain fun.
Our next tale finds Sonja deep in the mountains of winter, trying to keep warm when she spots a cabin. The cabin contains a couple and their ungrateful son. The couple take Sonja in no questions asked and they clothe her and feed her accordingly. Sonja takes notice this is the first time she’s felt safe and cared for since the slaughter of her own family. She chokes back tears thinking “Don’t let them see you cry here Sonja. Not now not ever.” Character moments like this go a long way into making Sonja likeable from her battle tested exterior, and enrich her great character. The son gets jealous and does not like the attention being bestowed upon the beautiful stranger, and in a fit of anger lashes out at both of his parents. Sonja upset that this young man can not see what he has in his family, wants him to realize the error of his ways. He then strikes his own mother, which makes Sonja furious and confronts him. He challenges her to a test of wills with his blade to an unarmed Sonja and she obliges. He makes his way to do battle in the front yard when he turns his back a moment and Sonja packs a snowball with a large rock. With his back turned, she hurls the rock at him and takes him off his feet. Sonja quickly disarms him and has the young man at her mercy. Since she views him as a creature devoid of honor, she marks him for death. Before she can strike the killing blow, the boy’s father intervenes with his bow aimed squarely at Sonja’s head. He and his wife thank her for bringing them small joy, but that is their blood and will handle it themselves. Sonja reluctantly agrees and honors their wish to leave this place. They tell her to keep the blade as it will suit better in her hands than in the clutches of their fool of a son. It is bittersweet as she takes her leave because she realizes that Ori their son, no matter how much of a mess up he is and how much he may prove to be in the future he will always have a place with family. She stows her blade and makes her way on the road not sure of what’s to follow but crystal clearly sure what she’s lost. Very poignant tale, indeed.
Overall: The rest of the issue is rounded out with a few more short tales. One depicting Sonja on trial for a murder (Written by Gail Simone! of Batgirl and Birds of Prey fame) the other with her being captive and forced to be the love slave for a disgusting wealthy patron, and last but not least in a short silent tale written by Cullen Bunn, with no words whatsoever and art by Jonathan Lau (Who must have studied Frank Frazetta, because each panel is gorgeous stuff) makes this quite the collection of talent in one place. So like any good birthday party you want to hit the major bullet points:
Honor the guest of day properly: check
Throw a good feast: check
Have some entertainment: check
Leave people talking with a story: check
I’m surprised it took me so long to come back to these pages, but now that I’ve crashed the party so to speak I will most definitely be a regular. Great story, good dialogue, fantastic art, what’s not to love? I only have one question. Who does Sonja’s dry cleaning? All the blood spilled she should look into that. Dynamite Entertainment blew me away here with their homage to in my opinion the best action/fantasy heroine of all time. Raise a tall glass to this one! Here! Here!
Story: Eric Trautmann, Roy Thomas, Luke Lieberman, Gail Simone, David Walker and Cullen Bunn Art: Ivan Rodriguez, Rich Buckler, Kewbar Baal, Bilquis Evely, Jonathan Lau
Story: 8 Art: 9 Overall: 9 Recommendation: Strong Buy
Dynamite Entertainment provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review