Updated: Jan 25
RED SONJA: QUEEN OF PLAGUES
Writer: Gail Simone
Artist: Walter Geovani
Colorist: Adriano Lucas
Letterer: Simon Bowland
Rating: 8/10 Hyrkanian curses
To celebrate Pride Month, I thought it would be great to show support by reading books to support the LGBTQ+ community. Through expert guidance from the Instagram members, I found my perfect first read. This person’s a slayer of men and monsters alike. A master with the blade. They are cunning and agile. Above all else, they know how to get drunk. Crom, you must be thinking of Conan the Barbarian, but no. This one isn’t about that Cimmerian meathead. I’m here to talk about someone even better. The She-Devil herself, Red Sonja. In this review, I'll be reviewing RED SONJA: QUEEN OF PLAGUES by Gail Simone.
The Legend of Red Simone
Do you find yourself on Twitter often? Ever check out the trending hashtags and say, "Wow. Who comes up with this stuff?" I would, and to my discovery, a lot was done by none other than Gail Simone. If it wasn’t her run on Plastic Man, with great dialogue and characters like the Suave Prince that turned her into one of my favorite writers, it was definitely her posts on Twitter. Gail says what she wants and will set the internet ablaze in joy over her hilarious thoughts, or rage on her honest opinions. No matter what though, she does what she wants and I love it. She’s the person that walks away from an explosion and looks cool doing it. After reading Red Sonja I feel like Gail’s personality was brought to life so well in this character. It’s hard to say who inspired who.
Learning About Sonja
The idea of old fantasy warriors; muscled up dudes with swords and scantily dressed women, never appealed to me growing up. When I began collecting comics I first learned of Red Sonja and wasn’t sure what to think. A chain mail bikini? You are taking the most protective piece of armor and using in the least effective way. My attitude towards these characters quickly changed after I picked up Jason Aaron’s run on Conan the Barbarian. I loved it and with the knowledge of Gail at the wheel of this book and some positive reviews from friends, I dived in.
Cutting Through the Story
Red Sonja is called upon to defend a city in danger. A plague is sweeping through its people and there is an army coming to alleviate the sickness (by killing everyone). Preparing for battle, Red Sonja faces off against an unexpected opponent, Dark Annisia. A former captive and close friend to Sonja who was freed by the same king Sonja fights to protect. If losing the battle wasn’t bad enough for Red, catching the plague is even worse. A reminder to always get vaccinated, Sonja.
Rather than be cut down in battle, Annisia’s love for Sonja instead sends her into exile and quarantines the city. From here we experience Gail’s origin for the She-Devil as she relives the moments that defined her in a fever-induced dream. A little luck, and a lot of willpower later, Red Sonja returns plague-free and ready for a rematch with her corrupted friend. It’s a story that weaves both past and present together nicely and with some great twists. You’ll end off where Sonja is by the time it’s over, looking for a drink to celebrate.
Walter Geovani's art in this book really does well to capture Sonja in action. Her encounter with bandits while trying to sleep off being drunk is when it really came into play for me. The panels move fluidly as we watch Red Sonja navigate around her campground and easily dispatch these three bandits. Effortlessly I might add. One of the main strengths of Sonja is her speed and I feel the artist does a good job capturing that. Each panel sets up the end of one motion while starting the next.
This is a story about swords and sorcery so you bet there is gonna be some gore and monsters. Geovani and Adriano Lucas don’t shy away from any of this as we get plenty of scenes of death and dismemberment. Not gut-wrenching enough for you? Well if blood and guts don’t do it the fish people will. Making Pirates of the Caribbean's fishmen look like jokes, these ones come across as horrific mutations with disfigured human qualities. No real context as to why they are there but either way or why they are working with humans. Either way, their horrific designs make for some good slaying.
While Red Sonja is the hero of this story, it’s important for me to talk about my other favorite female fighters in this book.
Dark Annisia: We are introduced to Annisia through flashbacks along with Sonja. Both slaves having to fight for their lives in the pits for entertainment. She shares a lot of similar qualities of her red-headed counterpart in terms of not caring what others think or want. She is already a strong warrior who even offers some tips and tricks for Sonja. The length of time they were in captivity isn’t really specified. All we have to go off is they had enough time to kill everyone else that was imprisoned with them leaving them the last two standing. I can’t think of a better time to fall for someone.
Instead of helping the king out like Sonja after being rescued she takes off with disappointment that Sonja would kneel to some king after what they experienced. She returns later with her army of fishmen as well as being haunted by the dead souls of all the men that she killed in the slave pits. They give her serious guilt trips to murder some people for them to hang out with. They are really bored. Annisia’s love for Sonja was strong that she is willing to spare an entire city for her. If that gesture and getting smooched on wasn’t enough of a signal for Sonja, I don’t know what was. That love for Sonja and her guilt for the things she has done and continues to do in percieved atonement make her all the more tragic in the end.
The Twins: My personal favorites, the protagonist's side characters. Nias and Ayla are twins who follow Sonja around as “bodyguards” all while having that loveable charm of a sidekick from a movie. Always trying to be helpful but end up getting in the way. These two tail Sonja around every chance they can in this story and Sonja has to roll her eyes and deal with it. I love it.
They have some of the best range of emotions throughout the story as well as reactions to Sonja and others. They constantly want to do good for their people even when out of their depth. Their constant need to be part of the action is a comedic moment each time until you finally realize how competent they’ve become thanks to Sonja.
Sonja in Legendary Fashion
I finished reading this book with a whole new appreciation for the She-Devil with a sword. Like Gail Simone, I fell in love with this character because she didn’t care what anyone thought and she did what she wanted. Gail’s writing for Sonja was amazing in letting you know that she was not to be taken lightly. Every threat she made was a promise to anyone dumb enough to challenge her. She could even fulfill that promise drunkenly as I found in this story. The humor in this book keeps a good balance from what I felt most of these stories of sword and sorcery have done, exploiting women. Gail changed my perception with these types of stories and this character leaving a more empowering feeling to them that has me eager to see where the business of killing and getting drunk takes Red Sonja next.