In the penultimate issue of their first arc on "Red Sonja," Gail Simone and Walter Geovani drive the story toward a satisfying conclusion that will tie together Sonja's past and present. Simone continues to make the character accessible for new readers, using flashbacks to incorporate select pieces of her rich history while adding interesting new characters and backstory.
These flashbacks have been deployed skillfully so far, though this issue integrates them less smoothly than its predecessor. Using the fever dreams as an entry point in Issue #4 was a stroke of genius; the graveside trigger in this issue is a little more heavy-handed. However, as a reader I've grown so accustomed to the insertion flashbacks that it didn't strike me until after I'd finished reading.
The slow reveal of Sonja and Dark Anissia's relationship and its eventual deterioration has been well paced, and the scenes in this issue finally begin to explore the reason for their separation. In many ways, the story of these two women who fought side-by-side is more compelling than the present-day plague crisis, and so it was a smart move to merge these storylines. It bodes well for the impact of "Queen of Plagues" conclusion.
Geovani's work on close-ups continues to make me smile. While his panels often close in on the expected targets -- thoughtful faces, determined faces, horrified faces -- he really seems to love zooming in on an angry Sonja. The expressions in these panels are wonderfully ugly -- and I mean that in the best way. She doesn't look full of righteous, prepared wrath; she looks straight-up pissed, exactly as one might imagine a "She-Devil with a Sword" to look.
The art also injects some unexpected, but not unwelcome, horror into the comic with a few shudder-worthy images. From a roasting jumble of severed heads to emaciated ghosts whimpering, "We are so lonely", there are some scenes in here that get quite creepy. They bring texture to a visual landscape that's otherwise a lot of gore and bloodbath.
Despite the horror, Simone's humor is still on display. She continues to poke fun at Sonja's love of wine and 'extraordinary' beer. There's even a self-referential joke about the overly dramatic plague marker when Sonja asks, "Will you find me something to scrub with so I can get this bird off my face?" Her sense of fun is very welcome in a book that is, after all, about a woman who fights in a chainmail bikini.
Another nice touch is the inclusion of Tiath, King Dimath's "unmanly," scientifically minded son. Though mocked in previous issues, this time around he gets to represent a different, nonviolent model of heroism: a nice touch in a Red Sonja title. Armed with man-sized leeches, he is still clearly a strange duck, but Sonja's recognition of his value adds a lot to our understanding of her character.
A last note: while I rarely comment on lettering, the presentation and integration of Sonja's thoughts is stand-out. From the coloring choice to the placement, Simon Bowland and Adriano Lucas manage to make even crowded panels appear artful and full of feeling. The (She-) Devil's in the details, as they say.
All in all, this series continues to provide about as engaging a fresh start as Red Sonja could hope for.