Friday 24 June 2011

Coming Back to Comic Books | Red Sonja: Blue

If you've been reading Peter V. Brett's blog like a good fantasy fan, I expect you'll have heard more than enough about Red Sonja: Blue already - he's been talking about it since last April, after all - but bear with me: the story of how the author of The Painted Man and The Desert Spear made the leap from books to comics is actually pretty interesting.

And the resulting one-shot... well, it's pretty diverting too.

Originally intended to be a four-issue arc in the ongoing late last year, for some mysterious reason - publisher interference perhaps? - Brett's take on the one ginger warrior woman to rule them all was delayed, then disappeared, then condensed, eventually, into this single, supposedly "standalone" issue. All of which made me more than a little suspicious that there'd been fundamental problems behind the scenes.

Perhaps there were. Perhaps Dynamite were less than enthused that Brett meant to take Red Sonja out of her signature chain-mail bikini and drape something a little less demeaning around her ample bosoms. Because that's what Red Sonja: Blue is all about, truth be told: it's the story of how Conan's most attractive mate got herself a sweet new outfit.

And thank the lord for that, because - I'll be honest - the first half of Red Sonja: Blue was nearly enough to put me off the second. Assuredly, I have not come back to comic books in order to look at nearly nekkid ladies defy gravity above and below the belt.

Evidently Brett shares my concern, since in short order he has Red Sonja out with the old in favour of something new... not to mentioned borrowed, and blue. With her mighty endowments safely ensconced in a second-hand monster pelt, Brett even goes so far as to take a time out in order to suggest a neat rationale for her previous scanty cladding.

Thereafter, Red Sonja: Blue is business as usual. And that's no ill thing. Brett's love for the form is very much in evidence in this, his first comic book bow - though you wouldn't know it to read it. He doesn't, for instance, make that classic crossover novelist mistake of overloading panel after panel with exposition more suited to a book. Red Sonja: Blue talks the talk and walks the walk; it looks and reads and feels like a Red Sonja comic. And for what it is, it's pretty impressive.

Which is to say, standard heroic fantasy, cleavage meets cleaver: Red Sonja fights some monsters then takes a moment to bemoan her oath to never love a man unless he can best her in mortal combat, which of course no-one can.

And then it ends. Alas, it ends - just as Brett, having proved himself good and capable of scripting a solid sword and sorcery comic book, seems set to spread his wings, and let loose the dogs of The Demon Cycle. Shame, that.

I wouldn't have looked twice at Red Sonja: Blue were it not for Peter V. Brett's name on the title page, and in truth I wasn't immediately taken by it either - for one thing Walter Geovani's art, though perfectly competent, stresses all the wrong aspects of this brave new take on the character - but at the end of the day Brett demonstrates himself as sharp and witty a comic book writer as he is a novelist. And given the troubles this would-be four issue arc has had to overcome in the year it's been on the drawing board just to make it onto store shelves, that's really something.

Welcome to comic books, Peter V. Brett. I hope you stay a while.


By way of a brief postscript, I wanted to draw your attention to what could very well be the most offensive and/or hilarious (delete as appropriate) single panel I've seen since coming back to comic books:


A sequence made doubly ridiculous/brilliant because at the time of this writing I'd just seen an episode of South Park in which the art of queefing was once again discussed.

I'm sorry. I've really brought the tone down, haven't I? :P


  1. The irony about all this is Red Sonja's earliest appearances in the Conan comics had her sporting no less than a full mail byrnie, covering her entire torso and arms. Dynamite recently went back to that attire for Eric Trautmann's War Season, which is set in Red's early mercenary days before she met Conan, so I don't think Dynamite had a problem with losing the bikini.

    That panel slays me, though more because I can't see how Sonja can possibly contort what is clearly her left arm into that position.

  2. @Taranaich - You make a perfectly valid point, of course. I haven't read Eric's run in the ongoing, and having heard from several other folks who talk of it - particularly of how the current team have dressed Red Sonja up a touch more respectfully - in positive terms, I'll happily give the floor over to those more knowledgeable on this point than I.

    Certainly it gives me great pleasure to hear Dynamite don't insist on gussying up all the female characters on their roster. Would that more publishers took such a stance... what with all of the pretty ladies on display in so many of the industry's most widely known books, it can be of little wonder that some folks have a hard time taking the medium as seriously as it could and often should be taken.

    Anyway. Thanks for stopping by, Al.

  3. Not at all, Niall.

    I mirror your sentiments regarding gussied-up females in comics - sort of. I don't mind the idea of a mail bikini in certain contexts, mostly those that are intentionally over-the-top and silly. Red Sophia in Cerberus, or half the output of Heavy Metal, for instance. However, when any one style becomes overwhelming and oversaturated, it becomes tiresome and irritating after a while. Just as many got sick of "dark and gritty" Wolverine knock-offs in the '90s, many are sick of the stripperific costumes of female characters. It just gets dull after a while, and as you say, it doesn't speak well of the industry which seems swamped with such visuals.

  4. @Niall Alexander
    I think you're giving Dynamite far too much credit. Sonja has been in need of a PERMANENT wardrobe change for YEARS now. This blue singlet-type thing that Sonja's wearing is only temporary (this is stated so right in the comic) and won't last long. She'll be back in the usual well-overused chain mail bikini before before anyone can blink an eye.