I came to love Red Sonja by way of Gail Simone. I’ve never really given the book a try until Simone took over as writer. I loved what she’d done on Batgirl and her other DC Comics work, creating daring, funny, and emotionally intricate characters and powerful, fun stories. I’ve been reading her Red Sonja work in trade, and she’s brought the same level of humanity and humor to the book and the character, turning Sonja into an unlikely feminist hero.
Conan, though, I’m pretty much a blank state. The character is iconic, and I’m aware of who he is and what he does pretty much just from being immersed in the world of genre fiction, but I’ve somehow never read a Conan comic until now. I figured I’d give Conan/Red Sonja: The Age of Innocence a shot because it’s co-written by Gail Simone, but another big draw was Jim Zub, who joins Gail for writerly duties. Jim is the creator of Skullkickers, one of my favorite fantasy comics ever. Jim is naturally funny, and it seems that with every project he takes on, he’s revealing more depth and skill as a writer. I’m currently loving Wayward, his new creator-owned series from Image – but I digress.
Gail and Jim teamed up for this Conan and Red Sonja crossover, which is a perfect entry point for those unfamiliar with the characters. Because we begin with the two leads already on a mission, we’re seeing them in action right away – and the narrative assumes no prior knowledge.
We catch up with Red Sonja at first. She’s sitting among the prince’s royal audience, as they watch two wild animals fight to the death in a gladiatorial ring. Sonja is clearly not enjoying it, locates the man responsible for the “civilized entertainment,” and uses him to gain access to the prince’s quarters. She’s in pursuit of a jewel that his father has gifted him – a jewel that she has been hired to steal.
Turns out, Conan is after the same quarry. My favorite moment in the issue is the interaction between Conan and Red Sonja in the prince’s quarters, as he screams for help. Sonja’s got the jewel box, and she and Conan are basically free to escape. But the prince keeps yelling his head off and, as Sonja talks to him, Conan, tired of the prince’s yowls, throws his sword through his chest. Sonja responds perfectly: “Well, that seems excessive.”
The two of them escape together, and the banter that follows is breezy, natural, and successful in making me like both of them a LOT. They may be thieves and killers, but they have honor – and they’re witty! They do end up throwing down for a good, old fashioned scrap… and I mean, come on, in a crossover title like this, it wouldn’t have been complete without one. But through it all, Conan and Sonja seem to instantly like and grudgingly respect each other, even though they hurl insults and deadly blows at one another, which I didn’t expect.
At the end of the issue, the jewel is revealed to actually be seeds for a deadly plant called Bloodroot, which is essentially a weapon of mass vegetative destruction. It can destroy cities in days – and, it’s hinted that it might even be worse than we expect. Sonja and Conan abandon their missions, burn the seeds, kill their boss’s messenger, and part ways. However, considering the final foreboding image of a town destroyed by Bloodroot, this is only the beginning of a longer, darker saga that is just getting started. It was a hell of a first issue, with sharp writing, excellent characters, and fantastic interiors from artist Dan Panosian and colorist Dave Stewart (whose work I recognize from Buffy the Vampire Slayer!). I can’t wait to dive into the rest.
PAT SHAND is a comic book writer (Robyn Hood, Charmed: Season Ten, Grimm Fairy Tales) and pop culture journalist (Sad Girls Guide, Blastoff Comics). He currently lives in San Diego with a veritable zoo of cats.