As "Red Sonja" kicks off a new arc, the She-Devil is off on a six-part quest for the world's greatest artisans. She's searching in service of a dying king, who's promised to free 1,000 slaves if she collects these artisans in time for his final farewell party. It's a creative setup for a familiar plot, and the execution somewhat makes up for the standard gotta-catch-em-all scenario. As with previous issues, this Red Sonja remains enjoyable but still hasn't clicked as anything exceptional.
This book always gets a smile out of me, but what's keeping it stalled at merely likeable is that the team doesn't seem to have anything larger to say about Sonja and her world. Now, every series doesn't need a grand artistic mission statement, but the best stuff has a determined point-of-view and clear approach to the source material. Right now, "Red Sonja" is juggling quite a few approaches, and it hasn't decided which one will be its primary viewpoint.
Not to throw a hat in someone else's creative ring, but the best moments for me have been when there's a fish-out-of-water element to Simone's Sonja. In this run, she frequently finds herself in a less brutal, more human world than she's anticipating. Her expectations – and the reader's – are turned on their heads. In place of malice, she finds simple carelessness or stupidity. It's been fun to watch her self-seriousness come up against human folly in its less deliberate form. I've read Red Sonja in a rage before, but I've never gotten to enjoy her being simply grumpy.
Though the tone overall waffles, it's been great to watch Geovani stretch himself over the series. In this issue, he experiments with some funky layouts that make full use of the shapeless swamp setting. Freed from needing to present any defined spaces such as a castle or fort, he uses a wide range of panel shapes and splash images. I also continue to enjoy the many different ways he makes Red Sonja look so much like Red Sonja. In one panel, before she plunges her roasting rabbit carcass into a man's eye socket, she looks down on her weapon-to-be with such nonchalant pleasure. It's a pretty stone-cold moment, and a fine example of how many different facial expressions Geovani uses to show the same character trait.
Bowland makes a lot of the artistic experimentation possible with smart lettering, and I continue to love the red-orange shading and font he's chosen for Sonja's internal monologues. A heavier touch could've been ugly and ‘80s, and a lighter one might not have jived with the material. It's a tough tightrope to walk, and he's really made it work.
Speaking of walking a tightrope, the cynical part of me also has to applaud Dynamite for their approach to the bikini. Feminists can enjoy that Sonja stays more clothed than usual in the actual pages of the books, while the T&A crowd still gets their covers. It's a clever line to walk.
But back on topic: I like this team's run on "Red Sonja," but they haven't gotten me to love it yet.