Reviews Of Old Comics: Red Sonja #1
There’s a pattern here at Reviews Of Old Comics that I try to do DC one week, Marvel the next, an Independent comic the third, and then I repeat.
After killing her injured horse, Red Sonja comes across a group of men led and directed by Andar of Bezfarda, attacking another horse. Sonja soon realizes that this horse Andar is so zealously set on capturing is a unicorn, that legends say can grant eternal life. The unicorn’s horn is severed by a low hanging branch, which Andar catches. Sonja rescues the horse, cutting down many of Andar’s men and riding off on the back of the unicorn.
Sonja and the unicorn escape and form a bond. Andar regularly sends people after them, determined that no one else be alive that knows the secret of the Unicorn’s horn that he possesses, not knowing that the unicorn is growing a new, even more majestic horn.
Andar makes a potion from the unicorn horn and then kills anyone that may know of it. He then leads an army to ambush Red Sonja and the unicorn while he waits in the shadows. When he sees the new horn, he goes into a frenzy, determined to have it as well, and his shouting distracts Red Sonja just long enough that she is rendered unconscious by Andar’s men.
Andar is determined to kill her himself, but the unicorn charges to protect her, impaling Andar on his new horn, leaving Andar to question the part of the legend where the only thing that could kill someone made eternal by a unicorn was the unicorn itself. Andar’s men quietly leave, except for two acolytes, still fascinated by the legend of the unicorn horn, but a revived Sonja wards them off.
When Sonja leads the unicorn to the edge of his territory, he bucks and rears, torn between his duty to Sonja, and his own fate is his territory. Sonja releases the unicorn to roam free again as she walks in a new land… alone.
For me, Sonja is one of those characters that while she remains iconic, it is more for her sex appeal than for any strength of her character. If you ask a casual comics fan to describe her personality, they’re probably going to come across something along the lines of Conan, but as a red-haired woman in a chain mail bikini. That’s really sad, because even as this story demonstrates, there’s a little more to her than that. Roy Thomas and Clara Noto craft a very story heavy seventeen pages that essentially is the story of a girl and her horse. Of course, there’s the evil man who wants to kill them so he can be immortal, but as demonstrated by the scenes that are only Sonja and the unicorn, that relationship is something special.
We don’t get a recap of her origin and a broad explanation of her motivations, we simply know Sonja by what is given, that she is a warrior whose code will not allow an innocent beast to suffer, whether it be at a chance, debilitating injury or at the hands of a mob driven by a power-crazy tyrant. Red Sonja is as simple as that, yet we see her development as she forms a bond with the unicorn that isn’t one-sided, but that Sonja relinquishes so that her friend can be free rather than enslaved by the bond that they share. There is a part of that it is lovely.
Frank Thorne’s art is legendary on Red Sonja, and if there is one artist who is linked to her it is Frank Thorne. Unfortunately, his colors are a little muddy, and if anyone has ever seen his black and white work, there is fantastic line work in there. He still manages some beautiful tapestries with his story, summing up a long period of bonding between her and the unicorn, or the zealous rage of Andar. The coloring is just bad, and I think most of that may be the limitations of the technology used at the time, and some may be editorial constrictions placed by either Marvel or the Comics Code Authority.
Sadly, my main problem with this issue is that the words and story don’t blend together well, each stands on its own, and that means the artwork doesn’t come across as illustrations for a short story. It’s a valid form of storytelling, just not the most efficient when it comes to comics, in my opinion.
This issue has been collected in The Adventures of Red Sonja, Vol. 2 (ISBN: 1933305126). If you’re looking for the individual issue, then you shouldn’t have to pay more than few bucks for it, even in pristine condition. I wouldn’t recommend paying more than ten dollars for a copy, and in a lesser condition, you may even be able to find a copy in bargain bins.
If you’re a fan of this series already, and have more than a few dollars to spend, then you might want to look for Frank Thorne’s Red Sonja Art Edition (ISBN: 1606904442). It presents the original artwork at it’s original size, so fans of Frank Thorne’s work should find it interesting, but it is suitably pricey.
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FINAL RATING: 8.0 (out of a possible 10) It’s very well written, but less a blend of words and pictures that an illustrated story, and the coloring was a bit limited by the technology of the time.