I really don’t feel happy about taking issue with “bleeding heart” reviewers, but I must decidedly do so if a point has to be made about how mountains are being made out of molehills these days. Case in point: this review from Adventures in Poor Taste of the newest Red Sonja volume, which is being written by leftist Mark Russell:
With all of the various reboots and renumberings for the adventures of Red Sonja over the years, it can be hard to know where to start. Luckily, Dynamite Entertainment has just launched an extremely fun and accessible new take on the Sonja legend! I was personally sold by the words “written by Mark Russell.” I knew I’d be in for something fresh, yet true to the character. That’s exactly what we get in this first issue.
Yeah, I can guess why! His on-the-sleeve politics, which he already made clear in some DC items he’d written based on old Hanna-Barbera cartoons, which is clearly embraced by the social justice crowd. Surprisingly, DC / Vertigo cancelled his ‘Jesus the Clown’ comic book just last week.
Mirko Colak’s artwork, much like Russell’s script, feels very modern, yet it also has little touches that evoke the classic Red Sonja comics penciled by Sal Buscema. The action sequences are dynamic and brutal. The landscapes are rendered as gorgeous vistas, where danger hides within each shadow. Most importantly, Sonja is not drawn or written as a sexual object. She’s scantily clad and admired for her beauty, but she’s also feared and respected. It’s a tricky balancing act for any team taking this character on, but it looks like this volume is going to nail that dualistic aspect of the character. Her femininity is not to be exploited nor underestimated, which she makes clear right from the start.
Uh, is that she, or the writer, pandering as he is to the anti-sex morality bunch? This is little more than an insult to Roy Thomas, who did more or less create the character along with guys like Frank Thorne and Buscema in the Bronze Age, drawing from a character Robert E. Howard had created in one of his own writings. This is another type of review that also decidedly fails to explain why “sexualization” is inherently wrong, and with a character who was intended as something of a sex symbol when she first began in the mid-70s. While the bloodletting in the tale, by contrast, goes without a whisper of complaint.
Here’s another review that’s pretty disgusting in its smug defense of Russell’s vision, and the writer has the gall to drag the whole Comicsgate campaign into something I’m skeptical he’s actually a fan of:
If you are a Conan purist who disapproves of any additions to the lore of Hyboria that were not written by Robert E. Howard himself, know that this comic will bring you no joy. Nor will it please those around you should you feel compelled to explain why a Stygian would never pray to Crom.
Oh please. So long as the ideas are developed well – which is far more than can be said for the drivel, I have no problem, unlike the reviewer, whom I suspect actually does despite what he’s saying.
If you are the sort of Red Sonja fan who is deeply offended by the idea of Sonja wearing climate-appropriate clothing rather than trouncing through the snowy tundra in nothing but a few scraps of chainmail and a pair of boots, know that this is not your cup of tea and carry on.
Guess what? I’m not offended by her wearing a coat in a freezing blizzard. At all. What, do you think I’m hoping she’d suffer from pneumonia and gangrene infections? Cut the crap, please. I’m not that petty. Still, if I don’t have a problem with Sonja wearing a coat in cold weather, I don’t see why the reviewer does if she’d wear less in a creation that’s meant to be surreal fantasy. After all, there have been plenty of times when Wonder Woman wore her bustier-style costume in snowy settings, and I’d suggest they not use her being a deity with magical powers as their excuse for making differences.
The reviewer then attacks other, more animated comic reviewers:
If you are a frequent viewer of certain YouTube channels where comic books are crumpled up amid complaints about how “social justice warriors” are destroying the American comic book industry, you should not read this book.
Does that mean you’re not offended by contrast, kiddo? Hmm, in that case, why should we assume that you are a Red Sonja fan, let alone a Conan fan, or even a Roy Thomas/Frank Thorne fan?
Do you want her to be the leader of a band of mercenaries as she was in the original Roy Thomas Conan comics? Or do you prefer Sonja as one lone warrior against a world that has little use for women like her? Do you like the idea of Sonja as a chosen of the war goddess, blessed with divine fighting skills? Or do you prefer Sonja as a tomboy teen who learned how to fight and hunt as good as any man on her own? Do you want a Sonja who is chaste and sworn only to love a man who can best her in a fair fight? Or do you prefer a free-loving, carousing Sonja who has an eye for the ladies as well? All these visions are valid and the multiverse is big enough for many Sonjas.
I mention this because there are many who will decry this fifth volume of Red Sonja as an abomination because (among other reasons) it dares to be funny. The general tone of Mark Russell’s script evokes memories of Mel Brooks’ History of the World: Part One and Monty Python’s Life of Brian. It pokes fun at the ancient world and all the cliches of sword-and-sorcery, as we are presented with Dragan The Magnificent – a would-be emperor who is pulling a Number Six on the world of Hyboria while delivering chain-letters to neighboring kingdoms warning them of the dangers of refusing to be chained.
Umm, I’m not bothered if somebody wants to offer a sense of humor either. It’s the potential politics even the reviewer’s hinting are injected into this book that worry me. Though one could argue that mocking the fantasy genre may be what undoes the tale, if they can’t appreciate it for what it was meant to be.
It goes on:
This humor is not applied to Sonja herself, who finds herself appointed the new Queen of Hyrkania after the previous rulers abdicate the throne when word arrives that Dragan and his armies are coming to have their way with their horses and ride off on their women. (Or is that the other way around?) This leaves Sonja facing impossible odds with no hope of victory. In other words, it’s business as usual for Red Sonja.
None of this will be a shock to those who are familiar with Russell’s previous work on The Snagglepuss Chronicles or The Flintstones, where he also mixed comedy and drama to great effect along with a fair bit of social commentary. Of course I can’t begin to see how the story of a power-mad despot who has come to believe his own hype could possible be seen as culturally relevant today but it hardly matters. Russell does a damn fine job writing Sonja as a character and proves as skilled at plotting a thrilling action sequence as he is at writing witty dialogue.
So the sense of humor doesn’t extend to Red Sonja herself? As a matter of fact, that could be what’s wrong with this comic. If it’s the villains who’re funny, that could just as problematic. These days, it would seem as though women aren’t always allowed to be funny, if at all, and that’s a problem in itself. And if he thinks despots aren’t a worry, I think that too is, umm…worrisome.
Then Comicsgate gets a token mention (groan):
There are those who will turn up their nose at this book because of its use of comedy or because it dares to depict Red Sonja in something other than her traditional costume. Let them. Comicsgate may not approve of it, but Mark Russell and Mirko Colak have delivered a Red Sonja that can be enjoyed by people who read comics rather than wanking over cover art.
Sounds to me like the kind of person who’s saying, in much the ways of various selfish and entitled scriptwriters, that he/she doesn’t want the audience to buy their books. Or they’re putting words in other people’s mouths and being judgmental, claiming they know some people don’t read the comics and only care about the covers. Well if that’s the only way you can look at them, then don’t be surprised if sales tank in due time.
And if this Comics Bulletin review reveals something, this Russell story is another example of political metaphors taking up too much of comicdom:
Red Sonja #1 is a blood-soaked actioner that gleefully flips off the ruling class. Seeing characters speak with a modern cadence and dialogue in a swords-and-sandals setting is admittedly unnerving at first, but as the issue progresses it becomes a natural fit for the story Russell is telling. Though Sonja is the titular character and the book’s heroine, much of the issue is spent with a world-conquerer in the mold of Genghis Khan, an entitled ruler that does not take it well when told “no” – especially when it is said by an empowered woman. It is easy to draw a parallel between this ruler and the current leader of the United States, but what he really represents is the ruling class – the oligarchy or “1%” that Russell and many others see as taking more and more of this world for themselves with little care or regard for the underprivileged that act as collateral damage.
So it could be a subtle attack on President Trump, again? Well I guess that figures. And since they allude to the apparent violence in the story, it brings me to note again: not only don’t they have any complaints to raise about any of the violent gore taking place in this comic, they don’t even explain how it’s inclusion in the comic book is superior to including a woman who has been drawn in a sexy way – which is pure hypocrisy in the ways only an Orwellian-puritan could possibly convey. I’m not sure why a story with jarring violence should be considered instantly funny either.
The political praise continues:
Admittedly, the character of Red Sonja has never been of great interest to me, especially given her typical portrayals leave very little to the imagination, similar to how others view a certain series starring a strong female protagonist. However, Russell’s script and the fantastic artwork of Mirko Colak have certainly inspired a look back at the stories penned by Gail Simone and others. Here, Sonja is a strong, capable character who is nothing short of badass. Once more, the script is crafted in a manner in which her plight can be used to point out societal issues. In this case, it’s a double-edged sword as Sonja is unwittingly named queen of a soon-to-be-invaded territory. Here, Russell lays the seeds to discuss the problem of victim-blaming and women’s ability to reclaim their own agency in a world stacked against them.
You know, if that’s how he puts it, then he has no business even reading this story. And I know better than to assume at face value that a possible “male feminist” actually cares about Hollywood’s dark side. The other series the reviewer linked back to is Witchblade, and he indicates that no matter who’s writing it, he’s got a low opinion of it just because it was written to please an escapism-seeking audience, male or otherwise.
And look at what the following reviewer says:
…I was very pleased that the interiors didn’t display the practically nude Sonja of recent years, as I initially dreaded when the editor asked me to cover this issue.
The editor of the book asked him to review it? All that aside, from what I know, whether Red Sonja was actually nude in recent years, it’s vital to note at least two women recently wrote the title (Amy Chu and Marguerite Bennett), and if they had no issue with what’s apparently frightening this man, then I don’t know what this coward’s beef is. Maybe he’s just another guy who lacks courage to say he loves a hot woman.
Then there’s this review:
There’s not much action in Red Sonja #1, other than our heroine rather brutally dealing with some trouble on the road. […]
Hmm, I wonder if that’s telling something? Sequential Planet says:
Red Sonja actually isn’t in this issue much, which is pretty disappointing considering that its the first issue. New readers won’t get the opportunity to see what all the fuss about the character is (at least in this issue). […]
You know something could be wrong when the star of the show is reduced to a minor player in her own book. This review also says, however:
Most of the issue’s stylistic choices are great. Red Sonja doesn’t wear her iconic bikini mail. Instead, her tattered clothing look more realistic and representative of the setting.
See, there again is the problem. Surrealism and fantasy are being made into an offense. Edgar Rice Burroughs would be considered repellent by these belief standards.
Finally, here’s one more review of absurdity:
…I’m sure at some point we’ll see the traditional fish-scale bikini armour that she’s known and loved for, but just for a moment at least we can have a story that concentrates on her achievements rather than her assets.
Since when have Red Sonja stories from the past NOT focused on her accomplishments, whatever that’s supposed to mean?
Most interesting so far is that in all these reviews I’ve found, I haven’t seen much more than 2-3 pages from the issue, most not even featuring the star of the book, so how is one supposed to determine what this comic is like? In any case, these reviews are what’s wrong with commentary even for the past two decades, as all these emasculated types – who apparently don’t want to offend feminists, employ the stigma of hostility to sex while violence in comic books, by contrast, gets a free pass. It’s plain stupid. You can certainly have both in a Red Sonja comic.
It’s not hard to tell that these reviewers are people who have never cared about the heroine Roy Thomas co-developed before. And if they didn’t care before, chances are they don’t care now, nor did they ever lament that her original solo book lasted less than three years before being cancelled at the end of the 1970’s (even Kull the Conqueror wasn’t very successful at the time).
If that’s what they think about the hard work that any of the creators in Sonja’s past did, whether massively popular or not, then they have no business saying anything about it today if they can’t appreciate its inherent sexuality. Their only response to it is to act like it’s some inherently bad thing when in fact it has been an integral part of Red Sonja since her first comic books.
Originally posted at the Four Color Media Monitor blog.
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