Red Sonja #9

This was an interesting issue. Sonja is collecting the third artisan for the dying pharoah’s last party. This time, the person that she is seeking is a high priced prostitute. Sonja’s been all work and no play and the beautiful specimens in the brothel are a sight for the travel worn, cold and horny Sonja. But the madam tosses out Sonja’s muddy, saddle-rashed arse. Sonja has recently been robbed and can’t afford to pay.

Sonja scales the wall and breaks into Aneva’s room. She momentarily reflects that Aneva is the “Princess of Passion” that she sells her body. “I suppose it’s not much different than what I do, what any soldier does.” And the truth of that really struck me. The complaints about sex work are usually: “but that’s selling your body” (as if at any job you are not selling a piece of yourself), “You’re opening yourself up to violence/injury or disease”. The comparison is also made often between sex work and modelling or athletics, but in the case of expected violence: soldier would be a closer match. 

Obviously, I have thought about this before, but for those who haven’t it is intriguing.

Aneva is hesitant to leave, she’s trying to unionize the escorts so that they can protect themselves from exploitation, theft and assault. 

Sonja tells Aneva about the pharaoh and his slaves. She needs Aneva’s help to see that the slaves are freed. Aneva agrees and they set out. 

Sonja’s been feeling the negative effects of herown life style and agrees to let Aneva give her a makeover. Sonja is distraught, she could have been this beautiful if her tribe wasn’t killed, if she wasn’t enslaved, if she wasn’t driven to the life she leads. The pair get caught up and when the greedy and vengeful Ferox arrives. Ferox is the man who claims to protect the prostitutes but abuses them himself and takes a cut of their income. He sees Sonja dolled up and assumes she is another “plaything.”

“My name, you lackwit doughy-faced ape. Is Red Sonja.”

A melee ensues and Sonja strikes down Ferox’s men, but it is Aneva who takes out Ferox himself. 

Turns out Aneva was named Toa, she grew up on a farm and her brothers taught her how to fight. She was born poor, a skinny kid who worked herself to the bone. Sex work was a way out, but she always dreamed of a life like Sonja’s, of prestige, of rescuing damsels.

So the two had more in common than they thought.

Issue #9 touched on a few interesting sociological concepts. Legitimizing sex work, appearance/beauty norms and sexism, the myth of free will.

If sex workers were able to unionize it would be viewed differently. If sex work was viewed as work instead of criminal behavior, victims of abuse, robbery or harrassment would be able to report without fear of repercussion from law enforcement or reporting from health care workers. Sex work is just that: work. Many people in entry level jobs find their employment exclusionary, exploitative and leaving them with low chance for social mobility.  So how different is it

And in regards to my statement “the myth of free will” how much of a choice do people have in their own destiny? Now this isn’t dire, and this isn’t 100% BUT, as referenced by Sonja and Toa. Aneva is at risk of abuse and exploitation in the brothel, correctly; she places the fault on the abuser and not the victims and seeks to improve working conditions. Her alternative, the way she was raised, saw her already as hungry, struggling and at risk for victimhood by theft. Sonja never got to be feminine, nurturing or excessive because of the tragedies that befell her family. In flashback in earlier issues, we saw that she was not born to be lethal, in fact she wouldn’t kill a rabbit for supper. She would have been soft, but her life circumstances wouldn’t allow it. Both women became who they are because it necessary for their own survival. So there’s a little musing on agency vs destiny. Free will is a myth because everything we go through influences the way our brains make decisions, we don’t have as many options as some would want us to believe. That’s why after Sonja’s family was killed she didn’t decide “Oh hey, I’m going to be a high priced escort”

And on to sexism and conventionally beauty norms, this is actually coming full circle: this discussion came up recently in regards to Lara Croft’s “breast reduction” -what girl’s with big boobs can’t have adventures and PhDs? or in the case of the Big Bang Theory’s bubbly dreamer airhead and pretty girl Penny versus the genius and frumpy Farrah Fowler, or actual Farrah Fowler actress Mayim Bailik versus pretty redhead science mascot Kari Byron (both here). Or: in the actual world, Iowa Supreme Court ruled it was legal for a dentist to fire his assistant because she was too beautiful. So from both men or women, as a society conventionally attractive women are view as being less smart, less capable and beauty becomes a liability in professional careers. Sonja can still sling a sword even after her Cinderella makeover (if Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother were a sex worker).

Think about it.

Red Sonja #8

Sonja is still on the quest to bring the legendary artisans together for the dying emperor’s final bash (for which he will set free 1,000 slaves as reward). Red Sonja has been travelling with the highbrow cook that she saved from the swamp. She’s in pursuit of the great entertainer the Beast Lord, who she had previously sworn to kill. She’s also facing some.. uh, “hungers” that the cook won’t indulge. Every moment of this is perfection. 

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This page (is probably too small to read) but the end when she says “I’m Red Sonja, I’m everyone’s type” LOVE IT

When they arrive at the festival to recruit the Beast Lord, he is in the middle of a barbaric show involving abused and hungry hunting dogs and a bear raised in captivity to fight for it’s master. It’s cruel and grotesque. The utilitarian Sonja makes no qualms about digesting animals but watching them suffer so enrages her. Mid performance, she draws back an arrow seemingly intending to kill Beast Lord, but instead she provides a quick death for the bear. This earns the cook and Sonja a trip to the dungeon. She tries to climb out (Gribaldi could have escaped this fate if he’d used his clout, but he does not wish to consort with an animal abuser- I know it’s a “vegan thing” but I would like to point out that last issue, the cook fed baby lizards to swamp people and incurred the wrath of large humanoid-lizards, so not exactly a poster child for causing animals grief… but I digress). Sonja tries to climb out but Beast Lord comes along to smack talk and stomp on her hand. Ouch.

They are visited by Rat, Beast Lord’s assistant -and the one that the animals really love. She says that she hates him and that she will set Sonja and the cook free. She meant half of that. They end up in the arena, about to be killed for sport. Sonja HAS been down that road. The cook blames Rat, but Sonja spares her. She didn’t really have a choice. Rat, in turn, triple crosses everyone and sets the animals out. They attack their abuser first, but they are hungry animals and it’s only a matter of time. Beast Lord dies. But Sonja opts to bring Rat to provide entertainment (and gets a playful lick on the cheek from a tiger). 2 of 5 collected! And on to the next!

My favorite aspect currently is Walter Geovani’s interpretation of Sonja, she has a regular sized waist, thick thighs a body befitting of a travelling sword slinger. She’s gorgeous but not girly.. and on this particular journey… she’s ditched the bikini in favor of a Xena-esque dress. The art is amazing and splendid, #7 took place in a grimy swamp, this one in a more decadent and exotic setting, lush colors and battle scenes that were busy but not disjointed.  

Frison’s cover is fantastic. Minimal but very very ominous.

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Legends of Red Sonja #4

The Grey Riders continue on their mission to get revenge against Red Sonja. They head into a village where they ask around.

Subscription cover by Frank Thorne

Subscription cover by Frank Thorne

Jenny’s Story: Parallax by Mercedes Lackey is told by a young woman who recalls being taken by perverts. Nei Ruffino creates images that show both what happened: On one side, panels lined with glitzy metallic accents show the girl in a tiara accosted by men with demon horns, the panel on the right shows scrappy dirty thieves and a messy haired boyish kid. Them becoming “sisters in arms” vs Sonja making Jenny haul the dead bodies. Nei Ruffino killed it on this one, the glittering memory vs the gritty truth, the art perfectly conveys this in a unique way.

The town considers Red Sonja an ally. And the Grey Riders are not amused. They continue into a forest. But the forest is home to a powerful being.

We see that Sonja has met this creature, this GOD before. God of the green, forest god, she rescued him and they shared a night of passion, after which he created a child in her image (actually, she looks like Poison Ivy, but whatever).

Little Red and her dad.

Little Red and her dad.

 

Very cool sort of gender role reversal. Sonja’s all “what the heck, why not have sex with a god” and he’s all “I want to have her babies”

Very rad. Marjorie M Liu, author of (among other things) urban fantasy series Dirk and Steele as well as Marvel’s X-23 series, circa 2010-2012. (I have a thing for X-23 right now, so I might have to find these), Phil Noto -who also teamed up with Liu on X-23- provided the art here and we get a more sultry and stunning Sonja, light and shadows bounce off characters and lush backgrounds beautifully and provide an ethereal feel.

Next month’s issue is the conclusion of this 40th anniversary celebration on our favorite chainmail bikini clad ginger, Legends of Fiction’s Legends of Red Sonja. At the very end of this one we see Red Sonja protecting the forest still taking out the Riders one by one. Will her daughter help chew them up? Or something else? I think that’s the most fun part of this series, you really never knew what you were getting next. Something serious, something funny, cartoon-y or gritty, magical, a treasure hunt, a scorned lover, a story told through the lens of jealousy or admiration.

Legends of Red Sonja #3 + Red Sonja #7

Red Sonja double review special:

With Legends of Red Sonja #3, we jump right in to “The Palace of the Necromancer” which was written by Leah Moore. Writing comic books is in Leah Moore’s DNA, Alan Moore is her father, and she has written for the Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes comic book series; proving that she’s no stranger to writing strong lead characters. In this tale a traveler has joined up with the Grey Riders to hunt Sonja because long ago Sonja offered to destroy Zaul. Zaul is a necromancer caught in stasis, draining the life from nearby crops, who is guarding a vast treasure. The man breaks the spell and a hoarde of zombies rises. He blames it on Sonja, of course. Not on the fact that he’s a greedy hog who couldn’t resist the treasure. Nicola Scott’s Gertrelle’s Lament finds a witch women who scapegoats Sonja as well. The old woman was piecing together an old and powerful ritual, only to have the sacrifice made into Sonja’s supper. This story was my fave in the issue, the art by Doug Holgate was quirky and cartoony and fit well with the attitude of that particular ‘legend’. In “Gerd’s Story: What lies beneath” written by Rhianna Pratchett, art by Naniiebim, Sonja is in her alternate costume: full sleeve chainmail and red hotpants. This was long ago, when Sonja was new to being a warrior. Gerd made Sonja her chainmail bikini: diversion tactic. Anyway, Red Sonja infiltrates the Grey Riders while they are deciding whether or not to keep hunting her, and she kills the leader with an arrow through the eye she didn’t take.

Red Sonja #7, Gail Simone and Walter Geovani triumphantly return with a new story arc and new mission for Sonja. She’s sent to recruit to world’s 6 greatest artisans for a shindig for a dying ruler, Samala. The utilitarian Sonja doesn’t care for such festivities, but Samala says that if she is successful, he will set over 1000 slaves free. So she goes to a swamped area inhabited by cannibal foodies in search of the world’s greatest chef. They have him captive. Red Sonja gets followed by the bogmen who criticize her dinner of rabbit on a stick, which she kills one with, and through a series of events she gets captured and put on the menu. She meets the cook, Gribaldi, and finds that the cook has been deceiving the bogmen and feeding them infant reptiles and setting the captured free. All hell breaks loose when the giant gator people get wind of their cooked young. “There’s the problem with exotic cuisine, sometimes, it simply refuses to be eaten.” Sonja keeps herself and the cook on the top of the food chain!

Red Sonja #6

After the big review in #5 that Bazrat was behind bringing Sonja and Annisia together as combatants, the two women are still in the arena. Bazrat, with a woman at his side, one whose husband was killed by Bazrat; reveals that he spread “the plague” to destroy armies that stood in his way. Worse, he assembled Annisia’s army without her knowledge, so she has killed for him. Again.

Annisia, haunted by those she killed in battle, and now those that she has murdered, loses her already weak grip on reality. She lashes out at Red Sonja. Then at Bazrat. Generals Ayla and Nias corner Annisia’s soldiers and threaten them with flaming arrows.

It happens quickly, alliances made and broken, curses, threats, avenging those long gone and recently deceased.  The last issue of the first story arc ends both in sadness and celebration for Sonja.

Red Sonja gets her vengeance against the one who killed Dimath. Ayla and Nias become full grown bad-asses. Annisia gets some peace. The Taverns get reopened.

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Dar Annisia was certainly a complicated “villain” (I’m using the term loosely). She thought she was doing the right thing, she couldn’t live with what she had done and it drove her crazy. Real crazy. Massive survivors guilty, PTSD. And she was furious with Sonja for being able to move on. But how much has Sonja “moved on”? Sonja drinks too much and can’t stay in one place too long, she has trouble relating to other people. She deals with her past better than Annisia, but that’s all.

The ending of this issue was such a surprise that I don’t even want to explain too much, it’s just better in color.

Certainly a great wrap up for the first story arc. Sonja’s past is behind her now. Enemies vanquished. I wonder what’s up next for our red haired warrior. And I do hope that Nias and Ayla make an appearance again soon.

This came out on my BDay, Gail Simone tweeted HBD to me!

This came out on my BDay, Gail Simone tweeted HBD to me!

Legends of Red Sonja #2

The Grey Riders are still hunting down Red Sonja, ready to exact their revenge for her doings against them. 

Meljean Brook’s “The Undefeated” was my favorite of the two tall tales. Told to the Grey Riders hunting Sonja through the eyes of The Beheader, a fierce warrior; Red’s armor gets even skimpier. He says that her prowess in inflated, that the stories take on a life of their own. A drunken wager between The Beheader and Red Sonja lead them on a quest to pry a ruby from the jaws of an elephant beast. The Beheader paints her as a coward who hides behind men. The ruby around his neck proves he won the wager, right? Maybe Red Sonja isn’t as fierce as lore makes her… uh huh..

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In Tamora Pierce’s story, the Grey Riders are greeted by a child whose family has recently employed Sonja to protect her mother, a Goddess. Cassandra James’ art here was rather weird. Belly buttons in odd places, Sonja’s face crooked. It didn’t have the swagger of the first story. Interestingly, Red’s tale by Tamora Pierce is told through the eyes of a young girl, since Pierce is well known for the Young Adult series the Beka Cooper trilogy and Song of the Lioness featuring young female protags, it certainly added another dimension. 

Through out all this, Sonja is lurking in the shadows, making sure the Grey Riders are drawn off course. 

Next Month: January 22nd: Rhianna Pratchett, author of the Lara Croft video game origin story entertains us with a “legend” along with writer of Sherlock Holmes/Damsels/Raise the Dead Dynamite comics superstar Leah Moore. Nichola Scott, who worked with Gail Simone on Birds of Prey makes some art.

Red Sonja #5

Check out the Becky Cloonan variant cover ❤

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Guards under the command of “Red Annisia” are lounging over a campfire when they see an enemy approach, the decapitated heads of their fellow soldiers are thrown in front of them. It’s an ambush. It must be an army.

“Verdes. It’s not an Army. It’s the curse of the Hyrkanians. It’s the Devil! The Devil! The Red Sonja!”

Red Sonja is back from the brink of death, still smelling of the dirt of her own grave.

None the less, she accepts the men’s surrender and orders a meeting with Annisia. She’s still taking medicine sent from the new King (Dimath’s son, as Dimath has fallen) and travelling with her two young body guards. They take her to see his grave, she is outraged that he is not buried in a way that befits his status, as the only monarch she ever met worth a horse’s ass she demands that he deserved better. And maybe he did. But the girls explain that Annisia ordered them to burn his body with the horses and the sisters did the best they could.

Sonja remembers Dimath freeing her and Annisia, of him calling them daughters and warning them to not let the evil that was done to them become who they are. It’s good advice if you can take it.

Then they set off again to get the rest of the cure for Sonja. In an area near The Sundered Board, a tavern… where she will go… for purposes of rest. Not just for drinking, but mostly for drinking.

Nias: “Sadly, O Queen of all fermented beverages …the hated Dark Annisia shut down all taverns and public houses.” 

Annisia told the townspeople they should pray and contemplate their sins. As she does. Annisia, on a cliff, talks to the ghosts of those she’s killed. They are lonely. They need more dead to keep them company. Limbless bodies with swords through their skulls, men with arrows jutting from eye sockets haunt her. She gets news that Sonja has returned and orders that all the men, women and children of Patra be locked in a tower and burned alive. 

Ayla and Nias try to prove their worth, acting as generals, insisting they will take back Patra and the townspeople will be safe. 

Sonja and Annisia suit up properly! and go to face off in the arena where they were made. Annisia, with her massive frigging survivor’s guilt reminds us again how she got so damn evil, she felt abandoned, Sonja left her with the dead. And Sonja moved on, she was embraced, she became a hero. Sonja tells her it was her own choice to do the evil she has done. She’d hated spilling blood in the arena. Dark annisia is not the woman Sonja loved, the one she called sister.

But then: the two discover that they are not alone. 

They’ve played right into the hand of King Bazrat, the Zamoran who ordered them to kill, who ordered their deaths 3 years ago. 

With a proper enemy, will they be able to set things right? Will they team up? Will Bazrat’s death be the last that Annisia’s ghosts need? Will Annisia sacrifice herself for Sonja the way she planned to 3 years before?

Ahhhhh! So many questions.

Next: Finale!