The forces of Zamoran Emperor Dragan the Merciless continue their remorseless march into Hyrkania. Queen Sonja rallies her Hyrkanian people in a last ditch effort to thwart the despots plans. Can she succeed? Find out in our Major Spoilers review!
Writer: Mark Russell
Artist: Bob Q
Colorists: Dearbhla Kelly & Bob Q
Editor: Nate Cosby
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Release Date: August 14th, 2019
Previously in Red Sonja: The She-Devil with a Sword is now Queen of Hyrkania. But her realm finds itself at the mercy of Dragan the Merciless, who is intent on creating the greatest Empire of the Hyborian Age. With her army reduced to a remnant, and many of her people held hostage, the chances of Sonja thwarting Dragan’s will seems remote. As with any of the classic swords and sorcery tales though, anything can happen.
AT SIXES AND SEVENS
Red Sonja #7 is the most puzzling book I’ve read all year. At turns brutal and ghastly, it is capable of pivoting in such a disorienting fashion as to leave your head spinning. This approach by writer Mark Russell has to be deliberate, because if it weren’t, hard questions would have to be asked.
I love sword and sorcery fiction. Red Sonja, in part created by Robert E. Howard, is more than just a Conan stand in. For one, we have a lead female character that is more than just capable of wielding a sword, though she’s very good at that. Sonja is also a leader of her people, something that you don’t always see in the genre, which traditionally, has been male led – for every Elric, or Fafhrd or Conan, there aren’t too many female characters, and when there are, they usually are in need of rescue or bedding, or frequently both.
So on that score, Red Sonja is a welcome title. Sure, I’ve got some problems with the adherence to the ridiculous chainmail bikini – other than being eye candy for the fourteen year olds (are there any reading this, though – surely they’re trying to earn their millions playing Fortnite?) it’s just damned impractical and in an era with no central heating, cold. That aside, it’s a welcome change in the genre that we have a woman who leads, without being challenged, and proves herself a capable leader of men time and again.
The other great thing about Red Sonja #7 is illustrator Bob Qs continued excellent artwork. Occasionally there’s a Steve Dillon-esque resemblance, particularly in the facial features, which tend to have that stiff look that marked Dillon’s work. Otherwise, his bold line work and dynamic set pieces give the story a vibrancy that befits the wartime setting. Two images stand out – the cavalry charge that dominates a page, and the funeral pyre for Sonja’s last living family member – the coloring work of Dearbhla Kelly comes into play particularly in these scenes.
My main quibble with Red Sonja #7 is the variability of the writing. Mark Russell is not afraid to depict a barbarian world where horrible things frequently occur. We see men die brutally (and very inventively, it must be said) in combat, we see a memorable scene where the Hyrkanian hostages Dragan has taken are being crushed to death by his ox drawn carriage, we see one of Dragan’s men mutilate himself in service of his Emperor. All that’s a given in a brutal world of dog eat dog.
However, what we also get are comedy lines that seem wholly inappropriate for the material. Sure, you can underscore the horror of a situation with a bit of humor – many great horror movies have moments of levity that complement the scenes of terror. However, in Red Sonja #7, they serve to undermine what is going on. For instance, Dragan spends most of his time acting like King Julian from the Madagascar series of animated movies, making bizarre pronouncements from the throne and generally acting more like a ham than a menacing figure. When you compare that with the horror of the deaths of the Hyrkanian hostages, crushed to death as his massive wagon is pulled along, and you have an issue that left me feeling queasy and deeply puzzled.
It could be an effort at satire, I suppose. After all, monarchy is a topic rich with the possibility of satire. It’s just that Russell makes these hard turns in the script so that there’s no effort to blend the different elements more cohesively – instead we get comedy, then brutality, then comedy, then a bit more brutality. The only place it really works is when a character named Foghorn slices off his nose and ears to prove to Dragan that he would make a great assassin. Yeah, you’re going to have to read that one for yourself.
BOTTOM LINE: MAYBE
I’m not saying don’t read Red Sonja #7. For one, if you’ve stuck with it this long, there’s definitely something about it that is worth persevering with. If you like really good art and a colorist at the top of their game, then this issue is one worth buying. If you can stomach an uneasy mix of comedy and stomach churning violence, then a) bless you and b) go out and buy this issue now. The set-piece fights are well composed and some, but not all, of the writing is quite good.
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Red Sonja #7
Red Sonja #7 is a curate’s egg – some of it is very good, and the rest, not so much. There’s enough sword on sword action here to whet the appetite for more, and if a healthy looking woman in chainmail floats your boat, then climb on board. However, there’s some material here to give others pause, and if you’re not into scenes of violence or body horror, then perhaps avoid.