By d. emerson eddy — Since 2005, Dynamite has been producing some entertaining comics out of the Red Sonja property. From the straightforward high adventure sword and sorcery stories of Michael Avon Oeming, Mike Carey, Mel Rubi, Richard Isanove, and Comicraft—reminiscent of what Dark Horse were doing with sister-property Conan at the time—to the most recent run largely from Amy Chu, Erik Burnham, Carlos Gomez, Mohan, and Taylor Esposito, which mixed a trip to the real world in with some more traditional stories. Some stories have been better than others, but the creators curating Dynamite's output have been doing so very well. Which brings us this new fifth volume, tapping Mark Russell, Mirko Colak, Dearbhla Kelly, and Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou. It's something traditional, but subversive.
Over the past few years, Mark Russell has made a name for himself reinventing and reinterpreting classic properties like The Flintstones, Snagglepuss, and The Lone Ranger, taking the core of the characters and building sociopolitical commentary and satire out of them. He does so here again by framing the tale in the traditional garb of expansionist violence in Red Sonja's kind of iron age setting. The evil empire is there, the guiding prophecy for actions, and the downtrodden poor nation crowning Queen Red Sonja to save them; all the usual set pieces for this kind of fantasy story, but there's an absurdity to the Zamoran Emperor in his quest, trickery in the Hyrkanians getting Sonja to the throne and foisting their problems on to her. That humor, that jab at how this society works within the trappings of the genre, elevates this to something above just a good sword and sorcery tale.
Bringing the story to life is Mirko Colak, who through Brothers Dracul, Kingsway West and Unholy Grail has proven time and again that he's well suited to depicting the grit and heaviness of an unkempt, uncivil world mixed with horror and fantasy, fulfilling what you'd expect of the visuals of a Red Sonja or Conan comic. Dearbhla Kelly aids this look well, largely painting the world in earthy tones, keeping everything relatively dusty and dirty, save for the Emperor in purple and Sonja's hair, setting them apart visually from the landscape. Staying true to that fantasy aesthetic, aside from looking gorgeous, is also one of the reasons why the humor works. Since the artwork is playing this straight, the more absurd riffs in the dialogue and events stand out better.
Rounding out the creative team is Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, whose lettering here, in Shanghai Red and The Lone Ranger, is quickly becoming a standout. The sign of a good letterer is usually not noticing them, letting them provide a subtle backbone for the story. When you get too flashy, the lettering can overpower the art and distract from the storytelling. Otsmane-Elhaou has been utilizing effects, changes in fonts, word balloon & dialogue box shape, size, and color in ways that overall enhance and enrich the types of stories being told in a fashion that reminds me of Todd Klein and Gaspar Saladino.
Overall, I was very impressed by this new first issue of Red Sonja. It works on that surface level of being an entertaining sword and sorcery tale, and if that's all that you want out of it, you'll still be pleased. But Russell, Colak, Kelly, and Otsmane-Elhaou are also starting what looks like a deeper story that plays with those traditional story elements in new and humorous ways.
Red Sonja #1
Writer: Mark Russell
Artist: Mirko Colak
Colorist: Dearbhla Kelly
Letterer: Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
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d. emerson eddy is a student and writer of things. He fell in love with comics during Moore, Bissette, & Totleben's run on Swamp Thing and it has been a torrid affair ever since. His madness typically manifests itself on Twitter @93418.