Written by Gail Simone
Art by Walter Geovani
Colors by Adriano Lucas
Published by Dynamite
In her first story on Red Sonja, Gail Simone has revitalized this sword swinging, scantily clad warrior woman for a new generation of fans. She immediately put Red Sonja through the wringer by letting Sonja’s old friend in the fighting pits and current nemesis Annisia exile her and leave for her dead at the end of the first issue. Red Sonja #5 features Red Sonja and her two “bodyguards” running from Annisia’s troops while Sonja is near-death from a plague that has afflicted the people of Hyrcania. Because of all this conflict, Simone has an opportunity to examine Red Sonja at her most vulnerable and heroic. She takes a barbarian warrior goddess and makes her human. This issue also sets up the final clash between Red Sonja and an unexpected foe.
Red Sonja #5 finds a nice balance between action and characterization, and Simone even injects a little bit of humor into the bleak proceedings. For example, Red Sonja goes crazy when she finds out Annisia has banned taverns and alcohol. These moments make Red Sonja a more likable character and help readers connect with a misanthropic, borderline sociopathic character. To make her even more relatable, Simone gives Red Sonja a couple soul-searching monologues and caption boxes about her death and . These exchanges reveal Red Sonja to be a character who embraces and yet fears her upcoming demise. She also explores her relationships with various characters, including the late king Dimath in a well-executed flashback sequence. But this isn’t all navel-gazing. There is the blood-spurting action and cocky taunts that have been Red Sonja’s trademark over the year. Even though it is a little unrealistic that Red Sonja can take out groups of soldiers when she is about to die.
Veteran Red Sonja artist Walter Geovani does a good job conveying the epic and personal in his art. He draws full page spreads of Red Sonja striding into battle, but also does a bunch of close-ups on various characters. Geovani’s photorealism is a great fit for the grim and grimy, sword and sorcery world of Red Sonja. His figures are dirty and careworn in contrast to the water color beauty of the world around him. Colorist Adriano Lucas makes sure each panel has a little bit of the red which is in both the protagonist and antagonist’s names. He also uses softer, lighter colors for the flashback scenes with Red Sonja and Annisia as friends to contrast with their current struggle.
If you like your fantasy worlds to be a bit lived-in and your heroes morally ambiguous, Red Sonja #5 is the comic for you. It is not without its flaws, and hte plot’s internal logic can be weak at times. (Red Sonja has been dying for four straight issues and still has the strength to ambush trained soldiers and trade blows with even greater foes.) However, Simone adds sparkles of wit and sarcasm to her Robert E. Howard-esque dialogue. She also uses caption boxes to show Red Sonja’s wry remarks about her upcoming death and the people around her. This issue succeeds at developing its lead character while also setting up an epic conclusion with a few well-placed plot twists and flashbacks.