Review: Legends of Red Sonja

by GregFahlgren

Reviewing the start of Gail Simone’s amazing run on Red Sonja as she teams with a host of all-stars for a series of stories for everyone’s favourite She-Devil.

Hello folks! Been a while since I’ve written a review, but my last graphic novel was so good I want to rave about it for a bit.

The concept for this book was to tell a series of stories from different points in Sonja’s life, revealing (in part anyway) what shaped her into the warrior we see today. But how exactly did this awesome project come to be? I asked Gail Simone this on tumblr, and here’s what she had to say:

“...I remember thinking about the ‘braided novels’ of the WILD CARDS series of superhero/fantasy universe, wherein a bunch of great writers put together a book made of connected, but separate stories. I always thought that was a cool format, something we don’t see often in comics.
I didn’t want to do just an anthology. The sword and sorcery genre is full of those, including things like Savage Tales, So my thinking was for me to come up with the main story, of Sonja being hunted for betraying a prince, and I would write the framing sequences to put it all together

Then I just wildly asked all my favorite female authors. I wanted to draw from a wide group, of comics, prose, television, gaming, and elsewhere, and I just shot for the stars and asked the biggest names and best people I could think of.

The amazing thing about it was, we hear all the time that there ‘aren’t enough women writers,’ when companies are asked why they don’t hire more. It took me MAYBE fifteen minutes to make a list of names, and MAYBE half an hour to write them all, and in ONE AFTERNOON we had a dream line-up of writers that will likely never happen again.
So, I am very skeptical when companies say they can’t make this happen. I made it happen in the time it takes to watch an episode of Star Trek…”

Gail’s simple idea became a reality, and with an all-star team of creators, Legends of Red Sonja was born, filled with stories of adventure, drinking, humour, a little romance, and a lot of VULGAR behavior (those of you who follow Gail on Twitter will get that joke).

Our Creators

Sounds Ominous, Doesn't It?

The list of creators is a long one if you haven’t figured that out yet. The main story and every “Legend” were written and drawn by a different team. To summarize:

Main Story: written by Gail Simone, drawn by Jack Jadson

Legends stories:

  1. Eyes of the Howling Soul: written by Nancy A. Collins, drawn by Noah Salonga
  2. La Sonja Ross: written by Devin Kalile Grayson, drawn by Carla Speed McNeil
  3. The Undefeated: written by Meljean Brook, drawn by Mel Rubi
  4. Double-Edged: written by Tamora Pierce, drawn by Cassandra James
  5. The Palace of the Necromancer: Written by Leah Moore, drawn by Tula Lotay
  6. Gertrelle’s Lament: written by Nicola Scott, drawn by Doug Holgate
  7. Rhianna Pratchett, drawn by Naniiebim
  8. Jenny’s Story: Parallax: written by Mercedes Lackey, drawn by Nei Ruffino
  9. She Lives Still: written by Marjorie M. Liu, drawn by Phil Noto
  10. The Pazyryk: written by Blair Butler, drawn by Jim Calafiore
  11. The Play’s the Thing: written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, drawn by Valentine De Landro

Colours by Salvatore Aiala Studios

Letters by Simon Bowland

Collection Cover by Jay Anacleto

Edited by Molly Mahan

Of this super group of awesomeness, Gail told me:

“...And we got the best. Kelly Sue DeConnick and Marjorie Liu are just two of the best writers in comics, period. And I love Blair Butler and Leah Moore’s writing, two writers I just felt deserved more exposure. Rhianna Pratchett is an extraordinary game writer.

I also wanted to bring back two writers whose comics work meant a lot to me who had sort of left the industry; Nancy A. Collins and Devin Greyson. I am very proud that both of them have continued making comics, Nancy with Vampirella and more, and Devin with a  secret, cool project not yet announced.

And it was a huge deal to get some of the best prose writers in fantasy. Jonatha Brook, the hugely successful fantasy/romance author, and Mercedes Lackey, who is simply a force of nature in the genre, and the amazing Tamora Pierce, who is in all ways wonderful.”

With such an impressive team on hand, there was a concern within me that the book would be a let-down... boy was I wrong.

The Story

Getting to Know Sonja

As you can tell by the LONG list of creators, this is not your typical comic book story. In fact, there are two Legends in each issue along with the main story. That story, as Gail described above, is what ties the rest of the stories together. This framing devise allows the story’s main villains, the Pale Riders, to hear or tell the Legends of Red Sonja during their quest to find and kill the She-Devil.

Who are the Pale Riders you ask? Without spoilers, they are a group of twelve of the worst murderers and killers in Sonja’s world, a few having even encountered her before (as a few of the Legends detail. These twelve men and women hunt Sonja to kill her as vengeance for the death of their leader’s Prince, who had hired Sonja for a job some time before our story took place.

Following the Riders, we meet people that had encountered the She-Devil with a Sword over the years, from the very beginnings of her career to more recent adventures. By using this technique, our team of writers and artists take us on a journey in Sonja’s history, each new tale revealing another piece of her past, and with it, another piece of her character.. These stories are heartfelt, funny, vulgar, and at times ridiculous, but above all they are fun, each one making me fall in love with the ornery, horny, and somewhat stinky warrior woman bit by bit.

The Art

Red Haired Beauty

With such a great team of writers, the artists had to step up to the plate to capture the look and feel of each individual story. To that that end, our super group filled Sonja’s world with life, each story’s art matching the story of its words in perfect harmony. Each story had a unique style, making each one feel as important as the next.

The characters especially were beautifully drawn. The Riders depicted as the evil, amoral killers that they were. On the contrary, in each story Sonja was beautiful, fierce, caring beyond perceptions, and more than a little noble. Sonja’s allies were as unique and diverse a group as you can hope to find in the genre, depicted with such loving care that you fell in love with them all just a little bit (even that big player who wore Sonja’s armour bikini... he did NOT pull it off... all).

The covers especially were gorgeous, the cover of issue #1 something I would actually like to get a print for. Covers often set the tone for the rest of the book, and these pieces were the perfect cherry on the wonderful fudge brownie ice cream cake that this collection is (dammit, now I’m hungry!)

Conclusion

A Legend in Every Sense

Legends of Red Sonja was the start of a long and wonderful run for Gail Simone on the character, a run that many call one of the best Sonja has had in many years. However, this collection was much more than that. Legends breathed new life into Sonja, one that hadn’t been in the limelight for some time, and was a wonderfully exciting read full of great stories. Critically, it didn’t do as well as it should have (really don’t understand the world sometimes), but personally, I LOVED this book, and will happily state that it is a great way to start Gail’s run on the main book if there ever was one.

Simply put, if you are a fan of Red Sonja, Gail Simone, comic books, or just great stories in general, you need to pick up this book. Hell pick up Gail's entire run on Sonja (featured below), you won’t be disappointed, trust me.

Well, until next time everyone, HAPPY READING! 

Updated: 12/13/2015, GregFahlgren
 
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