Female-led fantasy stories in comics are a funny thing—in the wrong hands, they can be half-hearted ventures playing into the male gaze, while in the right hands, they can be something truly special. Across the decades of Red Sonja comics, it's safe to say she has been subjected to both treatments, always depending on the creative team at the series' helm. That made the act of opening this week's Red Sonja #1 — the creative team of which is spearheaded by Mirka Andolfo, known for making bold swings in indie titles like Unnatural and Sweet Paprika — an unbelievably pleasant surprise. While the debut installment isn't quite flawless, Red Sonja #1 clearly displays a lot of promise, and showcases a take on its character that feels simultaneously familiar and unprecedented.
Red Sonja #1 chronicles Sonja's journey into a village that was destroyed by the Three-Eyed Shezem, tasked with finding its only survivor — a young girl named Sitha, who sports mysterious white tattoos and ties to a powerful religious organization. As Sitha and Sonja's story unfolds, the pair are met with an array of challenges — and some shocking personal revelations come to light.
The issue's plot makes some well-executed strides in the sword-and-sorcery of it all, even as many of the more specific aspects of lore remain ambiguous. The issue maintains an electrifying pace in basically any context, whether Sonja is mowing down bad guys or having a witty conversation with Sitha. Just over the course of this one installment, there's a feeling the tale has the potential to be both intimate and sprawling. At the center of it all, Andolfo and co-writer Luca Blengino possess a solid approach to Sonja's core characterization, nailing the unique blend of tough badassery and earnest heart she has become known for. Right from the jump, I wanted to see this interpretation of Sonja thrown into oodles of other fantasy contexts — and hopefully, this book will get the opportunity to tell them.
Stories with Sonja rescuing and returning small children are among the title's bread and butter, but it's clear that the narrative is doing just enough to set itself apart from the pack. For story reasons that are a bit too intricate to explain here, Sitha is not completely aware of Red Sonja's mission and reputation, but the pair begin to reach a unique understanding as the story continues. Along the way, Sonja's own approach in bringing Sitha to safety begins to shift, something readers observe over key understated interactions.
There's a natural comparison to be drawn between this Red Sonja and DC's current Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow miniseries, as both open with their titular protagonists disaffected, only for that to change on an adventure with a young girl boasting a mysterious past. Just based on this issue, it's unclear whether Sonja and Sitha's relationship will get to quite the emotional complexity of Woman of Tomorrow's Kara and Ruthye, but even if it doesn't, it's still the makings of a compelling dynamic.
In terms of aesthetics, Red Sonja #1 delivers in compelling ways, all while honoring the visual cues that have become quintessential to the character. Guiseppe Cafaro's art proves to be the perfect accompaniment to Andolfo and Blengino's text, often containing a similar expressiveness and bucking of conventions that can be found in Andolfo's own sequential art. At the same time, Cafaro's work is just grounded enough in reality to convey the consequences of the issue, so by the time the third-act battle sees Sonja violently disassembling a military horde, readers are left feeling every blow. Chiara di Francia's color work takes that grounded sensibility a step further, utilizing reds and oranges in subtle, but impactful ways that I'm excited to see executed in print. The lettering from Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou also shares that sense of subtlety, but offers some flair in key sequences.
From beginning to end, this week's Red Sonja #1 proves to be a bloody and stylish new chapter in the sweeping epic of its protagonist. Mirka Andolfo, Luca Blengino, Guiseppe Cafaro, and company start Sonja on a journey that's both bold and familiar — but honestly, there's nothing wrong with that. With a just-compelling-enough plot and some intriguing, unexpected art choices, the first issue winds up being a perfect jumping-on point for any type of reader. Red Sonja is one of those characters who always deserves a consistently-quality ongoing title, and if Red Sonja #1 is any indication, she now has another one.
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
On September 1, 2021
Written by Mirka Andolfo and Lua Blengino
Art by Guiseppe Cafaro
Colors by Chiara di Francia
Letters by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
Cover by Mirka Andolfo