Conan/Red Sonja #1
Written by Gail Simone and Jim Zub
Art by Dan Panosian and Dave Stewart
Lettering by Richard Starkings and Comicraft
Published by Dark Horse Comics and Dynamite Entertainment
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Barbarian — meet She-Devil.
Reuniting comics’ two most famous sword-swingers, Conan/Red Sonja #1 is a beautifully illustrated take on the classic superhero team-up formula. While this first issue falters a bit into cliche territory in its abrupt ending, the characterization and the artwork are more than enough to entice sword-and-sorcery fans.
Writers Gail Simone and Jim Zub steal the show with Sonja in particular, as she balances compassion with killer instinct in a wonderful scene where she seduces a pompous gladiator promoter into letting her into a walled-off palace. Just the idea of Sonja being disgusted by this slob’s mistreatment of animals feels like a powerful feminist statement in this medieval landscape — Red Sonja is no one’s property to use and discard, and she can empathize with lions and panthers being slaughtered for sport.
While Red Sonja’s introduction is pitch-perfect, Conan is a bit more abrupt. He lacks the feminist twist of Sonja, and unfortunately, Simone and Zub aren’t able to make him big and brash enough to make him feel like a potent archetype. Still, once Conan and Sonja meet, the chemistry is undeniable. There’s a great moment where Conan, always impetuous, dispatches a shouting prince before Sonja can finish interrogating him. “Well, that seems excessive,” she says. “He’d have grown up to be a foul king anyway,” Conan snarks back.
Yet characters aside, the real highlight of this book is the artwork. Dan Panosian’s take on Sonja in particular is breath-taking, as he’s able to have her transition from sexy to battle-ready without ever having to rely on her scantily-clad outfit. Panosian’s storytelling and design is particularly superb, the way he draws the readers’ eyes across the page to establish the gladiator pits and then to establish Sonja. (He does similar work with Conan, as he sucker-punches his way into the palace.) Colorist Dave Stewart also nails this book, really playing up the contrast between cool backgrounds and warm light sources to not just give this book a three-dimensional feel, but to really paint a mood for this quasi-mystical realm.
That said, if there’s one thing this book does stumble in, it’s the ending. You can almost guess what happens with a team-up book like this — the lead characters inevitably fight. And while Simone and Zub do some great work as Conan and Sonja trade verbal barbs, the actual fight from Panosian feels strangely unchoreographed, as opposed to feeling like a true clash of the titans. The fact that the fight also ends so abruptly is another letdown, as we don’t even really get a reason for these two fighters to lay down their weapons with some newfound respect.
While the fisticuffs may falter, there’s plenty that works well with Conan/Red Sonja. These characters have plenty of life in them, and the art portraying them is just top-notch. With three more issues to go, Conan/Red Sonja is a must-read for fans of the genre.