BY THIS AXE, I REVIEW!
Welcome back, everyone! It's been awhile, I know. My only excuse is I decided to review an anthology that I ended up HAAAAATING. I'll review it eventually, but the purpose of me doing this was most assuredly not to just pick out the bullshit and yell angrily about it. I'm doing this to showcase the hard-to-find gems in a sub-genre that is full of an awful lot of dreck and nonsense. So, I want the positive to outweigh the negative, to highlight the stuff I love first and foremost.
And on that note, Conan Red Sonja #1 is most definitely something I love. I previously reviewed the first trade paperback of Gail Simone's Red Sonja ongoing, and found myself not only pleasantly surprised by the first few issues, but I subsequently became a genuine fan of the run and the character by the time I finished chapter 6. And so, after reading that, I heard that Simone and Jim Zub were writing a Conan/Red Sonja crossover, and I became interested. Then I heard they were putting Dan Panosian on the art, and I became hyped. Super hyped. Panosian's style of angular beefcakes and svelte femme fatales is the perfect look for a crossover that I assumed was going to be a ton of fun.
Turns out I was right, this book is massively entertaining. Without giving too much away (because I want all of you to go read it!), this whole crossover is going to cover Conan and Red Sonja meeting each other at various points in their lives over the course of many, many years. The first issue has them both early in their careers, Conan full of piss and vinegar and Red Sonja not much different. While Howard's most famous barbarian is well known in many of his stories to be a dour soldier/mercenary/king full of grim one-liners, the tales taking place when he was young not only show a capable swordsman and thief, but also a braggart. Young Conan is arrogant and flippant, and while those tales usually end up with him being shown what-for in some way, he's still fun and funny.
In this, Simone and Zub have completely succeeded in showing Conan in his early, brash days. He cracks wise, he stabs, he gets stabbed, and it's all taken in stride with no worries or cares about anything beyond the next meal, bed, or woman. And Red Sonja, while she doesn't have much of a publication history outside of comics, is given the same level of care here. She can go toe to toe, blade to blade with the Cimmerian and this whole book is all the better for it.
Much like her solo title, Sonja isn't portrayed here as needing to prove anything to the audience, and the book is all the better for it. We're expected to know Red Sonja's a badass, which is an approach I love. It's refreshing, honestly. And having Sonja as Conan's equal and sometimes superior is a tried and true characterization from the days of Roy Thomas that I wouldn't have any other way in a crossover like this.
So, now that I'm done gushing over the characterization, you may wonder how I find the rest of the book holds up. Good news is, there's not much to dislike. Panosian's villains chew the scenery with their outrage and/or slimy evilness, depending on the character, his fight scenes are simultaneously tensely choreographed and full of loose, wild fun, and Conan and Sonja both look like young wild swordsmiths, ready to stab their way to infamy and gold. Visually, it's everything I hoped for and more.
As for the meat of the plot, Simone and Zub aren't re-inventing the wheel, but that's by no means a knock. The overarching plot that will weave through Sonja and Conan's lives in these four issues promises the be the exact sort of wild two-fisted adventure I love and always want more of in my sword and sorcery consumption. Evil wizards (well, a specific evil wizard), eldritch plant-based abominations, and a grand, soaring ambition to achieve through the strength of body and mind alone. There's even a nice little reference to a character from the second story-arc of Red Sonja's solo series at dynamite. Simone, Zub, and Panosian thoroughly understand what makes these characters great. I hope the remaining three issues follow through on what we've been shown so far, and I have no problem optimistically predicting they will.