Today, Shelby and Patrick are discussing Red Sonja 4, originally released October 9th, 2013.
Shelby: There was a period of time when I used to run on a pretty regular basis. When you’re doing a race, or even just going for a long morning run, there’s comes a point when your brain starts to tell you your body can’t do it any more. Now, brains are great, but sometimes they’re all full of nonsense; they’ll try to trick you to stop doing something that’s hard. There’s a fine line to walk, however, between ignoring your brain’s advice and ignoring your body’s. Once your body starts telling you it really can’t do any more, that’s the point you need to start paying attention, before you seriously hurt yourself. Of course, if your body is telling you it can’t go on because it’s riddled with the plague and you’re going to die anyway, it doesn’t really matter if you over-exert.
Just kidding about that whole “Sonja’s dead!” thing last month; that was just the twins jumping to conclusions upon seeing Sonja’s rapidly deteriorating state. She is blind, however, and working on getting blind drunk while the girls try to haul her back to town for the king’s son’s magic, cure-all elixir.
Despite what Dark Annisia thinks, the village actually doesn’t appear to have any plague, so she is starving them for no reason. That’s why the twins went out to find Sonja. The two gals are accosted by some of Annisia’s fishy fighters, and in a true act of bad-assedness, Sonja rouses herself to blindly take them all out. Even though she was ready to lay down and die, the people of the town trusted her; she may not have owed them anything, but she knew they deserved better than Dark Annisia, so she would fight for them.
Red Sonja could be just a story of a bodacious warrior babe who doesn’t let her chainmail-clad bosoms get in her way, but in Gail Simone’s hands she’s so much more. Each issue, Simone reveals a little more complexity to the character, developing her further without losing that raw, crass edge. On the one hand, Sonja is a killing machine; killing people is all she’s had since her entire village was taken from her. It may have started as vengeance, but it quickly became her only means of survival. On the other hand, Sonja has some very deep-seated morals; she is fiercely loyal, and truly understands what it takes to lead people. I’m very curious to discover what it was that kept Sonja chaotic neutral but drove Annisia to chaotic evil.
Annisia is proving to be very interesting as well. We are treated to a brief flashback of their first fight together in the slave pit. The night before, Annisia had tried offering Sonja some advice, but once they were in the ring Sonja proved herself to be completely ruthless, decapitating one of her victims and declaring herself Red Sonja. Despite Annisia’s experience with the pit, Sonja immediately shows herself to be inherently better. In a college sociology class, we discussed how you feel good when people who are important to you succeed. But, if someone close to you is more successful than you are at something you find personally important, it triggers a lot of jealousy and spite. The closer the person is to you, the harder the feelings become, and I think that is exactly what is happening here. Sonja refers to Annisia as her sister, so the two were about as close as you could get. Just look at Annisia deeming herself “Red Annisia.” I think she’s jealous of what Sonja can do, of the person Sonja became, and is trying to take her place. Sonja is a more ruthless killer (or maybe, is a better ruthless killer), and yet she seems to be a better person than Annisia.
This title continues to be a treat for me. Simone superbly balances character growth with awesome fight scenes, and Sonja’s overall crotchety demeanor is a lot of fun to read. Walter Geovani’s art shows the same balance, whether it’s rueful smiles on the faces of the twins or a closeup of a fish creature hand’s severed from his arms. Patrick, how do you feel about this latest issue? You know I have a soft spot for both barbarian-esque warrior women and Gail Simone, am I letting those loves cloud my judgement of this book? Or is it as good as I think?
Patrick: It’s possible that the barbarian badassery clouds your judgment a little, but there’s definitely something to that that I don’t think we should overlook. There are some very base appetites that this series plays to incredibly well, and even something like the chainmail bikini — which we don’t see at all in this issue — is presented with the purpose and confidence of a master. I feel the same way about basically any revenge narrative: for the most part, “revenge” serves as a horribly generic motivator, but that doesn’t stop me from being any less moved at the moment of vengeance. Simone has her finger on my pulp-pulse, and knew to weave is a big obvious revenge thread into this issue, and I was predictably pounding my fists in the air when Sonja threw Toda over the waterfall. There’s no special or unique magic at play here, just some good old fashioned adventure storytelling.
What’s interesting about dealing in those tropes, is that they’re a form of propaganda – it’s art and writing meant to elicit a specific emotional / behavioral response. I recognize that’s kind of an obvious statement – all art should be trying to evoke a specific emotion, right? There’s just so much of it at play in this issue, the flashback in which revolves around taking on the self-appointed “Red” title. I don’t know if there’s a history of “Red” meaning something specific, but even within the narrative, the meaning shifts between the past and the present, based on who’s co-opting it. Sonja uses the adjective to declare herself the victor. It’s a statement of independence and individuality, and it comes along with her first utterance of her name – something that she was quite insistent was important to her. Through her heroics, the title morphed, and the Red Sonja was not just the ultimate survivor, but a protectorate of the kingdom. That’s why Annisia declares herself as “Red Annisia,” because that’s the identity that Sonja came to inhabit. Fascinatingly, whoever takes the “Red” away from Annisia will have to deal with the extra baggage she has imbued it with.
Hey, so speaking of being blatant with the image we’re projecting: get a load of how big a dirtbag the king used to be.
You couldn’t really ask for a better one-panel demonstration of insensitivity of the ruling class. That’s an awful lot of slaves he’s got right there, and an awful lot of ass he’s got in his hands. Plus, he’s a dick about Toda – who is someone he actually pays to work for him. What a jerk!
As a result of all this very clear myth-making, there’s not a lot of moral relativism. Shelby, I love that you started throwing around D&D alignments, because that’s how a lot of this feels. Chaos or no, the good guys are good and the bad guys are bad. End of story. Right? I get the feeling that the struggle won’t always be so black and white. It’s hard to argue with the following assertion: “All fish monsters are evil, smell terrible, and deserve to die.” We can all by into that simple truth, given the facts we’re presented in this issue. But there’s a weird weird weird moment, as Toda attempts to turn the tables on Sonja:
The last character you’re going to make me sympathetic to is the former-slaver fish-man-monster, but there is a hint here that the battle of good-and-evil is really a matter of perspective. That stench that everyone is so quick to rag on the monsters for? Turns out they think humans smell bad. So it’ll be interesting to see how Simone continues to convince me that one side is good and one side is not, and just what lengths the characters will go through to justify those positions to the readers and to themselves.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?
I absolutely love your review of this series.