I have never read any Red Sonja comics, but I have a general sense of the barbarian babe from pop-culture osmosis. I have also been exposed to positive word of mouth about the series since Gail Simone started writing the character. I was excited to take an opportunity to check out the first issue of the new spin-off series Red Sonja: Vulture’s Circle, hoping that I would find a good starting point for getting to know the character. While this single issue was a good introduction in the sense that I wasn’t confused or disoriented, it wasn’t exactly inspiring or groundbreaking.
As would be expected in any spin-off series, there were quite a few elements that felt cliche or gimmicky. The opening scene alone features a salacious priest and naked virgin sacrifices to birth a demon. Wow. Even the core premise of the story Nancy A. Collins and Luke Lieberman offer is a bit tired. Red Sonja has retired from barbarian hoarding (can that be a verb?) and started a battle school for gifted young ladies. I wonder if the battle school acceptance letters are delivered by vultures on your eleventh birthday. Joking aside, I find this to be an idea with a lot of potential.
Unfortunately, Collins and Lieberman didn’t give much narrative weight to the battle school idea in this first issue. Most of the details about Sonja’s school and her students were explained through dialogue or straight narrative blocks, instead of shown visually. Instead, more emphasis was placed on the ritual to summon the demon, a demon who is handily dispatched in a brief fight by the end of the first issue. This makes the Cult of Set who raised the demon out to be incompetent villains at best, which is unfortunate because it seems that the morally ambiguous priest is also intended to be an on-going character.
The art by Fritz Casas was well done. The boobs were plentiful and ranged from attractive and plausible to shelf-like and awkward. There was one glorious full page splash featuring the metal bikini. For the remainder of the issue, Red Sonja is either wearing a dressing gown/bathrobe thingy, or anachronistic slacks and blouse, like a childless MILF instead of a barbarian princess. At least I can say that the breasts and styling were not offensively bad.
The combination of art and layouts by Casas and lettering by Joshua Cozine made the story coherent, the action easy to follow, and created a bit of tension in the opening scene. The colors by Adriano Augusto were a little clean and bright in contrast with the gritty horror elements in the plot and art. I found this contrast a bit jarring, but it may have been an explicit choice.
Overall, this was a B+ book that can definitely be read by someone new to the character. Unfortunately, I can’t compare Red Sonja: Vulture’s Circle to the main ongoing title and I feel like that leaves this review a bit incomplete. Anyone who has read both, feel free to find me on twitter (@hermitiancat) and give me a piece of your mind.