With issue #6 of "Red Sonja" #6 hitting stands last Wednesday, Dynamite hooked CBR News up with writers Michael Avon Oeming and Mike Carey to take us "behind the curtain" about both issue #6 and the issue that follows it in terms of story - but which kicked off the whole Red Sonja craze - issue #0.
Today, we're presenting both Oeming and Carey's thoughts on issue #0, and come back for Part 2 of our special commentary as Oeming shares his thoughts on the closing issue of the first red Sonja arc.
And when you're done reading through this commentary, check out the commentary for "Red Sonja" #6.
OEMING: This was scary. I felt like a cat falling out of a tree blindfolded, just hoping we would land on our feet. It's a "Zero" issue, an introductory issue with a limited number of pages to re-present to you a character you sort of know without being a cliché of things you've already encountered. Plus, we decided this issue should tie in with issue #6, our final issue of the first arc- and yet we didn't have that story yet! Not completely anyway.
Not to mention everyone would be comparing Howard's "red-headed step-child" to Conan, who came out of the gate with an amazing issue #0.
CAREY: I admit to being conflicted about the ass-shot. On the one hand, it's a cinematic device that's stylishly used here to open the story out and feed the situation to the reader in intriguing chunks. On the other hand, it's an ass-shot! And I'd been going round the forums saying how much more there was to Sonja than T&A. I'll get you for this some day, Mel...
OEMING: First thing's first -- Sonja has a reputation, the whole T&A aspect. I thought it would be best to address it right away as well as defusing it. I think that's all in Mel's art. There it is, right away, this really nice butt-shot, but at the same time, its not slutty, its not even sexual. That's what we needed to do. Sonja is sexy, but she doesn't pose, she's not a stripper or a slut. Well, maybe she poses for the covers a bit, but those are covers. We decided to treat her sexuality as a weapon in the series, and we'll even find ryme and reason for the seeming madness of wearing a chain mail bikini in later issues. Then we see the ruined town, and a hanged man at the gates.
CAREY: But then here we are with the splash, and whatever you think of Sonja's bum (love it or loathe it) it's clear that this is a woman with a really commanding presence, who makes the workd meet her on her terms. Great rain effects. Perfect facial expression - cold, haughty, not giving a millionth of an inch.
OEMING: The smart thing do to was just forget about all the baggage. Just come up with a theme, and the story would come. Who is Sonja? What is she in this world?
Well, she's a force, someone nearly unstoppable, like a storm, once the idea of the storm came, the rest fell into place. Carey and I also knew we wanted to present Sonja as a morally ambiguous character- at least to the modern reader. Compared to everyone else in her world, she's the freakin' Madonna, and I'm not making a pop culture reference here. So we wanted to do something relatively horrible, defiantly questionable, and yet within the context of the story, completely acceptable.
CAREY: We played out Page 3 in silence, this is like a scene from a Sergio Leone movie. If you were that archer, wouldn't you have thought about your wife and kids and decided to clock off early for once?
CAREY (Page 4): Still with the western influences, right up until the point where Sonja pushes open those hinged, saloon-style doors. But when she turns at the sound of the drum, we're in a whole other world, and it's a very dark one. Funeral processions in the driving rain: living sacrifices walking alongside dead warriors. It takes a lot to shake Sonja's cool, but the look that passes between her and the slave girl is an index to a lot of memories, a lot of associations.
CAREY (Page 5): The kiss. This isn't Sonja: the sacrifice embraces her own death, and Sonja changes her mind about a bloody intervention. You can't save people against their will. This was very much Mister Oeming's scene, and it speaks volumes to me about the cultural divide between Sonja and the place where she finds herself. I can't imagine there'd be many things she'd find more nauseating than a willing victim.
CAREY (Page 6): Our third female protagonist introduced - the barmaid, Jessa. She's also the narrator, but we don't realize that until we get to this point - the give-away being "or poisoned her drink". Jessa is as alien to Sonja as the sacrifice outside is - again, a product of her culture who's learned to survive by rolling with every blow. That's the central opposition of the story: survival through surrender set against survival by fighting until you drop.
OEMING: I feel bad for the character from whom we are witnessing the events- Jessa. I wonder if we will ever see her again? I almost feel bad for the town itself, despite that they all try and kill Sonja. They town has been emptied for a war near by, a war sparked by Sonja. We'll learn more about this war in the next six issues and what lead up to the town's demise. This was the set up for issue Zero, Six issues later, we would come back to this exact same place and time, but how, we did not know yet. It would take a lot of planning.
CAREY (Page 7): We wanted the barmaid to be more than just a cypher. She's beaten down by her job and her life, but not beaten flat. Sonja is prepared - at least at first - to meet her as an equal. Look at that lovely facial expression in the final panel - coquettish, but with no real confidence behind it. Or is it just that she finds it hard to meet Sonja's gaze directly? Either way, her sidelong glance contrasts with Sonja's frank, direct one.
CAREY (Page 8): Again, it was important to get the interplay between the two women right, and Mel did a sweet job. Envy, fear, avid curiosity: you can see the way the barmaid's feelings about Sonja keep shifting, while Sonja's own reactions are momentarily dropped into the background.
CAREY (Page 9): And now the stage is set, more or less. But we haven't yet seen Sonja interacting with a man. Here we see her unromantic, coldly pragmatic view of battle as she picks up the toast of a sot who can barely stay upright. Terrific body language here, both on Sonja's part and on the drunk's. "Hail to the heroes..." Sonja's answer to that would probably be the same as Marshall Law's: "haven't found any yet."
CAREY (Page 10 and 11): As we built to the climax, we wanted to suggest a lot of time passing and open up the possibility that Sonja might actually be incapacitated by booze and unable to defend herself. The big panel at the top of page 11 is a terrific moment - the men staring down on Sonja's apparently sleeping form - but in some ways the hinge that the whole story turns on is that last panel: the detail of the dark god. Jenna kisses it, just as the woman walking in the funeral procession did. She accepts her fate instead of pushing against it, and it's here that she parts company from Sonja.
CAREY (Page 12 and 13): In a scene like this, choreography is everything. The two flights of arrows divide the pages and punctuate the action. Sonja reacts to both with whatever is readiest to hand. Necessity is the mother of invention, and Sonja is the meanest mother of all.
CAREY (Page 14): Remember the end of High Plains Drifter? That's what's going on here. Ultimately, it's not just the killers who pay for what was done to Sonja, it's everyone who stood by and watched or assisted in an advisory capacity. When you take on the She-Devil, there are no sidelines.
CAREY (Page 15): What I loved about this was the sudden change in the palette - the chill of the morning after is right there on the page. That's the note we were aiming for: the ashes and the ruins and the naked realisation of your own inadequacy that comes after you've sold yourself for what turns out to be less than the market rate.
OEMING: Carey and I knew certain events would take place in the first six issues- there would be fighting, there would be a wizard, there would be a war. We wanted to give readers a Sonja story with all the traditional traps, but give everything a fresh twist. A villain who was beneficial in many ways, and a hero who would actually cause a lot of harm, that would be a good place to start, and the rest would follow that idea, flipping every cliché on its ear- or so we would hope.
By issue SIX, we were really pleased to have tied it in with issue Zero, like a great joke, a good story often ends best where it started…
More on that in Part Two!