Bringing together two of sword-and-sorcery’s most famous warriors, “Conan Red Sonja” #1 delivers a speedy, vivid adventure that’s as easy and enjoyable as a fine Cimmerian beer. Writers Gail Simone and Jim Zub do well by the title characters, embracing their legends and personalities, and the issue moves briskly through Dan Panosian and Dave Stewart’s pulpy, barbarian world. I’d like to see a little more heft in the coming issues, but “Conan Red Sonja” #1 is ridiculously enjoyable. This is what a team-up gimmick looks like when it’s done right.
In the issue, Sonja and Conan collide when they both try to steal the same valuable object from a prince. The story of the theft is accomplished with remarkable economy in both the script and the panels. The action proceeds concisely and surely, in the same way that Conan and Sonja go about their work. Simone and Zub also couch this smaller incident in a wider-reaching, developing conflict that I’m sure will dominate the coming issues. It’s all packaged quite neatly.
Though both characters are well-written, it does read like more of Sonja’s story. Her perspective kicks the story off, and Conan doesn’t appear until later on. She also gets to editorialize his decisions, inviting the reader to see the world from her perspective. Still, both characters come alive and it’s great to see Simone’s trademark wit in the script.
As much fun as this issue is, it doesn’t yet feel worthy of the epic team-up in its title. The villains here are cartoon cutouts: cruel, cowardly and effortlessly dispatched. On some level, I understand that decision. With such meaty protagonists to carry the story, the issue doesn’t necessarily need a morally complicated, fascinating villain, but I’d love to see Conan and Sonja take on a foe who at least challenges them. There isn’t much dramatic tension here when the enemies are so easy to defeat and despise. Luckily, the larger Bloodroot problem should give Conan and Sonja a challenge, so I’m not worried that the rest of the issues will feel this fluffy.
Artist Dan Panosian creates a pitch-perfect atmosphere for this book. Panosian’s figures don’t have hyper-defined musculature or perfectly wrought details. Instead, they’re larger-than-life and exaggeratedly shaped, lending them a barbarian roughness. Panosian also isn’t afraid to go whole-hog with the inking and, as a result, this feels like the dirty, dangerous world that fans of these characters know and love. Sonja admittedly looks more delicate than usual, with full lips and petite pixie chin, but her facial expressions are also quite wry. Conan is all scowls and smugness.
Colorist Dave Stewart goes full medieval with the color palette, using plenty of browns and firelight. He also resists the urge to saturate, filling the book with variegated, textured colors. The palette complements Panosian’s artwork and roughens and livens the story.
Richard Starkings and Comicraft do fine work with the lettering, but I’m particularly impressed by their treatment of the storytelling narrator captions. They use an approach that’s more papyrus than parchment, all-caps’d like a Roman proclamation, and it matches the gladiatorial arena beautifully.
All told, “Conan Red Sonja” #1 is a blast. Fans of either character should definitely check this issue out.