Friday, May 8, 2015

Conan Red Sonja - A winning combination

By Paul Webb

Bringing together two big characters or ideas can work out really well. You can end up with your classics, like Batman and Superman, pizza and beer, or cats and the internet. On the other hand, you can get something like Rob Liefeld and drawing or orange juice after brushing your teeth.

As a fan of the original Robert Howard Conan stories, and the classic Marvel comics from the 70s and 80s (especially Buscema’s run), I was a little apprehensive about “Conan Red Sonja” by Jim Zub and Gail Simone.

I didn’t really know anything about Red Sonja and had never read anything by Simone. I ended up buying the first issue based solely on my love of Conan and Zub’s great track record with fantasy and action (Skullkickers and Wayward are two of the best books out right now).

Despite a couple of small qualms with the art, I’m glad I gave this a shot.

Instead of trying to shoehorn the series (planned as a 4-issue mini) into the current Conan or Red Sonja runs, the title acts as a first act for the characters: both are experienced and have more than a few heists and fights under their belt, but have yet to reach legendary status in the Hyborian Age.

While normally I would roll my eyes at yet another origin story for yet another established character, Zub and Simone wisely dispense with all of that. They know that if you’re reading this book, you probably already have a pretty good idea of who they are. If not, all the info you need is given to you as the story progresses*.

Feels like a classic

The plot of the first issue is nothing spectacular, but it doesn’t need to be. This issue is all about getting the characters together, introducing the evil plot they’ll eventually have to stop and getting them to fight.

What shines though is the overall tone and feel Zub and Simone along with the artists Dan Panosian and Dave Stewart set. From the opening and closing narration, to the little details, like the off-white tint to the gutters, almost everything about this book feels like a classic, well-loved Robert Howard story. Zub and Simone’s characterization of the title characters feels fresh and a bit familiar at the same time.

The “almost” I mentioned comes to a couple nit-picks about the art. For the most part, I like it. Panosian and Stewart mix into something like a combination of Francis Manapul and Sean Murphy. Not as smooth as Manapul, not as sketchy as Murphy.

It is mostly a winning combination. I only have two qualms. One is Conan’s face. In my opinion, Conan is rugged, blocky, not-quite-handsome, but not an ugly guy. He can get the ladies when he wants, but he’s no Dwayne Johnson or Chris Hemsworth. Panosian’s pencils make Conan look too pretty, as if Christopher Reeve packed on some serious muscle, or Gaston moonlighted as a barbarian before meeting Belle.

The other qualm (as tiny as it is), is Sonja’s lips. It seemed like every other facial expression she had involved slightly pouting her lips like a cover model. Again, these are relatively minor problems I had. Nothing to not buy the book over. Everything else about the art (character design, coloring, the fighting), I loved.

If you want more, just check out the original Robert Howard stories from your local library. They’re quick to read and fun.