Turn Back the Pages is a biweekly monthly feature where I spotlight a comic that is not fresh and new. It may have come out a few months ago or even a few years ago. Maybe it was hyped and popular, or maybe it was an underappreciated gem. Whatever the case, it’ll be a great comic that’s well worth a read.
My first exposure to Red Sonja was that weird movie from the 80s, so while I was aware the character existed, I wasn’t a particular fan. The chainmail bikini is not a fantasy trope I generally enjoy, and I doubt I’d have been interested when the comic series was announced if the writer hadn’t been Gail Simone—one of my all-time favorite people in comics.
I caught previews and snippets of the issues online and was hooked. When the first trade paperback came out, I had to buy it.
Best decision ever.
Red Sonja is a badass. She slaughters bandits while drunk and half-asleep, leads armies, and cuts gladiators to pieces. She’s absolutely terrifying in battle, but with a softer side and witty humor so that she’s by no means a one-dimensional killing machine. She lives in a brutal world and has survived tragedy and torment, but damn, does she know how to have a good time.
The trouble with protagonists this awesome is that it can be hard to believe they’re ever truly in danger. They just slaughtered a dozen men single-handedly without breaking a sweat, but the story expects us to worry when another dozen show up? This comic doesn’t have that problem. It pits Sonja against an antagonist just as fierce and deadly as she is: Dark Annisia.
She’s my favorite kind of villain: a former friend of the hero who fell from grace. Sonja and Annisia used to fight side-by-side, and Sonja just loves and respects this incredible woman so much, but Annisia is killing innocent people and is on her way to wipe out an entire kingdom, so she needs to be stopped.
And that’s not the worst of it for Sonja. This comic isn’t afraid to take her to some dark and hopeless places—which, of course, makes it all the more awesome when she rises up victorious. Rescuing girls from getting eaten by a group of monstrous fish people is one thing—doing so while blind and half-dead from plague is another.
The side characters are fun. Twins Ayla and Nias are a standout as Sonja’s sidekicks/bodyguards. And there are quite a few villains you hate so much that it’s extremely satisfying to watch them get run through with a sword. But no other character comes close to outshining the glory that is Red Sonja.
If you’re even remotely interested in the sword and sorcery genre, you’ll probably love this. Fans of action/adventure and fantasy should check it out, too, and you can get the first volume here.
So grab yourself a beer and prepare for battle. Red Sonja is a truly epic tale.