Good but not as good as #2
#3 of Amy Chu’s Red Sonja run sees the She-Devil of the Hyrkanian Steppes still in modern day New York City, with no idea of how she came to be there and no foreseeable means of returning to her own era but she’s made a valuable friend in the police department in Max … a friend with his own connection to the Hyborian Era.
Hot on the heels of #2, IMO the most fun issue of ‘Red Sonja’ in years, this issue gets Sonja back on track investigating why she’s in the Big Apple and how she can get home. Feedback for this issue hasn’t been as positive as for #2 and to be honest, I don’t think it’s close to being as strong.
Carlos Gomez’ art is still excellent, with great character work and effective tackling of a number of different environments, from Max’ home in Brooklyn to the bar from #2, from the Temple of Dendur at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the freeway to a university library. For the first time, I spotted a couple of inconsistencies in character scale … Sonja’s supposed to be six feet tall but in one panel, she’s going nose to nose with another character whilst almost doing the splits. Overall, though, Gomez’ art is still great and really suits this comic. His characters are vibrant and the detail in his backgrounds is phenomenal. Mohan’s colours are still a highlight and Simon Bowland’s lettering is spot-on, with some really fun use of sound effects, such as when Sonja kisses her newly-returned sword.
Amy Chu still injects a load of humour into the story … it’s far more effortlessly funny than Gail Simone’s Sonja stories ever were. Knowing how popular Sonja is amongst cosplayers, it tickled me to see the subject of cosplay raised with the warrior-woman in a story. Spike’s dry humour is a great contrast to everyone else in the story, Holly’s endearingly ditzy (and apparently based on a real life friend of Chu’s), and Sonja’s banter and general relationship with Max is loads of fun. Max almost treats the She-Devil like a child at times, because of her lack of subtlety, but Sonja is impatient with Max’ own clowning around and cautiousness, although you can tell she’s genuinely fond of Max (in a sisterly way). Last issue, while Sonja demonstrated her incredible physical prowess, she was somewhat hamstrung by being amongst strangers for much of the comic and by not being able to speak English, so we didn’t get much of the trademark Sonja bluster. In this issue, we get much more of Sonja referring to herself in the third person and displaying great pride and confidence. The final scene in particular stands out, with the She-Devil point-blank refusing to hide with Max from the Agents of Kulan Gath and instead striding right into their midst, even after promising Max she’ll do her best not to kill any of them. That is a great Red Sonja moment but is balanced out by many quieter moments, which show that Amy’s Sonja is far more nuanced than Gail Simone’s one-dimensional take.
Where the issue fell down is pacing. We zoom from one scene to another but for me, spend too long in certain areas and not long enough in others. While the art at the museum is gorgeous, too much time is taken getting Sonja into the fight with the Agents of Gath and when that happens, a double page of about 9 panels is devoted to the fight. It would’ve been easy to have taken out a page of the build-up and added it to the scrap. There are inconsistencies here too … one of the Agents’ leaders yells that Sonja must be taken alive but is waving a gun at her. Earlier in the comic, nearly a full page is spent on Sonja barrelling into Gath’s Agents and rescuing Max but there’s nothing more to the brawl … the Agents simply hold back for several panels while Sonja and Max jump on a motorbike and speed away. One major criticism I have of this series so far is that it’s been really light on fighting for a Red Sonja story, with only a few panels of combat per issue. I understand it’s not as acceptable for Sonja to slice peoples’ heads off in 2017 New York as it is in her own time and world but surely she’s not short on unarmed combat ability? Last issue showed that she’s more than a match for any man in terms of brute strength, presumably her agility and quickness are just as impressive?
The library scene could’ve also lost a page, with this time being used to explain just what Gault’s done that’s so dastardly or just a panel or two showing what he’s been up to in the run-up to the gala dinner at the museum. There hasn’t been much of Gault up to now and a few critics have mentioned that they’ve been told he’s evil but not been given a reason to root against him, other than his possibly being responsible for displacing Sonja in time and space. I’m sure we’ll hear a lot more about his motivation in the coming issues but a couple of teasers before now wouldn’t have gone amiss.
The time spent at the bar is fine but I question why a half-page was devoted to showing how good Sonja looks in modern clobber, when she’s back in her regular outfit after 4 or 5 pages. While I’m no prude, a couple of the panels on the first page seemed gratuitous to me … either cover up Sonja in a towel or let her go the full monty. To be fair to Chu, her writer’s commentary indicates that she intended the She-Devil to be nude in the first panel but the higher-ups at Dynamite objected to it. The position of her hand in the other panel in strange though, as is her posture, and neither would do much to cover up her assets.
Sonja’s aptitude for picking up new things is also insane in this issue. In #2, she learned enough words to order a beer for herself and to tell people her name and she figured out how to use a remote control but in this issue, she’s almost fluent in spoken English halfway through (only a day after last issue, don’t forget), can also READ English and can also drive a motorbike just by having watched Max do so the night before (with a blinding hangover, no less).
For all these niggles, though, this was still a fun issue and the pluses outweighed the minuses. It was just more in line with #1 in quality than #2, and was hostage to getting Sonja back on track and rushing to the showdown with Gault. This is still the best Red Sonja run in ages and is a breath of fresh air to a character that’s been in more than her fair share of overly sombre stories in the past.