In its second issue, "Legends of Red Sonja" takes fuller advantage of its premise. As a story about stories, it can ask questions about the way that narrator, audience and other aspects of a story can completely change the audience's understanding of the narrative. Gail Simone, Meljean Brook and Tamora Pierce experiment nicely with those elements, and the interlocking stories feel thematically cohesive.
Meljean Brook's story, "The Undefeated" has a lot of fun with the idea of the narrator. It starts out as a misogynist retelling of Red Sonja's legend, stripping her of her agency and her power, but later turns out to be another type of tale entirely. Brook cleverly uses the contrast between the captions, representing the narrator's version of events, and the panels, which represent how things actually happened. It's a really enjoyable way to present an unreliable narrator that makes full use of comics' unique strengths as a medium. Plus, the fact that almost every caption is directly contradicted injects humor into the entire story, even when there aren't any explicit or extra jokes.
Rubi's art in "The Undefeated" also offers some standout moments. The battle scenes are full of circles and curves, which is unexpectedly effective. When Sonja and her companion fight a demon mammoth, the sweep of its tusks and arc of their swords mirror each other, making the scene feel grander and more epic.
I will admit that I was most excited to read Tamora Pierce's installment. Having grown up with her stories of another fiery redhead warrior, I couldn't wait to see her take on Red Sonja. Pierce's narrator is a young girl who knows her audience, consisting of warriors, will immediately disrespect her. Her tale is therefore fittingly about expectations -- who the audience assumes will be a hero, how things are expected to end, etc. Rather than focusing on savagery and ferociousness, her story is about different types of heroism and the different types of heroes who enact them. However, that subtlety of theme isn't explicit in the narration; after all, she is telling this tale to a table of warriors. Instead, it's very lightly added through the interplay of the text and the art. The layers are what make this a fun read; there is the story she seems to be telling, and then there's the story she's actually telling - the same as Brooks' installment.
On art, James has a balletic sense of movement that reads interestingly, if not always effectively, and a real gift for sneering faces. Bowland's lettering here, as in the other installments, impresses with its ability to gracefully add both captions and dialogue to scene after scene. These panels could have felt much more cluttered, and they almost always don't.
Lastly, Simone's overarching story offers us the most unexpected Sonja yet: Sonja as trickster. While the reader focuses on the little girl's story - one of courage and fierce fighting prowess - Simone shows a disguise-wearing, intrigue-running Sonja using that same tale to manipulate and fool. As with the other stories in this issue, it's enjoyable to read because it's many-layered. Sonja uses a story about her as warrior to facilitate her as trickster, and yet -- the story is ostensibly true.
If "Legends of Red Sonja" continues to embrace its exploration of story as a vehicle for myth-making, English majors are going to absolutely eat this series up.