RED SONJA VOL. 3 #16, available from Dynamite on July 1st, tracks Sonja’s first task of leading child soldiers into war for the glory of Khitai. Instead of reveling in war for drama and excitement, Mark Russell’s story and Bob Q’s art paint the picture of a leader who views his people as disposable commodities. Sonja’s promise to serve him in exchange for saving her people, which quickly comes back to haunt her.
Jae Lee’s cover serves as a poignant encapsulation of this issue’s central theme. In the painting, Sonja is restrained from moving and speaking by the visage of death. Likewise, in the main story, Sonja feels powerless against the impending death of so many innocent lives as she’s bound by her oath to follow Jo’Qhan’s orders. It’s a beautiful painting, chock full of symbolism that pairs well with the story.
To this point, Mark Russell’s story arc has focused less on the adventurous aspects of Sonja’s life and more on the costs of leadership. Consistent with that theme, this issue de-glamorizes war and turns a glaring spotlight on the price of conquest, especially the price paid by innocent youth. It’s a strong message that, to Russell’s credit, isn’t preachy or heavy-handed.
In this issue, Sonja is commanded to annex a neighboring kingdom using a newly trained infantry. To her shock, Sonja discovers the soldier are little more than children conscripted in service to Jo’Qhan; a common practice within the kingdom. Sonja’s outrage is palpable, and yet, there are no easy answers as breaking her service to Jo’Qhan jeopardizes the lives of her starving people back home (see our review of issue #15 here).
The dilemma is thought-provoking, the dialog is organic, and the setup for the next issue is tailor-made for high drama.
Bob Q’s art is in this issue is deceptive. The lines are clean, and the renderings are basic to the point of simplicity, but the simplicity in the backgrounds and character anatomy intuitively draws the reader to the character’s faces. Every face is painstakingly drawn to push the full range of emotion that’s going on within each panel.
There’s a lot of upset, angst, horror, and dismay going on in this issue, and you see it in full on Sonja’s face. When Sonja is presented with the “child” army, her eyes widen in shock. When Sonja discusses the hypocrisy of the kingdom’s traditions, here brow furrows in outrage. And when Zo’ran recalls how he was conscripted as a boy, his face sinks at the thought of a painful past. Bob Q’s face work carries this issue.
Dearbhla Kelly’s coloring seems a little bolder in this issue than the previous issues. The child soldiers’ uniforms stand out in bright blue, directly contrasting with the impending doom of their situation. Kelly’s use of bright blue is complemented by brief punctuation of bright red in Sonja’s hair and Queen Phatmos’ robe. It’s a clever use of color that forms a link to the two characters that, so far, have not yet met.
Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou’s lettering is outstanding for the use of selective bolding and font size changes within single word balloons. It’s common for a letterer to resort to scream bubbles to indicate raised voice or shouting, but Otsmane-Elhaou’s use of larger fonts provides a strong sense of speech emphasis on specific words. It’s a lettering style that feels more like natural speech, which helps the flow and pace of each panel—great work by Otsmane-Elhaou.
RED SONJA VOL. 3 #16, available from Dynamite on July 1st, takes a pulpy character and turns in a thoughtful story on the war’s impact on innocent children. The writing is well-balanced for the subject, and the art is deceptively emotional. Great job all the way around by the creative team.