What do Conan the Barbarian and Red Sonja have in common? Both of them insist on wearing minimal clothing despite crappy weather and harsh terrain.
What’s the meet-up like with these two scantily clad heroes? Is it good?
Conan Red Sonja #1 (Dark Horse Comics)
It’s tough to get a character team-up book right. I’ve read many a comic book in which two fantastic characters meet and neither one gets to shine at all. It’s often the case in a one and done issue that it’s difficult to introduce a conflict that is compelling enough to carry the story. It’s also not rare for team-up books to be dominated by a constant banter between characters, leaving no room for anything meaningful to happen to either one. Thankfully, neither of these worst-case scenarios are the case in Conan Red Sonja, in which co-writers Gail Simone and Jim Zub show how entertaining a team-up book can be if done right.
The first thing that this creative team did right was to create a solid foundation for a story in which they could place Conan and Red Sonja into, instead of establishing both characters and building a story around them. The story is this: Conan and Sonja have both been commissioned to steal a valuable jewel that was to be presented by a king to his son as a gift. At the same time, we read about a fertile island on which a dark power has decided to plant a deadly seed, we learn little about the nature of the seed until the very end of the issue, but the opening in which we are introduced to the island reeks with foreboding. Even without Conan and Sonja I would be compelled to read this comic, and having them as protagonists makes it all the better.
Aside from starring in a terrific plot, these two characters had a much more interesting relationship in this comic book than I anticipated. They were both fiery and true to themselves. Red Sonja and Conan cut each other with words and blades as they bickered, but in the end had the same values and motives at heart. Having such fundamentally similar characters might cause for an overload on that particular character archetype, so to speak, but instead they complemented each other. Conan showed some of the bravado that he is known for but also showed some prudence which was uncharacteristic for him and more like Sonja. Meanwhile Sonja wasn’t just a sex figure, as she usually is. I was actually really surprised that the two had no physical relationship at all through the comic. It made the story more believable and less like an adolescent fantasy as it could very easily have become.
And the art! Oh, the art was fantastic! The art was so atypical of a Red Sonja story, and so wonderfully refreshing. The linework was sharp and vivid, but not at all trying to be photo-realistic. It reminded me of a Sean Murphy style and sported a super fun two-page spread and some delightful stippling. Both of the characters were clearly themselves but also benefited from some added characterization from the artwork. Conan wore a piercing glare and devilish smile, making him look charming and lethal. Sonja looked more natural than usual (despite her unrealistic physique) and seemed to have a naturally imperfect face for once. Overall, major kudos to the artist for bringing this issue to life.
Is It Good?
Yes! This is a wholly enjoyable comic, I’m glad that I can finally get behind and recommend a Red Sonja comic. I am very excited to see how the next four issues unfold and to get some more of this gorgeous artwork.