Those who picked up Red Sonja #9 earlier this month are already familiar with The Tower of Wigur-Nomadene and the sorcerers who call it home. With Savage Tales: A Red Sonja Halloween Special, out this week from Dynamite Comics, we travel back many years to see a younger Sonja.
She’s come to the tower seeking a way to recover what she’s lost. In the process, writer Mark Rusell reveals the tragedies that shaped Sonja into who she one day becomes.
Much of Savage Tales: A Red Sonja Halloween Special is, essentially, a flashback within a flashback. The book offers a glimpse at a younger Sonja, before she came to be styled “Sonja the Red,” reflecting back on her life thus far. Through her recollections, we observe the suffering she endured which shaped her into the warrior we’d eventually know.
Mark Russell has a tremendous gift for incorporating high-minded concepts into his work. He weaves them naturally into the narrative, without feeling pompous, stuffy, or overly-obscure. Here, he delves more deeply into the sorcerers’ abilities and goals. The sorcerers demand suffering as payment for their services, though they don’t, as Sonja first assumes, mean to cause suffering. Instead, they want to harvest it. This serves as a framing device for an expository and ultimately fairly touching tale.
Even from the opening of Savage Tales: A Red Sonja Halloween Special, Sonja possesses more of an air of naiveté. She’s not quite as hardened as she becomes later. It’s a slower tale that is light on action. However, the book builds tremendous pathos. We see how Sonja first developed her skills as a child after the slaughter of her village, surviving as a thief on the streets of Zamora, and losing not one, but two families in the process.
The sorcerers delve into some pretty interesting metaphysical concepts in the book. In their view, our universe of matter is built by the recognition of the ethereal world, and the ethereal world is shaped by the dreams of the material world. Our dreams, however, are born of our suffering, and specifically, our desire to alleviate it. It’s almost Hegelian, in a sense; our world can only be shaped by being recognized by an ethereal other world. However, that other world draws on our own world for its own shape.
As we’ve come to expect of Russell’s work with the character, Savage Tales: A Red Sonja Halloween Special offers tremendous narrative depth. Sonja’s motivation makes her ultimate escape from the tower all the more tragic.
Visually, this issue is not quite as dark as in our last installment. Artist Jacob Edgar provides a unique twist on the visuals here, diverging from the heavy lines used by Bob Q and Mirko Colak in the main series. Instead, the artist opts for a more angular and stylized look, reminiscent of a cel-shaded cartoon in some regards. I’m not always the biggest fan of the designs, but they work within the context of the book.
This lighter, less shadowy approach gives the flashbacks in Savage Tales: A Red Sonja Halloween Special an idealized look. They’re more ethereal and dreamlike, as we’d recall the past.
Edgar keeps the book’s layout varied, yet relatively simple, rarely incorporating more than four or five panels per page. The artist does an excellent job of carrying momentum from one panel to the next, though. The work is cohesive, despite having relatively little affinity or visual continuity from one panel to the next. The result is a book that feels dynamic and interesting, without being disorienting.
Colorist Dearbhla Kelly provides the same sense for striking colors used in the main series. She embraces a bold and varied palette, with colors that pop off the page. However, the consistent tones in the backdrop hold the image together well.
Savage Tales: A Red Sonja Halloween Special fits is an excellent one-shot contribution to flesh-out Russell’s ongoing narrative in Red Sonja. It deepens the story, and offers readers some interesting character development. Highly recommended.