Though it's a pleasant and well-paced read, the "Red Sonja and Cub" by Jim Zub and Jonathan Lau one-shot isn't really a must-buy. Jonathan Lau's art often shines, and the story is enjoyable, but there's nothing here that's special enough to justify a $4.99 price tag. It may be unfair to put the extra onus of specialness on a one-shot, but most readers (myself included) do expect to be a bit wowed. As a piece of Red Sonja lore, "Red Sonja and Cub" is appreciated, but as a standalone story it's just average -- though entertainingly so.
The story follows Sonja as she escorts a young girl, Kazuko, to her arranged marriage. The wedding is intended to end the feud between the Natsu and Fuyu clans, and there are members of both clans who would much rather ensure that the feud continues. Though the idea repulses Sonja, who thinks Kazuko is being treated like "some kind of chattel," Kazuko believes that saving lives is more important than her individual fate. She displays a different type of courage from Sonja's, one that is self-sacrificing and unglamorous.
I appreciate stories that genuinely challenge their characters, and Sonja is rarely challenged by physical combat. It's smart that Zub therefore challenges her with this different value system, and ascribes it to a young girl who is feisty, impassioned and resourceful. Kazuko is no less self-possessed or formidable because she chose this marriage. If there's any piece of this one-shot that reappears in later Sonja stories, I'd like it to be Kazuko.
However, "Red Sonja and Cub" is clearly constructed as a swords-and-samurai showcase for Jonathan Lau's art. It's easy to see why. Lau often excels in the wider action scenes, which he draws full of motion and vigor. When the Fuyu gang chases Kazuko and her mother down a snowy mountainside, the downward movement is so visceral it seemed like they'd fall right off the page. However, Lau's multi-panel action sequences can sometimes be tricky to follow. When he zeroes in on Sonja, it's hard to trace how she moves from one pose to the next. He doesn't have a solid grasp on when to break between panels yet, but there is still plenty to like.
The main "Red Sonja" title has a very warm color scheme, so I loved that Stefani Renee set this one-shot apart with a light, cold palette. It not only adds to the wintry feel of the snowy scenes, but it also makes the closing wedding scene feel sun-bleached. I mean, Sonja's hair is almost pink in one panel. It brings an appropriate brightness to the -- spoiler alert -- happy ending.
Overall, I liked quite a bit of this story, but it isn't one that will stick with me. "Red Sonja and Cub" is pleasant but falls short of memorable.