Red Sonja #6
Gail Simone, Walter Geovani, Adriano Lucas
With Red Sonja #6, Gail Simone completes her first arc with Dynamite’s premiere heroine. Simone’s best books can combine adventure storytelling and high-powered melodrama like no comic writer since early Chris Claremont, and it seems clear that she is aiming for precisely that mixture in Red Sonja. Do it right, and you have a perfect blend of character-driven internal drama and action-driven external drama; do it wrong, and you have an awkwardly-paced mess of motivations and slapdash action. Red Sonja #6 – and much of the entire first arc, “Queen of Plagues” – leans more towards ‘mess’ than masterpiece, though it is not without redeeming moments.
The biggest problem I have here is that the issue is about as subtle as a wrench to the face. The Butcher, Annisia, Tiath – they’re all cardboard cut-outs, not characters, simplistic motivations and obvious metaphors defining everything about them. What happened to the Gail Simone who utterly redefined Catman in about 5 pages? Aside from a few dialogue tics, there’s little evidence of the woman behind Birds of Prey and Secret Six here. Is there any doubt whatsoever to the Butcher’s fate from page one – from the final panel of page one, in fact? To Annisia’s? Did Tiath’s actions surprise anyone particularly?
Similarly, Walter Geovani tends towards big, expressive, exaggerated movement and action, which doesn’t jive that well with the more grounded sword-and-sorcery world Red Sonja inhabits – or, at least, with the fraction of it that Simone has been exploring in this arc. He can draw expressive characters, but this issue demonstrates a weakness in making them move, in pacing and laying out an action sequence. Geovani’s best page in the issue is very probably Nias and Ayla’s garrison takeover, largely because it’s framed as a dramatic character-based reveal and cuts out before the actual action.
Ultimately, while Red Sonja isn’t a bad book, it is a slightly disappointing one. Outside of Red Sonja #3, the series’ stand-out issue to date, Simone hasn’t really brought too much of the wit and unpredictability that has defined her best work. It’s smaller work than I’d like, and while Simone has, I think, a clear enough handle of Sonja to make it work for most readers, very few other characters stand out – even those clearly meant to, such as Sonja’s saviors, Nias and Ayla. Simone’s first arc had some high points, but ultimately, it feels far too rushed to have much weight.